Photos by Tamarind Free Jones
French adaptation by Raphaël Duprez
I’m fairly sure a band has never invited me to their hotel room before, at least not that I can recall. And I’m absolutely certain I’ve never interviewed a 4-piece band all in the same bed, nor joined them in that bed… until I hooked up with Wolf Alice in Room 222. You’re about to have a peek at what happened behind closed doors in the company of the extraordinary group from North London made up of Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar), Joff Oddie (guitar), Theo Ellis (bass), and Joel Amey (drums) that goes by the name Wolf Alice.
- Welcome to Los Angeles, this is your first time playing here and your second time in the US following SXSW 2014. How does it feel?
All: Thank you!
Theo: It feels amazing to be here. It’s one of those fantasy things, you think you’re going to come to LA to play music. So we’re very happy I think.
- As a four-piece band, you’ve recorded two EPs to date, [Blush and Creature Songs] and an earlier unreleased EP as a two-piece. I’ve listened to everything and if I was asked to describe your music, I’d have to say Hmmm… because your repertoire is constantly evolving. How would you describe your own music, both over time and right now?
Theo: The first period that you think of as the unreleased EP is almost like a different band. It’s these two [points to Ellie and Joff] playing and writing music together and in a quite different format.
Joff: I think we’re products of our kind of musical generation that doesn’t have to buy just one set of records or whatever, you know, having the Internet. We’re like musical mongrels.
Theo: Yeah, definitely.
Joff: We’ve grown up with that and that’s how we digest music and that’s probably what’s come out. We’re a by-product of the Internet, probably.
- You’re a band that people have been talking about a lot lately and even back to 2012 when NME started writing about you. From what I’ve seen, articles have expressed, “This band shows promise.” And then you deliver upon that promise. Then “Oh, this band shows promise again… This band has delivered upon that promise again!” You’re coming out with a full-length album in May, what sort of promise would you like this album to keep?
Joel: This is the big one really, isn’t it? It’s the debut album that everyone’s been talking about since the second ever since the first demo went online. So I think we’re happy with it as its creators. We’ve had satisfaction with the record, but we’d like other people to as well, obviously. That’s the point, isn’t it? To release something that is universally adored. I think that would be a good goal: if everybody in the world likes it! It took a long time and people stuck by us for a long time, so it should be like a thank you to them.
- Have you heard it fully mixed and mastered? How do you feel about it?
Joff: We’ve heard it fully mixed.
Ellie: Good. I’m really happy. I think it’s a good product of where we are now and a little snippet of probably where we’re going to go. Even though we don’t know where that is ourselves, but you can definitely hear some kind of change throughout the album, and a clue as to what we’ve evolved into.
- In an interview [NME, January 22, 2015], Ellie, you had used the words “braver” and “a mix of genres,” can you elaborate a bit on that?
Ellie: I wouldn’t say it’s like the bravest record in the world, but it’s braver than anything we’ve put out…well not braver, but we were braver in the studio, we kind of went with our gut. And mix of genres, yeah, I think so. I think everything has…
Joff: …the same DNA.
Ellie: …the same DNA but we’ll have some songs that are like rock and some songs which are very much pop.
Joff: Being brave in both ways I guess, because you can be brave and be left-field and be brave as a more left-field band, and be like we’re not afraid to write pop songs as well.
- Anything else you can reveal? Does it have a name yet? Has it been decided?
Joff: A Little Bit of Rap On
Theo: The album has a bit of rap music on it so we…
Theo: Well that’s actually mildly true, but we haven’t got a name yet.
- So the parents are still deciding.
Ellie: We kind of want to have it and hear it more completely. Like send it off and say yes to it, and then we’ll confirm a name.
Theo: We’ll give it a birth certificate.
- A few of the tracks on it have been mentioned in interviews and on your KCRW performance this morning: Giant Peach, You’re a Germ, Swallow Tail/Tale…?
Joff: And it’s Swallow Tail as in a tail (gestures to suggest tailfeathers), not like a tale in a book.
Ellie: There are some names that may be changed, they’re like demo names.
- In March, you’ll be headlining a tour that includes O2 Shepard’s Bush Empire in London, a pretty big capacity venue (2,000) and you’re on tour opening for alt-J across some of Europe’s greatest venues in the coming weeks. Congratulations! But tell me, what’s the worst gig you’ve ever played?
Joff: We had a bit of an iffy gig at this really strange, weird kind of like members club.
Joel: Oh yeah…
Joff: There was lots of taxidermy around in there and there were really bad vibes.
- Did you just say there was taxidermy?
Joff: Yes, it was like a private members taxidermy place and was a bit seedy and weird…
Theo: …run by a dude who was super seedy and weird.
Ellie: Oh, that model. I’m going to say his name…
Ellie and Theo, in unison: (*BLEEEEP! Name withheld)!
Theo: He’s a fucking prick! You can print that (name withheld) is a fucking prick.
Ellie: He was just shouting at us!
Theo: He’s a fucking famous model and a fucking idiot!
Ellie: He was shouting, “Why don’t you just go and cut your wrists or something?”
Joel: Yeah, he was like, “Kill yourself music!”
Ellie: Yeah, he said, “If you’re so miserable, then kill yourself.”
Theo: He’s a massive dick and a massive model.
Joel: And a misogynist!
Ellie: And shouting out really misogynistic things.
Joel: I’m really happy you said his name because I really wanted to fucking say his name.
Joff: It wasn’t just because of him. It was partly because of him and his wanky attitude, but it was like a weird vibe.
- What was the audience like?
Joff: Well, he was in it, so it was ruined.
Ellie: He actually genuinely ruined the audience.
Joel: People were like, even Ozzie [Pullin, video director], were looking at him…
Joff: To be fair, it was just a room full of his mates.
Theo: And they were all dicks as well.
Joff: It had the potential to be a really fun night. It was like an unannounced secret show. Just a bit off-key, anyway…
Joel: Yeah. We don’t like that kind of gig.
Joff: We won’t dwell on it. We’ve had lots of good gigs as well.
- Well that’s the next question! Back to your current success: in recent months, when have you been on stage or walked off stage with an absolute emotional high?
Joff: FIB Festival, which is in Benicàssim, Spain. We had a long weekend. We were doing a festival in Europe on Friday. We came back to England on the Saturday so we were a bit all over the place and quite tired and stuff. We kind of had a weird late slot, right next to M.I.A. She was playing on the main stage and we were playing on the second one. And when we went up there we thought, “Oh, God. No one’s going to be there. This is going to be absolutely terrible.” And quite a lot of people were there. I don’t know, you have those moments when you just play kinda good. Everything seems to just work.
Joel: In adversity…
Ellie: We’d never played a festival at night as well, so it feels quite like you’re famous or something. And it was warm and it was dark.
Joel: Yeah. We played at 11 or something, didn’t we?
Joff: It was great. There’s a few, but that’s a recent memory one.
Joel: Just the extreme tiredness and such a massive surprise all just mixed into euphoria.
Joff: And it was Ellie’s birthday the day before! She spent it in a van.
- How’s the festival season for this summer shaping up?
Joel: We can’t say anything.
Joff: Yeah. I don’t think we’re allowed to say yet, but yeah, it’s all good.
[Note: Since the interview, Wolf Alice has announced they will be playing at SXSW, BBC6 Music Festival in Newcastle, and Reading and Leeds]
- The band name: Wolf Alice comes from a short story of the same name by Angela Carter. In that story, a female child is raised by wolves; then by nuns, then ends up shacking up with a werewolf at which point she starts becoming a woman and begins to realize she is not a wolf. Which part of that narrative are you in right now?
Ellie: Shacking up with the werewolf!
Joel: I’m still with the nuns!
Theo: I’m becoming a nun.
- That was literature; this is Hollywood, the mecca of moviemaking. If you could have your music featured in any film or TV show, any director or cast of your choice, what would that be?
Theo: Arrow (all: laughs)
Ellie: We were saying Twin Peaks earlier.
Theo to Ellie: Can you think of a film? Or a director? Not like Lars Von Trier because we met him in Texas.
Ellie: I know, he’s been in contact. The soundtracks for Baz Luhrmann. Romeo and Juliet, wasn’t it? I would have loved to be on that soundtrack.
Joel: That soundtrack’s amazing! I have that on CD.
Theo: With films though you want to compose the music to the visuals, right? You don’t want just your songs to soundtrack it.
Julie: It can go both ways. Sometimes a director just falls in love with a song. You know Lynch, Chris Isaak, Wicked Game. I saw you covered that before.
Joff: It’s our best song!
Joel: That’s a classic song there. That’s an incredible song!
Julie: I could see Lynch happening.
Ellie: That would be cool.
Joff: Fingers crossed. Let’s make this happen guys!
- Another question about storytelling and filmmaking, this one as it relates to your 3 videos that were directed by Ozzie Pullin. There’s She and then Blush that work together as a continuation, and almost – but to a lesser extent – Moaning Lisa Smile. You have this whole thing about discovering your identity, assuming that identity, and then resiliently showing your identity. Talk about how those came about and the thinking and the creative process behind making the videos.
Joff: She and Blush, Ozzie did and amazing job when there weren’t very many resources at that time. We wanted to release that originally as one video, with both songs on it.
Joff: The idea was to put one video out one week and then the next week.
Theo: But for some reason we did about a six-month gap between them.
Joel: Well done, because a lot of people don’t notice it’s the same story.
Ellie: It was just like an extreme version of the lyrics, a more creepy version of the lyrics. And then Moaning Lisa Smile is kind of the same thing, adapting the lyrics.
- Is Joel the lead role in the videos?
Joff: That’s Henry.
Joel: That’s Henry, he’s a good friend of mine. He does look a little like me, but not quite as good looking (laughs).
Julie: He looks a little like you, Joel.
Joel: That’s a friend of ours Henry Leroy Salta, he’s an actor, a good one. Look out for him!
- And the more recent video, Moaning Lisa Smile?
Joff: That was kind of our first one when we had a bit of money and Ozzie to do that as well.
- And is that you guys in costume?
Theo: Yeah. That’s all us.
Joff: We were in six-inch heels all day. It was amazing and horrible.
Joel: Yeah, ‘cause about four sizes too small!
Joff: That was mad. It was really fun, though.
Joel: It was like a day off we had in our May tour in the UK and we came back from Amsterdam to do it. It was just really fun, all squeezed into one day. I remember that day a lot. I liked that one.
- Who was in charge of choreography?
Joff: Ozzie got a guy in. I can’t remember his name. He was really nice, though.
Joel: I saw him in a bar the other day.
- And how did you guys all do with that?
Ellie: We learned it on tour actually, in a hotel room. It was so fun.
Joff: We learned it in a hotel room in Calais.
(Band members demonstrate a few select moves)
Julie: You need to perform it on stage tonight!
Ellie: We did go out a few weeks later.
Theo (excitedly interrupting): We did it! We did it in Brighton! Yeah!
Ellie: We got really drunk at this club and we did it on the dance floor.
Joff: To the song?
Ellie: No, to any song. Because someone was doing a dance and we were like, “We’ve got a dance, too!”
- Do you still remember it?
Joff and Joel: No. No.
Theo: I pretend I remember it when I’m drunk, but I’m just dancing.
- In 2013, you were the most blogged about band in the UK according to BBC Radio 6. In 2014, you won the UK Festival Awards Best Breakthrough Act. Where would you like 2015 to take you?
Joff: We also won a DICE Award for live shows last year (Best Live Act).
Joel: There were a lot of live shows last year. We seem to have connected with people. So I’d like that to continue I think.
Joff: It will be a lot more shows this year than in was last year. But I think our main plan for this year is to tour and get the album out and just support the album as much as we can by being on the road,
Ellie: I want to win an Oscar.
Joff: Sorry, I forgot to mention. Ellie wants to win an Oscar for her acting performance in…
Joff: In Blush, the series that we’ve made. We’ve extended the song and it’s going to be a series. It’s her, Sienna Miller, and Dame Edna.
Joel: And Henry.
- (laughs) Is there anything else you want people to know?
Joff: I want to meet Elijah Wood and I can’t think of anything else.
Joel: We’re going to come back to the States.
Joff: So keep your eyes peeled for shows in your local towns. And in France, we’re playing The Zénith with alt-J. I don’t know if that show is actually sold out.
Joel: It is, you know. But come down anyway! (All: laughs) And we’ll be back.
Ellie: We felt really bad. We had to cancel our last show in France with Les InRocks.
Joel: Yeah. We’ll be back though!
Julie: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. I’m very excited about the show tonight.
Wolf Alice: Thank you!
A few hours after the interview, Wolf Alice delivered a thrilling set to a packed room at Bardot, Los Angeles. People stood on the staircase, clung from the railings, and climbed on the furniture to get a better view of the action on stage. And there was swaying and dancing, much dancing.
As the concertgoers showered the band with increasingly rapturous applause, Theo exclaimed, “I’m so happy I could cry!” The band gave; the crowd gave back and yearned for more following a brief yet thoroughly satisfying set. As luck would have it, the band returns to The City of Angels on March 14, 2015 to play The Bootleg, a slightly bigger venue.
Setlist for Bardot, January 26, 2015
Moaning Lisa Smile
Your Love’s Whore
90 Mile Beach
You’re a Germ
My evening with Wolf Alice began with some intimate “pillow talk,” continued with a ferociously energetic set in an intimate venue, and ended with backstage praise, hugs, and see-you-soons. It was a privilege to witness the band up close and personal as I have an inkling that the entire world will be soon be seeing, hearing, and singing along with Wolf Alice. When that does happen—and it will—I’ll always have Room 222.
Wolf Alice’s yet untitled debut album is scheduled to release in May 2015 on Dirty Hit Records.
The band is currently touring in support of alt-J throughout Europe including a sold out show at The Zenith on February 4, 2015 before returning to North America at the end of February and then touring the UK in late March.