Wolf Alice play tracks from 'Blue Weekend'

Wolf Alice - Virtual Session (MPR)

British alt-rockers Wolf Alice join The Current for a virtual session, and play songs from their new record, Blue Weekend. Ellie and Joff catch up with The Current's Jill Riley about recording the album without tight timelines, playing this year's Glastonbury Festival, and more.

Interview Transcription

Edited for clarity and length.

JILL RILEY: Hey, I'm Jill Riley from The Current's morning show here at Minnesota Public Radio, and you just saw a video of Wolf Alice performing a song called "How can I make it Ok?" The new record is called Blue Weekend. We're very excited to have a couple members of the band, the founding members of the band talk about this new album. I've got Ellie and Joff with me. How are you guys?

WOLF ALICE: Good.

Nice to see you. So you guys are in two different locations. Ellie, where are you right now?

ELLIE ROWSELL: Home in North London.

JOFF ODDIE: And I'm also home in North London, in a different home.

Well before we jump into talking about the record, I understand you had a busy weekend. You were part of that Glastonbury live stream.

JOFF ODDIEL: Yeah, we were.

How did that go? How did that work?

JOFF ODDIE: Didn't work very well. Initially, I think we were in the first two hours. People missed us actually. Yeah. It was great fun to be there. It's always a pleasure to go there. They did some repeats later on that day for the following 24 hours, so I think a couple of people got to see our set.

Okay, well, that's good though, as long as a couple people got to see it. It's been obviously a learning curve for everyone as we've been trying to figure out how to keep performances alive during the pandemic. So I just wonder, how are things today? How are you feeling being at home? Are things looking like they're more on the bright side?

ELLIE ROWSELL: Yeah, London is opening up a little bit as the rest of the UK. We even have a few festivals booked for this summer. So it feels a little bit more hopeful because we're more than ready to get back on the road and play some shows--play these new songs. Fingers crossed it stays like that, really, and gets better eventually.

JOFF ODDIE: Yeah, things are looking positive. Things seem to be moving in the right direction. And the last couple of years has taught us to not count our chickens before they've hatched. So we will wait with bated breath, much anticipation with fingers, toes and all the rest crossed.

Well, at least one thing that you can count on is that you've got something about to hatch. I mean, it's a brand new record. Blue Weekend.

JOFF ODDIE: Good segway.

Yeah, thank you. Well, that's what I do for a living. But if you could kind of take us back to the beginning of writing songs for this new record, and when did you start recording it? What was the process with this new album?

JOFF ODDIE: Well, the writing for record usually starts when you've finished work on the last record, really, when that's kind of in, so to speak. Kind of officially, all four of us working together collaborating on music was--that would have been around March time, around Easter time 2019? I think. Yeah. That's when we kind of started working on it. A little break from the album tours before. Then we spent the rest of that year in a rehearsal space in North London, up in Tottenham just kind of hashing it all out, really. When we were there, until January, the following year, where we went to Brussels, to a studio called ICP, with a producer called Marcus Dravs and started working on it.

So it sounds like you started recording the record--was it right before the pandemic hit? Did you pretty much have it done by the time the lockdown went into place?

JOFF ODDIE: No, we started recording in January, in the lockdown. Belgium locked down earlier than we do in the UK. So the beginning of March, I think we locked down there. We kind of had a tough decision, regarding what we're going to do, whether we're going to come home and not know, when we were going to carry on making the record. After talking to our management, label, people around the studio, we thought the best thing to do to stay and kind of finish it off. So a third of the record was non-lockdown. The recording of the record and the rest of it was very much so. You're in the studio, you're locked in. You're not getting out.

Right. But you're locked in together, which I'm sure was kind of nice. Ellie, do you feel that kind of shift in energy had any kind of impact on how the record turned out? Or was it kind of just like let's press forward?

ELLIE ROWSELL: It's hard to say really. I don't know. But I think just having no tour on the horizon or no plans for the foreseeable future was good for the record. It meant that we had nothing to interrupt the process. We kind of had all the time we needed. We could want to get to a place where we felt happy. So I think it benefited the record probably.

JOFF ODDIE: Definitely.

I imagine that it's one thing to record the album, but it's such another thing to get the songs on a stage, and be able to perform them that way. I imagine that there's a heavy anticipation for you that even though you didn't have any pressure in the studio, that now it's kind of like, "Okay, we're ready for this."

JOFF ODDIE: For sure, we can't wait to get out. We can't wait to get out back playing shows, again. It's our bread and butter as a band. We absolutely love it. Yeah, it's been kind of crappy, not being able to do it.

Well, with a song like this, I know that you have sent over some performance videos, which are great. As this pandemic as chugged along, at the very beginning, it was like, okay, we're going to get a performance and somebody is going to open their laptop and try to play a ukulele version of their songs or whatever, but you guys have some really nicely produced videos that you were able to send over, and a really cool version of this song, which really is a rocker and I imagine that'll be really fun to play on stage. Can you tell us about the song "Smile"? Ellie, if you want to jump in and just kind of help me to set up this song?

ELLIE ROWSELL: Yeah, this song is--well, this version that you're about to play is totally different from the version on the record, which is our rock song on the record. It started with a riff that Joel made on his computer that we loved and then put some old lyrics from a different demo on top of 'cause it just worked. That kind of energetic feeling, this song is kind of like a message to yourself to believe in yourself and not let anyone put you down--so kind of match that energy.

[music: "Smile" by Wolf Alice]

How does it feel to have this album finally coming out?

JOFF ODDIEL: Yeah, it's been a long time. We've been working on new songs for a really long time. The album has kind of been done for a long time as well. So, yeah, cannot wait.

It was nice to hear, we were just talking a few minutes ago about how when you were making the album, you didn't feel a lot of pressure to rush to get on the road to have to do the promotions. But of course, the upside of getting on the road is to be able to perform it for the fans. Did you feel any sort of pressure or maybe haunted by? I always get a different answer for this. But the fact that you're Mercury Prize winners, and you've had your music nominated for Grammys and various awards, I guess, does that kind of sink into your brain a little bit? Like, okay, we've had this success and now, what are we going to do to sort of lift it up to another level? Or do you not think about those things at all?

JOFF ODDIE: You're always going to kind of think about them to some extent, I don't think it's really healthy to be making creative decisions based on that. I think more so, for us, it's a case of trying to make music that we'd want to listen to. And that's the metric that--well, I guess the only real metric that we have, that we're doing, we're doing something right. And when we make a piece of music that pleases us, we hope that other people will. That principle has served as fairly well, in the past. So I think that's where we kind of like to focus in on how we use that kind of pressure. It's internal.

Yeah, I imagine. As far as anything, informing the music that you make, certainly music that you want to listen to, what is the music that you've listened to maybe a lot in this last year that you think that maybe informed this new album? Whether it be something contemporary, or something that you're heavily influenced by? Did you find that any of that creeps in, like, the music that you're into at the moment?

ELLIE ROWSELL: It's hard to pinpoint because we wrote these songs over quite a long time period. So we've obviously been listening to a lot of different stuff. We never really have direct references that we give to producers or to each other so it's hard to pinpoint, but we're always inspired by Queens of the Stone Age, especially having come off tour of them. That was really formative for us as a band and I think artists like Alex G, and Lana Del Rey, Christine and the Queens, Arcade Fire. Those are a few names that I can think of that we maybe banded around the studio at the time. But different influences for different songs, no overarching ones.

So this final song, "The Last Man on Earth," I wonder if you could help me kind of put a little context around the song or talk about the inspiration for the song or even a story about recording the song. I will take any of the above--any or all of the above.

ELLIE ROWSELL: This song was written in my bedroom and on musical typings, I didn't have any of my instruments with me or anything. I was in between houses and sent it to the guys and we've learned it in our studio in North London and it's kind of one of our favorites for early on and we took it into the studio with Marcus and he got Owen Pallett, who did Arcade Fire's strings, to play on it, which was really cool for us. Joff did the guitar, literally the last thing we did on the album which was fun and, yeah, put it out first because it felt big and grand and that's how we wanted to come back.

Joff, do you have anything to add?

JOFF ODDIE: Oh, I mean, I remember listening to it for the first time on my--the demo of it, I was walking through Hampstead Heath, which is a big park in North London. I put my earphones in and as I started to listen, the clouds parted and the sun shone. They actually did, and I knew there was something going on there. Yeah, it's a wicked tune.

Alright, well, let's take a listen on the radio, and we can take a watch here on a video. Thanks again for providing these videos. They look really great. Where did you guys get together to record these versions for us?

JOFF ODDIE: That's our little old rehearsal room.

Okay, well, it looks beautiful in there. Hopefully it looks like that all the time for you. But yeah, thanks again. And both of you take care. Okay.

WOLF ALICE: Thank you.

Songs Played

00:00 How Can I Make It Ok?
12:15 Smile
21:29 The Last Man On Earth
All songs appear on Wolf Alice's 2021 record, Blue Weekend.

External Link

Wolf Alice - offical site

Credits

Guests - Ellie Rowsell, Joff Oddie, Theo Ellis, Joel Amey
Host - Jill Riley
Producer - Anna Weggel
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza
Technical Directors - Eric Romani

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