Self-produced and released on her own label, Paula Wolfe’s work to date has received strong support from the British music press. Awarded a four star rating from Mojo, she has been described as ‘a splendid songwriter’ (Uncut), her lyrics deemed ‘exceptional’ and her voice ‘gorgeous’ (Maverick). Her intelligent balancing of lyrical theme and musical form has earned her personal praise from the Head of Music at BBC Radio 2 and 6Music and the type of accolade expressed by one critic who declared her last album ‘A flawless exercise in modern art, that boasts enough melody to make this as warm and approachable as possible, whilst being unafraid to extend an olive branch to the musos; stunning’ (New-noise.net).
From early in her career, Paula has been seen as possessing ‘that all too rare quality of being able to command your attention to the point of dropping everything else…a phenomenal talent’ (peoplesound.com). Her first two releases showed her to be a producer of ‘intelligent, literate lyrics’ (musicOMH), marking her out as ‘sharp and observant’ (Arts Council) and ‘a rare and exceptional talent’ (Dripfed Magazine). Drawn to those on the fringes, a stark realism emerges from the stories and characters inhabiting her songs: Russian prostitutes working the hotels in Crete; joyriders in the unfashionable quarters of Manchester; the neglected young waiting for life to start and those broken from too much hardship and too much booze. No less observant in her second album, Lemon was received as ‘a mood-shifting, musically inventive piece of work, each song a slowly evolving story’ (Mojo). Once again Paula’s songs showed her ‘weaving engaging stories’ (Uncut): the daily struggles of an immigrant mother in parochial middle England, the narrow world of little Englanders in a gated community in southern Spain and the tender, late love of elderly neighbours. In response to this collection of ‘stunning miniature dramas and stories’ (Maverick) one critic observed that ‘Not quite belonging but caught up in its momentum, be it a place, a person, a feeling. Paula Wolfe seems to capture that emotion and turn it into a narrative and ultimately a song. She’s got a knack for hitting the mark on both sides of the desk’ (Fatea Magazine).
So, if critics marked her out as ‘a rising talent’ (Time Out) and indeed ‘a formidable talent’ (Netrhythms), what has she been doing since her last release?
Paula started to develop academic leanings alongside the development of her music production skills. Noticing that there did not seem to be that many women around her who were making a transition similar to herself from songwriting to production, she felt there was a story to be unearthed that might explain why. She coupled the production of her first EP with an MA and discovered a response to women working in the music industry by feminist popular music scholars that kick-started her own research path in music production, the music industry and gender. Her research presented itself as a fitting companion to her creative work as an artist-producer and she started to write and deliver papers at international music conferences, attracting the attention of the world of academia. During the completion of her second album Paula was offered a place as a doctoral student at The Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool and enrolled as a long distance, part-time student to allow her to maintain her work as a singer-songwriter and producer.
Paula conducted her research within the independent sector of the UK music industry, regularly attending industry conferences and conducting interviews with high profile industry figures and artists. She continued to give papers, started to publish and began to build a growing international profile. She was awarded her PhD in 2014 and in 2015 secured a publishing contract with Routledge for a revised version of her doctoral thesis. Her research has been well received. International peer reviews described her first publication in 2012 as ‘excellent, convincing and engaging, and opens to numerous paths for future scholarship’. In 2014 her research was highlighted for its importance during the keynote speech at The Art of Record Production Conference (ARP) at the University of Oslo, Norway and in 2016 she was invited to give a presentation about her forthcoming book at ARP at Aalborg University, Denmark. In addition her work has been widely cited in high profile publications by esteemed colleagues throughout the global academic community.
From singer-songwriter to artist-producer-label to academic scholar and author, Paula has come full circle. She has been writing, recording and producing her music alongside her academic research and writing and has also been offering some guest lecturing and teaching. At the same time, she has been renovating a Grade II Listed, 16th century country house, the location for the recording of her third album. This is the third house she has renovated and the third studio she has constructed to house the creation of her work.
So what has Paula Wolfe been doing since her last release? She has been embarked on a journey of intense creativity, producing ‘inventive piece[s] of work’ (Mojo) in different fields – simultaneously. But this journey is now reaching its final stages: the mixing for the album is almost done, the edits on the book are nearly complete and the house is practically finished.
2018 promises to be an interesting year.