Interview: Wolf Alice on Glastonbury, touring and their love of Newcastle
It was in 2010 when Ellie Rowsell and Joff Oddie started making wistful acoustic music together in their North London bedrooms and thus Wolf Alice was born. Ellie chose the name from a children’s story by Angela Carter, in which she noticed a likeness in “my big teeth and Joff’s innocent curiosity – he was the Alice to my Wolf and I the Wolf to his Alice”.
Two years later, having being joined by drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis and discovering their voice to be much more gravelly than first intended, Wolf Alice found its feet. Now, after three years of slowly but surely clawing their way up the ladder of success, this fierce quartet are ready and raring to release their debut album, My Love Is Cool, and storm the UK with their biggest headline tour to date.
“We’re so jet-lagged but we have our first day off tomorrow. My girlfriend’s three-legged dog’s just got here so we’re gonna take him out for a walk,” explains a super friendly Joel as I make my way into a backroom of Newcastle’s Riverside. “He’s got a cone on his head. He’s called Chance. I’ve got a picture where he looks like he’s driving a car. He’s from Cyprus,” he says.
It’s been a year since I last interviewed this band and since then they’ve come a hell of a long way to prove they’re in it for the long run. From touring America to playing festivals in Australia to supporting Alt-J on their European tour, Wolf Alice have been unstoppable.
It’s now the fifth night of their 14-date tour and so far it’s exceeded their expectations. “It’s been banging,” says Theo, slouched casually on the venue’s ripped leather sofa and running a hand through his unruly blond hair. “Everyone’s been great and the crowds have all been great,” adds Joel. With music like Wolf Alice’s, so raw and emotionally charged, it’s difficult not to become immersed in the experience – even the band can’t help getting up-close and personal in the crowds every now and then. “Manchester was one of my favourite shows of this tour just because my stage dive was so banging,” laughs Theo.
But this tour has so far brought more than just epic stage dives and crazy crowds – their Sheffield show saw Drenge’s Eoin Loveless taking to the stage to play set-closer Moaning Lisa Smile for what Joel described as “one of my favourite moments of my life”. He continued, “It was even a shock for me seeing him looming out of the smoke. Ellie got down into the crowd and us four lads were just in rock mode.”
On a surprise appearance in Newcastle though, they denied any possibilities, saying they had no friends in the city and that Alan Shearer was unavailable. They did, however, express their fondness of the Toon despite not being so familiar with it. “I love Newcastle. I love the fact there’s this kind of olden town underneath the bridges, it’s really cool. And this is a really nice venue,” says Theo.
Only last month, Wolf Alice were over in Texas playing SXSW and the Americans loved them. When asked if it feels strange to be known over in the States, Theo’s response was endearing. “It’s strange to be recognised in Newcastle. Even to be recognised in London. It’s weird.”
Joel continues, “I probably recognise more people in the crowd than the crowd recognise me. No one knows me. I’m behind the drum kit in the back. I can go to Gregg’s still… No one’s going to bother me in Gregg’s so it’s fine.” And that’s all that really matters, right?
It’s through experiences like SXSW that Wolf Alice have become friends with bands they themselves admire. In an environment where you’re all in the same boat and understand each other’s lifestyles, there are “no bad vibes” between bands, as Joel puts it. “Apart from the other day in Texas,” he deliberates. “Carl Barat and Frank Turner beat me at table football. They thrashed me… It was kind of embarrassing, to be fair. We’re friends with them though, they’re cool.”
Another celebrity friend the band have recently made is – obscurely – Tony Gardner, who’s best known for his part as the father in early 00s kids TV show, My Parents Are Aliens. They teamed up with him on their latest video release for thunderous single Giant Peach and he was apparently a scream to work with.
“He’d randomly tweeted about us. I always remember how funny that was and our label needed us to have a video idea, so we were like, ‘let’s just ask him if he’ll do it’. So we tweeted him and he was like, ‘yeah, I’ll do it’. Also, he has the most incredible taste in music. He knows every new band. When we kill him, that was a one-take thing. It was sugar glass. They’re really, really expensive and we only budgeted for one. Ellie nailed it,” says Joel.
Giant Peach is the most recent single that features on the new album. It’s been a long time coming, having compiled a hefty back-catalogue of EP material over the last few years, but they’re psyched to have it finished. If it went to number one, Theo says with wide eyes, “I would definitely be having a nightmare. I would be out for a few days. Maybe even a week.”
“Not that being number one validates the album and its success, but if it did, my bar tab would be… Well, I’m not going to pay it, basically,” laughs Joel.
As well as completing the album, a highlight of the last year was playing the John Peel tent at Glastonbury. “Glastonbury was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Theo without hesitation. “Ellie was crying four seconds before we went on-stage. It was that huge.”
And that concludes my time with Wolf Alice, a band slowly shaking up the music world but genuinely lovely guys with their feet firmly on the ground. Whether or not they make their millions, only time will tell, but with debut album My Love Is Cool just around the corner, I can’t help but think this will be my final interview with them before they’re catapulted to brand new heights.