Interview Home of the brave: Wolf Alice hit America
Wolf Alice quickly cemented their place as one of Britain’s best on their debut album. On the road in the USA, its successor sounds like a plucky and courageous next step.
It’s been just over nine months since Wolf Alice closed out their touring around debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’ when the four-piece arrive in New York. The skyscrapers of Manhattan loom large across the East River as excited fans begin queuing seven hours before the band are due on stage. Equally as excited are the four-piece themselves. They’ve already played five dates on their intimate US tour before tonight and are getting back in the swing of performing.
The all-conquering band are out here to play new material from their forthcoming second album, ‘Visions Of A Life’, traipsing across large quantities of America to perform in venues far smaller than what they’ve become accustomed to. Tonight’s venue, Brooklyn’s Rough Trade, only holds 250 people - over 40 times smaller than the cavernous Alexandra Palace, which the band are due to vanquish on their UK tour later this year. This size show is like a throwback to their early tours, but this time they’re miles tighter, more electrifying and supremely confident.
“The tour’s been amazing,” bassist Theo Ellis says, backstage ahead of the evening’s show. “It’s been scary because we’ve been away, but it’s been really exciting to be back on the road playing new songs.”
The band’s Ellie Rowsell nods in agreement from the sofa opposite him. “It’s also been refreshing - I feel like there’s a newer perspective on the older tunes as well. With the new new songs that we haven’t put out yet, it’s been interesting for us to see which ones translate the best live.”
Leaning forward to the edge of the couch, she explains the group’s slight apprehension at playing songs no one’s ever heard before. Later, in front of a packed, sweaty room, she’ll request no one films their freshest cuts because “it’s like introducing a boyfriend or girlfriend to your parents.” A couple of phones stay up, red dot blinking and clocks counting upward, but the footage never makes it online. It’s a sweet sign of the kind of fanbase the Londoners have cultivated over their ascent so far - one that’s eager and passionate enough to find waiting two-and-a-half more months until the album drops complete torture, but with enough respect and love for the band themselves not to go too far in disobeying their wishes.
"It's like 'My Love Is Cool' times 50,000 - 'My Love Is Cool' on steroids."
— Theo Ellis
Recorded in Los Angeles over three months with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Paramore, Nine Inch Nails), ‘Visions Of A Life’ marks the beginning of a new chapter for the band. It’s fitting, then, that they spent an extended period somewhere other than their hometown making it - if debut ‘My Love Is Cool’ was created when they were very much immersed in London life, this record was spawned from a time of exploring bigger, different things.
By the sounds of the songs they play at Rough Trade, they definitely found something different to tap into. ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ contrasts Ellie’s high def, pristine vocals with buzzing rock riffs, while ‘Formidable Cool’ has a ton of swagger. The record’s title track in particular, though, is something of a glorious shock - eight minutes of doomy, blistering psych rock that sounds more like something you’d find on a Wand album than Wolf Alice. It’s the kind of thing they’ve touched upon in songs like ‘Giant Peach’ and (to a lesser extent) ‘Storms’, but taken to new extremes. It’s also the song they’ve been most anxious about debuting. “I was worried,” guitarist Joff Oddie admits. “That was the only one on the album where, in the back of my head, I was like, ‘Is that just something we like?’” He pauses for a second and rubs his head. “People have been clapping along so I’m chuffed we’re not wankers,” he adds, causing his bandmates to erupt with cackles around him.
Each new track on the setlist - including the already-released, barking ‘Yuk Foo’ and cinematic, loved-up dream of ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ - pegs Wolf Alice as a band who weren’t short of ambition when it came to making this album. “It’s like ‘My Love Is Cool’ times 50,000, ‘My Love Is Cool’ on steroids,” jokes Theo, while Joff explains their first full-length, no matter how successful, did have its limitations. “I think there were certain times where we were holding back stylistically in terms of how we were approaching production and performances and that kind of thing,” he says. “We approached this one with a kind of belligerent confidence and just said ‘We’re gonna do this our way. Just be brave and go and try things out.’”
Most of the initial ideas for ‘Visions Of A Life’ came during the band’s many months on tour. Ellie has likened them to diary entries, but she says they weren’t designed to process any of the things that were happening to her at the time, rather crystallise exactly how she felt about everything at that moment. “That’s why the songs are quite interesting to listen to,” she shrugs. “Sometimes you forget how you feel about things - that’s why I keep a diary. Lots of things change your memory and songs can be a good way of remembering how you felt about something.”
Wolf Alice weren’t lacking in things to write about, either. As the frontwoman notes, their lives have changed considerably over the last few years, be that from travelling the world and being nominated for prestigious awards like the Grammys to simpler things like being able to move out of their parents’ homes. “It wasn’t short of emotional experiences,” Theo adds shaking his head, “Which was a blessing and a curse because… too much emotion.”
"We want [it] to be the herpes of albums, rather than chlamydia."
— Ellie Rowsell
Now that they’ve more than found their own success, the band are keen to help other fledgling artists out. On this tour, they’ve been supported by a local band in each city. Tonight, New Jersey’s The Lo Fi’s, who’re reminiscent of Twin Peaks when they first emerged, open things up and are clearly thrilled to be playing. “We’ve all been in a similar situation with this band or previous bands where it’s quite impossible to get what is classified as a gig,” explains drummer Joel Amey. “It’s not that easy for people - you can email promoters and they might not be into it. There’s been bands on this tour who’ve worked at the venues previously and have always wanted to play there, or bands that have never played with monitors before. They’re not jaded support bands - they really wanna be there and it makes for a good atmosphere.”
Wolf Alice might be long past those days of needing a leg up, but they don’t fall into the jaded category just yet either. There’s still plenty of goals they’re gunning for - specifically headlining a little festival in Somerset. “We got closer than I fucking thought we would!” laughs Joel, referring to their late afternoon Pyramid Stage debut in 2016. That aside, Theo says, “We want to make records that people listen to for a long time. We want to be a permanent fixture in musical relevance and we want to be putting out good stuff.”
Ellie looks up, a glimmer in her eyes. “We want to be the herpes of albums, rather than chlamydia.” Joff and Joel, sat either side of her, look at her with bemusement. Theo, deadpan and poker-faced, replies: “This is 110 percent the herpes of albums.” A bold, if bizarre, claim, but an incurably potent Wolf Alice album sounds like exactly what the world needs.
With ‘Visions Of A Life’ out next month, here’s a guide to the new songs Wolf Alice aired in New York.
The band’s vicious comeback songs that puts its subjects well and truly in their place. Already a bona fide mosh-pit anthem.
‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’
A gigantic skyscraper of a song that nails the feeling of infatuation you get before and early on in a relationship.
A sonic partner to ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, but more stormy and heavy than ‘Visions” second single.
If you’ve wondered what Wolf Al would sound like if they did songs tinged with strutting, ’70s funk, wonder no more.
‘Visions Of A Life’
Savage and epic, what will be the album closer is Wolf Alice as you’ve never heard them before - psych lords with an appetite for aspiration.
Wolf Alice’s new album ‘Visions Of A Life’ is out 29th September via Dirty Hit.
Photos: Andy DeLuca
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