Some bands have an instantly definable sound, a consistency to their music that leaves listeners in no doubt about who is behind the track. This can be a positive thing for new acts, but in the longer term, having a singular sound is often more harmful than good.
Wolf Alice are not one of those bands.
The group are one of the most eclectic UK acts of recent years, balancing mainstream acclaim with a determination to undertake a path less followed. With each passing album, the group ventures further, challenging and seducing listeners along the way.
SNACK caught up with Ellie Rowell (ER, vocalist and guitarist) and Joel Amey (JA, drums) to discuss West End breakfasts, Scottish wedding invitations, and the small matter of their third album, Blue Weekend.
How is the mood in the Wolf Alice camp?
ER: I think we’re really excited. Joel?
JA: 100% excited. I can’t remember what excitement was like until this started happening. I feel alive! I think it’s different, as every release has felt different because we change as people. It’s not strange in a bad way, but in a new way.
You’ve said, ‘This album is for other people’. Was that your aim when writing the songs, or is that something you felt after the album was completed?
ER: When you put something out there, it is instantly for other people, or otherwise you would keep that for yourself. I don’t think when we said that, that we meant something unique from every other album.
You’ve also spoken about realising how important music is for people. Is there any way to reconcile delivering music to people while making sure artists are paid properly?
JA: There’s a lot of politics involved. Not literal politics; there’s people and businesses bands can partner with. It’s tricky. I’m going to do my bit by buying as many albums and gig tickets as I can. I’ll try and support independent music shops as well.
One of my favourite things to do is receive links from Ellie about new songs, or send links around and see what other people think. We’re all big music lovers, and there’s amazing music coming out now. I get really excited with stuff right now. Even on social media with teaser videos, I feel it’s a new way of getting excited; and there’s some intelligent ways of engaging fans.
Without the lockdown occurring during the recording process, how different would the record have been?
ER: Yeah, having no touring plans because of the pandemic meant we didn’t feel rushed to finish it. That allowed us to experiment more. That doesn’t mean make it more experimental, more that if you had an idea, you had the time to try it. That benefitted the album, getting it to a place where we felt as sure as we could that we got it to the right place. We tried a lot of possible routes, so it benefitted it in that respect.
‘Lipstick On The Glass’ is such an interesting song, musically. How did that come about?
ER: We had a couple of versions of that song; a demo version and then more of a full band version. It was last-minute that we met in the middle and made this version towards the end of the recording process.
We have phrases we bandy around the studio, like ‘simple is effective’ and ‘less is more’. When we abandoned these mottos and threw everything at the track, it began to take shape. It was more fun. It had three drum takes on top of each other, I think, Joel?
JA: We started hitting our head against the wall, trying to reinterpret something we came in with rather than letting it evolve.
One evening I was in with Markus [Dravs, producer], on my own, and he suggested flipping a snare drum over and playing a rhythm quietly with brushes, on the wrong side of the snare. It was cool, compressing it, and that stemmed into a Massive Attack-type of rhythm. We then had three drums over it, and then someone else came in the next day, putting amazing layers over it. We were working backwards as opposed to forwards.
Joel, you’ve been more involved with programming on this record. How has that been, and is it something you want to do more of?
JA: Yeah man, we’re all quite whizzes with that, but I had more time because I did the drum tracks early on – I had around two and a half months to play with synthesisers.
As I’ve grown older, I still love organic sounds, but I’m fascinated with electronic things as much as I was when I was in my teens. Markus is very supportive in that if you have a sound on a synth, he’ll say, ‘Let’s hear if it works’. It was really fun.
‘Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love)’ has an excellent sound, and a 60s feel, but the lyrics are a bit down. Is that a note for yourself?
ER: No, I hope not. I just had the line ‘safe from heartbreak if you never fall in love’ and I really liked it, and I ran with that. No, I don’t live by those rules…well I do, but I shouldn’t!
Are you ready for the challenge of playing this album live to an audience?
ER: No [laughs].
JA: I told you, we’re not ready for anything any more! No, we’ve been doing a lot of rehearsals, and it’s been fun, so yeah, I’m ready. We’ve got a new person playing with us, so that elevates things.
Have you picked up any new hobbies or pastimes in the past year?
ER: I mean, no.
JA: Neither have I.
I didn’t make a lockdown record, I didn’t make bread, I can’t drive so I haven’t been anywhere new. That is really worrying!
Making bread is the sort of thing people do to share on social media.
ER: I’d just buy something and take a selfie with it.
JA: Watch out if the wrapper is still on.
What are the songs that speak to you right now?
JA: Out of our own songs, removing yourself from the fact you are involved with the process, we have a song called ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ For me, I know what that means, and I’ve played it to people close to me, and I’ve seen their reaction. That’s as important as me having a reaction, seeing how they’ve been affected. So that’s really special to me.
Also, Theo [Ellis, bassist] and I, we’re into John Prine, who unfortunately died of coronavirus last year. We’ve delved into him. He did a cover of ‘Clay Pigeon’, the Blaze Foley song, that really speaks to me, that’s beautiful.
He’s exactly the kind of music I love and I saw his name a lot without listening to him. Then I saw his name in Pitchfork and that he had died. I finally started listening to him and I thought, oh God, why have I got to this point without listening to his music?
How have you felt about the initial response to the new songs?
ER: When we came back with ‘The Last Man On Earth’, we weren’t sure how people were going to take it, but the response has been amazing. We’re super lucky that everyone, so far, has been really kind, and it’s making us feel more excited.
JA: There’s nothing compared to playing live, definitely not social media. The moment ‘The Last Man…’ came out on the radio, I felt then it was a release, we’ve got here. It was powerful seeing people’s reaction, and it moved us to a different space, even with who listens to us as a band. We have Annie Mac to thank for that.
It was a different reaction, but nothing compares to being on stage. Songs like ‘Smile’ and ‘Play the Greatest Hits’…it’s going to be thrilling to open the set. Can you imagine that at the Barrowlands?
You’ve brought me nicely to the next question. You start 2022 with three nights at the Barrowlands. People are looking forward to that. The roof might come off!
ER: I can’t wait for that. I love the Barrowlands.
JA: If the roof comes off, that’ll be the fans. It’s a special experience for us to go to Scotland and get the reaction we have; it’s a huge privilege. They are some of the best crowds in the world, and we were told that. There are a few things you get told before you go to places, and that’s one. I really hoped it was going to happen and we’ve been really lucky so far, and I’d love for it to happen again.
We’ll hopefully have Barrowlands gigs in September and October, but we’ll see if they happen. It’s not as if Scottish fans need an excuse to go crazy at a concert, but if we haven’t been at a gig for close to two years…
JA: I’m a bit scared now. I was quite excited before you said that. To play three nights as well, that’s overwhelming. It’s special, and I can’t wait. I’m going to get my breakfast at Òran Mór.
ER: Oh yeah.
JA: I’ve got my list, and there’s that little record shop down from there too.
ER: Yeah, the vintage shops.
JA: When we first played in Scotland, I was like ‘We’ve fucking made it.’ It was insane to be playing a show out of London, and then you travel, and you develop nostalgia for these places. I love Glasgow.
How was the Live at Worthy Farm festival experience for you?
ER: It was really fun. It was so nice to be in a field, and we got lucky with the weather for our performance. It’s not comparable to Glastonbury, but it was a really good experience, and it was seriously flattering to be part of the line-up.
The BBC have announced they’ll show highlights of it, as part of a wider Glastonbury series between June 25th-27th, so that’ll be good to help more people see the show.
JA: I think they’re showing it over the actual Glastonbury weekend. It was amazing to be asked.
You’ve created videos for the whole album. Do you think the past year will see visual components become more crucial for bands?
ER: I’m in two minds. It was important over the past year because there wasn’t much going on, with no gigs. It was fun to stay in touch with the bands you like. A good music video is great, but I don’t base my opinion on a band on whether their videos are good. It’s really fucking hard to make a good video!
We’re really lucky – we had a good experience with the videos, and Jordan [Hemingway] who directed them is talented. He made it easy for us. It was good to create visuals for songs that aren’t obvious singles. We’re lucky. Well, not lucky. It was a lot of hard work.
JA: It was a huge effort from a huge team. I think people were so glad to be out of the house that they went above and beyond.
It’s probably not wise to make predictions or second guess what comes next, but what do you hope to see and do in the next 12 months?
JA: We have shows in the summer, and it would be great to play them. The album release is coming soon, and I’m buzzing to see the reaction. Also, after the way we have spoken about Glasgow and the January tour, I’ll be gutted if that doesn’t happen.
Any final words for our readers?
ER: If anyone wants us to play a Scottish wedding, I’ve always wanted to go, so please invite us.
If you can learn ‘Loch Lomond’ by Runrig, that’s played at the end of the night. And that gives people a great reason to hire you.
ER: Alright. I will finally learn to do something new as lockdown ends, so that is good.
Main photo credit: Jordan Hemingway
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