Alexander Wolfe is a singer-songwriter from South London who’s album, ‘Morning Brings A Flood’, was released to great critical acclaim at the end of 2009. We caught up with him recently to talk about his influences, work and his plans for the future…
You grew up in South East London. Did you have a musical upbringing, and what inspired you to become a musician?
I suppose I did. My Dad is a musician as well as many other things and my Mum is quite musical too though they didn’t really play much when I was a kid. I think life kind of got in the way, living in South East London, trying to put food on the table for three boys tends to bump music down the priority list, but yeah, I definitely feel like it is in my blood.
There were always records being played, my Dad would listen to The Doors and Pink Floyd, and my Mum would listen to classical music and French Chanteuse singers like Yves Montand. I think all of it has found its way into my music in some way.
Your first band out of school was with Jamie Cullum, how did you guys hook up and how would you describe the music you made together?
I used to work in a music shop in Denmark Street and one afternoon Jamie came in, in a panic, late for a gig needing a pedal for his piano. I was really terrible at my job and couldn’t find the pedal anywhere, and when I did find it I couldn’t work the card machine. While he was waiting for me to sort myself out he started playing a hammond organ. He’s a really great musician so when I finally found the pedal and got the card machine working I gave him a CD of my demos with his receipt. I remember him giving me this look as if to say, you cheeky fucker. He was very unimpressed with my skills as a shop assistant I think, but he rang me the next day saying he loved the songs and wanted to meet up.
So he joined my band. we were quite eclectic, sort of psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll, always quite soulful though… we wrote some good songs I think, did some good things. We Supported Paul Weller in Hyde Park but we broke up before we got to release anything.
He played Hammond organ and Moog. We became, and still are, good friends. He was quite Rock ‘n’ roll, quite wild, very different from the Jamie that is portrayed by the media.
I knew very little about his jazz stuff until he made his first record. After that I’d always make him play ‘God Bless The Child’ in soundchecks and rehearsals, as it’s one of my favourite songs.
He is an incredible piano player and probably the best natural musician I’ve ever met. He’s underrated in that respect I think. He invited me and The Wolfettes to support him at a show at Kenwood House last summer.
Your self-funded debut album, ‘Morning Brings a Flood’ received great critical acclaim when it was released. What’s the story behind the album and why did you choose to do it yourself?
It wasn’t really a choice but I’m glad it happened that way… when my French grandfather died he left me a Rembrandt Lithograph print which I had for years. I decided to sell it to fund buying all the bits & pieces I needed to make a record, a laptop, mic, etc… I justified it as selling art to create art. Self-funding was my only real option. I didn’t have a record deal and I wasn’t prepared to wait for months just to be shelved by some A&R kid looking for the next Jessie J, so, I sold the only valuable thing that I owned and just got on with it. I have very little respect for the music industry and feel very detached from it.
I always wanted to produce my own record. It’s the only way I can get close to the way it sounds in my head. I’ve never really enjoyed working with producers and I’m a bit of a control freak so it made sense to do it that way. There was no label, so I had to fund it myself, record it myself, produce it myself, do everything myself… it took a long time to record, I was always setting up stuff for a couple of hours in lofts or basements, here and there… I used to sneak into recording studio’s at night to use a sitar or a harmonium…I’m proud of it, it’s surprising how well it all hangs together considering the way it was recorded.
One the the tracks from the album, ‘Stuck Under September’ had a video that was more like a short film starring Emilia Fox. Tell us about that.
The song is the story of a broken love affair between the sun and the moon, told from the moon’s perspective, Emilia plays the moon in the video. It was directed by a friend of mine, Oliver Lansley, who has an amazing theatre company called ‘Les Enfants Terribles’ which I’m a big fan of. He loved the song and came up with the idea for the video. We shot it in the crypt under St. Andrews church in east London. We didn’t have much money so everyone who worked on it did it for free because they loved the song, from Emilia, to the cameramen, to the dancers. I never thought I’d ever make a video with a dance routine in it, let alone two… especially for my slowest, most mournful song.
Your track ‘Song For The Dead’ was used in a sitcom. Getting music into film or TV these days seems to be the holy grail for many artists. How did you feel when you knew you’d achieved this accolade?
Yeah, it is seen like that nowadays isn’t it, which is weird because it always used to be seen as selling out or something.
‘Whites’ was written by Oliver Lansley, who directed ‘Stuck Under September’ video, and Matt King, who plays Superhands in Peepshow. They were both fans of the song and sort of pushed it through I think. They asked if they could use it as the title music quite early on when they were writing it. It’s cool because it’s brought me to the ears of people who wouldn’t necessarily have heard it otherwise.
Another song from the album called ‘Breakdown’ was used on the soundtrack to a gangster film called ‘The Big I Am’ recently too. I’ve always felt that my music is naturally quite filmic. I’d love to score a whole film one day.
I hear your new single is mono cut direct to vinyl. Tell us a little about that process, where you did it and why.
We recorded it in Riflemakers, which is an art gallery in Soho with Lewis Durham from ‘Kitty, Daisy & Lewis’. I found the concept really interesting, You play live and your performance is cut directly onto the vinyl in mono as you’re playing. He had an amazing collection of 1920′s ribbon microphones and old valve compressors, I felt like a kid in a sweet shop. I did two new songs, ‘Separated By a Smile’ and ‘Skeletons’, live with The Wolfettes, my string quartet.
I had a limited run of 100 white label 10″ records pressed and I hand-painted each sleeve. Music has become disposable for a lot of people with mp3s & iPods, I just wanted to make something that wasn’t.
Name 5 bands/artists you couldn’t live without?
The artists who have influenced me most over the years are probably Neil Young, Nick Drake, Radiohead, Elliott Smith & The Beatles.
Do you have any plans for a new album and live dates this year?
Yes, I’ve been recording a new album. It’s nearly finished, It’s going to be called ‘Skeletons’ I think. It’s about a series of dreams I had. I go through spells of insomnia and I had a period where I wasn’t sleeping very much and I was having very vivid dreams. I would wake up in the night and write songs about the dreams… before I knew it I had enough for an album. It’s very sparse and simple, just me and The Wolfettes: vocals, guitar & strings, no drums, no bass. just the skeletons of the songs.
I’ll be playing some shows when the record is finished. I’m not very good at multi-tasking so when I’m recording I find it hard to get into gig mode, and vice versa.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m hoping to land a role in ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ or become a famous cage fighter.