In Conversation: Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell on “Blue Weekend” and Embracing the Songwriting Craft
The London-based four-piece’s third album drops this Friday via Dirty Hit.
We’re at the halfway point of 2021, which means it’s a good time to start sorting out the top releases of the year so far. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a bunch of postponed records have finally been unveiled, and it’s been exciting to anticipate what the second half of the year has in store. One album that’s caught my attention is Wolf Alice’s third LP Blue Weekend, due out via Dirty Hit on June 4. The quartet consisting of lead vocalist/guitarist/pianist Ellie Rowsell, guitarist Joff Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis, and drummer Joel Amey have fine tuned their brand of synth-tinged alternative rock with the help of Grammy-winning producer Markus Dravs, who’s worked with the likes of Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Björk, Florence + The Machine, and Kings of Leon, among others. By the time the ball drops, it should be on plenty of best-of lists.
Rowsell and I recently had a conversation about her thoughts on where the album stands in the band’s catalog, having no time for dickheads, the making of Wolf Alice’s latest music video, and hopes of hitting the road some time ahead of their planned U.K. tour in January.
When it comes to a band’s third album, usually there’s some sort of creative apex being reached with a new artistic identity being formed. What do you think Blue Weekend represents in Wolf Alice’s discography?
I think it’s just us taking what we’ve learned thus far in our careers and putting it into a record. I think it’s some of our best work—it’s quite grand, big and emotive. I feel like you can hear our four personalities in it, but I don’t think it represents anything, really.
How were you able to connect with Markus Dravs, and what was the experience like having him on as producer? Did you do a lot of things remotely?
We met him before Zoom was a thing, and first and foremost we were looking for someone nice to work with. We’ve got no time for dickheads, honestly, and Markus is a really nice man. He’s fun and friendly, and we knew we’d get along with him after our first few meetings. We did some pre-production with him and we just wanted to draw out our ideas to get these songs to where we envisioned them in our heads. Then we went to the studio with him and he had all the patience in the world with us—we haven’t had that much experience in the studio, so sometimes it can be hard to work with us. Especially during a pandemic, there have to be zero distractions. I could tell he wanted to get it right just as much as we did, and of course he’s had tons of experience with many different types of bands and musicians. We were in safe hands.
“If you can perform in front of any audience with just an acoustic guitar and your voice and capture their attention, then that’s a really great starting point. It gives you an understanding of the power of song.”
The music video for “No Hard Feelings” just came out, and there’s a lot of fluorescent red and gold being counteracted by shadows and steam, especially during the part when you’re at the bus stop. Who had the idea for this setting, and was a lot of it done with the colors and everything after the initial filming of the video?
Jordan Hemingway, who directed it, is big into his lights and he has a great set team. Of course there are some things that are done in post with grading and stuff, but it really felt like what it looked like there on the day. We had this idea about a girl meeting a boy at a bus stop and Jordan made it something more magical than it sounds on paper.
Wolf Alice has a unique origin story because it started as an acoustic duo consisting of you and Joff. Do you think coming from that background has given you a deeper sense of the songwriting craft?
Yeah, I do. I haven’t thought about it like that before, but I think you’re probably right. We never performed in front of big crowds, but if you can perform in front of any audience with just an acoustic guitar and your voice and capture their attention, then that’s a really great starting point. It gives you an understanding of the power of song without any extra stuff because you don’t need a lot. When you start off dipping your toes in the music world and you don’t know anyone, the easiest thing to do is to go to the nearest pub, bring your guitar, and ask if you can play a couple tunes. I didn’t really see us as a folk duo or anything of the sort, it’s just that I didn’t know anyone, and I only had one guitar.
You’re going to be embarking on a tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland in January, and you also will be performing at the Leeds and Reading Festivals in August. Before all that happens, what do you plan on doing to promote Blue Weekend after it comes out?
We’ve got a lot more music videos coming out—we’ve made a video for each song on the album. We’re hoping we’ll be able to do more touring than what we have planned. That U.K. tour in January feels like a long time away, so I hope we’ll be able to get out on the road before that. FL