Your New Favourite Band: Lone Wolf interview
Ragged Words first caught proper sight of Lone Wolf when he was just a cub, or more accurately still trading under his real name of Paul Marshall. The sighting was a Sunday afternoon session recorded by our sister site Bandstand Busking - when Marshall had a fine debut album, Vultures, under his belt - and the Leeds man was spellbinding. Just over a year later, he's returned, only this time he's armed with an altogether more ambitious second album and his new lupine moniker. So, oddly, it's an old favourite of ours then who we reckon might just be your new favourite band.
"When I was going under Paul Marshall, I was almost on a kind of a crusade - since I first started - to break that barrier of why does the singer-songwriter guy have to go on first? I always used to go by the ethos of you wouldn't listen to a Nick Drake album and say 'I can't wait for this to end so I can listen to the proper music!' You're an artist in your own right. But one of the problems with having a name that's as dull and as boring as Paul Marshall is that I'm sure as soon as radio pluggers got the 'Greenfly' single (from his first album), they would have gone - there, Paul Marshall, singer-songwriter. Doush (the sound of a cd being thrown onto said pile of David Gray-alikes). You wouldn't even think in a million years that I was anything else and then at the time, I wasn't.
"But when I stared writing songs for this album, I started layering things up. Like I really wanted to play keys instead of guitar on a few tracks. I wanted drums, then I wanted strings, then I wanted horns, then I wanted synths. I just wanted to do something new and I thought 'aw shit, I'm pushing this now, further than I ever did before.' Then halfway through the album, I thought how in god's fucking name am I going to do this live? Well, first of all I'm not going to be called Paul Marshall any more. I still wanted to have a name that made people think it is just one person because it is still me – I write it all and performed everything on the album except the stuff I can't play like strings and trumpets but I just wanted to start brand new basically and come out with an album that isn't Vultures the sequal."
You also signed to Bella Union at an odd time – it was a fair bit after your debut album had been released but before you'd started on your next record. Was there an element of actually launching yourself as a new artist on their roster? To fully take initial advantage of their backing?
"Maybe. I mean, we're not attacking the market in that fresh and new kind of way. It's more because it is new, if that makes sense. It wouldn't be new if it was Paul Marshall's new record but because of the direction I've gone on some parts of the record – like the single for example – you wouldn't listen to that and assume it's me if you'd heard Vultures. So rather than go: 'Guess what? Paul Marshall's got a new name', from Bella Union's point of view, it's like fuck it, Lone Wolf is our new signing. A lot of people don't know who Paul Marshall is anyway – it was a word of mouth thing with me and I did okay but at the same time, it's like why not hit em with something new because unfortunately in this day and age, people aren't too interested in what's been and gone. It's a sad truth."
You're right though, it does seem to be a more beefed up sound. Was that always something you wanted to do?
“Yeaaah! (laughs). Yeah, even when I was just writing crappy things on my four track when I was 20 years old, I was always layering vocals beyond belief so that there was a choir but it was almost like I chose not to do it for Vultures, I just stripped it right back and wrote some really folky-esque kind of stuff and then on this one, I had that day where I looked in the mirror and said 'nah, I really want this album to get huge in places' because that's some of the stuff I like best about other music. I love it when it builds to a big climax. I thought I'm not going to live my life and not do this record although halfway through recording it I nearly chickened out and thought I was going a bit too far. But I was just frightened of doing what I wanted to do.”
The live band seems to have developed into a Leeds supergroup of sorts with Grammatics' Linsey Wilson, Duels' Jon Foulger and James Kenosha, Metronomy's Anna Prior and James Mabbett (Napoleon iiird, whom we wax lyrical about for a minute or so). Were they involved at all in the recording?
"Nope. They're 100 percent live unfortunately. I'm not saying they haven't brought their own ideas to the table when we're playing live but as the name change suggests, I do very much crawl up into my own shell when it comes to writing and recording. I've almost got this weird forcefield around me of not being able to hear other people's ideas, which is sometimes my downfall but I just have to it myself. I've got this weird OCD-like way where this is my thing and I have to do it and sometimes I drive myself insane because of it. Saying that, on the last record Tom Fleming from Wild Beasts came around my house and there was one song, 'Russian Winter', which I was telling him felt like it needed something else and he just sat down at the piano and started playing. Granted, he didn't write the part but if he hadn't put his fingers on the keys that day, I probably wouldn't have realised how badly that song needed piano. So I know that there are ways that other people can bring stuff to my music."
With Tom coming around like that, the bandmates you've assembled and with you here supporting Wild Beasts (we're talking before the pair's brilliant show at Dublin's Academy), there does seem to be a real community to the Leeds music scene. Is that the case?
"Yeah. Sometimes the Leeds music scene gets a little bit of a weird, horrible reputation of being this clique and it's such bollocks because every band I know, and we could go right through from Kaiser Chiefs to iLiKETRAiNS, Grammatics, Blue Roses, Napolean iiird, Duels – it goes on and on – but we all know each other and we're all friends and we all want each other to do well which is why I was in the position to form this band. It's not like everybody is saying 'we want to do our own thing, we want to be the biggest band in Leeds.' We all just want to see each other do well."
Tell us about going to Sweden to record with Kristofer Jonson (of Jeniferever whom Marshall has played with and covered in the past). How important was it to record somewhere else?
"It was very important to me because when I quit my job to do my music, I was in my house from the moment I woke up to the moment I went asleep. Usually in my little music room where I'd often go nuts. I've been very good friends with Kris for a long time and my girlfriend's Swedish so I've been there a lot and knew that's where I wanted to be. We were only supposed to do it for three or four weeks and it ended up being two months. It was a dreadfully – how can I put this in words so it doesn't sound bad – it was a very gruelling process and not through the fault of Kris or mine but we were with each other every waking moment of every day. And also because I was making such drastic changes to my sound in places – I suffer a lot with self anxiety, like I get very worried about things that a lot of time don't need to be worried about – so Kris had to deal with me in stomach-churning panic mode quite a lot. He had to almost be my councillor and it sounds really weird to say it like that but that's the way it happened simply because I care about it so much. I just want it to be right and I'm glad that I do care about it so much.
Vultures had its dark parts but The Devil & I seems darker still. What's deepened the mood?
"I always write dark songs. I can't help it. It's just in me. I like writing tales about murders and strange situations. I mean '15 Letters', which will be the next single, is about a guy that's got a name that's 15 letters long and his woman is a bit of a mentalist and she ends up killing him, mainly because she's never been able to pronounce his name properly and everyone always takes the piss out of her for it. So she kills him but the problem is she always sees his name everywhere afterwards. It's like a tell tale heart type story and it sends her insane. It's a very narrative one and there's going to be another animated video for that one, an animation of what's going on in her brain."
Which brings us neatly onto my next question: that video. It utterly astounded me the first time I saw it so I wondered what did you think or say the first time you saw the completed version of the promo for Keep Your Eyes On The Road?
"Aw, I was over the moon. And you've got bear in mind, I saw it day in, day out. I mean you can't sit there for 12 hours straight, being animated for a seven second shot and not want to see it straight away. You have to see what you've gone through so I kind of saw it in random order and the first stuff we did seems like it was made a century ago. But aw man, I'm more than over the moon with the video. Ash (Dean) was such a great director to work with – I mean he put me through a lot of pain – but he's brilliant. And I want people to see this video. I feel like it's not getting the hits it deserves at the moment. It's a video that needs to be seen, not even for my sake but because Ash has really gone out of his way to make a great video.
"Peter Gabriel's seen it (the video is a homage to Sledgehammer) and he love it. I'm well chuffed with that. Guys who've worked on animation on Wallace & Grommit have all given it the big thumbs up too and even Ed O'Brien from Radiohead sent me an email (said giggling with excitement) to say he loves it and that was one of the best emails of my life. We've got approval from people up there!"
"I think it's 100 percent proof that the music video isn't dead. And I think what it also goes to show is that, without sounding like a big headed twat, if you're going do a fucking video, do a video. Unless it's a particularly well shot one, the days of someone recording you in your garage, with a few slow motion shots of the band looking moody, are gone. It has to be an art form in itself and some of the videos I've seen in the last year have been amazing. Look at Grizzly Bear's video (for Two Weeks), that's just fucking awesome. And so is the Blue Roses one for 'Doubtful Comforts'. It's something that you want to sit and watch. I think it's definitely not dead, you've just got to put more effort in. It's the same with music. Just look at Wild Beast. They are, in my humble opinion, one of the best band's we've got and their proof of what you can do."
Finally, what are the plans for the rest of the year then? Is it going to be tour, tour, tour?
Yeah, I guess it's going to be playing, playing, playing. I'm already trying to start writing for the next record and on the next one I want to do something different again. Another name change might not be out of the question. I like to shock people with my music – not because it's so shockingly bizarre – but that if you've listened to the previous album, you're going to be surprised.