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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: WOLF ALICE UNPACK THE TRIALS AND TRIUMPHS OF CREATING THEIR THIRD ALBUM “BLUE WEEKEND” FOR THE “INNOVATE” ISSUE

<i>Joel Amey Ellie Roswell Theo Ellis and Joff Odie of Wolf Alice photographed by Pip for The Untitled Magazine<i>

Very few bands have been able to achieve quite the same level of success as British band Wolf Alice, let alone with only three albums under their belt. They have headlined festivals, won the prestigious Mercury Prize and numerous other awards, and recently added more accolades to their shelf with their first ever UK number one album. Following their critically acclaimed albums My Love is Cool and Visions of a Life, in 2021 they released Blue Weekend, a thunderous odyssey that propelled the band to even further success and renown. Fronted by lead singer Ellie Rowsell and backed by guitarist Joff Odie, bassist Theo Ellis, and drummer Joel Amey, the band has become one of the leaders in the British rock scene, with legendary live shows and an ever-evolving sound. 

In conjunction with the release of Blue Weekend, the band worked with filmmaker and photographer Jordan Hemmingway to create an accompanying film for the album, which was broken down to become music videos for each track. Blue Weekend also saw the band nominated for their third Mercury Prize. With a flurry of festivals alongside a European and North American tour set for 2021 and 2022, as well as an expanded “Tour Deluxe” edition of Blue Weekend featuring acoustic versions select cuts, Wolf Alice shows no sign of stopping.

Read the full interview from The Untitled Magazine‘s latest print edition, The “INNOVATE” Issue, out now.

<em>Wolf Alice photographed by Pip for The Untitled Magazine<em>

Tell us about the formation of Wolf Alice in London. What brought the band together, and what challenges did you face starting out?

Ellie: Joff and I were playing open mics around North London. It began to get a bit depressing so we decided to try and play electric, as playing folk songs to a crowd of zero feels soul-crushing, but playing rock songs to no one feels quite punk [laughs]. A friend of mine introduced us to Joel, who said he would play drums for us, and we began to get a few gigs. When Theo joined everything clicked into place and we booked a mega tour with a friend who ran a pub driving us around England. 

There are a lot of challenges: finding bandmates, juggling jobs, getting gigs, affording tours, etc, but there are people out there who will root for you and want to help you if you’re lucky enough to find them.

Do your musical inspirations from your early days still inform your music now? What were those early inspirations and how did you utilize them to develop your distinct style as a band? 

Ellie: Yeah totally. I think they have informed my songwriting in many ways, mostly subconsciously though. I loved indie music growing up, you know like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kings of Leon, The White Stripes, but before that I learnt traditional Irish music and sang in a community choir, and I think that has helped me form an ear for melody and lyrics more than anything else.

How does your home base of London inspire your music? How about some of the places around the world you have toured?

Ellie: Growing up in London is a huge privilege in many ways because there is always a pub that will open its doors to you and let you perform your songs, which can be a great way to practice songwriting and performing. There’s an abundance of gigs to attend and a lot of the time they are free too. London is thriving with culture which makes it such a joy to live in and very inspirational. I have been inspired by lots of other places we have visited nonetheless, too many to count, although as cliche as it might be Los Angeles does come to mind first!

Congratulations on Blue Weekend, which many are calling the peak of British music right now. To you, what is the album all about, and how does it stand apart from your other work?

Ellie: The album is about relationships: with lovers, friends, family, nature, power, and self. I think the main thing that sets it apart from our other work is the detail and the flow of the tracking order. I also find it more of an emotional record than our previous too.

<em>Wolf Alice guitarist Joff Odie bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey photographed by Pip for The Untitled Magazine<em>

After the incredible success of Visions of Life, what was your approach to up the ante and create something fresh with your next album? We hear you camped out in an Airbnb in Somerset to regroup.

Joel: We took a few months to ourselves to calm down after the final tour around 2018 and give each one of ourselves a moment to take it all in and have a breather. By the time it came to regroup, we were all really excited again to make something new and hear what we’d come up with, but also just to hang out as friends again. We took ourselves to a converted chapel that was in Somerset that we have affectionately renamed “Mary’s gaff.” It was there that the beginnings of songs like “Smile,” “Feeling Myself” and “Play the Greatest Hits” began. It felt good to just be together and go back to a vibe of the old days; just the four of us with some demos and some excitement, and there wasn’t a pub in walking distance so we got quite a lot done.

What was it about your unique British perspective on the American city of Los Angeles that drew you to writing about it for Blue Weekend?

Joel: LA has quite a heightened sense of reality that blurs into kinda real life magical realism that I think we’ve always had elements of when it comes to our music. It was fun to play with the tones and ideas of an old Hollywood song when it came to “Delicious Things,” the kind of faded glamour that you see when darting from one place to the next. I got a lot of time for LA; the time we spent out there has given me some of my favorite memories, and incredible friends and the experience of making Visions Of A Life moved us on as musicians and taught us a lot about “the studio.” It was a real sonic adventure with Justin making that record, as well as a real social adventure!

You mentioned that with this album you feel a newfound maturity as a band. Can you elaborate on that and tell us how that maturity has led to innovation in your music?

Joel: We probably all have a different answer for this, but I think a distinct difference for Blue Weekend was knowing when to leave space in the arrangements or when to go maximum. I think when you first get the opportunity to record music it’s so fun and easy to wanna grab every synth, amp, guitar pedal, or whatever and go wild on each song (at least in my experience) – and that’s never not going to be fun for me and I hope we always make music like that – but there were moments with the songs on this record where the ‘leaving out’ was as important as adding in. And I think that’s just come from experience, confidence, and also from Markus’s guidance.

Blue Weekend has such a distinct sound that wears its inspiration on its sleeves, whilst still being something fresh and unique. How do you effectively balance originality with influence?

Joel: I think these kinda things happen from the mixture of the people involved and at a certain time. The four of us are very different in what we like and don’t like, yet for whatever reason when we get it right all four of us will be bouncing off the walls with excitement. I remember early on being excited with how mine and Theo’s drums and bass had this very simple but quite classic sounding takes; they reminded me of Air or the drums on [Daft Punk’s] Random Access Memories, and that felt new to me. Then as everything just evolves naturally, as it usually does with us, everyone’s stamp gets put on there. I’ve loved hearing Ellie’s voice become this majestic force and Joff’s incredible acoustic guitar elements coming to the forefront. I’ve said before that I think this is almost the purest version of Wolf Alice on tape, as there are the elements of each other that I feel are quite defining artistic points of each other sitting front and center. 

How was it working with creative director Jordan Hemingway to craft a distinct visual identity for the album? Tell us about that process.

Joff: It was an incredible experience to get to work with somebody as talented as Jordan. The guy’s hugely passionate about creating, he’s got such an amazing eye for detail and an ability to bring a sense of magic and drama to the everyday. We approached him about doing art direction for the record and the idea we had about creating a music video for each song, which he seemed really excited by. The whole team that worked on that project were some of the most talented and lovely people. I think, other than Jordan’s obviously unique and wild style in regard to his art direction, the thing that was most special about him was his ability to lead a project and get the most out of all the talent he had in the room while at the same time just being a really really lovely dude. The guy’s a genius leader.

What were the biggest challenges that arose for you in creating Blue Weekend? How did the pandemic affect the album’s production?

Joff: Trying to record a record in a global pandemic was a strange situation for sure. We were working in a studio called ICP in Brussels when the lockdowns began, and we made the decision, after much deliberation with families, management, the studio, etc, to stay and work. It was hard in a way as there was no escape from the project. Even on days off we would just be in the studio. There was no way to blow off any steam. But that did mean that we could focus in on this piece of work in maybe a way that we hadn’t been able to do before with our other records. Hours and hours spent focusing on small details and, in a way, it was a blessing to have something practical to take our minds off the whole Covid situation.

Now that you have three albums under your belt, do you find the process of making a brand new album and touring as a band has become easier?

Joff: Yeah for sure when you’ve done anything a couple of times certain aspects of that process will become easier. I think mostly though that is more applicable to the practical elements of either making a record and setting up a touring show. The creative side of things is always the most challenging part, and that’s where you need to push yourself. What is exciting about getting back in the studio or starting working on a live show is that each subsequent time you go back into that process you go into it with a bigger bag of tricks, more skills, more experience, more comfort, etc – that ultimately gives you more control over the process. The studio especially can be an alienating place if you don’t know how anything works.

Five years on, what are your memories of working with Michael Winterbottom and having a film crew on tour for your docudrama On The Road?

Joff: Yeah it was an interesting experience. Felt a little like “Big-Brother-on-Tour.” Being mic’d up for 12 hours a day and having a camera crew around you constantly is not my idea of normal but the crew did a brilliant job at putting us at ease. I guess the best possible experience for any participants in a proper fly-on-the-wall documentary is that the people being filmed kind of forget about the fact that they’re being filmed… I haven’t seen it in a long time. Maybe when we start touring again I’ll watch it but i’m afraid having not played shows in such a long time it would just make me sad. I miss touring too much…

Literary references are rife in the wider Wolf Alice profile, and are part of what makes you so different from your peers. From the Shakespeare-quoting opening of this album to the Angela Carter inspired band name, are there any other favorite references you have, or ones people tend to miss worth pointing out?

Theo: In between the second and third album I remember Ellie reading Cat’s Cradle and then lending it to me, which led me to read almost all of [Kurt Vonnegut’s] books in pretty quick succession. Vonnegut explores the arrogance of mankind while faced with a huge disaster, and I think Ellie kind of does something similar with “The Last Man On Earth.” “Does a light shine on you…” I think we all think we’re in our own personal movie sometimes [laughs]. 

What was behind the decision to add Ryan Malcom as a touring member of the band, and what unique qualities does he bring to the live shows?

Theo: We have such a dense amount of extra instrumentation on all the records but even more so on Blue Weekend. I think we wouldn’t be able to get away with playing some of the new tunes without an extra pair of hands and feet, aside from that he is one of the nicest guys I know and an absolute joy to play with, which always helps. Been looking for an excuse to hang out with him for ages. 

<em>Wolf Alice lead singer Ellie Rowsell photographed by Pip for The Untitled Magazine<em>

This is our “INNOVATE” issue. What does that mean to you collectively, and how do you feel you have been innovating with your music?

Theo: I think to innovate is usually to take an old notion or idea and breathe new life into it, hopefully changing someone’s perspective on the world, themselves, or how they fit into it through something old becoming something new. 

What else can fans expect from Wolf Alice in the future?

Theo: Permitting, I think we’re going to try and tour the world as much as possible. We’ve missed playing live so much and I think we’re gonna put all our energy into coming and playing to everyone that missed being in the same room singing the same songs.

To read the full interview pick up a copy of The INNOVATE Issue – available now from our online boutique.

Wolf Alice @wolfaliceband
Photography by Pip @bypip for @theuntitledmagazine
Makeup & hair by Neusa Neves @neusa_neveslove_mkup

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