Patrick Wolf on the car accidentand his comeback: It completely whacked me out for six

The London singer discusses his five-year absence and how he took the bullet for queer musicians who came after him

Flamboyant. Ridiculous. Over the top. When UK musician Patrick Wolf arrived on the scene in the mid-2000s, these were the words that greeted him. The classically trained wunderkind had joined Leigh Bowerys art collective Minty when he was just 13; he released his first album in 2003 at age 19 but it featured work he had been recording since he was 11.

His five subsequent albums pushed and melded genres, intertwining baroque pop with folk, disco synths with spoken word by Tilda Swinton. His wardrobe was just as unpredictable, from button-ups to leather harnesses to winter coats which, when shed, would reveal glittery wings.

Over the top? Maybe to people back then. But maybe not any more.

In 2012, after releasing Sundark & Riverlight, it seemed the curtains were closing on Wolf: what started as a sabbatical became a hiatus that showed few signs of ending.

I didnt know whether [that album] was the final chapter, really, he says.

It started with a general burn-out, ill-timed to coincide with a cluster-fuck of financial and legal problems regarding management. Wolf recuperated largely by writing alone in a makeshift studio, in a South London stable block. Then in August 2015 the same day Wolf tested the waters of a return, announcing pre-orders for his first poetry collection he was hit by a car while on holiday in Venice. Shortly after that, his mother fell ill.

It completely whacked me out for six, says Wolf. Everything seemed to be saying, Darkness is at your doorstep. Youve got to change your life or youre not going to be around for much longer. That was the message. I took it very much on board.

Ill get into the specifics one day, but Im very happy to be here right now. Ill leave it at that.

Now recovered and self-managed, Wolf is eager for a comeback. When we speak over the phone, hes on a mini-tour of Australia, and hopes to mix an album afterwards in the New South Wales pristine Blue Mountains. Hes also written the book that feverish fans put a down-payment on three years ago only a few have asked for refunds, he says and he hopes both projects will be released together. Theyre [based around] very similar ideas of recovery and a period of darkness. So theyre kind of twinning at the moment.

Wolf is reluctant to divulge details of that dark period, but not because he wants to keep it private. Ive made an album about that period and Im finishing it off, he says, pausing. Once that statements out there fully, Ill be able to discuss it further. Theres no point going through all that strife, that pain, without having something positive and beautiful in a work of art to give to the world.

Wolfs wariness is evident in each word, which carries the weight of its consideration. Its understandable given both his past few years, and his irksome history with the press in particular the way his clippings framed and centred his sexuality.

I stopped being a musician I became a gay artist. For 10 years, thats what stuck. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

Perhaps most frustrating were those adjectives that couched Wolfs perceived effeminacy his flamboyance as a marketable quirk. In a recent interview with the Courier Mail, Wolf revealed that there were times when his record label had asked him to be more gay, a non-threatening type which could be both promoted and/or derided as frivolous and campy.

I guess it meant, Be more asexual, he said. Be more Elton John; be more a gay that we can understand as a product, not something that is unquantifiable and would quite terrify the public. Be less queer, be more gay, if that makes sense.

When the third album came along, this one journalist asked me about my sexuality, Wolf says. I was never in the closet, but when the word bisexual or gay came into the mix, they became a prefix. So I stopped being a musician I became a gay artist. For 10 years, thats what stuck.

Wolf found the focus on his sexuality was a double-edged sword in the mid-2000s. What one person finds liberating by reading that word [in an article], another finds a deterrent. As an artist, you feel like youre not given an equal platform.

But things have changed. Artists like Frank Ocean, Troye Sivan, Janelle Monae and Perfume Genius may still be framed by their queerness, but they are arguably less defined by it, and are able to set their own terms about their narrative and identity.

In a way, Wolf considers himself a sacrifice, along with his queer contemporaries such as Tegan & Sara, Darren Hayes and Jake Shears.

I took the bullet! I took the bullet so other people didnt have to, for like 10 years, he says. If I had to do that, I had to do that. You know, I want to be doing this for another 50 years. I hope I see a lot of revisions of culture.

Patrick Wolf is playing The Concourse in Chatswood, Sydney, on Friday 13 April.

Read more:

Marissa SafontPatrick Wolf on the car accidentand his comeback: It completely whacked me out for six

Related Posts