Wolf Alice – Interview – 2015

"We had a proper late night in the studio last night," says a sleepy Joff Oddie, lead guitarist with the band, "getting some tracking done. My girlfriend woke me up when she went to work at 7am, and I went back to bed. And you woke me up!" he laughs. "But, that's OK… I got in at 3am; we'd been going at it since nine in the morning. Pretty tiring. It's mix time at the moment, ready for release to the public. We recorded the album in just under two months, before Xmas, with a guy called Mike Crossley, in a studio in Wood Green.

Despite not having yet released an album, the London based four piece have already achieved a tremendous amount in their short time together. From playing the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury, to touring with Alt-J, and headlining various UK tours including easily selling out Concorde 2 recently ("Brighton is a beautiful place, we always have such a nice time in Brighton. It's got a Londony vibe, but just seems so much more relaxed."), they are eagerly riding this bull, and looking forward to another jam-packed year of touring and festivals, along with the release of the album, My Love is Cool, in June.

"I live in West London, with my girlfriend. I'm from Cornwall originally, Joel (Amey) is from Surrey, and Ellie (Rowsell) grew up in North London as did Theo (Ellis). London is OK, it's busy. it's kind of nice, but we don't spend much time here. The guys love it, but personally I would move somewhere quieter if it wasn't for the music. London is, in my humble opinion, one of the best cities in the world, but I am country man at heart."

Coming to London to study, and bringing his acoustic guitar with him, Joff (Jonathon is his real name) soon ventured in to the open mic scene… "I came to do a degree in London, a B.Ed, integrated with a teaching training qualification, which I just managed to finish, thanks to a very considerate tutor of mine, who spurred me on to finish my studies. He's a composer called Doctor Alistair Greig, a lovely, lovely chap who helped me out a lot in the last year or so when we started hitting the road, and in the studio. I had to bunk off every now and then. He was such an understanding bloke. I was training to be a primary school teacher, and actually qualified, and even did a bit of supply teaching." So, If the music doesn't happen anymore you can always go back to teaching? "I don't know what you mean!'" laughs Joff.

Obviously, that is the furthest thing from his mind and probably wasn't on his mind much when he hooked up with Ellie, whom he started the Wolf Alice project. "It was just me and Ellie for a couple of years. I met her out and about at open mics, and we did that circuit for a while. But, it's hard to get noticed at those kind of things, when you're playing quieter music. We had that folk tag, and we had no money really, all we had was acoustic guitars, so that is what we used. It got to the point where we thought it was getting a tiny bit tedious, doing the same circuit, not seeming to be noticed or whatever, so we decided to be a bit brattish, a bit louder, and make people listen to us. We got a drummer and bass player and they were with us for a while, and then a friend of ours, who was mutual friend with Theo and Joel, suggested those guys. Neither of them could play drums or bass, they were both guitar players, so they had to pick it up on the fly. I think Joel had two rehearsals before we had a show. He was by no means a drummer at that point, but Joel is just one of those annoying people who can pick up anything and learn it. He's a pretty clever dude. With the bass, if you can play guitar, you can bodge it for while before you figure out how to do it properly!"

It seems so simple, doesn't it? And perhaps, this DIY approach to getting it together and seeing what sticks, is one of the reasons audiences have taken to them so enthusiastically, despite having only released two EPs. There's an endearing youthfulness about Wolf Alice, a band fronted by the indie-cool, and rather physically slight Ellie, seemingly undemonstrative at times on stage, but every now and then – along with the rest of the band – suddenly headbanging away during one of their ferocious instrumental passages… Of course, a good band is always more than the sum of their parts, and Wolf Alice have worked very hard at their musical chemistry, a process that began with those open mics when it was just Ellie and Joff on acoustic guitars and vocals. "Me and Ellie are proud of the route we came, if you know what I mean. It was hard at times, but we have literally done the bottom of the grassroots stuff. There's no manufacturing of a band behind the scenes, with a team of agents and press people, and 'look, here is the complete package'! You can trace our history over the last four years. So, we're proud of doing it the hard way," he laughs.

A nod to their beginnings can be seen on one of their earliest videos, for Fluffy, a song that they have re-worked for the new album. At the beginning there's Ellie and Joff in a bedroom, doing that cringe-worthy twee folk thing, directly into a webcam, while Joel and Theo watch from another location. They look at each other, and before you know it, have hooked up with Ellie and Joff, to instantly create a new version of Wolf Alice; from acoustic folkies, to indie-pop grungers, but still with a little twist of acoustica within their songs. "Fluffy was done for £100 or £200 or something like that. That was always meant to be a parody of how Wolf Alice, in its present incarnation, started," says Joff.

Back in 2012, and with their bassist and drummer, Wolf Alice self-released a very low-key EP. With Theo and Joel taking over bass and drum duties, and signing with indie label Chess Club, they released the singles Fluffy and Bros in early 2013, before releasing the Blush EP. But it was signing to Dirty Hot, and the release of the Creature Songs EP in 2014 that saw interest in the band rise rapidly, particularly in thanks due to the Moaning Lisa Smile song, which enjoyed plenty of radio support for it's Pixies meets Dandy Warhol's anthemic-like qualities, Ellie's voice able to alternate between the occasional high-pitched shouting, and the softer, woozy undertow of someone like My Bloody Valentine's Bilinda Butcher. "It was a good idea to release those EPs, even though at the time, all we wanted to do was release an album. With hindsight it gave us time to develop, write better songs, and by the time we got to the studio to do the album, we had some experience of a professional recording studio, a better idea of what we we're doing and what we wanted to achieve."

The highlight of their whirlwind 2014 was their Glastonbury appearance, broadcast on TV, and which helped them to further seal the deal with the public. "Me and Ellie had gone before in our teenage years, and had gone to the John Peel Stage, so that really felt like a moment. It was probably the most nervous we have even been, and our biggest crowd. I think that tent holds about 10,000? It's a big old place to fill. That was a proper dream come true, especially to be able to play that kind of stage, and before an album. The stage we were at, it was incredible." That performance, as well as other notable appearances at festivals like Reading and Bestival ,helped them to win Best Breakthrough Artist at the Uk Festival Awards at the end of last year.

2015 has already been a busy and fruitful year so far. As well as finishing of the album, they've been touring with Alt-J, going back and forth to America, and releasing the first single off the new album, Giant Peach. "We share management with Alt-J, they were playing a show in Paris, and they had a support drop out last minute, and they asked us to step in. We did that, and I think the guys watched us. We went out with them later – they are super cool guys – and we got on. We then got an email asking if we would like to tour with them, and we said 'yes. Thank you very much Alt-J'!

We love it," says Joff about the intimidating work schedule in front of them. It never seems, even when hectic, that it really feels like work, looking at the clock, and wondering when you can come home. We are very eager. Its where we want to be, working hard, and getting places." And the relationships within the band? "Considering we didn't really know each other before, it's been really good. Our relationship has always been a band one, but we're very very close. On the road we can be a bit tetchy, I can be a grumpy little bitch sometimes, but everyone is very good at giving everyone space, and knowing when to give each other space. We're good. We're disciplined…"

The inspiration for the name came directly from Angela Carter's short story, Wolf-Alice, which itself was published within a collection of her short stories called Bloody Chamber, based on traditional fairytales and folk tales. Wolf-Alice was loosely based on a combination of a variant of Little Red Riding Hood and Through the Looking Glass, and explores the journey towards subjectivity and self-awareness from the perspective of a feral child, which is perhaps a neat summation of the band, a strange feral beast that has morphed and developed into a blossoming, and civilised, creature of music. Carter's writings have a strong feminist streak throughout. "Ellie's mum picked a book off the shelf, and said, 'what about Wolf Alice', and she went, 'yeah, alright'. To be honest, there isn't a deep meaning with the name. That is the meaning of words anyway, I guess… They start off meaningless and then meaning gets attached to it. I'll be completely honest and say, no, I haven't read the story. Ellie is the only one who has read Angela Carter. We do get asked that a lot. I think me and the guys just need to sit down together, maybe somebody could read it to us! Or get an audiobook… "

Jeff Hemmings


Website: wolfalice.co.uk
Facebook: facebook.com/wolfalicemusic
Twitter: twitter.com/wolfalicemusic

Have a read of our album review for Wolf Alice's My Love Is Cool here.