Wolf Alice is widely heralded as one of the most exciting bands to come out of the UK in recent years. Their critically acclaimed and universally adored debut album My Love Is Cool is equally expansive and evocative, and has seen them lauded as the voice of a generation. Their unique brand of nostalgia-infused innovation combined with their explosive live performances have seen them embraced by young and old alike, and this March the band are touring their album to jam-packed, sold-out venues. I sit down with drummer Joel Amey backstage before their sold-out gig at The Olympia, Dublin, to talk touring, social media, music, plans for 2016, and more.
L-R: Bassist Theo Ellis, Lead Singer/Guitarist Ellie Rowsell, Drummer Joel Amey, Guitarist Joff Oddie
I’m ushered into an unassuming dressing room and greeted warmly by (a very fashionably dressed) Joel. In good spirits, we chat about last night’s Belfast show. The first night of any tour is notoriously – in Joel’s words – “a bit sketchy” but he affirms “yesterday was the best, so much fun. We played really well; we were very comfortable with everything, that it was kind of a rare thing to happen at the beginning of a tour!”
So how is he feeling in anticipation of tonight’s show? I’d heard Wolf Alice speak fondly of this venue in the past, despite having only played one support set here, back in 2014.
Joel clarifies that he felt the audience were the only ones on that tour to really embrace what they were doing, “I remember having a bit of a moment where everyone’s arms were waving in the air, and we were like, “oh my god, people actually like our music!” after two weeks of people just being like “… Shut up. Where’s Matty”” he laughs, referring to Matty Healy of band The 1975, who they were supporting. It serves as quite the contrast to the levels of excitement currently surrounding Wolf Alice, but since then it’s been on Joel’s bucket list; to play The Olympia, to sell it out, and for it to be really good. “So, the last one we’ve got to do!” he quips excitedly.
On the topic of touring, I question if the band’s perception of home has changed now that they’re regularly touring all over the world. The lyrics on My Love is Cool have been praised for their relatability, and in tracks like Fluffy and Giant Peach, Wolf Alice address the frustrations of having a complicated relationship with a hometown.
Joel disclaims that those lyrics were written by Ellie [Rowsell, lead singer], but details how being from a small-country village outside London “my entire youth was spent wishing to be from London, and going on the train to London to see gigs or be in bands or, you know, watch bands or whatever.” However now that he only spends maybe a few days a month at home, every couple of months, it’s the best place for him to be during that time, and he explains how it’s nice to see how his perceptions have changed. “It’s that classic thing of like, being a child and wanting to get to somewhere, getting there, and then looking back and being like “oh actually it was pretty nice what I was doing last year?”. Although I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Moving on to discuss the other tracks from their debut, I explain how they’ve always played almost like a collection of mini-stories to me, with Ellie’s evocative lyrics and huge, energetic moments contrasted with near-acoustic, ballad-like moments. Joel nods in understanding, explaining that the band themselves had just been discussing this recently.
“When you think about if you had a book of mini-stories, and every story was the same story … it’d be a really shit book. And essentially that’s what your album can be! It can be a book of things, you know, it doesn’t have to be so one-dimensional.” He jokes that they probably won’t be branching into reggae or jazz fusion any time soon, but that each member of the bands listens to different kinds of music and individually write songs by themselves, so in coming together to make one body of work, it goes some way in explaining where their diversity of sound comes from.
Was it difficult to pick which tracks would actually make the record then?
Joel explains that they were going to record 18 tracks initially, and the idea of recording a double album wasn’t something to scoff at either. But in the end it wasn’t difficult. Though there are songs they’ll probably use in the future, “you just pick what’s exciting and what fits. Because yeah I always thought [he puts on a playfully dramatic deep voice] “oh it’d be like picking children!” but actually it’s like “that’s a banger and then that’s shit, so we’ll go with that [first] one”, he shrugs. Judging by people’s response to the record, it’s a method that’s served them well.
Conversation turns to covering other people’s music, and I ask if Wolf Alice could have anyone cover the entirely of My Love is Cool in the same vein as Ryan Adams covered Taylor Swift’s latest record, who would they pick? Interesting, Joel says he’d like Outkast to do it.
“I’d really like Outkast to do it. Because I’ve always felt they were like an “albums band”, I think they could reinterpret what we’ve done. But also, we were heavily influenced – at least vocally – by a lot of Outkast records”. Joel explains Outkast album Speakerboxx/The Love Below in particular influenced the different eerie voices heard on album track Silk, they essentially “ended up doing the polite English version” he explains. “They will always be a massive influence to us, so yeah, off the top of my head, Outkast would be sick”.
I’d always wanted to talk to Wolf Alice about their music videos, and Joel smiles at this admission “they’re quite funny, aren’t they?”
But are they as fun to make as they are to watch? Joel admits they didn’t always exactly know what they were doing, but that they managed to have fun with the process all the same.
“The first video we ever made was Fluffy (the original video) and that was so fun, because no one – including the director god bless him – had any fucking idea what was going on, for two days. It took two days! In that scene in The Florin in the pub, we set off the fire alarm as soon as we got in there, and the guy who ran the pub wasn’t there and he came back with a baseball bat and was threatening to fine us and kick the shit out of us and stuff, and we were like “fucking hell” … so that was great” he laughs. But Joel goes on to clarify that he doesn’t think you have to take music videos that seriously even if you take your music seriously. “Because I hate these serious bands that then do like introspective performance videos, you know. November Rain [Guns N’ Roses] took it as far as music videos can possibly go in terms of self-pomposity”.
He uses Foo Fighters as an example, well-known for their original and comedic music videos. Simply put by Joel; “I can remember growing up being like “that’s quite jokes” even if the song isn’t jokes. I love artistic videos don’t get me wrong, hopefully it won’t always just be a fucking pisstake all the time, but when you’ve gotta be in them I’m just like … I’m not in the mood to do something where I’m like looking out the window and it’s raining … I’d rather just put a wig on and fuck about, you know?”
Their videos aren’t always pisstakes though. Some are great takes on subverting heteronormativy and subverting gender roles, and I question Joel about these themes. He seems pleased with the question, and we discuss the She video in this regard, having been praised by many for its thoughtful and artistic depiction of a character struggling with the complexities of gender identity.
“We just thought, it’d be cooler if it turns out that the guy wants – It was meant to be like the guy wanted to be with the girl – but, he wanted to be her”. I’ve always thought it a beautiful video, and Joel agrees, “I think it is. And I think if you look into it that much and being like “subverting roles”, then that’s great because we’re obviously, you know, pro-everything, in that sense. We’re not anti-anything. It wasn’t meant to be a pisstake or anything like that at all. It’s a serious video.” The two protagonists where played by Joel and Ellie’s friends Leroy and Lily, and the director paid in pizza, so it’s quite an impressive product all round.
The video for Moaning Lisa Smile is one of their most viewed, and features lead singer Ellie recruiting other band members Joel, Theo and Joff to perform with her in drag at a dance competition after she is rejected by fellow competitors. It’s meant to be for people who feel like outsiders, Joel explains “because we are, and always were. I dunno … everyone seems to think we are anyway.”
Are music videos, and by extension tools like social media an important part of being in a successful band, then? If anyone, Wolf Alice would know. People seem to consuming music a lot more visually nowadays, and this is something Joel immediately agrees with; “oh yeah yeah, totally. Everything’s a fucking … gif or something now”. He acknowledges that social media is just a part of everything in a modern world, “I think if I wanted to be a plumber I’d probably have to do a fucking YouTube video, you know what I mean?” It’s just the way that it is and you know … even people who believe everything has to be analogue have YouTube videos. Even Jack White’s gonna make a YouTube video. It’s so easy to be like “weeeeell it’s not authentic” and its like “… well fine”” he shrugs. “If Jimi Hendrix was alive, he’d probably make a YouTube video. You know, you look at all the shit he was doing in that studio, and he was using what essentially would be the future of everything; the future or recording, the future of visuals and everything like that”.
Joel embraces social media too, adding “I’m on Instagram more than I am breathing every day. I hate to admit it because everyone’s like “UGH” but I’m like … fuck off. And it’s helped us reach the fucking world!” He explains how he still checks every message on their Facebook band account, and likes staying connected with their fans. Just yesterday a fan missed their Belfast show because their flight from Manchester never took off, and thanks to twitter he was able to give her tickets to their Manchester show to try and make up for it. “It just means everyone can have a nice time!” he proclaims, concluding social media is a tool that can be used in a positive way “you can use it to just make sure that people who are supporting you get supported back, and I think that’s a valuable thing”.
Wolf Alice’s following on social media is steadily growing, and it’s clear their fan base is only going to get bigger. This hasn’t been hurt by their appearance at this year’s prestigious Grammy Awards, having been nominated for Best Rock Performance for the previously mentioned Moaning Lisa Smile, as well as appearances at the NME awards, Mercury Prize and Brit Awards.
Joel explains he probably won’t be able to process the magnitude of their Grammy nomination until they eventually stop doing gigs later this year and start recording their second record, but for now they’re taking it all in their stride. “We’re not about awards whatsoever, it’s that borderline of “thank you very much, very appreciative, that’s amazing” and, you know, it’s something you can tell your grandkids, but if I didn’t get nominated for a Grammy I’d still be doing exactly the same thing. It’s just a very cool thing to happen!”
The Brits he simply summarized as “just weird”, but Joel always appreciates a reason to wear a suit for the day. The NME awards he concludes were great, because they got really drunk and had a fun time, and also won Best Live Band, which is, Joel explains, the award he really wanted.
Who are some live bands he admires personally then?
“I really love Pond, I saw them in Australia last year and it just one of the best fucking shows I’ve ever seen in my life. It was just amazing! I saw Beck at Electric Picnic a couple of years ago, that was amazing. My mom took me to see Brian Wilson play some Beach Boy songs when I was very young, and that really stayed with me, because of just how on point vocally it was – I understood how important vocals were since that show. Queens of the Stone I saw in Brighton when I was teenager supported by The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster; that’s one of my favourite shows ever. The first gig I ever went to by myself was The Horrors, an underage show when I was 15 and that’s always gonna stay with me … that’s the closest I’ll ever get to, like, a “punk show”. Not a punk show, but, people talk about the first time they saw the Sex Pistols, and – not comparing the two bands – but that for me left the same impression where I then had to go and start a fucking band, had to start collecting vinyl, had to start wearing makeup, I had to start being weird, carrying like a black moleskine around. Not because that’s what they wanted fans to do, that’s just what happens when you see someone that hits you at an impressionable age and suddenly a light bulb goes on and you want to be Faris or any of those guys, and that really stayed with me”. This is how he and bassist Theo Ellis bonded at 15 years old, so he owes The Horrors their friendship, he tells me.
Now that they’re in a successful band themselves, touring regularly in various different parts of the world, what does Joel hope people take away from the Wolf Alice live experience? It’s changed, he explains.
“Originally I just wanted everyone to go fucking crazy. But then, you start thinking, well it can mean more than that? There’s been people who have been ill who have managed to come to a Wolf Alice show, and that’s really amazing, I hope they have a great fucking moment that they maybe didn’t think they were gonna get to. Or, there are people who’ve met their boyfriends and girlfriends, there are people who have then gone on to make music for themselves. Its things like that … you just want a reaction”, Joel concludes, “even if it’s like; fuck that!!! It’s like anything; you just want it to mean something. You just don’t want it to be beige, you don’t want it to be okay, you don’t want it to be bland. You want it to either be one extreme or the other, or just, you know, just do something to somebody. Otherwise I’ll just … go home” he laughs.
The conversation naturally turns to Wolf Alice’s plans for the rest of 2016, and it’s clear their busy schedule shows no signs of relenting any time soon. They’re set to tour the US with support from English punk duo Slaves, and are again supporting The 1975, this time on their US Tour, something Joel is particularly excited for.
“I can’t wait for that, because I’m in love with Ross who plays bass for them, he’s just such a fucking sweetie”. We gush over our mutual love for their new album, claiming full responsibility for its #1 spot on the charts, having both bought a copy of the album twice. “They actually really excite me” Joel observes, “I felt really excited by it all. I don’t know if this is because we’re quite close to it happening, we work very closely with their managers and stuff with our label [The 1975 and Wolf Alice are both on Independent UK Label Dirty Hit] just seeing it from the inside being like … woah”.
They’ll be playing iconic outdoor amphitheatre Red Rocks together, and Joel is hopeful that – similar to what happened with The Olympia – they’ll have a great show and Wolf Alice will be able to return a play a headline show of their own there some day. They’ll also be playing the legendary Coachella festival, a lifelong dream of Joel’s. Wolf Alice will be returning to Ireland in September to play Electric Picnic Festival. On a personal note, Joel explains that he’s excited to play New York specifically, to fly him mom out there to come and see their show, and to visit his one year old goddaughter there.
But perhaps most exciting of all, he’s looking forward to recording their second album. With the band having not disclosed much about new music, this is something for fans to look forward to.
“The most important thing probably will be we’re gonna try record the new record this year, which we’ve started writing. It’s one of those things where we were like “should we be secret about it?” Cause we don’t wanna like get any buzz about it, but really we’ve started it and are cracking on. So I wanna fucking play that! We might even play some new stuff on this tour actually”.
We close the interview on this positive outlook, with Joel humbly thanking me for my questions and light-heartedly making small talk until we part ways. Wolf Alice are a band that seem largely unaffected by the successes that have come their way, and it seems clear – to this writer, at least – that there are many more on the horizon.
[Photo credits: Jen Five]
Read my review of their show at The Olympia here.
See Wolf Alice’s live dates on their website here.
Like Wolf Alice for updates on Facebook here.