The interview: Wolf Alice
It’s a pretty good time to be in Wolf Alice, with their album receiving rave reviews and their set going down a storm at Glastonbury 2015. Guitarist Joff Oddie told MALCOLM WYATT the story so far.
Wolf Alice’s memorable appearance on The Park Stage at Glastonbury Festival came in the week their debut album My Love Is Cool saw the light of day, and at one stage it looked like they was going straight in at No.1.
In the end, they had to settle for second spot after a late sales flurry for Florence and the Machine linked to their own late elevation to Friday night headliners. But the North London four-piece’s own Glasto appearance was a triumph all the same.
While the rain did its best to dampen spirits at Worthy Farm that Friday afternoon, Ellie Rowsell and co. remained on something of a creative and emotional high.
It clearly takes more than technical and meteorological hitches plus late sales switches to unseat them, as I suspected after chatting to guitarist Joff Oddie the day before.
We started talking about an unexpected mid-week UK album chart top spot, putting it to Joff that these were unprecedented good times.
“Yeah – kinda weird! I don’t think anyone expected the album to be sitting where it is at the moment. It’s nice though, and word seems to be spreading.
“Sometimes you can’t help yourself having a look, searching on Twitter or whatever, and it’s all a bit overwhelming really.”
It’s everything you’ve worked towards. It must still come as a shock though.
“Yes, but at the end of the day those things are numbers, aren’t they? It’s not really what’s important.”
A healthy dose of modesty there. Is that you just being cautious of fame?
“Well … I think we can all be in agreement that numbers don’t equal quality. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Last year, the band made their first Glastonbury appearance on the John Peel Stage, a set including a memorable cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. And the footage suggested they were mightily excited to be there.
“Oh yeah! It was probably the most nervous we’d ever been. To play on that iconic stage, having all been there as kids to watch people, with our mouths open, thinking this is so incredible …
“Not that we didn’t enjoy last year, but I think it’s going to be a lot more of an enjoyable experience this time.”
In fact, 22-year-old Joff revealed that his first Glastonbury as a spectator was in 2010.
So who impressed him most on that occasion?
“I’m racking my brain, but don’t think I saw many headline bands that year. I do remember seeing The Dead Weather.
“But the wonderful thing about Glastonbury is that – and this sounds awful, being in a band and as a music-head – the most fun I’ve had there had nothing to do with music.
“It was more a case of running around a field with my mates, getting kind of blind drunk.
“There’s definitely a different vibe there, one very unique to Glastonbury. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. And that’s just about going, let alone playing.
“It’s so amazing just to be part of something so iconic. It’s almost a British institution.
“This time we’ve got Saturday and Sunday off, so we’ll probably spend that … getting blind drunk and running around a field!”
Any bands in particular you want to catch between those mad mud sprints?
“A bunch of people, as we’ve been discussing on the way down. I want to see King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, while Young Fathers could be quite cool. I also want to see Swim Deep’s set, mates of ours who’ll be on The Other Stage ...”
Actually, Austin Williams from Swim Deep joined the band on piano for a BBC backstage tepee session, a fantastic cover of The Scissor Scissors’ 2004 hit Take Your Mama, complete with Sympathy for the Devil–like backing vocals.
It’s a joy to watch, Ellie and her four mates on fine form and in great voice, the lead singer struggling to get her head around the lyrics and getting giggly.
That humour seems typically Wolf Alice, despite the sheer ferocity of some of the songs and the fact that their name is taken from an Angela Carter short story about a child raised by wolves.
Take by way of further example their inspired cover of Katy Perry’s Roar. And they’re clearly enjoying life together at present, basking in the glory of the reaction to that first LP’s release.
Was that ever in doubt at any stage? Every band has its low points, after all.
“Yeah. I’m not blowing our own trumpet by saying we’re successful, but half the battle in getting any level of success is a certain percentage of confidence. You’ve got to be able to see your end goal and it’s got to be obtainable. So I think that was always at the back of our minds.”
Will success go to their heads?
“Definitely! Number one, I’m going to get a helicopter straight out of Glastonbury, straight into the rich band.”
Joff pauses, then adds, “OK, no … I should hope not.”
Maybe they could get their ‘suave punk bassist’ Theo Ellis, who apparently loves a little permanent body etching, a new helicopter tattoo instead.
“Yeah, maybe! He’s racking them up, is old Theo. He might turn into a black and white doodle himself.”
So is it singing drummer Joel Amey who instigates the partying off stage, leading you around that field after a few drinks? Or are you all secretly very level-headed?
“I think so. It’s just that Glasto thing. Everybody just kind of loses their inhibitions … in the best possible way.”
Is there a big difference between the Ellie Rowsell we see live and hear on record and the supposedly ‘quietly polite’ one you know off stage?
“I would hope so. This is the strange thing – people think they know people and think they have some kind of relationship with them.”
Fans in general do tend to think they have some kind of ownership through buying an artist’s records and seeing them at the front of a stage.
“Yes, especially front-people. What I find strange is people putting others on pedestals. It’s fine to put the work on a pedestal if you like it. That’s fantastic.
“But there’s also that other level of fanaticism and that ‘I love you’ line. It doesn’t really compute.”
The official band PR suggests behind the ‘effortlessly visceral’ Ellie, guitarist Joff is the ‘insular romantic, picking out folk tunes on an acoustic backstage then noodling the hell out of his solos when the lights go up’. Is that about right?
“Oh really? I see! I know the girl who wrote that, so I’ll ask. Ha! I don’t know. I do like to keep myself to myself sometimes.
“Touring is quite full-on, and there are always a lot of people around, in your face, so quite a lot of the time I do tend to take a back-seat.”
It seems a while since February 2013’s debut single Fluffy signalled the start of a public clamour for this Camden outfit, gradually evolving their sound, giving us a few twists and turns en route.
There was that year’s Blush EP next, then last year’s Creature Songs EP, the band alternating between indie ballads, folky anthems, and ‘grunge screamers with big poppy choruses’.
All along, there were plenty of live dates in Europe and the US, too, the band working their apprenticeship while fighting not to be pigeon-holed.
Has this album seemed a long time in coming?
“Oh well, yeah! For me and Ellie it’s coming up to six years since we set out, and for the rest it’s three or four years, or something like that.
“But I think we’ve done it right. A lot of bands get to a point and release an album when they’re not ready and the songs aren’t ready, and they haven’t quite got the fan- base either.
“They seem to think if you release an album based on hype, it will do well. But it’s been proved these last couple of years that doesn’t really work. You need that fan-base that buys tickets to come to your shows, gets involved and has enough of a narrative to get into and stay with the band.”
The fact that Wolf Alice have reworked a few crowd favourites on this album shows how much they’ve moved on. I loved the songs as they were, but you can see how they’ve progressed.
“Definitely. What we’re producing now is a lot more … you know ….”
He falters there. Is it a bit more ‘you’?
“I should hope so, and I think it’s chilled out a bit since the earlier stuff. We were maybe overly-loud and overly ferocious then. I think that was a reaction to not being listened to in the beginning. Now we’ve got to a point where we’ve been able to show another side as well.”
How much of an influence was producer Mike Crossey (who previously worked with Arctic Monkeys and Foals, among others)? And was the band’s choice?
“Erm, he was recommended by the label, and he was alright … yeah.”
Joff seems a little reticent to say too much. It got a bit intense at times in the studio over your five-week recording stint in London’s Wood Green, didn’t it?
“Yeah, but I’m sure it does with everyone, really, and he’s good at getting a good performance out of you.”
As it turns out, My Love Is Cool is a joy to behold, a sparkling debut with so much depth, stunning in places and never one-dimensional, the songs not a second too long,
Back to the road, beyond Glastonbury, Wolf Alice have more festival dates in the UK and Europe, including Leeds and Reading, Jersey Live, Latitude, Longitude, and T in the Park.
Then there is an eight-date tour, heading between Bristol Academy and Brixton Academy, including Manchester Albert Hall on September 25.
“We’ve toured pretty extensively these last couple of years, and while I don’t think we’ve done Manchester Albert Hall before, we played The Ritz not too long ago, which was super-cool.”
With that, Joff had to jump back into the band motor to head further west ahead of his big weekend.
And what a winning set it proved to be, too.
In a set identical to a secret gig they played on Glastonbury’s William’s Green stage the day I spoke to Joff, a beaming Ellie declared the band were ‘having the best time ever’, and not even heavy rain from part-way through their 45-minute set could dampen it.
There were technical problems, too, Ellie struggling with her microphone stand, employing great dexterity to carry on singing ‘Don’t leave me here’ on the floor on album closer The Wonderwhy before Joff came to the rescue.
The weather was inclement by the time they reached Bros, while further cherished single, Giant Peach, inspired a mud-charged mass pogo.
Then came finale Moaning Lisa Smile, Ellie gliding along on a sea of hands during a memorable bout of crowd-surfing.
It’s been an amazing year for Wolf Alice, and we’re only half-way through.
I can’t see why they shouldn’t take it up another level from here, but until then they have every right to revel in what they’ve started.
Their love is indeed cool.
l To find out all the latest from the band, including details of this year’s festival dates and September’s tour, head to www.wolfalice.co.uk.