If you’re one of those who’ve been living through the long reign of cutesy ukulele-strumming girls, Wolf Alice know how you feel.
The video for their debut single, ‘Fluffy’, opens on singer Ellie Rowsell, every inch the folk-pixie, we then hear the first few bars of what promises to be an acoustic crooner. Cue crashing drums and a neurotic, punkish electric guitar riff, and we see the leather-jacketed band members constructively critique Rowsell’s music taste. With a hammer.
“I always played with Joff [Oddie] who plays guitar, so we always played the toilet circuit, playing acoustically just kind of as a hobby,” Rowsell says of the band’s origins. “I didn’t really think that I could be in a band, you know, some people are like, destined to do it; like as soon as they’re born they know that they want to do it, and we weren’t really like that.”
When the hard-gigging acoustic duo were joined by rhythm section Joel Amey and Theo Ellis, a wilder sound reminiscent of 90s alternative rock emerged. Some of the troubadour roots are still evident in songs like the reflective ‘Wednesday’, which combines fingerpicked guitar and an introspective lyric with a hint of post-rock soundscapes.
Rowsell feels the addition of this rhythm element in a way created a new entity, a new band to the one that wrote songs such as ‘Wednesday’. “That was a different band in a way; we just never changed the name. ‘Wednesday’ was one song that was written when it was just, me and Josh on our own, just for fun, on computers and stuff like that.”
With a career as indie darlings taking off fast, Rowsell and company undertook a deliberate left turn, away from any hint of a Juno-esque folkster image. “I think it was because previously everyone had described us as some kind of cute, twee folk band. We were like ‘um, that’s not really what we want to be.’”
With that in mind, the band held fire on the first song Rowsell had completed for them, ‘Bros’, an upbeat slice of indie pop-rock that could be a lost gem from the Cure’s back catalogue. She recalls thinking, “Let’s not put out ‘Bros’, ‘cause it was still quite sweet, whereas ‘Fluffy’ was like, really horrible.” This is a band that has something of an edge.
So where does Wolf Alice’s instantly likeable sound sit on the musical map? Clash magazine termed them “the lovechild of folk and grunge,” but Rowsell is bemused by that.
“I mean me and Josh listen to quite a lot of folk music and I think we all listen to quite a lot of grunge music if you will, but I don’t know about the lovechild. I don’t know what that would sound like, but I don’t think it would sound much like us.”
As for the Cobain-era grunge spirit of “I hate myself and want to die,” that hasn’t really soured Wolf Alice’s outlook. Rowsell giggles, “We call it Funge.”
That’s not to say discipline isn’t important to the band. Of a short tour with indie-rockers Peace, she has this to say. “There was a lot of learning over those three days just playing with a band who were really tight.” Rowsell is a believer in consistent rehearsal too. “It showed us that you can’t just not practice and go out and expect people to think you’re good, because you won’t be good.”
Some interesting influences come up in a conversation about Rowsell’s musical background, which, like charity, begins at home. “My dad listened to a lot of music. Often classic stuff like the Beatles.” Sure enough, the band’s mid-pace rocker ‘Leaving You’ gives an idea of what ‘Dear Prudence’ might be like if Jack White had got to it before John Lennon.
Surprisingly, there’s also an Irish connection. “When I was younger I used to play the tin whistle. I used to play Irish music… Every St Patrick’s day we used to perform around primary schools.”
Looking ahead, Rowsell feels the best way to follow up on the release of their successful EP release is to get back in the studio. “Well, we’re kind of finishing writing our album, so we want to get in the recording studio as soon as possible and get that out. Feels like a long time coming for us.”
Still, despite the level of success that Wolf Alice has achieved, Rowsell is very much aware that it is very tough to build on this fanbase and grab people’s attentions due to the sheer number of new artists on the scene.
“Since the internet came along there’s so much saturation that a band that might have been absolutely massive a few years ago can never get anywhere. Things like the internet make it easier to get stuff out there, so it’s not all about who you know. There are pros and cons. How easy it is makes it harder.”
All glory may be fleeting in the modern day industry, but with a little luck and a lot of attitude, “funge” could be here to stay.