From the balcony of New York’s Mondrian Hotel, Patrick Wolf channels a bird of paradise. His sequined golden top clashes triumphantly with his fiery red locks, which frame the 28-year-old singer-songwriter’s chalk-white face, betraying only the slightest flush of color across his cheeks. He appears calm, happy even.
For almost a decade now, Wolf has steadily crafted a larger-than-life persona built on showmanship and outlandish outfits. But beneath the vaudevillian façade, he personifies a curious blend of world-weary angst and wounded innocence. At the age of 20, Wolf, already something of a musical prodigy, debuted Lycanthropy, an intricate collection of fantastical metaphors and confessionals sprawled out over lush strings and a crackling electronic texture.
In 2005, he released his second studio album, the emotionally turbulent Wind in the Wires, growling and howling through a raw exploration of his own boyish sexuality, while also romanticizing the freedom of a nomadic existence. His journey has always been about the tension between love and loathing, tradition and technology, which gets at the charm of the chameleonic composer, who melds and meshes electro-folk-pop, resulting in a back catalog that wavers between ukulele-based storytelling and baroque, pathos-infused anthems.
Returning to the “love conquers all” mentality that defined 2007’s Magic Position, Wolf is, once again, praising the transformative power of Eros. He returns to the spotlight elated—and engaged to his longtime boyfriend, William Charles Pollock.
“The Bachelor is about feeling lost in the world, like you haven’t gotten what you’ve wanted out of life. It’s about having so many questions and no answers. In a way, Lupercalia is the answer.”
Unlike his past offerings, Lupercalia, his fifth studio album and his major label debut, isn’t a concept album.
“I just stayed at home and cooked and cleaned and looked after someone. I began sharing my life with somebody. The idea of love—and the honest celebration of those we love—came to me in the last few weeks of a three-year process. In that way, it wasn’t something conceptual, but rather a time in my life to celebrate love.”
There was, of course, a wolf connection.
“I wrote down the words, ‘The Festival for a Wolf,’ in honor of love. The festival was about the Lupa, the she-wolf, to whom everyone would give flowers. The goat’s milk [used in ritual] represented the wolf’s milk so it was a fertility thing. There was Romulus and Remus [the twin founders of Rome], two naked boys, running through the city.” [Ed. note: The wolf supposedly nursed Romulus and Remus.]
It was all about L-O-V-E.
“I felt like we were on a secret mission to resurrect something that was banned years and years ago, this old pagan ritual about love and fertility, wolves and naked men—all of the best things in life, really.”
But it also had some growl to it.
“I felt very fired-up after the Pope’s visit to the UK [in September 2010], which is when I became interested in the Lupercalia festival. I went to a rally protesting the amount of money being spent on this dictator’s trip to the UK. But I was like, I’m not going to write a song about this right now. I’ll finish the album first, because this isn’t where I am as a writer right now. I’m about euphoria in the face of negativity.”
Wolf sought help for a title: the Internet, old encyclopedias, and whisky. The keyword was “love,” but it was more than that. “It had to be the anthology of love,” he says. This is when he came across Lupercalia.
“The Pope thought the festival was too much about sex, love, and primal feelings. He thought it was too pagan, which reminded me—Ding! Ding! Ding!—about all of the things that Catholicism and Christianity has banned, things like homosexuality and abortion. It was about liberation, about finding comfort and peace and love. I thought, I’m going to bring Lupercalia back to life by giving my album that name!
Wolf’s desire to kick the Church where it hurts was, in part, passed down to him from his mother, a baptized Catholic who came of age amid Ireland’s religious tumult.
“After a few bottles of wine, my mom would start telling stories about the horrors of Ireland under the rule of the Catholics and the Pope—the dictator, really, of Catholicism. That’s always been a story right in the secret part of my stomach, this history that I have. As an artist, this is my legacy. She banned me from going to church. She said, ‘You can smoke, you can take drugs, you can do all that stuff—but just don’t go to church!’ She thought it was evil.”
It’s unfortunate that Paganism, a religion rooted in the respect and worship of nature, has now become synonymous with dark, debauched hedonism and black magic.
“Everyone knows that magic is a good thing. The whole principle of magic is that whatever spell you cast comes back to you tenfold. If you give out hate, that hate comes back to you with a vengeance. Paganism isn’t voodoo. There are no voodoo dolls or anything like that—it’s just about being connected to art, to our emotions, and to the psyche.”
He often draws inspiration from the earth, weaving the elements into his deeply personal stories. He says he owes his connection to nature to his education at an “arts & crafts school on a farm.” He moved to the country from London at the age of 15 to escape bullying.
“I was only there for a year and a half, but I felt so connected to the earth. When I came back to the city, I longed to be back in the countryside. I felt very at home there; it was a wake-up call. From then on, all my work has had some sort of relationship to nature.”
Why do people seek spiritual clarity in nature? Wolf reflects on his experience in the harbor town where he created Wind in the Wires.
“Maybe it’s because it inspires in people the feeling of leaving their everyday life, as if going through the door in the back of the wardrobe into Narnia. When I first went to Cornwall, rather than being stuck in a huge traffic jam, I saw rolling, rolling, rolling sand dunes. It would take all of my breath to climb over the top of one, and when I did I would go mental. I would scream. I recorded the whole thing once, and listened to it a year or so ago, and it was pure euphoria. My ultimate goal is to get to Easter Island. I have no idea why—maybe I lived there in a past life.”
What happens when we die?
“I’ve had a lot of dreams about what happens when we die. I like the idea that I’ll see everybody I’ve ever known who has died, somewhere, someday. When I played with Patti Smith, I thought the most wonderful song from her set was ‘Paths that Cross.’ I love the idea that paths that cross will cross again, whether it’s in this life or the next.”
Although he’s still unclear about the afterlife, he knows this much is true:
I don’t want to be cremated. That is my idea of hell.
Thankfully, he has a backup plan.
“My friends are under strict instruction that the moment I die, my heart should be taken out of my chest and thrown into the sea. My body should be buried in a still-undisclosed location, but only they will know it. Everybody said that I was going to die when I was 27, but now I’m 28. I fell out of a carriage when I was 11, and I almost died, so I’ve jumped the queue. I’m going to be alive until I’m 100—that’s my plan.”
Are secrets destructive or essential?
“They’re very essential to my writing. If I can’t tell something to my friends, my parents, or a psychotherapist, I tell it to my audience through my writing. I was sent to a counselor when I was 15 years old, and I thought, I don’t need you—I’ve just got to write this song. Secrets are very important things to have in life, as long as you tell somebody about them.”
Aware of the contradiction, he clarifies:
“You shouldn’t hide your secrets. You should let everybody know about them at one point. Just harbor them for a while.”
None should be taken to the grave.
“I started to write my autobiography. In it, there are things I haven’t told anybody—that’s the point. Why would I tell people things that I told other people? I want people to read the unknown things about me. And then I plan to go into hiding.”