Interview: Alexander Wolfe
Published on October 15th, 2010 | Jonny Abrams
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Rocksucker caught up with critically acclaimed, London-based singer-songwriter Alexander Wolfe – whose debut album Morning Brings a Flood has been described as “eleven shatteringly beautiful soulful folk pieces” by Music Is Okay and “an absolutely incredible album…a happy reminder that beautiful music doesn’t have to be saccharine and nauseating” by allgigs.co.uk – to discuss the genesis of his rapturously received first opus…
Morning Brings a Flood is getting great reviews. What was your big breakthrough in the music industry?
I’m still waiting for it! To be honest, there hadn’t been one – it was just a succession of things. I had tunnel vision with it and I just kept going. I’ve been doing it for two years now and there was nothing – financially or anything else – that could persuade me from the fact that I had to make the record and that it needed to be as good as it had to be. I made it in bedrooms, lofts, bathrooms – all kinds of weird places. So there was a bit of blind faith, an ‘if you build it they will come’ kind of thing. It’s got great reviews and it’s sold nicely but that’s not why I did it. I did it because I had stuff to say.
They’re beautiful songs. Nick Drake’s an obvious reference point – was his work what you had in mind when it came to the orchestration?
It’s weird you should say that because when I started the record – in conception at least, before I recorded it – it was going to be an acoustic collection of songs. Nick Drake made a few records but Pink Moon was just him and a guitar and that’s kind of what I felt I should be doing, just getting right to the core of the songs. As I kept going, I ended up elaborating and building on their structures and it kind of took shape from there. An old friend of mine called Alex McCarthy scored the string arrangements for me, which were very ornate, and I think it went into a different area of Nick Drake’s work.
Were the songs written in close proximity to each other or over a long period of time?
Yeah, they were written in relatively close proximity. My band had just broken up so it wasn’t a particularly happy time – I felt a bit lost and like I didn’t know where to put myself, really. Some of that comes out in the songs, I suppose. They’re not particularly jolly. They’re about the kind of struggle which we all feel.
Are these songs a radical departure from what you did with the band?
Yeah. I’ve always been quite introspective with my words – they’ve always been quite dark and self-reflective – but the band was a rock and roll band. Quite heavy, a bit proggy. I don’t know how to describe it. It was quite weird but good, I think.
Did you find it difficult at first to perform these stripped down, personal songs to people having previously had the security-in-numbers of being in a band?
To be honest, I kind of felt – why didn’t I do this sooner? I’ve always felt like I need to get to the core of what I’m saying and the big rock and roll treatment shrouded that a little bit. I believe that if you can’t play it in front of people with just a guitar and vocals then it’s not a great song.
Which current acts do you admire?
I find myself listening to a lot of old music, as you can imagine! But I love Elbow. I actually really like the new Bombay Bicycle Record – I didn’t expect to but it’s really well put together. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver was a huge record for me a couple of years ago. I don’t if that counts as new though. I was listening to the Grizzly Bear from last year [Veckatimest ] the other day.
Finally – and bearing in mind that your answer could change from day to day, even hour to hour – could you name your top three albums of all time?
Erm…no! (Pauses in deep thought) I’d probably say Pink Moon by Nick Drake. You know when someone asks you something like this and you can’t think of a single record you’ve ever liked? Errr…I really don’t know. Well, I’m writing a new album that’s very acoustic based so I’ve been listening to a lot of singer-songwriter stuff. But I’m quite wary not to just say “Joni Mitchell” or whoever else I was listening to yesterday. Beggar’s Banquet by the Stones was huge for me. (Pauses again) I can’t think of a third record. Not one. Not just a record I like but a record at all! (Laughs and then pauses in thought again) It’s weird with these kind of questions, you always get the feeling that people are, rather than naming their actual favourites, just listing the three coolest records they can think of, like something recorded in a box in 1950. So I’ll have to think of one of those. (Laughs)
What about a Neil Young record?
Do you know what, I’d completely forgotten about Neil Young. Let’s go with After the Gold Rush.