With 2012 marking 10 years since Patrick Wolf’s debut musical release, the notorious perfectionist is looking back at his decade-long career in typically Wolfian style; by re-recording songs from previous albums for a new project, the double-disc affair Sundark and Riverlight.
The Star Observer spoke to 29-year-old Wolf down the line from his London home after a long and draining day spent putting the finishing touches to the record.
“It was mastered today and sent off to the factory, and I’ve got to deliver all my artwork for it by 12 o’clock tomorrow. But my computer just crashed – like, properly died – so I’ve got to put it all together again. We’re also editing the first music video at the same time, so it’s a very productive household this evening,” he said, sounding more exhausted than energised.
That’s life for a singer-songwriter who oversees every aspect of his musical output, from touring schedules to music videos.
“I’m the creative director, so I can’t just sign off on my part then go off and shag loads of people like a rock star,” he chuckled.
That perfectionist streak extends to the tour Wolf’s bringing to Australia in September: eschewing the live band of tours past, he’ll perform with just one other multi-instrumentalist on stage, tackling the lion’s share of the musical accompaniment himself.
“There’s no backing tracks and no room for error with the musicianship. It’s about the craftsmanship – I can’t just put on a show and fall over and make everyone laugh. I’m getting RSI at the moment because I’ve practicing the harp, the ukelele, the viola…”
Leaving the band at home also means Wolf can create a more unique show each night. He even plans to improvise new lyrics to some of his songs.
“I did some shows with Patti Smith, and she was always changing the lyrics, adding in new lines or diary entries from that day. It really inspired me, the fluidity of her shows,” he said.
Fans will get to hear the new (old) tracks from Sundark and Riverlight at the shows, with the album coming later in September.
“There aren’t that many versions of this album. I only know of two: [Kate Bush’s] Director’s Cut record and Joni Mitchell’s Travelogue. My voice has changed – I don’t even recognise myself in some earlier songs. I’ve played back the original versions of some of these songs I’m re-recoding, and people think they’re by a different person. Some cockney teenager, which I guess I was at the time.”
But is Wolf prepared for a Director’s Cut-style mini-backlash? Bush’s 2011 album received the most mixed reviews of her career, as she tinkered with songs fans had spent decades cherishing.
“I’m used to it now – with every album, it seems I have to weather four or five months of people saying ‘What are you doing, this is awful, why has your voice changed, why has your production changed…’ Give it a year and that’s their favourite album of mine,” he chuckled.
For Wolf, Sundark is a chance to right what he sees as the youthful wrongs of his past. Take Paris, a song from his 2003 debut album Lycanthropy, started life as an impossibly romantic piano ballad about the city of love. Rejecting the romance, Wolf added layer after layer of industrial noise to the song before committing it to record. Now, he’s taking it back to its roots.
“I love that [industrial] version, but it’s definitely made by an 18-year-old. Now I’ve made the version it was always meant to be. I know people enjoy the mistakes, the youth and the adolescence of those recordings, but If I’m going to go into the future, I can’t let that be my time capsule – my Picture of Dorian Gray.”
INFO: Patrick Wolf, Sep 7 The Tivoli, Brisbane; Sep 8-9 Sydney Opera House Studio, Sydney; Sep 11 The Forum, Melbourne. www.patrickwolf.com