Wolf Alice is a band that needs no introduction (but here’s one anyway). For the past decade they’ve showcased their exceptional versatility, first as a duo of frontwoman Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie, then later expanding to form a four-piece with bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey. Their music is a marvel to behold, and they are the masters of juxtaposition in an album context: the three track run of ‘Yuk Foo’, ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, and ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ is a flex, with each of the three easily capable of spawning their own record with a distinct style.
For many bands, this sort of variation in sound could be seen as a lack of identity or direction, but not for Wolf Alice. Their first two albums were highly decorated, with ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ from 2015’s My Love Is Cool being nominated for a Grammy Award, and 2017’s Visions Of A Life winning the highly coveted Mercury Prize in 2018.
Following up on Visions Of A Life would be difficult, but earlier this year the band announced Blue Weekend, their third studio album. The two singles released so far, ‘The Last Man On Earth’ and ‘Smile’ are another contrast: the first is slow, drawn-out, an epic orchestral track with Ellie Rowsell’s songwriting jumping up to a whole new level. ‘Smile’ is far heavier, with an exceptional vocal versatility displayed.
Over Zoom, I chatted to one half of Wolf Alice: Joff Oddie, and Theo Ellis. The two seemed a little tired after a day of Zoom meetings but were cheerful. Theo joked about this, “We’ve been on Zoom a lot today, I can’t lie. I try and hide it. We’ve done a lot of Zooms, me and Joff have been together, virtually, for a long time”.
After countless months touring with Visions Of A Life, the band needed a rest, and ended up decamped in an Air BnB in Somerset, and worked on some demos in a converted church, one of which ended up being ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ which appears on the new album. Joff spoke about this, “we went down to a little cottage which was a converted church in Somerset. And we started jamming again, just like before we finished touring. And we had a really funny night out there. It was just really bizarre, really good fun, but just kind of odd”.
“We wrote a kind of one-minute song about that. We sat on that for a bit, we thought we’ll just try and bulk it out. gave it a bit of a rewrite. And it’s no longer specifically about that night out, but I think it still embodies the idea of a weird messy night out.”
‘Play The Greatest Hits’ was also a track Joff was excited to play live, whilst Theo was more set on ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ He said, “it’s a big, big old pop song. And it’s got a singable chorus. And I’d like to have that shared experience of everyone singing in unison. Hopefully a few of us can do that in December at least”.
As live performers, Wolf Alice are considered nothing short of incredible. Back in 2017, Norwich magazine Outline wrote of their performance at UEA’s own LCR: “It’s only a matter of time before they’re selling out arenas, headlining A-List festivals, and doing what they’re doing now, but bigger”. For the band itself, touring was a huge part of their lives, and lockdown took a lot of that away, although they’d been removed from touring for a while before March 2020.
On touring, Theo said “We haven’t actually been on tour for a long time. It was a big gap between our last run, which finished at Brixton, where we were really done in exhausted, like you were saying, we did a lot of shows that year and a lot of traveling. So we haven’t really had to readjust but both me and Joff keep saying today and we’ve all said to each other that a big chunk of our lives missing, having toured so much for so much of our adult lives”.
Despite the intensity of their touring and the pandemic, Joff had no reservations about returning to live performance. He was blunt, smiling: “No, no, I don’t think so”.
Theo was similar but explained a little more. “No, no, I think we’re just genuinely desperate to get out and yeah, just have fun. We’re super lucky. We’ve got one of the best jobs in the world, we get to go all around the world and meet loads of people and, you know, bond with loads of people in a weird way, you know, over tunes we’ve written. I wanna get back to doing that”.
Returning to the album itself, the two were excited to share their thoughts on some of their favourite tracks. “Changes all the time, really,” Joff said, “I’m gonna give ‘Delicious Things’ a shout out because I’ve mentioned that I like that one. It feels like a different song for us maybe in terms of approach and structure and stuff. It’s a nice story”.
Joff went on to expand a little on ‘Delicious Things’, the longest song on Blue Weekend. “Yeah, I can’t comment too much about, you know, the lyrics in the writing because that’s a lot of Ellie’s work really, but I know it’s probably the oldest song on the record, isn’t it? She wrote that quite a long time ago. I think during album two cycle while we were still touring. And yeah, it was always a challenge”.
“A song like that is fairly refined. When you’re kind of doing more jumpy, noisy things you can get away with not being as precise. But I think this song like this has to be very measured. We got the opportunity to put real strings on it, which is a first for us. This record has a bunch of real strings on recorded by Owen Pallet, who is an arranger and violin player, he does a lot of work with Arcade Fire so we were kind of fans of his without knowing that he existed, huge fans because all the strings on the Arcade Fire albums are wicked”.
“So yeah, I think it was one of the first songs in the studio as well that we kind of went ‘okay this is starting to really take shape’. I think it was a bit of a confidence booster and once we got that to a good point. I was like, alright, we can do this again”.
Whilst every element of the band is exceptional, Ellie Rowsell’s songwriting is integral to the band’s ability to sidestep between genres. This is clear on the contrast between the singles for Blue Weekend and everything they’ve previously released. Although Ellie is the primary songwriter for Wolf Alice, the writing is definitely a collaborative process. Joff shared, “when we’re in writing mode, we have a shared Dropbox folder. And we just throw ideas in there. And then we meet up and go, I like that. Let’s have a go at that. We’ll maybe do that with fifty songs. We’ll make some recordings, and then we’ll go, let’s throw these songs away, work on these thirty, then twenty, then fifteen, and then you’re kind of at album point”.
To close things out, I asked the two of them about their listening around the time of the album’s recording sessions. Joff avoided listening, “I did not listen to any music”.
Theo, on the other hand, grinned and said, “I was listening to the Ed Miliband podcast”, setting the pair off laughing. Theo did turn serious for a moment, though. “I think around if we were making the record, writing it in 2019, I was listening to a lot of Amyl and the Sniffers at the time, and I remember we had a bit of a period where we were talking about making a record that was short fast and in your face — but we did the exact opposite, slow and drawn out!”
Blue Weekend, Wolf Alice’s third studio album, is being released on the 4th of June. You can pre-order the album here.