Text and Interview Lina Esa Photography: Courtesy of Wolf Alice; Shot by Jono White and Laura Allard Fleischl Special Thanks To Urbanscapes and Commas PR team for Interview Coordination
Musically, Wolf Alice has been that band that has been able to straddle music styles without entirely genre-bending or losing their identity. In the past, music reviewers have labelled them as all sorts of sounds, oscillating between shoegaze, folk-pop and indie-alternative rock. Their latest album, ‘Visions Of A Life’, has however summoned the strengths of their musical abilities, which converge for a rock anthology that the past year didn’t see coming.
And for this, just recently, they won the Mercury Prize for Album of the Year. Theo Ellis, Wolf Alice’s bassist, tells us they’re still riding from the high. “I did not expect it at all,” he said, which is rather surprising, since the album is a fantastically-produced, slick, transcendental journey. The opening track alone — Heavenward — is a track that sends you right that way with swaths of guitar chords and fantastical drumming melding with the heavenly vocals of singer Ellie Rowsell lifting you skyward. What follows is Yuk Foo which tears you right back to earth with garage-punk riot girl screaming (“‘Cause you bore me, you bore me to death, well deplore me, no, I don’t give a sh**”) which then segues to a folksy, upbeat Beautifully Unconventional.
It was a catalogue of different life experiences and events that happened in between the first and second records, made into different stories and different songs.
— Theo Ellis on Wolf Alice’s new album, “Visions Of A Life”
The synthpop opening of Don’t Delete The Kisses (one of our fave tracks) is energetic and an anthem where Ellie monotones over pulsating beats, which leads into Planet Hunter which is a pared-back track with Ellie’s voice in the forefront. With Sky Musings, the volumes are drawn inwards where Ellie speech-sings, whispering wordy monologues which then overlay into a hymnal chorus. Speaking of hymnal, there are more heavenly vocals by Ellie in St. Purple & Green which picks up into an energetic spiral of guitar noise, which is then tempered by muted drumming leading into a halted, clean reprise. While it’s reminiscent of a ’90s indie-alt track, it masterfully combines everything all the members of the band are good at — and it’s no surprise that this track is Theo’s personal favourite.
Formidable Cool opens with the twangy guitar-picking reminiscent of a Kings Of Leon tune (who’s doing comparisons here?) while Space & Time and Visions Of A Life are indie-rock tracks that you need to headbang in the car at full volume. After The Zero Hour is something you’d put on at the end of the day, reflecting why you haven’t fully comprehended or come to the realisation of how talented the band members of Wolf Alice are.
With this near-magic ability to take you on a fantastical journey that sends you off into the dreamscapes, it’s hard not to anticipate Wolf Alice at the upcoming Urbanscapes festival happening this November. #TeamCLEO had 10 minutes to speak to Theo Ellis of the band to find out more — while he’s not sure what to expect of his stop in Malaysia for Urbanscapes, he knows to expect the food, and to also finally speak to his bandmates about their landmark win with the Mercury Prize this year.
We see that you were touring Australia — how has it been so far? What has been your most favourite city in Australia to play in?
I really felt like we had an amazing time in Sydney, we flew there after an awards ceremony in London and we were still riding on a high and we had a really good time. Sydney was our favourite.
Are you on an official tour right now?
This is the tour of Australia at the moment then we go back to London for a day and then we fly back to South Africa.
You’re flying over to Malaysia for Urbanscapes, is it your first time here?
Yes this would be our first time there.
Do you know much about Malaysia or anything you’re looking forward to?
If I’m honest I don’t know much about Malaysia but on Twitter we always get people asking us to come to Malaysia so I’m excited to finally come.
There’s a lot of food going on here so if you like spicy food then that’s great.
I love spicy food!
So let’s talk about the Mercury Prize for Album Of The Year (for Visions Of A Life). Congratulations! You’re still riding on that high?
Thank you — yeah we’re still riding on the high of winning and we haven’t even spoken about it with each other. I actually don’t know what to make of it right now. We haven’t had a frank discussion with each other — I think we spoke to one or another about it but not as a collective. I think it’s still a massive thing for us to digest. I didn’t expect it at all.
About the album — tell us a bit more about the inspirations about it. There’s a little more emotion and energy going on. Where was the album born from?
I suppose it was a catalogue of different life experiences and events that happened in between the first and second records, made into different stories and different songs. It’s an amalgamation of those experiences which were then extrapolated and probably made into a bit of fantasy as well. It has a fantastical element to it. I hope this is okay — I’m bad at describing our music.
How long would you say would take to create a new album. Did you work on a timeline or waited for the inspiration to hit?
We don’t force ourselves to write songs. We came off the road with a good selection of 16-20 songs with different ideas and went into a room and played them together and tried to figure out what they were and how we felt about them and to make them better. I think it took about one and a half years to write but then perhaps three months to record them all.
What is your personal favourite track from the album?
I really love St Purple and Green when we recorded it. It’s far more confident and mature, and sounds like a band I wanted to be in when I was younger.
Hit play to hear Wolf Alice’s latest album on Spotify!
We really want to know — when you write a song, is it lyrics first then music, or music first then lyrics?
It changes, we have no set way or specific way of working. We just keep it fresh. It changes all the time. It can be lyrics first, then it can be music first.
What was the most memorable performance you ever had?
I really vividly remember our London shows really well because we’re from London and every time they got bigger it’d be another landmark for us. Even the smaller ones — I remember being unbelievably nervous when our friends and family come. But we played Alexandra Palace which is in an area of London I’m from actually, I was nervous but the good kinda nervous. Sometimes I get so nervous I struggle to enjoy the moment. But that time I remember being so happy, it became a good night.
What do you do when you’re not performing or working?
I’m very rarely not working but I really like playing football — and seeing my girlfriend.
Wolf Alice is a huge inspiration to our readers, but who would you say are your music idols/inspirations?
I do love Marc Bolan, Germs, and The Damned.
The name of Wolf Alice, where did it come from?
It’s actually a book — it’s a short story by Angela Carter, part of The Bloody Chamber, a collection of adult fairy tales and there’s a short story called Wolf-Alice.
(Ed’s note: while it was mentioned that these are “adult fairy tales” the author Angela Carter stated: “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories”)
This is one of #TeamCLEO’s favourite tracks from the latest album, Visions Of A Life, so hit play to see the vid!
Wolf Alice is performing in KL on 10 Nov, at Unlimited Grooves Festival by U Mobile as part of Urbanscapes 2018. CLEO is a media partner so look out for all our CLEO x Urbanscapes content here and on our socials!