The UK band Wolf Alice borrows its moniker from the twisted folktale of the same name by English novelist Angela Carter. In that story, a girl is raised by wolves, and taken in by nuns who unsuccessfully attempt to civilize her, ultimately turning her over to the custody of a werewolf Duke.
If you ask Ellie Rowsell, lead singer and guitarist, which phase of this narrative the band currently inhabits, she responds, “Shacking up with the werewolf!” Whether these lycanthropic affinities have to do with the unpredictable wildness of the band’s riffs or the way songs seamlessly shapeshift over time and even within the confines of a single track is hard to say. Clearly, though, the North London 4-piece composed of Ellie, Joff Oddie (lead guitar), Theo Ellis (bass), and Joel Amey (drums) will not be tamed in their pursuit of making noise that echoes far beyond the woods of England.
This particular cross-planetary prowl takes place in Los Angeles on the evening of January 26, 2015, where rain and a waxing half-moon cast an eerier-than-usual vibe over the city. A few hours before making their Hollywood debut at a venue called Bardot, we sat down for a chat with Wolf Alice, all four band members cosy and relaxed in a hotel room bed.
XS – Welcome to Los Angeles; this is your first time playing here. 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.
XS – Your music is hard to describe because your repertoire is constantly evolving. How would you describe your own music, both over time and right now?
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. We’ve grown up with that. That’s how we digest music, and that’s probably what’s come out. We’re a by-product of the Internet, probably.
XS – You’re a band the media has described as showing promise and delivering upon that promise. You’re coming out with a full-length album in June; 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 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.
XS – Have you heard it fully mixed and mastered? How do you feel about it?
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.
XS – 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 the mix of genres, yeah, I think so. I think everything has 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.
XS – Anything else you can reveal? Does it have a name yet?
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.
XS – In March, you’ll be headlining a tour that includes O2 Shepard’s Bush Empire in London, and you’re on tour opening for alt-J across Europe 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 kind of like members club. There was lots of taxidermies around, and there were really bad vibes. It 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! 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.” And shouting out really misogynistic things.
XS - What was the audience like?
Joff: Well, he was in it, so it was ruined.
Ellie: He actually genuinely ruined the audience.
Joff: It had the potential to be a really fun night. It was like an unannounced secret show. Just a bit off-key, anyway… We won’t dwell on it. We’ve had lots of good gigs as well.
XS - 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 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 just to work.
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: Just the extreme tiredness and such a massive surprise all just mixed into euphoria.
XS – This is Hollywood, the mecca of moviemaking. If you could have your music featured in any film or TV show with any director or cast of your choice, what would that be?
Ellie: We were saying Twin Peaks earlier. 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.
XS – I could see Lynch happening.
Ellie: That would be cool.
Joff: Fingers crossed. Let’s make this happen, guys!
XS – Another question about storytelling and filmmaking, this one as it relates to your three 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.” Talk about how those came about and the thinking and the creative process behind making the videos.
Joff: “She” and “Blush,” Ozzie did an 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.
Theo: But for some reason, we did about a six-month gap between them.
Ellie: It was just like an extreme version of the lyrics. And then “Moaning Lisa Smile” is kind of the same thing, adapting the lyrics.
XS – Is Joel the lead role in the videos?
Joel: That’s Henry (Henry Leroy Salta); he’s a good friend of mine. He does look a little like me, but not quite as good (laughs). Look out for him!
XS – 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 (Pullin) to do that as well.
XS – 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 like a really fun time; all squeezed into one day. I remember that day a lot. I liked that one.
XS – How did you guys all do with the choreography?
Ellie: We learned it on tour, actually. It was so much fun in a hotel room.
Joff: We learned it in a hotel room in Calais.
(Band members demonstrate a few dance moves)
XS – 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 for Best Breakthrough Act. Where would you like 2015 to take you?
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 it 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.
XS – 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.
XS – Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. I’m very excited about the show tonight.
Wolf Alice: Thank you!
Setlist - Bardot, January 26, 2015
Moaning Lisa Smile
Your Love’s Whore
90 Mile Beach
You’re a Germ
Wolf Alice releases their debut album in on June 22, 2015 on Dirty Hit Records. Whether by happenstance or cosmic design, this spring would have been Angela Carters’ 75th birthday as well. That a female-fronted, ferociously original band sought inspiration for their name in Carter’s unusual tales would have perhaps pleased the English scribe.
- Oh my! What big talent you have, Wolf Alice!
- The better to surprise you with!
- What big teeth you have, Wolf Alice!
- The better to gnaw and chomp our way into your hearts.
May Wolf Alice do just that and rock happily ever after.
Photos by Tamarind Free Jones www.tamarindphotography.com