Wolf Alice wants to feel every song

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Credit: Jordan Hemingway

 

Wolf Alice’s career has had an ascendant trajectory from their very inception. Hailed as rock’s saviors by the British press prior to their 2015 debut Our Love is Cool, the young band’s accolades include a Grammy nomination for “Moaning Lisa Smile”, a Mercury Prize for their sophomore album Visions of a Past Life, and tours supporting the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. This year’s Blue Weekend only solidified their worldwide hold, as they somehow built upon the incredible sound of Visions to create a cinematic and fully engrossing record that’s topped critics’ best-of lists, including my own personal collection. Currently amidst a sold-out tour of the U.S. (of which we caught their NYC date last week), drummer Joel Amey jumped on a call with us to talk about the tour, the process of making Blue Weekend, and more:

 

 

You all have been on this run for a little while now — how does it feel to get back on the road?
Yeah, you know, we were reaching the point as we were making the record that we were thinking “will we ever get to do this again?” With COVID and everything else in the world, it just seemed rare that we’d get to make it to the U.S. again. I think this is probably my favorite tour that we’ve ever done — definitely my favorite tour of the States. The vibes are just amazing; the crew, the crowd, the venues — it’s just felt like a celebration that we get to do this again, and even seeing people that have followed us for a long time growing up is an emotional experience.

It’s funny that you say that last bit — I can definitely identify with that, because the last time I saw you live was Shaky Knees in Atlanta in, like, 2016. What’s the biggest way that you can see a change in your band from that time?
One thing that really stuck out for me —I love, Shaky Knees, by the way, and we’re dying to play again— on this record was that when “Last Man” came out, there was a bigger reaction than just like, the people in my immediate circles. Like, my sister’s friend messaged her to message me to say the song was great. It seemed like the border around us, the circle of people that were interested in what we were doing, just expanded in a way that we hadn’t seen before. Even more so than the Mercury win, I feel like the perception of what we were doing was just different than anything we had done before. It felt like we were elevated to the mainstream all of a sudden; for me, that was a noticeable shift.

I think your music, and particularly the tracks on Blue Weekend carry this cinematic quality that’s missing from mainstream rock music right now. I think there’s been a huge drive towards making something instantly accessible with these big hooks, and I think tracks like “Last Man on Earth” or “Delicious Things” celebrate this nostalgic sound that isn’t on Top 40 anymore while still being memorable and hooky.
You know, I’ve thought about that — I think if we put out our first record now, it’d be more on-trend now than it was then. I try to digest as much new music as possible, and there’s a lot of current stuff that I really like, but I feel like we’re wonderfully out of step. So because of that, it’s been really nice to watch people interact with it. I think people today are really tapping into more emotional music; there’s still a lot of disposable bullshit, of course, but the new pop stars like Deb Never and some British bands that I love like IDLES have an emotion to their songs that people are falling in love with. Blue Weekend is an emotional record — it’s not sad, but it’s full of emotion and I think we’re tapping into that emotional well that everyone loves.

The record has this ascendant quality to it — every song is moving upward towards this grand feeling of catharsis.
I love to hear you say that. “Delicious Things”, in particular, makes me feel that way. It’s a dense chew with its tempo and all, but I think that’s my favorite and a lot of people’s favorite.

 

 

Are there any tracks off of the new record or perhaps off of your previous discography that’s taking on new energy live?
Yeah, I’ve loved hearing people singing “Safe From Heartbreak” back at us across this tour. I’m a big fan of “Feeling Myself” — I love where Ellie goes in that song. “The Beach” also has been massive live; we went back and forth over even including it on the record, and eventually after a few rewrites it just became a very important moment on the record and now within our live set. I think Blue Weekend‘s biggest strength is its minimalism.  There are more moments on this record than in our past where we aren’t throwing the kitchen sink on the tracks at all times; we were more selective and I think it flows quite well dynamically as a result.

That tension between maximalism and minimalism is definitely pronounced on the album; I remember “No Hard Feelings” dropping after “Smile” and you went from this big, 90s-inspired banger to this really beautiful track of Ellie solely singing over that gliding bassline.
That song went through several different formats. We’d recorded it a couple of different ways, and Joff was just fucking around at that point, and he plugged up his bass and started playing that riff through the delay pedal with Ellie just singing over it. And it stuck! There were times when it sounded like Motown or Roy Orbison with drums on it, and we just realized that given the heavy lyrics of the track, I didn’t need to fuck it up by piling drum fills on top of it (laughs).

You talk about different versions of tracks and the somewhat arduous process of making this record, and I’m curious to know when a song or an album is finished to you.
That’s a very good question, man — pretty much when it comes out on the radio, in my opinion (laughs). I’m willing to fight until the bitter end. I think this one was tricky at times because we were waiting for a eureka moment where we heard something back on the speakers and just felt like “fuck yeah”, and that took a minute with Blue Weekend. Personally speaking, because I can’t speak for the rest of the band, it happened when we had come back to London and gone to our producer’s studio at his house to work on the album for, like, two weeks. There were things that were really irking me in the mixes when we had recorded the album in Belgium, and over that two weeks, we just got on the same page as a band and just fixed them. We’re a fairly impatient four-piece, in several ways, so we wanted to say it was done but it really did take a minute.

(laughs) That’s funny to hear you call yourself impatient because you have a fairly small discography — you waited a couple of years in between records, and the wait for Blue Weekend was the longest yet.
I say “impatient” affectionately; we love making music, but we also just don’t write while we’re on tour. I remember reading an article talking about how Kings of Leon wrote their entire second record while on tour for their first, and that’s just fucking crazy to me. We’re just not that kind of band — so you know, we toured Visions until we were just all burnt out and couldn’t do it anymore, and then we convened to make this record.

 

 

Yeah, that album cycle was a long one for you all. I felt like you just toured for two years straight.
Mate, I was done. I’ll happily admit what I haven’t admitted before that I was on my last leg. We made it to the Brixton Academy shows in London that were framed as a wrap-up for Visions, and I could barely fucking pull myself on stage. It was a weight of emotion — you know, your life is always running in parallel with whatever your band is doing. So you’ve got all of the pressures of being a human that you have to handle in a fuckin’ tour bus for eighteen months, and I remember just getting to the end and thinking that I’d hit the cliche rockstar moment of getting burnt out. But it was a celebration too —we’d won the Mercury, after all— but we were all just exceptionally tired. So we took time off before Blue Weekend to really take care of ourselves, and I think that shows in the record. From 2014 to 2018, the band didn’t stop, because immediately after our debut, we went to LA to record Visions. A break was ultimately necessary in order for us to keep going in a healthy way.

It makes me think of that quote: “You have a lifetime to make your debut record and then twelve months to make your second record.” And not only did you guys make a second record quickly, but then it won a Mercury which just changes everything.
(laughs) I know that phrase, and it’s incredibly true. We’re very different people than the people who made that first record! That first record was us finding our way, Visions was us distilling the best parts of us, and then Blue Weekend was Ellie coming to us with these beautiful songs and trying our best to really fulfill the demos. It was probably the longest time we’d spent on an album, but the easiest path of selecting songs — it was all about chasing the emotion, and until I was physically moved by them, the record wasn’t done. We had to feel something in every track — whether it was anger, sadness, or love, it was imperative.

You had that personal “eureka”, and it’s been amazing to watch the band grow alongside the growing critical acclaim that you receive. I remember when the first record came out and British outlets were saying “this is the best record of the year” and then Visions dropped, and they said “no, this is the best record of the 2010s” and now Blue Weekend has led to “this is the greatest band of all time.”
(laughs) It’s exceptional, isn’t it?

I mean, I somewhat agree! You all just really keep improving with every record, and I think it’s showing in the rooms you play, and the awards, and all of that. With this increasing critical acclaim, do you and the band ever feel pressure to deliver given the heights you’ve scaled already?
I think we all carry a little bit of an imposter syndrome about us. There’s a thing about British bands as well that you refuse to believe anything you’re told already. We took a minute for Our Love Is Cool, because the buzz from our first EPs gave us that time to really make a fun debut record. The second one came with this whole thing of the historic “second album syndrome” where we’re scared it’s going to flop — not to mention we made it in fucking Los Angeles, like, the narrative could write itself (laughs). And then we go to Belgium to record Blue Weekend and we just kept asking ourselves “Is this the point where we fall off?” You make music for yourself, not other people, but also other people are what keep you able to make music. It’d be bullshit to say I felt absolutely confident all of the time — there were definitely plenty of times where I was questioning myself and the band’s ability to make this happen. But that can be a good thing, as long as it’s not stifling and you’re like Guns N’ Roses making fucking Chinese Democracy for twenty-five years.

(laughs) And then it’s not even a good record.
YES! (laughs) That feeling has been so unique to every project that we’ve done, that with album four, I’ll wait until we get there to feel that. That question of getting the rug pulled out from under us will always exist, so I think we just want to keep pushing and making music, and hopefully, people will meet us where they always have and enjoy what we have to offer. It blows my mind that people in America even care about us at all, or that I’m talking to someone that saw us at Shaky Knees years ago and still is around for the ride. I’m pretty fired up about it, actually – that fear is hardly there.

 

 

Blue Weekend (Tour Deluxe) is available to stream here. Check out our coverage of their New York date here.

Keep up with Wolf Alice: Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

 

 

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