This is an interview with a bass player who’s been in his band less than a year, and on the day it was conducted, said band had yet to release their debut EP. I’m worried the following paragraphs won’t have much to say, but it soon becomes clear, after about three minutes of talking to Wolf Alice’s Theo Ellis, that the band have already had quite an adventure pre-EP (although they have since released it) and have quite a lot to say for themselves.
Indeed, Ellis launches into my first question – how did you all meet? – with such exactitude and enthusiasm that, given the sulky nature of some of Wolf Alice’s songs, I am quite taken aback and forget to turn my voice recorder on. The story is a variation on a theme of mutual friends, possibly dating back to school days, centering around North London. Partly due to shock, partly due to the speed that Ellis talks and changes topic, I don’t know the specifics. By the time I remember to press ‘record’, the first thing captured is, ‘not so much like a lion to an antelope, but more like a kitten to a pretty ball of string’, which is Theo’s simile for how he became the fourth of the Wolf Alice quartet.
When Wolf Alice began as a duo – just Joff Oddie and Ellie Rowsell – they were making soft folk music, without electric guitar or any friends that played drums, but with Ellie’s incurious, gentle vocals. Early songs such as ‘Leaving You’ and ‘Wednesday’ certainly garnered attention and fans, but are a long way from the songs on their Blush EP, released this month on Chess Club, with the inclusion of drummer Joel Amey and bassist Ellis.
Progressing through their singles ‘Fluffy’ and ‘Bros’, they’ve found a sound that’s got them supporting The Cribs and then the Swim Deep tour. It’s clear the band’s sound has become more boisterous when Ellis starts talking about his crowd-surfing exploits – “I didn’t realize how much you have to think about it, and how carefully you have to position yourself, cause if you knock out a thirteen year old you’re really in trouble”. Do you aim for a big muscly man, I ask? “You’d be surprised, there aren’t that many at Swim Deep shows” he says, smirking. “You kinda aim not to hurt people… From stage diving to life mantras”.
They’ve also played sets at Latitude, Beacons and End Of The Road festivals, amongst others. “The whole festival thing feels like a bit of a blur. We camp at most festivals – there are no hotels for Wolf Alice. It was mainly tents and getting run over by golf buggies. It was nuts. But next year I reckon we might have our minds a bit more together, maybe notice what’s going on”.
I’m pleased that Ellis inadvertently speculates about next year; it’s nice to know the band see another year to their careers. He later admits – “I hope we’ll all be able to do this for the rest of our lives”. I don’t know whether this is through confidence in Wolf Alice, or a lack of alternatives. “Joel and I, we can just about do this, this band thing, but that’s it. I could maybe work in a bar, I did that for a bit, but it’s pretty bleak compared to this. Ellie could do anything, she’s a babe”.
“Joff’s got other stuff to offer. He’s a trained teacher, that’s why we didn’t tour so much to begin with because he had to finish his degree. He’s the clever one that’s not going to end up living in a bedsit in Brighton when he’s thirty, still going clubbing in a Cyberdog t-shirt… I will be”.
Now that Oddie has finished university, life as a proper, full time band has begun. “We’re travelling around in a van. I think I found some old sushi in the back of the van when we were cleaning it out. And some shoes. It’s quite middle class, but I don’t think any of us ate sushi so I don’t know how it got there”.
Those long drives must offer a lot of time to listen to music and hone influences. “I think we all love Brian Jonestown Massacre, and we all love the Dandy Warhols. A fair bit of grunge, Nirvana, Vines, Queens of the Stone Age. It changes. Joel listens to a worrying amount of hardcore music, he loves Bad Brains and stuff like that. Joff’s got an amazing country knowledge”. Is there anything contemporary they’ve been enjoying recently? “I love Dingus Khan” – I ask if he knows the dance routine to their song, ‘Ambulance’. He starts singing the chorus loudly.
Life in the van sounds pretty fun. More than once, Wolf Alice have tweeted asking for a place to stay in various cities on tour. In Cambridge, they offered to pay in ‘bits of bread and two oranges’. In Bournemouth they requested a ‘house/shed/car/seafront penthouse villa mansion’ in exchange for ‘twenty beers and a Maroon 5 album’. I wonder if the band has spent their summer on strangers’ sofas, sacrificing noughties CDs and leftover food for the sake of their art. “We’re not taking the piss… Although we haven’t had to stay in a strangers’ house yet, but we will”.
“To be fair to our fans, we’ve had some really lovely messages from some really lovely people being like, we’ll put you up and we’ll give you a cookie or something, but we haven’t had to take them up yet cause usually we’ve had some pals in different cities. I don’t know how we’ve done it cause I don’t think I have that many friends, but we haven’t had to go without a bed yet”.
With their busy summer over, Wolf Alice have clearly said, “now we want to make an album, and we’re going to figure out how to do it, then we’re going to make it, and release it, and see what happens. That’s our PR strategy”. Will creating this album be a collective process? Roswell is the lyricist of the band, so much so that when I find trouble with the Londoner’s line in ‘Fluffy’, ‘What’s there to do in this dead old town?’, Ellis says he thinks “it’s metaphorical”. He offers to email an answer later.
All band members are involved somehow in the songwriting process, though. “Like the song ‘Blush’, we all wrote together at about two in the morning, at Joel’s house when we were demo-ing. There are times when someone will come with a melody or a riff and we’ll elaborate on that… We’re very involved in all the creative stuff, our videos as well. We like to know what’s going on. I think the only thing we’re truly shit at is having our photo taken. I’ve never seen a press shot where we look in any way reasonably cool. I think we’re bad at being cool. I’ve been trying to be cool since I was six and I’ve been having a fucking huge mare the whole time… I’m pretty sure I only smoke to be cool”.
If Ellis isn’t good at being cool, or indeed anything else other than ‘the band thing’, then, I tell him, I hope he’s enjoying it. “It’s all pretty fucking great to be honest. Working twelve hours a day in a bar does suck compared to driving around in a van and playing for 45 minutes to really great people”. From our brief chat, it sure sounds like it.By Alice Lawrence