Interview: Wolf Alice

Photo by Jordan Hemingway

Wolf Alice seem to have the broadest fanbase possible, flicking between genres like channels on a TV. After reaching number 2 on the charts with My Love Is Cool (2015), grabbing a Grammy nomination for ‘Mona Lisa Smile’, and winning the Mercury Prize for Visions Of A Life (2018), fans have been patiently awaiting the four-piece’s latest release, Blue Weekend. In the wake of their global tours and support slots for the Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and Liam Gallagher, the COVID-19 pandemic has paused the clock for Wolf Alice, and provided them with the opportunity to get back into the studio. Editor Harriet Fisk speaks to Ellie Rowsell and Joel Amey about their upcoming album, Blue Weekend, and how they have coped with the past year. 

It is bizarre to see Ellie Rowsell and Joel Amey in their own homes. At the moment at least, the life of a star is reassuringly similar to our own everyday routines. Rowsell speaks slowly, with a pondering stare, leaving you hanging on every word. Sometimes her sentences dwindle off into nothing, and others come back with a powerful right hook of lyrical genius. She is surrounded by musical instruments: a piano, a guitar and a microphone among other equipment.

I get the sense that Amey is the rascal of the group, brashly swearing at every chance he gets.The punchy drummer joins us from his house in Hastings, which features a lovely exposed brick wall in his kitchen. Both of them sigh when I ask how lockdown is going, and Rowsell comments that, like the rest of us, she’s felt “so up and down. I can’t give you one kind of overall answer”. Joel kicks us back into reality yapping, “I’ve not started making fucking bread or anything.” 

It’s been an amazing year for the band. They are due to release their long-awaited album Blue Weekend in June, after growing exponentially for the past decade and reaching the heights of Glastonbury stardom. When embarking on the album, Rowsell dreamily describes their recent process, reciting how lucky they were to have written the majority of the creative elements prior to lockdown, so when it happened they could record the tracks immediately: “We went straight to Brussels in early February and we had begun recording when suddenly Belgium went into lockdown. But we were in a residential studio, so we could just stay and spend it recording, which is the perfect way to spend a lockdown… for me anyway.” 

She repeats the phrase ‘lucky’, insinuating that everything came together as an act of fate: “We could bide our time and take our time with it because time went out the window.” 

Despite the serendipity of it all, Rowsell also reminds us that the band wasn’t immune from pandemic fatigue like the rest of us: “It was tough as well because there were zero distractions and a kind of high level of anxiety for everyone, for a number of reasons. But collectively because of the pandemic… so it was strange.” 

Amey believes this is a ‘stronger’ record than its predecessors, which is a bold statement given the public love for their discography: “I just feel like we just let the songs speak a bit more for themselves.”

He adds they “just did what was necessary to add focus to the melody and add focus to the lyrics. And Markus was good at really good with that”. He’s referring to their producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Bjork, and Mumford & Sons) when he says: “He tried to rein us in, which we let him do for a bit. And then we found an even keel of wanting to put synth sounds and everything.” 

I put a spanner in the works after asking what their biggest inspirations were for the record, with the two musicians struggling to remember what they had for breakfast. Rowsell says: “I always struggle with this question, just because I don’t really take a mental note of what is inspiring me. And because we write over such a long time period, you know, some songs, I was really into this at that time, and then the next in something completely different. So I can’t really remember but I know that I had been really thinking about songs that didn’t need much else to make them.” She elaborates, describing her ‘campfire test’, ensuring any track holds up without any production, stripped back to just her and a guitar. 

Amey practically adds that the band is “quite good at magpieing”, taking inspiration from movie trailers or films. He says that ultimately, Blue Weekend “was about letting the songs just do what they were supposed to do this time in their own way”.

The 4-piece are set to perform in a Glastonbury livestream on 22 May, which Amey quips has “no crowd, so I’ll be alright”. Rowsell floats back into the conversation, suggesting that the crowd might be more present in the livestream because they won’t be “distracted by the toilet queue or the smell of sweat”, and will instead place their full attention on the performance. 

Blue Weekend, like their previous albums, has heavy rock stuff and full blown ballads—the latter of which is what Rowsell is more nervous about: “It does feel quite scary, but I’m excited to play anything at the moment.” 

There is one particular song on the new album that holds a boldly atmospheric soundscape, a ballad titled ‘Feeling Myself’. To Rowsell—someone who is hugely admired as an empowering woman in the music industry—it is the embodiment of femininity. “I felt sexy listening to it and for me, that is an empowering feeling. And I thought that the lyrics needed to match that feeling…” She branches off: “You shouldn’t always feel ashamed to big yourself up or embrace those feelings. I remember when I first made a demo of that song; I really enjoyed listening to it.”

For Amey, the most exciting song to create was the closing track, ‘Beach 2’. The creative process behind the tune was lengthy, initially starting as an instrumental song: “It didn’t have the set of lyrics that Ellie came up with while we were there. I hadn’t written it off or anything, but it wasn’t on my list of favourites. It just evolved into a whole different thing—when Theo, Ellie and Joff were working out the note by note bit for the guitar break I was like, ‘Fucking hell, when did this song become this beautiful and interesting?’. I remember thinking that was a nice moment in the studio.” 

The new album got its title on a clear summer evening in Brussels, when the band were exploring the city pre-lockdown. “We were staying quite close to a forest apparently,” Rowsell says. “So I said: ‘Next blue weekend we should go to this forest’, because the sky was blue, and it was a beautiful weekend. I meant next time it’s like this we should go to that forest. And Joel goes ‘Next blue weekend? That sounds so nice, we should call the album that.’” 

“It works because blue, as you know, is a nice colour,” she laughs. “But it also means sad or whatever. And the weekend, just in the same way Visions Of A Life meant everything and nothing at all, I feel the same with weekends.” 

“These songs are about everything and nothing. It’s like a microcosm of your life. I feel like all these things that happen in all these songs could happen over the course of your whole life, or they could happen in one weekend… and the highs and lows of them will come back around again all the time… just as the weekend always will, you know? It’s life.” 

Interview conducted by Harriet Fisk

This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.

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