Patrick Wolf gives interviews like his new record, The Bachelor, sounds—by turns heartfelt and bombastic, hardened and defiant. Sentences and thoughts overlap each other the way the album morphs from shimmering orchestral choruses to earthy electronic growling. Though, change is nothing new for the critically acclaimed 25-year-old English musician: The restless genre-shifter has mixed and matched classical, Celtic folk, chamber-pop, and glitchy electronica on his previous three albums. Before his show tonight at The Rock And Roll Hotel, The A.V. Club talked to Wolf about casting Tilda Swinton as “the voice of hope,” staying connected to his audience, and touring with “celebrities.”
The A.V. Club: Musically, The Bachelor takes another new direction for you. What changed?
Patrick Wolf: I was really not interested in imitating the work I had just done. I don’t have that desire in me. [After 2007's The Magic Position] I had lost contact with the things that brought me hope and love. I had lost contact with nature. I had lost contact with my family, and I just kind of shut the door and locked the door and didn’t want to leave the house. That’s why it’s The Bachelor. It’s someone who’s not even contemplating marriage—deep down maybe waiting for true love but no empathy for the rest of the world.
AVC: What has the reaction been to this shift in tone?
PW: I got negative feedback from some of the people in [the music] business. They were terrified that after I’d done this album, I would have done myself in. The Magic Position was about the joys of love and being quite exuberant and positive about life, not, “My friend’s just committed suicide. My dad has cancer. I’m really depressed. I’m going to write about this darkness.” They didn’t seem to realize that pop music can be about human conditions that aren’t very popular to discuss. I guess my inspiration is something like Blue by Joni Mitchell, where you can tell she’s not even thinking about what’s going on past the microphone or who it’s going to be heard by, but she just has to confess. I’ve gotten so much human reaction from people saying, “Yeah, I’ve been there.” And that makes me all so happy.
AVC: Do you feel like you’ve found your own audience?
PW: I think the theme of my life is to always have to stick up for being an individual, always having to stick up for me—the fact that I can be gay but I don’t have to be an advocate, not having to be a gay martyr or something like that.
AVC: The Bachelor was funded through donations from fans on BandStocks.com. What was that experience like?
PW: The thing that I was most confused and happy about was that I thought people had given up on paying for albums or putting money into the music industry. So when the BandStocks thing came, I was really quite scared over the first couple of months, and it’s only now that I can really see how actually quite amazing it was. Especially when you think that it was up to £60,000 or £70,000, which might be obscene depending on the exchange rate right now. I think major labels sever the ties between you and your audience because they are taking all the data, all the information, and all the money from your audience, which means you’re losing touch in this ivory tower of your record. So I think things are right back to normal again. I am strong with my audience. We’ve got a strong bond, and I feel a lot happier, a lot more empowered.
AVC: Tilda Swinton is cast as “the voice of hope” on this record. She broke into the film world with gay film auteur Derek Jarman, one of your heroes. What was it like to collaborate with her?
PW: I think that’s one of the things that really drew me to her. It was kind of an honorary tribute. Some people have it with Elvis, some people have it with Bob Dylan, and I just have it with Derek Jarman. Tilda was always this beautifully hopeful voice, even when she was playing that tyrannical queen or an anarchist. There is always an element of hope to what she does, and the album was really crying out for that.
AVC: NYLON Records has enlisted Cory Kennedy and Peaches Geldof to act as hosts for this tour.
PW: Cory Kennedy? Who’s Cory Kennedy?
AVC: She’s famous for being a model for thecobrasnake.com’s party photography.
PW: Well, my band has got our own tour bus, and we’re quite insular, and we have our own private jokes, and we don’t tend to socialize too much. It’s important that we keep this sort of magic throughout the tour—on any tour that we do—to keep it like family. I know Peaches from London and she’s a sweetheart and very misunderstood by the press and a lot more intelligent than people think, but have no idea who this Cory is, so I don’t know. If this is going to be like The Simple Life 4, then I certainly won’t be involved.