Hungry Like a Wolf
BY Jeremy Kinser
January 11 2012 4:00 AM ET
Patrick Wolf, the British indie recording artist adored internationally by a devoted legion of fans for his dark, melancholy lyrics and haunting melodies, has lightened up — literally. "I'm turning into a California babe," Wolf says, breaking into an easy laugh.
Wolf is enjoying a sizzling-hot afternoon in West Hollywood, having just embarked on an acoustic tour of the United States ahead of the domestic release of his latest album, Lupercalia, a collection of mostly upbeat songs. Witness also the cheerful, Bruce Weber-inspired video for his defiant single "The City," in which the musician plays piano on a West Coast beach before frolicking in the waves with friends. This is a brand new Wolf.
The pale 28-year-old, clad in a baggy Charlie Brown T-shirt, and with shaggy hair that turns shimmering crimson when the sunlight catches it, looks conspicuously out of place among the other sun-worshippers on the rooftop of a boutique hotel. Wolf sips a Long Island iced tea and insists he feels comfortable in Southern California.
"It's become my second home," he says. His sense of peace and contentment is reflected in the songs on the new record, the curious title of which is taken from the name of an ancient Roman festival. "It's about a time in life when you celebrate love and focus on being fruitful," Wolf says, adamant that he didn't want the title to sound pretentious. "I travel so much from country to country, I thought Lupercalia could be a destination."
Wolf has always had an esoteric quality about him. Born into an artistic family (his mother is a painter and his father a musician), Wolf was raised in south London opposite the Houses of Parliament in the Thatcher era. Despite the ongoing unrest in that time, he recalls his early childhood as anything but bleak. "We lived in quite a bit of a bubble," he says. "I'd come home and my mother was naked with an easel and a paintbrush and my dad was playing the saxophone. It seemed normal to me, but we were slightly outcast as a family, so my mother was very protective about me not knowing much about the world for the first 10 years."
But then, while attending a military school, Wolf experienced an incredible growth spurt, shooting up to 6 feet 2 inches by age 11. "I stood out a lot," he recalls, smiling at his pun. "All I wanted to do was play the violin and sing in the choir. I was an outcast."
Then near-tragedy struck. While on a school trip, Wolf tumbled from a bus his class was traveling in. "I became famous as the boy who survived and screwed up everybody's coach trip," he remembers. "I came back from that and everyone knew me. They were like, There's that weird kid." Wolf began to dwell in his own internal world, during a time when England was still under the black cloud of Section 28, a law that barred schools from "promoting" homosexuality. Wolf began to be bullied for his effeminacy.