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Interview with Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice – June 30th, 2015



By Mike Bax

Their love really IS cool.

When compared to the median age of the members of Wolf Alice, I’m a dinosaur clocking in well past double their years. I say this only to illustrate that I was heavily into the UK shoegazer/guitar music of the early 1990s, and that I find the majority of material on My Love Is Cool to be cut from the same cloth as this era of music. What’s even more fantastic is watching YouTube footage of Wolf Alice and seeing how they amp up their live sound when performing live, in an equally similar fashion to these bands of yesteryear.

In only a few years that saw the release of two fine EPs (eight songs, four on each EP), Wolf Alice had already managed to carve out a significant bit of industry buzz in the UK, some of which even managed to trickle over here to North America. As the weeks leading up to the release of their first full length album were upon us (My Love Is Cool saw its release on June 23rd here in North America) interviews and endorsements from respected publicists, musicians and entertainment people praising this little known band from across the pond were popping up online and in print.

The merits of My Love Is Cool are many. The album touches on numerous lyrical themes and just as many musical styles, and manages to function as a cohesive body of work from beginning to end. While the more obvious go-to songs on the album are ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ and ‘Bros’, the moods captured on songs like ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Silk’ are what keep bringing me back to the album repeatedly.

I do feel like Wolf Alice is the real deal and that they genuinely have something unique and magical happening on My Love Is Cool. For an older generation of music fan, someone who drank heavily of musicians like RIDE, Slowdive, and Catherine Wheel – I can’t really endorse this album any more than to simply suggest that you give it a try.

The phone connection Ellie and I shared during this interview was quite poor, many of the questions she answered were utterly drowned out in static and lagging sound. My thanks to Ellie for offering to fill in some of the lost information by email afterwards.

Mike: Have you been surprised by the response My Love Is Cool has been getting? A #2 charting in the UK is quite significant.

Ellie: I didn’t really know what to expect so can’t really say if I’m surprised or not, but it’s all been very positive so far which is very flattering. Getting in to the charts is pretty crazy.

Mike: I first heard Wolf Alice during the HBO series The Leftovers. I liked that ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ reminded me of the 1990s shoegazer music scene I loved as a youngster. That said, I don’t think it’s fair to say that ‘shoegazer’ is what Wolf Alice’s sound is derived from. Would you elaborate on that a bit? Is it strange for you to be compared to bands from eras you all likely weren’t even born in (ie: bands like Elastica and Hole)?

Ellie: Yes, it’s weird when people presume we are trying revive some kinda movement or sound that I’m not aware of. Elastica for example, I had never listened to them before but we are constantly being compared to them. I don’t mind as I too compare bands to other bands in order describe what they’re like.

Mike: I’m enjoying watching journalists try and categorize Wolf Alice. Perhaps you’d prefer to take a stab at doing that yourselves? How would Wolf Alice categorize Wolf Alice? Who do you feel you remind yourselves of?

Ellie: I don’t think we like to categorize ourselves either just because we are constantly exploring and therefore don’t want to fit into one category. I normally just tell people I’m in a “guitar band” and I guess alternative rock music could be appropriate, although it sounds a bit boring. I don’t remind us of anyone, especially not Elastica. ha-ha. Someone once said we were like Nirvana crossed with Abba and I was so down with that, but I don’t agree. I won’t flatter myself.

Mike: Of the eight songs on the Blush and Creature Songs EPs, only ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ was carried forward to your full length debut. Is there a story behind that decision? Was that for us over here in North America?

Ellie: Yes, we didn’t include it on our UK album as we felt it had run its course for too long over here. But I guess as it never got an official American release it was cool to put it on the US album. We didn’t want any of the songs from the EP on the album as they were already in some body of work so why put them on another. We put ‘Bros’ and ‘Fluffy’ on as they were standalone singles so they needed a family. We also didn’t wanna just put out songs our fans already knew as that would be a bit shit of us to wait three years to make a debut album which only had a couple of new songs on it.

Mike: How would you describe Wolf Alice’s writing process? Do you bring ideas together independently, or do you like to jam together in a room to make your material?

Ellie: We do all those processes as we have no set way. We are all pretty hands on but sometimes someone will write a fully formed song and we will chip in with production ideas, etc. We do jam out a song occasionally, but we’re on the road so much now it’s going to be hard to find the time.

Mike:  What musicians / songwriters do you hold in high regard? What makes them inspiring to you?

Ellie: I admire Sia for having such an ear for an incredible pop song and her unique and diverse way of using her voice. I admire Lana Del Rey for her modern yet retro cinematic song writing style. I admire Kurt Cobain for his ability to write such heavy, dark music and yet are always essentially massive pop bangers – Kevin Parker, PJ Harvey, Andre 3000, Frank Black, lots of people.

Mike: Would you describe how you, Joel, Joff and Theo all met and began working together?

Ellie: I met Joff on the internet. I met Theo on a trampoline and I met Joel at a Mafia Lights gig which he used to front. We were all brought together musically through a mutual friend and played our first gig about three years ago in London, at a 100 cap room called the Seabright Arms supporting Temples and Swim Deep.

Mike: There must be some live music venues you all hold in high regard as places where you’d eventually like to perform. Could you share one or two of these locations, and describe what the venues mean to you?

Ellie: I’d like to play Madison Square Gardens after watching the LCD Soundsystem documentary and ‘cos it’s massive, basically. I’d like to headline the Glastonbury Pyramid stage.

Mike: I’ve read that there is an underlying them of friendship that runs through My Love Is Cool. Is this accurate? If so, would you elaborate on this a bit?

Ellie: Not really, ‘Bros’ is an ode to friendship and I guess it pops up in different forms a few times as it does in life.

Mike: Have you all talked about some of the cliché’s that can befall a new band with an exceptional debut (which My Love Is Cool most definitely is)? How to stay focused as friends and musicians during this exciting time?

Ellie: No, we haven’t really spoke about it, I don’t think. It’s a new thing for us, this year has been unlike anything any of us have ever experienced before. I went to America for the first time, Australia, I’m about to go to Japan and, of course, we released an album!! But I think we’re all quite grounded people and if anyone falls into any bad clichés, we will pick each other up or give ‘em a slap round the face and then go back to normal. But yeah, everything is fresh and new and exciting at the moment so who knows.

Mike: Could Wolf Alice perform everything on My Love is Cool live on stage immediately, or did you have to look at the material once it was created and recorded and essentially say: ‘How do we re-create these songs live?’

Ellie: No, there are a few songs we’ve never played before. Some of the stuff on the album isn’t quite so straightforward in the sense it’s not just two guitars bass and drums. So we’re currently figuring out how to make live versions of them. We don’t believe that your live show has to emulate the record perfectly, they’re two separate things and if you don’t use track or have extra players (like we don’t), it’s almost impossible. We don’t think that’s a bad thing though.

Mike: How would you say Wolf Alice are reaching new listeners – licensing to television and movies? Social media? YouTube clips? New listeners seeing you performing live with other bands the same evening?

Ellie: Yes, all of those things are important, some are out of your hands though, and you have to have a good team around you to help you out. All we do is write, rehearse, record to the best of our ability. Seize good opportunities and treat them like your last. Let your fans get to know you through social media, meet them at shows, show your gratitude.

Mike: Do you track your social feeds? How responsive are you with your audience online? Do you enjoy interacting with your fans this way?

Ellie: Yes, we love our fans and always try to keep up-to-date on our social media, etc. It’s important, I think. We try to respond to messages and stuff, though it can be hard.

Mike: What was the most challenging thing for you during the creation of My Love Is Cool? (Something you personally struggled with on the album – an aspect of writing, recording or finessing a song perhaps?)

Ellie: I found it was quite a smooth operation, but I did get a bit impatient last year, it was hard to wait to go into the studio and then again to wait for it to come out when I already felt I’d been waiting for a few years. Ha-ha. But it was worth it in the end.

Mike: If money/budget was not an object at all, what do you think an ideal audio/visual live presentation of Wolf Alice be?

Ellie: I don’t think we’d go ham on anything because I think it’s cool to allow the band’s music and performance to be the entertainment. However, I did go to a Muse concert once and a spaceship flew around the arena. I’d like to have a few spaceships one day. Maybe.