Interview with Wolf Alice
Awards, Tours, festivals and Macaulay Culkin – Wolf Alice have come a mighty long way since guitarist Joff Oddie first picked up his guitar with lead singer Ellie Rowsell. Oddie chatted to me about how the band have progressed since forming, some stories from along the way and how 2015 has turned them into one of the UK’s leading indie label bands.
After congratulating Joff on the recent announcement of Wolf Alice’s Brit Award nomination for 2015 British Breakthrough, he tells me how it was “never something you’d have to think about whilst being on an indie-label so it took the whole band by surprise when we were invited to the Nominations Launch Show.”
Last year, Wolf Alice performed over 150 shows, which Oddie described as “a bit of a blur really” when I asked him about some highlights and favourite moments. He went on to say that “our producer said ‘pack your bags you know and kiss your girlfriends goodbye you’re not going to be seeing anyone for a year’ and everyone was going ‘yeah yeah fuck off like, that’s never gonna happen’”. But the shows kept on coming for Wolf Alice, which meant in 2015 they travelled all over the world playing their dark, authentic, alternative sound to crowds in Australia, Japan, the US and to home crowds around the UK.
The talk of touring prompted me to ask about something that many musicians dream off, that is, a slot at Glastonbury which this year Wolf Alice achieved. “Yeah that was… haha yeah” was his initial response, as I only assume my question reminded him of some mad festival antics that were far too risky to talk to a magazine about. He regained his composure and expanded about how the band flew over from LA after performing some shows over there which were “very intense, but absolutely amazing”. “A show on the Park Stage, then a couple of days walking around Glastonbury getting pissed… then go home Monday with a very sore head… It’s just such a fucking good festival”, he says with a tone of utter appreciation for one of the highlights of the band’s year.
After being on tour for such a long time I ask Oddie, where the band would most like to perform around the world if they could go and play anywhere? What makes this genre so great is with bands like Wolf Alice, you can pick up a cheap ticket and head to a relatively small venue and be 10, 20 metres from the band and have the time of your life. Oddie’s venue choice didn’t fail to disappoint. “There’s a place in Washington that we really wanna play called The 9:30 Club.” He goes on, “everyone we’ve spoken to, kinda unanimously said that’s the best, the best venue in the US”. He takes a moment to appreciate all of the fantastic small venues around the world, and goes on to say “it’s such a shame… great little venues all over the place closing. We did a gig in The Monarch in Camden not long ago, for a Vevo thing, and that was just fucking crazy.” After sharing a few words of small gig anecdotes we move on to some other tour interrogation.
Wolf Alice have toured with a whole host quality bands recently, including Drenge, Swim Deep, Made Violent and are supported by Slaves on their upcoming tour. I asked if they could tour with any band, dead or alive who would it be? Oddie took a very short pause and confidently said “The Velvet Underground. 100%, because I reckon that would be pretty gnarly.” His confident response left me with no time for small talk over what a tricky dilemma that question could’ve caused so straight on to the next one.
“If Wolf Alice could perform on stage with any artist in a collab-style frenzy, like you did with Drenge on tour in the US…” I’m interrupted whilst Oddie laughs as he remembers the gig: “haha yeah that was fantastic, that was a proper highlight that.” I continue “who would it be?” Expecting the quick assured response of The Velvet Underground again, I’m thrown when Joff suggests a totally unexpected veteran of the alternative genre. “I’ll tell you someone who I think would pull that off amazingly… We saw him last year when he was touring one of his new records, and we thought it was one of the best live shows we’d ever seen, definitely at a festival, and that’s Beck. Beck and his band create an awesome sound.” The American folk-rock singer songwriter has a long career dating back into the nineties but he doesn’t appear at first glance like the most compatible artist for the grungy, emotional, Wolf Alice. Nonetheless, if the lead guitarist reckons it’ll work, I’m all for it.
Oddie and lead singer Ellie Rowsell started performing at open mic nights and small gigs around Camden under the name Wolf Alice over 5 years ago and I take the opportunity to ask Joff of how it feels to come from a small folk duo to the international touring, Glastonbury performing, Brit Award Nominee, Wolf Alice four piece. Interestingly he suggests that the 5 years have taken their toll. “It didn’t happen overnight, we’d like to think it was more [he pauses] organic than that. 2015 just, it feels like, the year that everything has culminated if you like. All the bits have come together and it all makes sense.”
After agreeing with him that Wolf Alice have grown so much over the years I mention the first time I saw them play in 2013 at Dot-to-Dot Festival in Nottingham. “Ah no way which show?!” Oddie exclaims. “It was the one where the Pizza Underground played and got booed off”. “Oh that one” Oddie says with a disapproving tone. “Fucking Rock City yeah. Macaulay Culkin was a fucking nightmare.” I should probably point out for those lucky enough not to be acquainted with the short lived Pizza Underground, it was Home Alone’s very own Macaulay Culkin’s get rich quick for drugs attempt by forming a druggy band who performed cover tracks of the Velvet Underground and subbed key lyrics out for pizza puns, whilst throwing pizza into the audience and using pizza boxes and a kazoo as rock band instruments. It’s probably not too difficult to understand why the crowd didn’t warm to them. Before I can move on to another question Joff goes off on one about his rage against the off the rails Home Alone star. “Do you know the Thekla in Bristol, the boat? He fell asleep in our dressing room. So it’s an all day thing at Dot-to-Dot like you know and he’d played, there was another band and then us. He fell asleep in the dressing room, his security wouldn’t let us in. So, we had to wait outside to play in the pissing rain whilst he slept on the sofa! It was outrageous! Ah mate it was an absolute fucking shambles. He has no idea what he’s doing on all sorts of musical and moral levels.” That rock’n’roll ey Macaulay?
After a whirlwind of a 15 minute chat I end with a simple question for Oddie: What’s your favourite song to perform? He says without hesitation “‘Giant Peach’, that’s always a fun one, It’s heavy and fast, whilst also quiet and loud, and it has got just enough wiggle room to play around with.” It’s clear to me now how much Joff loves what he does, and we can only hope that the success of Wolf Alice continues into the future and they continue to rock small venues across the world.
Words by Tom Cadman