Culture Editor Jodie Leith chatted earlier in the year with Theo Ellis and Joff Oddie of Wolf Alice about their latest album, Blue Weekend, balancing expectation with growth, and why they’re guest-listing Lawrence Chaney and Kieran Tierney.
Following the success of their debut album, My Love Is Cool, and four years after the following album and 2018 Mercury Prize winner, Visions Of A Life, Wolf Alice have emerged from lockdown with the long-awaited Blue Weekend.
For a band who have previously dabbled in the perspectives of others, most interestingly in the Lisa Simpson inspired Moaning Lisa Smile, Blue Weekend is overwhelmingly personal – from the sensual, self-love ode, Feeling Myself, which floats between romantic whispers to frenzied guitar breakdowns, to the break-up lullaby for adults, No Hard Feelings; which contains a possible allusion to the end of lead singer Ellie Rowsell’s relationship with Isaac Holman, after it was falsely reported they were engaged in 2018 (“Would we ever have tied the knot? Well, how long is a piece of string?”) – it is undeniably not only the band’s most impressive release to date, but their most refreshingly honest and innovative work.
The Glasgow Guardian caught up with Theo Ellis and Joff Oddie for a chat about Blue Weekend, the pressure to please critics, and their love for Glasgow – even if they can’t remember it very well.
The Glasgow Guardian: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me, I’ve been a fan for a while now. I first saw Wolf Alice in 2015; I bought the gold glitter you were selling as merch at the time.
Theo: That was a nightmare: the gold glitter “era”.
GG: Were you constantly finding glitter everywhere, like sand after visiting the beach?
Theo: It was disgusting on the tour bus; stuck in our clothes, in our eyelids.
GG: How have you spent your lockdown? Did you binge-watch any box sets? I caught up with The Sopranos…
Theo: Oh, yeah! The Sopranos is so good. I’ve seen it a few times; Christopher and Adrianna are my two style inspirations. I am inspired, stylistically, to dress like them both individually.
Joff: I finally got around to watching The Wire. That thing was fucking brilliant.
GG: Often there’s an infamous pressure on artists to re-create or live up to the success of previous albums, often with an added pressure from fans to stick to a familiar sound. In your case, you were often pigeon-holed into the Rock category which is accurately parodied on the track Play The Greatest Hits. Did you find it hard to balance expectation with growth?
Joff: I think we’d be lying to say there wasn’t any pressure. But I think the kind of pressure you need to focus on is the internal sense of pressure – the internal sense of trying to please yourself when you’re making the record. You can’t road-test any of the material; so, the greatest test that we have in the success of anything is all about whether we enjoy listening to it and get the emotional response that we’re after. So, try to block out as much of the outside stuff as possible really, and the process being: “Do we like this music?” And if we don’t; we have to move on. But if we do; fantastic, we’re winning.
GG: Blue Weekend deals with themes of introspection and growth. Smile acts like a defiant, self-confident anthem on the album. Yet in years past, Theo once joked about being a “mildly unique” band. Has time helped increase confidence? Or do you still feel imposter syndrome creeping in?
Theo: I think time will help with confidence because we found our feet musically more as musicians than as people; because as we’ve got older, I’ve been in the band, I’ve been doing it five to 10 years. As you get older, hopefully, you find out how you fit into the world as a person, and then also in that musical sense as a creative. We’ve been doing all of that together as the four of us. We have got a bit more confidence together: that if we think an idea is good to go for it, and know that people will hopefully enjoy it because we enjoy it.
GG: There’s such a combination of genres on the album – although it feels cohesive in many ways, it’s extremely experimental in dabbling in a variety of sounds of folk, funk, punk, rock, indie, pop, as well the bouncing 80s video-game synth on How Can I Make It OK. Did you outline genres you wanted to explore in the album, or did it occur naturally?
Joff: I’d say it occurs fairly naturally. I think we talk about genres that we’d like to approach, but I think that nearly always fails to materialise. There are times we spoke about making a half-hour, quick-fire, punk, really rock record and that didn’t happen. So yeah, a lot of talk, but at the end of the day, the music really drives it. Our process is very song-led and dictated by that. It’s always the case with the best songs … we don’t have much control over which direction they come really. We’d like to be able to do that and we’ve tried, but failed, and it’s been a monstrosity.
GG: Do you all have similar visions and tastes in music? Or do you find you differ?
Theo: I think we’ve got different and similar tastes. There are things that we like individually and stuff that we love communally, which I think both of those things pulls us in a better direction because there’s more diversity, which is always better, in everything, including music.
GG: What artists shaped your music tastes growing up?
Joff: I think a lot of them are going to be quite similar, you know, I’m sure there will be differences. When we were growing up there was kind of like a glut of bands, there was loads of great stuff in America like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the White Stripes, Kings of Leon, the Strokes, and then you had things like The Libertines and a band that me and Theo really loved when we were kids were The Vines and Queens of the Stone Age. There were so many great rock bands when we were growing up that was, at least my, entry point when I started listening to that kind of stuff when I was 12 or something like that. I was super lucky to grow up around that music because there was so much of it and it was brilliant.
GG: There’s quite a lot of range there. They’re all quite heavy but they’re all great at stripping it back with powerful unplugged performances.
Joff: Yeah! The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s were incredible at doing that.
GG: You’ve all been outspoken on a range of issues like the 2018 boycott of Eurovision in Israel, supporting Labour, #MeToo, and the current Save Our Venues campaign. Do you find it important to speak out about issues, given an increased following, especially of young people?
Joff: I can’t say generally, but I think it’s felt right for us. I’m not saying we’re the most engaged people, but we are fairly engaged and we’re lucky in the fact that we kind of share broadly a political ideology and worldview – apart from Joel, who’s a member of the Tory party… that’s a joke.
Theo: We are NOT evil. If that helps.
Joff: … Apart from Joel.
GG: As a band, you’re often hailed for your powerful live performances. In the days of lockdown, what have you missed most about live gigs?
Theo: It’s been shit. I miss pretty much every aspect of it, including the less positive ones. I would trade my sleeping pattern – which is fucked already – for gigs to come back. That giddy energy when you’ve got your own little bubble of the tour and you’re playing to so many people every night. It’s something we’ve grown up with because we’ve been doing it for so long. But it’s also so important for people who love gigs and have created a little community out of their favourite bands to see them travelling and stuff. It’s so far-reaching what it can do and it’s definitely the reason I fell in love with music and band culture. I miss everything about it. Although, I will, instantly, after a week on tour, be complaining about being tired – but right now I would kill to be that tired again.
GG: Is it at the point where you miss getting a pint chucked over you, even if you begin to wonder: why was that warm?
Theo: I would love for someone to chuck a pint over me. I really would. I’m hoping to get a few pints thrown at me in Barrowlands.
Joff: Or some bottles of Buckfast.
GG: Speaking of, you’re playing three nights at The Barrowlands. What are your experiences of playing Glasgow? Are you particular fans of the city?
Theo: It’s a sublime scene.
Joff: It’s one of the best places to play a gig in the country. . The energy is second to none. And The Barrowlands is one of the best venues in the country. So put two and two together and it’s just … doing three nights is going to be fucking brilliant. I love Glasgow.
Theo: We miss the runway and just totally not start the tour in the right way because I’m going to be so excited. It’s the first night of our tour.
Joff: I want Lawrence Chaney to come to the show. Someone should bring him down. I’ll give him a ticket. I love him.
Theo: I hope Kieran Tierney comes to the show. The Arsenal and ex-Celtic player. He lives down the road from me now, so he probably won’t come. But if I could convince Kieran Tierney to come then I’d be happy. He’s a legend, he’s such a brilliant football player, and I love him.
GG: What’s your wildest Glasgow story?
Theo: We always end up in Nice N Sleazy’s doing a skittle bomb there. I’ve seen Cav [Cavan McCarthy] from Swim Deep get thrown out from Nice N Sleazy’s more times than I’ve seen him walk in, which is kind of a mystery – I don’t think I’ve ever seen him enter. The reason Glasgow has such great memories is because you can’t remember it.
GG: You’ve achieved success and critical acclaim, especially with your amazing Mercury Prize win in 2018. On the other side of things, Joel mentioned the days of anonymity and stealing scotch eggs from service stations on the road between gigs as a last resort. Is there anything you miss about being a relatively unknown band?
Theo: I miss the early tours, where you’re sleeping on floors with your mates and running around in that little fun bubble. Now, you have to be a degree more professional when you’re doing it on a larger scale. We’ve got a blessing of being a big band but absolutely no one knows who we fucking are. Everyone always says we’re this large band but I’m yet to feel the celebrity aspect of things; the negative impact on the day-to-day. Our day-to-day lifestyles are very much the same. We are not getting harassed in Tesco.
GG: What’s your first post-lockdown plan? In a world where all the restrictions had ceased, in one day what would you do?
Theo and Joff: Barrowlands.
GG: You’ll need to get your Buckfast ready!
Theo: What’s the difference between the Buckfast colours? I’m going to look it up…
Joff: I love Buckfast. It makes you so weird.
Theo: The brown bottle sold in Ireland has a caffeine content similar to coffee, whereas the U.K-sold green bottle has a caffeine content similar to a strong, black tea … so you want the brown one if you’re going to go mental.
GG: Have you ever tried Dragon Soop?
Theo: Yeah, Dragon Soop is too far.
Joff: What’s that?
Theo: It’s basically just Red Bull but alcoholic. I actually follow them on Instagram, for some reason. I must be keeping an eye on all the new flavours coming out. [Shows phone with Dragon Soop Instagram post of a Dragon Soop cake] Dragon Soop cake?
GG: You should get that for Barrowlands! For night one.
Theo: I’m diabetic. So that would kill me [laughs].
GG: Maybe not then…
Joff: I can’t wait for the gig. Hopefully we’ll see you and Lawrence Chaney out painting the town in January.
Blue Weekend is available to listen to now and tickets to Wolf Alice’s upcoming 2022 tour, including their three performances at The Barrowlands, are available online now.