By Lucas Arthur & Flora Pick, Music Editor, Deputy Editor 21/22
In anticipation of their third album, Epigram catches up with one of the decade's most cherished rock bands.
Wolf Alice seem taken aback by their own longevity. Guitarist Joff Oddie and bassist Theo Ellis have been part of the Mercury Prize winning group for the best part of a decade and demonstrate no desire to slow down.
Following years of quiet decline for the popularity of archetypical rock bands, the London four piece have blazed a trail — though their sound, a turbulent blend of grunge, dream-pop and golden-era indie, is far from archetypical. Their 2018 Mercury win was followed by two years of frantic touring, writing and recording, before the pandemic set in and ruined the fun.
‘Speaking to friends who make stuff, they said it was very hard to be inspired in a lockdown’ says Theo, whose zoom nametag is ‘Mojito’. ‘We were lucky in that the album was written before we went through the first lockdown. I find it hard to watch anything serious, even just a film. I want to be a bit numb at the moment.
Wolf Alice’s third album, Blue Weekend, set to be released on June 11th, will serve as a vital call-to-action, a reminder of the vividness of life before lockdown. Across its 40-minute runtime, it manages to be just as gleefully varied as the band’s previous offerings, phasing through exuberant shoegaze, delicate indie and feral, mosh-inciting punk. With their tendency for grunge infused auditory extremes, the band continue to demonstrate their capacity to careen from indie ballads into crunching walls of sound, singer Ellie Rowsell able to turn from introspection to incandescence on the turn of a dime.
It’s the atmospheric, synth-driven cut ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ that the band are most excited to premier to fans. ‘As much as I want people to hear this song I want to play it live - It’s been my favourite song on the new record for a long long time now’ says Theo. He’s also looking forward to playing 2017 track ‘Visions of a Life.’ ‘I don’t know if I can remember how to play it in all honesty’ he admits — ‘I’m looking forward to rehearsals.’
There’s a certain twitchy excitement at the prospect of a return to live music after what all agree was far too long spent away. Eager to be let out to roam in the real world again, Theo describes his plans as soon as June 21st rolls around to be either “In a fucking ditch somewhere… or doing some promo. One or the other.” He’s keen to attend The Streets’ post-lockdown blowout, a proposition that is met with enthusiastic nods from Joff. Wolf Alice are a band that thrive on the energy of the people around them, whether that be their feverish live audiences or simply being in each other’s presence.
The conversation turns to a noted history of outspokenness. Theo’s drunken, though well-justified, Mercury Prize acceptance speech, was ‘infused by the fact that I’d had 10 beers because I didn’t think we were gonna win it...’ Even so, he used the spotlight to call out the discrimination they experienced early in their career simply for having a girl in the band.
Four years on, the outlook is still pretty bleak, recent reports proving women to still be massively underrepresented on the festival circuit. “I saw a festival lineup that had 2 female members of bands out of a 40 plus lineup. I don’t know how it’s changed. Looking inwards, I don’t see a huge amount of significant change, on both sides, from touring crews, to members of bands, to producers. It still seems to be dominated by white males within the industry. But I’m probably the wrong person to ask.’
I feel that there’s a trend of people talking and not doing anything... I’m quite keen to do more and talk slightly less
Joff qualifies: ‘We like to pick our battles’. Indeed, while the band keeps their music largely apolitical, they’ve openly worn their colours on some occasions, playing fundraising gigs for refugee children and tacitly showing their support for Labour in the 2018 election. In the bleak months of lockdown, with social welfare more fragile and polarised than ever, Joff could be found volunteering at food banks and youth centres around the Capital.
‘It’s a weird space for activism at the moment’ he reflects, gazing pensively off camera. ‘I feel that there’s a trend of people talking and not doing anything, which gets me down a bit.
I’m quite keen to do more and talk slightly less.’ With that, the conversation moves on.
For Wolf Alice, the key to staying current is to draw on the past. Blue Weekend is a glossy summation of the band’s sound – ‘the lovechild of folk and grunge’, according to Clash – without a hint of comprise to prevalent tastes; for better or worse, the same can’t be said for several of their labelmates at Dirty Hit. Joff’s 2020 solo cover album, ‘To Mr Fahey’, pays tribute to one of the fathers of the folk tradition. Mastering compositions written by the late guitarist gave him a new level of confidence, he explains. ‘Those songs really stretched me. As a musician and a writer, the best way to get better is learn how other people have written their songs.’
‘In the last year, we’ve been listening to a lot of The Band, admiring their songwriting.’ ‘And there’s that classic stuff that binds us… early White Stripes, Kings of Leon, Queens of the Stone Age, The Libertines and stuff like that. In some ways, people consider it pastiche, but there are some wicked songs from around that time.’
‘We always go back to Fleetwood Mac’ says Theo. ‘We’re thinking, “fucking hell, what would Fleetwood Mac do?” And then we don’t do it, because they’re geniuses’ he laughs. ‘“Be like Fleetwood Mac”, I’ve decided, is our mantra.’ He pauses, grins, weighing his words. ’Don’t do loads and loads of coke and then start shagging each other. That’d be a problem.’
All the difficulties of lockdown, of months-long separation from their best friends and bandmates, only amplifies excitement to get back out there, though their aspirations are decidedly apart from rock’n’roll, televisions-out-the-window debauchery. ‘Joel, our drummer, has become a fisherman, or so he’s been saying to us. He’s part of a fishing guild, they’ve got a clubhouse and it sounds very lively.’
Wolf Alice’s first big night back out on the town? ‘I hope for the angling club. Figure out if Joel’s actually a fisherman or has been lying to us the whole time.’
Featured image: Jordan Hemingway
Will you be listening to Wolf Alice's new album?