Wolf Alice // Interview

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cover_story_Words: Gem Samways | Photos: Mike Massaro

Parked up at a motorway services somewhere between Brighton and Cambridge,Wolf Alice cheerfully describe themselves as “fucked”. Yesterday, they laid waste to the Concorde II, tonight they’ll close their UK tour at The Junction, and then they’ve a fortnight of press engagements and live rehearsals to wade through before the next string of U.S. dates begin.

This perpetual merry-go-round of gigs and promotion has been the norm ever since their first London In Stereo cover, back in 2013. As frontwoman Ellie Rowsell admits, stopping the ride in order to record their debut proved logistically problematic.

“We had waited for a long time, trying to find a gap in our schedule, and in our producer’s. Sessions got pushed back a few times, which was hard. But, you know, we had big ideas for this album, and sometimes you just have to wait for the right circumstances to materialise.”

It feels like you put out your first song and then people expect your album six months later.

All the same, Ellie is keen to dispel any assumptions that My Love Is Cool could have appeared too much sooner.
“You know, we’ve not been together that long,” she sighs. “People always say that we have, but that’s just internet years. It feels like you put out your first song and then people expect your album six months later; actually, we just weren’t ready.” Lead guitarist Joff Oddie agrees.

“We were really lucky getting afforded this much time, because we’re so much more confident in performance and in the studio now. I think if we’d made the record even seven months earlier, we wouldn’t have been as proud of the album as we are of this one.”

My Love Is Cool was finally laid down in the six weeks running up to Christmas last year, with Mike Crossey – the man behind Arctic Monkeys’ early records – at the mixing desk, as opposed to Creature Songs producer Catherine Marks. “We were lacking in experience in how to make a big guitar sound,” Ellie explains. “It just felt like Mike could point us in the right direction.” Gargantuan lead single ‘Giant Peach’ is proof that they were right to follow their gut.

Already a firm live-highlight, on record it’s another beast entirely, snowballing towards a brutal climax of blood-curdling screams, and a riff so filthy you feel like showering afterwards. Taken as a trailer for the album, you might assume that the quartet have quit the genre-hopping that’s characterised their career thus far, and settled on grunge-pop as their modus operandi. You’d be wrong to.

While there’s no shortage of wild dynamics, careering rhythms and fuzz-drenched guitars, for every ‘Giant Peach’ or ‘You’re A Germ’ you’ll find a twinkling ballad like ‘Soapy Water’, which is driven by shimmering electronics, or ‘Your Loves Whore’, which could almost be a sequel to Smashing Pumpkins classic ‘Hummer’. Considering the record’s diversity, what do they feel their first full-length statement says about them?

“I think [the album] just showcases how much we love pop music, as well as heavy music,” Joff replies, before Ellie interjects, “I think it’s a classic debut album, in that it’s all our favourite songs, recorded to the best of our abilities. We’ll leave people to make their own statements about it.” Certainly, listeners will be surprised, not only by the variety on display, but by tracks like ‘Swallowtail’, which finds drummer Joel Amey providing lead vocals.

Wolf Alice Feat

“It was a song I wrote at home,” Joel explains, “It actually began life really fast – like the ending of the song – but when we were on tour in May, Ellie started playing the same chords really slowly, and it just worked. It’s ended up as a bit of a three-parter, starting off as an acoustic poem, and ending in clattering drums, huge, wall of sound guitars, and Theo [Ellis’] sub-bass.”

Another track that benefited from this collaborative approach was ‘The Wonderwhy’. “That was probably the one [track] that we worked most on in the studio,” Joel remembers. “Ellie had recorded a demo of it a long time ago, and even from that we could hear how we wanted the finished version – it was such an orchestral, epic piece of writing. I think we always knew it would close the album, and Joff really chipped away at getting it to where it is today, sonically.”

The band are right to be proud; it’s the stand-out track, and arguably their finest composition to date. Imbued with a delicately-textured, slow-burning beauty, its haunting verses gradually give way to a soaring, almost euphoric, vocal refrain that belies Ellie’s lyrics, which are anchored by existential angst. In combination with Crossey’s production, it’s these dark thematic threads that help lend the record consistency. While Ellie acknowledges that some lyrical motifs do exist, she insists they were purely accidental.

I’m much more comfortable at being myself now. I don’t hold anything back on stage anymore, and I don’t push anything that doesn’t feel natural.

“It took someone to point it out, for me to even realise it,” she laughs, “Certain words and phrases keep popping up, definitely, and there’s a lot of religious references, like god, heaven and the devil.” For all its primal imagery and sawn-off riffs, My Love Is Cool is also, at its heart, a deeply romantic record. Ellie attributes this to The Virgin Suicides being a major inspiration, alongside Patti Smith’s memoir and a biography of Andy Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick. “We were interested in what makes someone special; those alien people that just have this star quality.”

Ironically, the answer lies a lot closer to home than they might think: Wolf Alice possess that exact same intangible magnetism, as anyone who witnessed their recent, sell-out show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire will attest. Beginning with a turbo-charged ‘Fluffy’, and concluding in a confetti cannon-powered rendition of ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’, the gig served as yet another reminder of why they’re now rightly regarded as one of Britain’s best live bands. For Wolf Alice themselves, the prestige of the event was intimidating.

“It was probably the most scared I’ve ever been in my life,” remembers Joff. “It’s one of our favourite venues in the UK,” Joel continues, “So that gig was kind-of a crowning moment. We didn’t want to muck it up.” The fact they reached that landmark prior to the release of their debut is only testament to those two years of hard graft.

Looking back at that first, streamer-strewn London In Stereo cover shoot – which took place prior to the release of their debut single, ‘Fluffy’ – what are their abiding memories? “It was fun! We went to a little house in East London and had a party without any drinks,” laughs Joff. “It’s where I find out you didn’t like big bangs, Joff,” Joel retorts. “He was scared of the party poppers.”

Back then, Ellie stated that her goal was for Wolf Alice to be acknowledged “as credible musicians and songwriters.” Despite enjoying widespread acclaim since, her focus hasn’t changed. “I don’t think that ever stops because, you never know, you might lose your credibility. We just need to keep doing this, but bigger and better.”

“[That cover] feels like a very long time ago,” she reflects. “Personally, I feel I’m much more comfortable at being myself now. I don’t hold anything back on stage anymore, and I don’t push anything that doesn’t feel natural. I think we’ve all learned to follow our instincts, because, that way, if you believe in what you do, you won’t have any regrets.”

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My Love Is Cool is released June 22nd via Dirty Hit Records.

Wolf Alice play O2 Academy Brixton on September 26th