Interview: Wolf Alice

Ahead of their packed-out sweat-fest of a show at Newcastle's Students Union Wolf Alice sat down with Connor McDonnell to chat about dead pets, broken arms and 'psychofeak poprock'

30th September 2015

Any advice for those fresher a coming to uni this year?

Joff: I don't think I was very good at university. I was kinda keen to...

Get pissed?

J: No the opposite really. I think the biggest advice I'd give to someone at university – not to sound like a knob, or blow my own trumpet or whatever – would be Wolf Alice. Cos there's so much spare time when you're at university, and so many people drink it up the wall, but there's probably not going to be a time in your life where you have as much free time with as little responsibilities as you do at university. It's a great time to do a project, or try and do something. That sounds so old and bollocks but I think it's proper, I think it's really true.


Ellie: Any advice? Oh god, I don’t know. Don't take any advice from me.

You won the Breakthrough of the Year at the AIM (Association of Independent Music) Awards. Was this your first award?

E: We won a Festival Award last year – Breakthrough Festival Act or something.

How was the ceremony for AIM? I saw some big people were there.

E: It was good. Those things are weird because you almost feel a little bit bad because you spend your whole time saying music shouldn't be a competition then it's like ‘woohoo we won an award’. It's nice though, and it's obviously good to celebrate independent music, which is important and something we are proud of.

Did you make a speech?

J: Ellie did…

E: Yeah I just thanked our managers and our label because they are the ones who helped us be, and stay independent.

You're also the bookies favourite to win the Mercury Prize.

J: I knew we were in the top couple.

E: I thought we were number five or something like that.

Well you're definitely in the running. Who do you think you will be competing with?

E: I keep hearing people talk about Jamie XX. I haven't actually listened to that album [In Colour]. : I think it's good.

E: Then there's like…

J: Everything Everything

E: Blur

J: Drenge. Are they eligible? I think they are. I know Florence was tipped. They'll always be some jazzy thing thrown in there. I don't know if Portico Quartet have released an album or anything like that.

Who have you personally been listening to?

E: I've been listening to the new Unknown Mortal Orchestra album. It's amazing.

[Joff sifts through a record shop bag, next to Ellie, to reveal an Elton John LP]

Elton John?

E: I love Elton John.

Where'd you pick that up from?

E: It's actually a gift from Joe who is the singer in Made Violent.

J: Maybe you had a drunk conversation or something?

E: If I did I don't remember. But that's very sweet of him.

Regarding your song writing process, is it that you write on the road, or do you have a grounded, home environment?

J: We've never had to write on the road, so we are dealing with now. The album was made up of a mixture of old and new. Someone will write just one song or someone would have a riff and it would be turned in to a jam which would later be turned in to a song. We just go down to Joel’s mum’s house, in Surrey, in his tiny little bedroom and usually demo stuff there.

I heard Joel writes a song every day.

E: I think he regrets saying that now. He does spend a lot of time on his computer, making stuff and ideas. But a song a day? You wouldn't have time to do anything else.

J: I swear people used to say Lou Reed used to something like that. And who is the guy who owned The Factory?

E: Andy Warhol?

J: Andy Warhol used to be like ‘where are my songs?’ everyday and he'd be like ‘how many have you written today?’ and it had to be at least four or something.

E: I bet some people do it like that.

In another interview, Joel quoted you as the ‘Kids of the Internet Generation’. Is this a reference to the band's influence and wide ranging sound, or the band's success, gaining a lot of attention from blogs online?

J: I think it's more a reference to how we digested music when we were kids and how that has influenced us stylistically. We weren't part of that generation we people had to buy a new album every couple of weeks, with your pocket money. When you can go on ‘Limewire’ back in the day, and you could've downloaded as many albums as you wanted. It opened the door to listening to more than one genre – it wasn't just ‘I'm a punk kid’ or ‘I just like hip hop’. I think this knocks down the walls of genre.

Do you think this aligned with pop music - where it's not just a celebrity status, you also have to be an Internet personality too?

E: I don't think you have to, but I think it obviously helps. I know it's better for models because people are starting to see them as celebrities not just for their looks but for their personalities and their own sense of style through things such as Instagram. I think musicians are different because you can get that through their music and performance.

And what is your take on modern pop music?

J: there's some good stuff and there's some bad stuff.

E: Yeah, I think most of it’s probably quite bad. If I compare it to what was in the charts back in the day it's probably better than what it is now. What really reiterated that's for me was when we had to think of a Live Lounge cover and it had to be a current radio hit. It was so hard! There was no songs. It was all this sparse, Trap tracks, and they're all so similar. I was just thinking shit this is all sucks.

Are you Bieber fans then?

E: I'm a huge Bieber fan now, after I watched his performance at the VMAs. I love him.

What can you tell me about Sid the Dog?

J: You legend! Sid was my dog, while I was growing up in Cornwall. Sadly, he passed away a couple of years ago. Legend has it that if you open your windows on a cold, blustery winter night that you can hear him eating poo in the fields. He loved cowpats.

Didn't you dedicate a song to him?

J: We wrote a song about him, yeah. That was ages ago. How'd you know that?

E: It's probably on the internet somewhere.

J: Is it?!

The song isn't but there are references to it.

J: Aw.

Back in the day, you guys described your music as ‘psychofreak poprock’. Do you still think that's an accurate description?

E: No, definitely not. We've never been that!

Who was it who said that?

J: It was our first press release wasn't it?

E: Yeah we were asked to make a bio. When they said ‘what're you gonna be?’ we were like ‘it's average indie’. It was just coming up with something which no one would know what that sounds like, therefore will go and check it out and listen to it.

And how would you describe your music now?

E: Average indie. We really don't like that question because we don't have an answer to it. It's boring to just say Alternative Music, and you don't want to pigeonhole yourself, or disappoint people who are looking for Grunge or whatever.

You guys have had a lot to say about how significant Dirty Hit Records have been to your career. You have now signed to RCA in the US. Are there many differences in how thing operate?

E: We are signed to Dirty Hit in the US, through RCA through a joint venture thing. It's a new thing for us, we have only just released an album and haven't been signed in America for that long. Mainly it's the rosters. It's weird to be in England on a roster with Marika Hackman, The 1975 and The Japanese House and then in America it's like Miley Cyrus and Kings of Leon. It's nice to have a bit of both worlds.

Speaking of the US, you went on Conan. How was that?

J: That was really scary. It's strange because you gear yourself up to play a gig, you load in in the morning, do a sound check and then there's loads of anticipation and then you do it, but on telly you only get three minutes, as opposed to like a set, an hour or so. So you come off like [shrugging] guess that's it.

That sounds frustrating

J: We will do a gig next time Conan!

Are there any tour anecdotes you'd like to share?

J: Theo slept-weed on the tour bus, very close to my head, in Europe. That's one I'd like to tell.

E: Slept-weed doesn't sound like a thing.

J: Well we’d had a big night out, and I was half asleep and Theo was definitely asleep. He got up, out of his bunk and I just thought ‘What the fuck is that idiot doing? I'm trying to get to sleep’ I was on the bottom bunk, and I just heard this trickling of water, right next to my head like ‘what the fuck is that?!’ So I opened my little curtain, and a stream of wee was just in front of my nose like ‘you alright, mate? Do you wanna go to bed once you're finished up?’

Didn't you break the previous drummer’s arm?

J: I did. He is a dear friend of mine. We’d had a bit to drink and we were at Hop Farm Festival, and funnily enough Joel [Amey, present drummer] was at the same festival, watching the same performance when this happened. Basically, he was on my shoulders, we were dancing around to Patti Smith and we took a bit of a tumble and he broke his arm.

I thought it was a little less accidental than that.

J: Oh really? ‘I don't like you, I like Joel better. So I'm going to break your arm.’

Finally, your new video for ‘You're A Germ’ is pretty extreme. Where'd the idea for that come about?

E: We didn't want to recreate the narrative of the song, so we thought ‘what can we do which doesn't take too much brain power?’ We like horror movies and we wanted to seize the opportunity to do something we all find really fun. The horror and the violence match the aggressiveness of the song. There was not too much thought behind it.

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