Patrick Wolf Penetrates New World with ‘The Night Safari’

The Night Safari is a phrase Patrick Wolf conceptualized around nights spent “staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep and descending into a wilderness of dead ends and anxieties.” 

Videos by American Songwriter

The title of the British singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist’s latest EP, The Night Safari, chronicles Wolf’s nearly decade-long creative lull and reemergence from addiction, hopelessness, and grief.

Written, performed and produced by Wolf, with additional production and engineering by Brendan Cox, The Night Safari is a collection of five songs. The tracks are backed by an ambitious arrangement of strings and other instruments — all played by Wolf — including violins, bowed psaltery, viola, and Celtic harp, along with an upright piano Moog synthesizer, and a Critter pocket piano, among other pieces.

The project was recorded in separate locations. From the coastal areas Isle of Thanet to Wandsworth in England to Lewisham and King’s Cross in London, and the Blue Mountains, the EP was mastered by Alex Wharton at Abbey Road Studios. The Night Safari is a fitting score moving the crossing through five distinct, and connected, stories.

Opening on the six-plus minute opus, “The Night Safari” is a song of “departure” and picks up where Wolf’s 2011 album Lupercalia left off. “Where the lovers were poised to elope on a bright future together,” he says, pinpointing the prior egress.

“This opening song says after all our seemingly invincible hope of love, that ‘all the love, is not enough,’” shares Wolf. “Although I write so that people can reflect and attach their own context to the lyrics, my intention with this song was to mark a departure from the coexisting togetherness of ‘Lupercalia.’ It says to the other half, in spirit: ‘The problems I am facing I will have to face alone. You or your love isn’t what will save me anymore. Now I need to find out what I have to rescue myself from and If I do and work through it, I may return safe at your side.’”

Continuing on, The Night Safari ventures into the no man’s land pulsing stomp of “Nowhere Game,” a song that came to Wolf first in melody several years earlier while he watched a storm brewing on a beach in Crimea. Over time, “Nowhere Game” evolved into a narrative around Wolf’s addiction, and a period of hopelessness. The song is told partly from the perspective of his sister and all those who tried to initially reach out to him.

“If you won’t accept our help, go ahead and continue to self-destruct,” says Wolf, elaborating on the meaning of the song and its un-celebratory refrain of Happy birthday / To the never get out of this now. “I hope you hit your rock bottom soon,” he continues. “Only then will you want to start to escape the nowhere of your life. Until then, happy birthday, another year in nowhere.”

Cutting through, The Night Safari is centered by a mid-Eastern, electric instrumental, “Acheron.” This halfway mark on The Night Safari is composed in multiple time signatures and with varied instruments before segueing into the seven-plus minute atmospheric dwelling of “Dodona,” a track chronicling more of Wolf’s 10-year journey toward sobriety.

“I booked a one-way to ticket landing on the Isle of Crete to catch a boat to the Epirus region of Greece,” recalls Wolf. “As my plane touched down, in enforced detoxification, my pilgrimage to the oracle of Dodona began, believing naively I would be able to rid myself of my affliction by this journey.”

He adds, “The journey to Dodona was the prelude to the chapter of life where I begin working to get better and also the realization that what lay ahead of me was a rock bottom, that there was to be much healing and recovery before I could ever think about returning to work or writing again.”

The Night Safari ends by reopening on the lightened “Enter the Day,” a letter to himself about renewal. Trembling at the helm / At standstill and overwhelm / Oh dear, nearly departed / Now life is a bridge / You cannot cross or burn, sings Wolf on the more lifted close.

Wolf has collaborated with Patti Smith, Marianne Faithfull, Tilda Swinton, and late composer Angelo Badalamenti, among other artists. For Wolf, The Night Safari is a reflection of the decade-plus passage of time since his fifth album Lupercalia in 2011 and follow-up Sundark and Riverlight — a reimagined compilation of his songs. It also serves as a precursor to Wolf’s forthcoming full-length album, set for release in early 2024.

Accompanying The Night Safari, Wolf recently released a monochromatic short film, The Bowline Knot, tying the visuals filmed around tracks “The Night Safari” and “Nowhere Game.”

Wolf spoke to American Songwriter about the years of work that led to The Night Safari, his journey to sobriety, and returning to writing, and a brand new life.

American Songwriter: You’ve presented these five distinct, and grand, tracks that formed The Night Safari. Describe the aftermath of releasing such an intense body of work.

Patrick Wolf: It’s definitely meant to be a dream sequence. It’s such a long period of work that stems across a long period of time. If I were a dentist, it would be like taking the plaque or the tartar off my teeth. It’s given me that feeling of being handed over. I’m feeling light about it all. It’s cleared an emotional residue for me. For a while, I was wading through that period of not being able to write, and it got a bit dark.

AS: These songs are ones that began taking shape years earlier. Were they transforming even more as you started to record everything?

PW: I left space for that. Sometimes, I am not writing the lyrics until I’ve gotten the final production, and it’s just a series of vowels and consonants up until then. When my mother passed in 2018, so much else was happening up to that point in my life that I was not going to be able to write about it right then. Then the years went by, and I was naturally digesting my grief and letting it speak. I was finding ways to describe it and write about it.

AS: The EP follows your journey to sobriety. When did you first begin turning your life around?

PW: My rock bottom was really 2015 to 2016, and after that, it was really a period of complete disconnection — from my work, from my responsibility as Patrick Wolf, touring, and being in the public eye. It was everything from bankruptcy to the beginning of my mother becoming ill. I was always trying to get work finished, and it was so forced because everything else was falling apart. The only thing that would come out of me creatively was pessimism and nihilism.

AS: Thinking back to your debut, Lycanthropy (2003), and now with The Night Safari, do you feel like you’re the same songwriter?

PW: The first chapter of my career began with an EP and an album. Both of those were either rewriting or recording songs that I’ve written from the age of 13 up to the age of 20, so there was this decade of those EPS, of taking the past and rephrasing it for the present. That’s pretty much what’s happening here. I’m starting with an EP and catching up on that decade, so there are a lot of similarities here. 

AS: What can you share about the forthcoming album?

PW: Two years ago, I left London. I live on what they call the Viking Coast, and that experience of putting everything into a van and crossing over with all my instruments and everything. It was the beginning of a chapter of life that, in a way, The Night Safari serves as a prelude to.

I walked and learned the coastline and started going to local book shops and learning about the area’s folklore and mythology and really building up my language of the soil, and the cliffs, and the legends here. What I want to do is take the forgotten mythology and folklore of this town, and this landscape, which is incredibly beautiful, and set them as some of the markers of the stories I’m going to be telling.

AS: Would you say The Night Safari was healing for you?

PW: It was. I don’t regret anything about the last 10 years. I always promised myself I wouldn’t return to work until I had a sense of gravity. I didn’t really know what that meant. Recently, I was planting strawberries, blackberries, and rhubarb. And that was the same day that my song got [on the charts] here, and I thought “Oh, that’s nice,” and I went and planted the strawberry plants.

This is the gratitude that I wanted, and the life that I wanted. The garden needs me. My cats need me. I have a purpose here. I have a life, and at the end of the day, it’s about finding that balance. In the old days, it would be three bottles of gin later and one week later of celebrating being on the list, but I am not a victim of the tide of success and failure in my career anymore. The joy is just making it, and the other joy is being able to experience it as it happens.

Photos: Kim Jakobsen-To / Courtesy of Erika Tooker PR

Leave a Reply

Kane Brown’s Wife Katelyn Pulls Out of Weekend Shows to Care for Sick Child