In The Middle with Wolf Alice
In 2012, Wolf Alice first gained airplay on Radio One after releasing a free download on Soundcloud. Five years later, and the band have had a UK number 2 album, sold out shows in 10 seconds, and have a film about them set to be released.
But, despite this, “we all get a little nervous,” Theo Ellis, the band’s bassist tells me. “But as soon as it gets going and we get on stage, everyone gets excited again. I suppose vodka helps as well.”
Underlying all of this is a sense of humbleness and refusal to conform to the expectations anticipated for them. Indeed, in their recent tour in America, the band opted out of choosing a big-name support act (Slaves had previously joined them on their American adventures), and Theo describes how they decided to do things a little differently. “We actually had it set up so a support band would submit an entry for their band in the local area, and then we chose from them who our support would be in that city each night.”
It was all about ‘giving’; “it can be quite monotonous just travelling and being stuck on your own all the time, so it was an opportunity for us to meet new people and hear new bands and give people the opportunity to play some sold out shows.”
And indeed, Theo makes touring sound almost relatable. “It’s just like anything really. You can be really unmotivated at one point and really motivated at another, but at the moment everyone’s on the same wave length because of the album coming out. But it can be hard to stay motivated.” Not what you expect to hear from a band selling out shows within minutes, yet this also puts a more human take on what it means to be a band on the road.
Throughout the summer, the band have released three new singles from their upcoming album, Visions of a Life. If the album’s first single, ‘Yuk Foo’, is the ultimate ‘fuck you’ track brimming with youthful aggression, then follow up ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ is its antithesis, being the band’s most tender track to date.
“We’re quite a polarised band in terms of the stylistic spectrum we have, it’s quite broad,” Theo says in reference to this contrast. “[‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’] isn’t necessarily more mature, but it’s more considered, and showed a little more progression from ‘us’’.
So who exactly are Wolf Alice then?
Wolf Alice are the falling and the fallen; those that have loved and those that are injured from the fall. As the first single from Visions of a Life showed, they are not afraid to stick it to the man and do things exactly on their terms.
“[‘Yuk Foo’] was one of the songs we were most excited about when we were recording it. When we actually got that break-down right, everyone was bouncing off the fucking walls of the studio,” he pauses, sniggering. “It was probably pretty stupid, because you can’t really play it on the radio.”
Theo is right when he says that the band are ‘polarised’; upcoming album Visions of a Life soars powerfully over the musical spectrum. But, in no way is it disjointed. Every roar of emotion flows into the next, climaxing in the band’s epic title track. No wonder it’s one of Theo’s favourites to play live: “it’s just long and over the top. It was very much constructed with the live thing in mind.”
And the fans are placed at the forefront of the album: rather than releasing the tracklisting over the internet, the fans were sent postcards from the band with the names of the tracks on so that “people on the internet [could] announce the tracklisting.”
“Everything is very digital nowadays, you consume everything from a band from the internet. So to give something people physical gives you a different relationship with them. Also, everyone loves getting post- except bills of course.” I can’t help but feel that these postcards also somehow capture the feeling of the album: it is reflective, it is powerful, and it stays with you even after its final chords fade out.
More than anything it captures a mood. “When we’re making a song, we won’t necessarily be like we want it sound like another band but more like a feeling, like putting your head out the window and driving with your friends at night.”
Beyond their talent as musicians, there has been much talk about Wolf Alice’s cultural significance in a genre defined by skinny white boys in even skinner jeans. Lead sing Ellie Rowsell’s refusal to play by the rulebook means that she has become a cultural icon amongst (female) teenage indie kids, whether she likes to admit it or not.
Consequently, when the T2 trailer, the highly anticipated Trainspotting sequel, hit our screens late last year with the band’s single ‘Silk’ backing the trailer, you couldn’t help but feel that this song choice was symbolic of a changing society. Trainspotting might be a cult classic, but it was born out of excessive lad culture that left women on the outskirts. It seems surprising then that, despite the song’s symbolic significance, the band didn’t even know it was going to be used.
“It literally [happened] overnight. I was asleep and I woke up and watched the Trainspotting advert and there was that Underworld song and I was like ‘ah cool’, and then our song came on. In the night, our managed had been asked to have the song featured, and obviously we were asleep, and he just agreed to it.”
As a final point I ask Theo why should buy the new album. Put simply: “people should buy the album because it’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard.” It’s a bold statement, but I still feel the corners of my lips twerk into a smile. Visions of a Life is a soaring follow up to their 2015 debut, and you can’t help but be sucked up into Wolf Alice’s beautifully unconventional and guitar-fuelled vision.