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Exclusive: Patrick Wolf Explains His "Retirement"
"For me to say I was going to quit music is like saying I'm going to commit suicide. It's the most extreme thing that could happen in my life."

Patrick Wolf is not quitting music. Despite his recent post on a fan message board saying, "My final concert will be this November... I am not sure whether there will be anymore public communications after that. In fact, I am pretty sure there will be none," it turns out Wolf just plans to take a little break from the cycle of touring and promoting records.

Even Wolf's break looks to be busy, though. He already has two albums' worth of material written for his follow-up to The Magic Position, which doesn't even come out in the U.S. until May 1. His tour has expanded as well, with the addition of Amy Winehouse-free headlining dates in New York and L.A., and a promise of more West Coast gigs.

We spoke to Wolf to get the full story on his non-retirement, and we also asked him about the shape of that next record (or two), how he wants to model his career after Gustav Mahler and Liberace, how he became friends with Kelly Osbourne, and why he feels a kinship with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

Pitchfork: Will this orchestral concert in November really be your last?

Patrick Wolf: Um, yeah. I really want people to know that I never released a press release about this issue. I wasn't trying to get published by anybody. I was just writing a very close community of fans. Somebody took that and turned it into a big story, and it's gotten out of control. I just want people to know that, first of all, I never said I was quitting music, and second of all, I never did it in a public way.

I wouldn't know what to do if I didn't have music in my life, and this is going to turn into some kind of horrendous Mariah Carey speech, but the music has led me through many adventures and disasters and good times and total lonely times and for me to say I was going to quit music is like saying I'm going to commit suicide. It's the most extreme thing that could happen in my life. That would make me miserable, so I would never say I was quitting music, because I would never know where to start.

Pitchfork: So what did you mean by that message board post?

PW: This year's been strange because The Magic Position is about a relationship that happened a year ago, a very serene and magical time, between me and an artist called Ingrid Z. And I'm having to come and be like a vessel for all these songs, but I'm an honest performer as well. I don't even like to use the word "performance." I don't want to be a traveling businessman or salesman for my work. I want to be a musician that sings and feels and makes people feel, and when something becomes too repetitive, then I feel like I'm not doing my job.

The bad habit that I've had in the last six years since I released my first EP was to not even think that I'm a human being, that I need to sleep or to eat or to go to the toilet or have sex or anything. I just go, "Okay, I'm going on tour for the next year. Goodbye, everyone." And then I say, "Yeah, sure I'll do seven hours of interviews before a show." I do all this, and I enjoy it, but there's a certain time in every musician's life, you've got to realize-- I'm kind of like Britney Spears in a way. I've been doing it as a teenager, so I'm kind of trying to start thinking about being a human so I can start to make my work again. I have to be like the mother and father of my work and say, "It's time to go to bed, Patrick, and it's time not to open your mouth, and it's time to create."

Pitchfork: Do you really feel like Britney Spears?

PW: I think so, yeah [laughs]. I was actually just thinking about her. I guess because my first record painted some strange enigmatic picture of who I was, and I was kind of put into many boxes by the media, almost like there's a virgin that was on that album and a specific character that I don't relate to really. And I'm specifically talking about media interpretation and audience interpretation. I've been made to feel, over the last four or five years, that I should be living in a cave and communicate via pigeons, with no electricity.

Pitchfork:
Why is that?

PW: It's just the kind of thing I hear day after day, especially within Europe. I mean, Germany thinks that I have no sexual organs, and then you go to Sweden and they think I'm a vampire, and you go down to Spain and they think that I'm the next Elton John, because I will only play one model of piano. If you put out something quite extreme, then of course you're going to get funny interpretations across the world, but it just becomes boring after a while becoming defensive about your own individuality.

I do these interviews where I don't get to talk about my music. I don't get to talk about my orchestration or my favorite composers or the specific beats I was using or the sounds I used on "Overture" or anything. I never get to talk about being a musician. I just spend the whole time saying, "Yeah sure, I wear hot pants, and I wear platform shoes. And I don't care if you don't like it. That's what I'm going to wear." I feel like I'm like Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears, having to defend a controversial image, which isn't even controversial to me. I just wish the world was less conservative and a little more open to art and music.

My whole life is an experiment. It has been since I was 11. I don't know what I'm going to leave behind, and I don't really care. I'm not thinking about being a legendary artist. I see this world living in black and white, I'm thinking about trying to make people feel again with music. There's so many forgotten and secret things in the world that I want people to know about, and if I can be a vessel for those things, just for one little moment of somebody's life, then I'm going to do that through my performance, through my visual as well, because it's all communication that shouldn't be wasted.

I guess I'm living in an extreme unreality, and I need to get inspiration from exciting events that happen within every day life. I never read a Rolling Stones biography when I was 14 and said, "Yeah, I want to go on the road and take heroin and sleep with 600 women and get a Taiwanese bride when I'm 50." I'm not here for the rock 'n' roll, even though that kind of behavior can happen to me sometimes. Not the things I just listed, but the exciting road adventures and all that stuff that I enjoy. But you've got to remember, I started off as a choir boy and a violin player, and I'm very happy mostly when I'm just playing the piano or harpsichord. The whole performance aspect of doing shows is something I've learned over the last 10 years, but it's not what I do best. I'm not really used to this at all. I've not really taken a holiday from this in my whole life, and I think it's time, so I can do something new again. I think I'm going to have to move to New York or something.

Pitchfork: Do you feel like you'd be able to blend into the crowd more easily in New York?

PW: Yeah, I think so. People go, "But you've always been very critically acclaimed," and it kind of comes with a good dose of misunderstanding as well. And I think it's something all musicians and artists will strive [for] all their lives, to maybe one day have a feeling of acceptance or understanding. And maybe it's the Holy Grail. Maybe we never get it.

Pitchfork: You seem very conscious of musicians who have come before you. Have you thought at all about how they handled their fame?

PW: Yeah, I mean, I'm taking Mahler as my new life plan. Gustav Mahler was obsessed with his death and the fact that time was running out. The legend [was] that when you write your 10th symphony, you finish, you die. He would spend six months of the year in a cottage that no one knew where it was in the world, in the forest, with just a piano. And he had a secret love affair, so he would be making love and making music and swimming in the lake, and he would make his symphonies there. He might take two years or two summers to make the symphonies. And then during the other six months he would be a very public and famous conductor and composer and communicate that way. So he had this extremely introverted creative period and an extremely extroverted public period. I think that's really the way I need to go, and I just haven't had that six months in a forest for a very long time. The last time was during Wind in the Wires, when I went down with a little organ and sat by the sea in October in this out of season tourist land for a while. That was the last time I got to do something like that, which was maybe four years ago. It's not healthy.

Pitchfork: Do you have an ideal performance set-up, where maybe you'd just like to write the music and not perform it?

PW: I think my ideal is, in 40 years, to be like Liberace and perform all my work as a big extravaganza, like a Cher Las Vegas revue, maybe stay in one place, and people can come see it when they want to. That's probably the most exciting for me.

Pitchfork: So you're still planning to write and record music, and for a long time?

PW: I've got so many projects. I've got this double record.

Pitchfork: Do you have a name for it?

PW: There are two working titles. I'll just give you one. I've done a lot of research, and my new inspiration is England in 1666, like during the Plague and the Great Fire. It reminds me of times right now in the world. It's going to be a lot more realistic than a lot of my work before and very much trying to tackle some current affairs in my own way. I realize Joni Mitchell's doing her political record, [so] it's maybe time for me to pull my finger out and join the army. It might be called Hard Times, like the Dickens book, and I might be working with Alec Empire from Atari Teenage Riot. I met him the other night in Berlin, and there's definitely some musical inspiration going on.

Pitchfork: Is it going to be a concept album using the 1666 England comparison?

PW: No, I think in the same way that the first album used werewolves and Eastern European folklore, this is really-- some of the metaphors I'll be using are a little more medieval, Elizabethan, and pagan. There's no manners to the record at all, kind of going back to the time when there were no toilets and you just poo in the street and there were diseases everywhere, because it's kind of a bit like that now, in many places. I went to the London Dungeon really drunk one time and got a lot of inspiration for songs.

Pitchfork: And it's going to be a double album?

PW: Well, there are two albums. So maybe it's going to be two separate albums, two albums at the same time, like a double release. Both are written, lyrically. One of them is going to be orchestral: extremely beautiful and celebrating neuroses and mental breakdowns. [The other will be] hard and techno and almost like death metal.

I think within electronic music there's too much politeness in the last five years, and it's become maybe too much of a lifestyle accessory. So I want to take it back into a digital hardcore world, but I still have the songs to match the beats, so I'm very excited to start working on it. And the orchestral project is going to be huge, of course, because it's going to be like me making a symphony, so that's going to take a lot of time. I won't be able to do shows during that time.

Pitchfork: Is it hard to balance your orchestral and classical impulses with your more pop impulses?

PW: This is why I'm doing two separate records next, where I can explore both sides of me to their most extreme and let them be unique, so there will be not much mixture between the two. It will be a great turning point where over three albums I've spent a lot of work trying to mix different time periods and sound textures, and the next two will be like two sides of the spectrum.

Pitchfork: It will be your Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

PW: [laughs] Yeah, I guess so. Hopefully.

Pitchfork: Will you be able to re-join those two sides, or do you plan to keep them separated?

PW: Actually, I try and forget my songs on purpose. I don't have a Dictaphone or any kind of recording device anymore on the road. I have the laptop, just to make beats. So what I do is, I write a melody and some lyrics, and then I try to forget it. Then I let my brain scramble it up, and about a year later maybe, it will pop out again as a different song. That's how it's worked in the past. I trust it.

Pitchfork: You have some U.S. tour dates with Amy Winehouse coming up. How did that come about?

PW: We have a mutual friend in London, Kelly Osbourne, so I've been drunk in hotel rooms with her before. I'm doing a remix for [Winehouse's] "Tears Dry on Their Own" at the moment, actually.

Pitchfork: And you know her through Kelly Osbourne, Ozzy Osbourne's daughter?

PW: Yeah, or Kelly O, as she's known now.

Pitchfork: How did you meet her?

PW: [It was] two years ago I guess, where I did this ridiculous project where I previewed the whole of The Magic Position a year before it was even released, live in a theater in London. And I was so miserable halfway through the set because it was such a huge thing to do, and I hadn't taken a break. A bit like how I am right now, it happens sometimes. I had an interval-- I'd done a big retrospective of all my work to date, with a string quartet and no beats, so that's quite [difficult] to do and keep the energy up. I kind of felt like I was at a funeral, and I was all in black. And suddenly, I just thought, "Oh, I can't do the next half," and then my manager runs in and she's like, "You've got to do it! Kelly's in the audience!" and she knew I was such a fan of hers, just as a character as well. And then we became good friends after that, so she made me happy to go back and perform The Magic Position.

Pitchfork: Are you still planning to do the November concert you mentioned in the message board post?

PW: Yes, a big show in November.

Pitchfork: But it won't be anything final?

PW: It's final for me. It's the day that I go, "Goodbye, world." Well, that sounds like I'm going to kill myself, but like, "Goodbye, everybody, and here's my family, and here's my lover, and here's my three best friends." That's the world I'm going to focus on for a while. I have a beautiful flat in London. It might look like a tramp hole to everyone else, but I want to sit and look at the garden. I've never unpacked any bags or suitcases for about a year, so those things are important, or you go a bit crazy.

Pitchfork: So you're not cutting music in general or performance in particular out of the equation?

PW: People love stories like that. I'm sure they'd love me to be the new Richey Manic [Richey James Edwards, Manic Street Preachers lyricist and guitarist who has been missing since 1995 --Ed.] or the next self-destructive singer-songwriter, the new Nick Drake that will die in two weeks, and everyone can celebrate my back catalogue and share stories about seeing me wasted on the streets of London. I'm sure they'd all love to do that, but that's not going to happen. I'll continue to keep on giving with the rest of my life, and making people feel again, with music. I've always been somebody that's promoted freedom as well, freedom from religion and politics and just to live a very liberated life, and for me, the most honest thing I can say is I'm going to take some of that time for myself and live by my own rules that I've been promoting to you.

Pitchfork: Do you have any other plans until then?

PW: We're announcing a West Coast tour after the Amy Winehouse tour. I think it finishes May 28, or something like that, so I think it's two weeks after the Winehouse tour. I've already previewed a song called "Blackbird", which is part of the new sound, I think, kind of a New Orleans hardcore r&b thing.

I'm just looking forward to getting to work again. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying all my shows. I definitely make sure I'm giving when I'm doing a show.

Pitchfork: Well good luck, and get some rest.

PW: I will do, and just tell the world to calm down a bit.

Dates:

04-27 Donau, Austria - Donau Festival
04-30 New York, NY - Virgin Records Union Square
05-02 Minneapolis, MN - Varsity Theater *
05-03 Chicago, IL - Vic Theatre *
05-05 Philadelphia, PA - Electric Factory *
05-07 Boston, MA - Avalon Ballroom *
05-08 New York, NY - The Highline Ballroom *
05-09 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
05-12 Toronto, Ontario - Mod Club *
05-13 Toronto, Ontario - Mod Club *
05-16 Los Angeles, CA - The Troubadour
07-12-15 Suffolk, England - Henham Park Estate (Latitude Festival)

* with Amy Winehouse
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