Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Afton Wolfe Drops New EP 'Petronius' Last Meal'

Article Pixel

Afton Wolfe Drops New EP 'Petronius' Last Meal'

The ancient Roman courtier Petronius led a life of hedonism and debauchery while serving under the emperor Nero, drawing the scorn of many rivals, leading to accusations of treason, a death sentence and, finally, suicide before his execution could be carried out.

Nearly 2,000 years later, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Afton Wolfe draws inspiration from this legend for his debut solo EP, "Petronius' Last Meal" (Twangri-La Records). Indeed, the project is a musical snapshot of humanity's ugliness, loveliness and, ultimately, the universal equality of mortality.

"There's a consistent thread of regret and acceptance throughout this album," Wolfe said. "The songs were written during a period when I was thinking a lot about mortality and the effect of my small existence on this crazy, complex world."

Though none of Wolfe's songs shares the album's title, the opening track, "Notes Written On Basil," is relevant to Petronius' death. As Wolfe explains it, the idea came from a short story he read while studying philosophy at Middle Tennessee State University.

"Author Dave Eggers' story, 'Notes for a Story of a Man Who Will Not Die Alone,' features a character named Basil, who wants to be surrounded by as many people as possible when he dies, like Petronius," Wolfe explained. "In the story, Basil ends up dying in the middle of a football field. I found the exhibitionism fascinating; the vulnerability of dying in front of other people. It touched on ethics and philosophy and looking death in the eye. I wrote the song very quickly after reading it."

That's hardly the stuff of most contemporary music, but Wolfe has always thought of himself as something of a square peg in a round hole, when it comes to songwriting. After enjoying some regional success in his native Mississippi with the now-defunct band Dollar Book Floyd (2001-2002), Wolfe moved to Nashville in 2003, where he formed a rock power trio, The Relief Effort, before later moving to the Pacific Northwest to attend law school.

"One of the reasons I stopped being in bands is you have to be so genre-specific, whereas people tend to give you a lot more flexibility to experiment with other genres, as a solo artist," he said. "I am heavily influenced by Southern rock, folk, blues and gospel. Growing up in Hattiesburg, I was also influenced by the jazz scene in New Orleans. In New Orleans, the mindset is to shock the hell out of people, whereas Nashville crowds are more into music that's predictable and familiar."

Now, Wolfe is back in Nashville, where he is a lawyer by day, which provides him the financial stability to pursue writing and performing during these uncertain times. Though it was created long before the COVID-19 pandemic and the current protests over racial injustice, "Petronius' Last Meal" seems relevant to the tensions caused by the myriad crises facing the world.

For example, the song "Slingshots" paints an abstract picture of a chaotic world plagued by war, famine and political strife. "...Pennsylvania Avenue gets cluttered with broken weather balloons / They got million-dollar slingshots, and they got eyes like gunshot wounds."

(See the "Slingshots" music video here: https://youtu.be/fvGmEqNV8wc)

"Interrogations" is the story of a bed, told from three perspectives: a man waking up each day, a woman dying, and an insomniac whose lack of sleep leads to other problems. "Wait On Me" is, as Wolfe describes it, "the detached reflections on an ex-lover's grandfather's funeral." The final track, "So Long, Sweet Lime," was inspired by a line from one of Wolfe's favorite movies, director Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited."

"There's a waitress in the film named Sweet Lime, whom Jason Schwartzman's character falls for," Wolfe said. "As he's leaving on a train, he says, 'So long, Sweet Lime.' It's a very poignant moment. The song is about saying goodbye to that thing or person that you are never going to see again."

Joining Wolfe on "Petronius' Last Meal" are Helen Caddes on background vocals, guitarist Charlie Rauh, Craig Schenker on saxophone and flute, and bass player Dan Seymour, who, coincidentally, played for the late David Olney, until his death earlier this year.

After years of performing with other artists and adapting to their styles, Wolfe has settled into his comfort zone, which means he is constantly stepping outside of his comfort zone. With a voice and writing style often compared to that of Tom Waits, he describes his lyrical approach as "associative and abstract," based on personal experiences, but not always clearly explaining his meaning.

"I don't necessarily like to know exactly what a songwriter is talking about," he said. "I like to think about what a song means to me. I want people to think about what my songs mean to them."

"Petronius' Last Meal" by Afton Wolfe is available through Twangri-La Records, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and most other digital outlets (as of July 7). More information is available at AftonWolfe.com.


Related Articles View More Music Stories

More Hot Stories For You