Ellie Rowsell, Lead Singer & Songwriter for Acclaimed UK Band Wolf Alice, Talks About Their Excellent New Album, Blue Weekend

Wolf Alice
WOLF ALICE (Ellie Rowsell, center)
(photo credit: Jordan Hemingway)

Wolf Alice, a British alternative rock band from London, has been known for the past five years as a unique, acclaimed band that has built a large following in the United Kingdom and Europe. Led by singer & main songwriter Ellie Rowsell, the group’s first two albums (My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life) reached #2 in the UK, and they’ve won the Mercury Prize (for best UK album) and received a Grammy Award nomination.

Notwithstanding these fine achievements, Wolf Alice appears ready to break through to an even greater level of success this year. They’ve just released their third album, Blue Weekend (on Dirty Hit/RCA Records), and music critics and fans are calling it their best album to date. This album will likely attract a larger worldwide following for the band.

According to Metacritic, Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend is now the highest rated album to be released so far this year. It’s received a Metascore of 97 (out of 100) which signifies universal acclaim. The album has received 5-star reviews from The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent.

Blue Weekend impressively showcases Wolf Alice’s wide range of musical sounds and styles. The group (which consists of Rowsell, guitarist Jeff Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey) skillfully performs songs ranging from soft, intimate ballads, to melodic midtempo songs with lush harmonies, to high-energy punk rock. The group can also create keyboard-driven, orchestral sounds that give some songs a rich sonic landscape.

The first single released from Blue Weekend is “The Last Man On Earth,” a dramatic ballad which starts with Rowsell’s vocal and piano, and then gradually builds into a powerful, full-band arrangement. Other highlights include “Smile,” which combines rap-style verses with a fierce, grunge-rock track, and “How Can I Make It OK,” a melodic, appealing midtempo song.

Wolf Alice was originally formed in 2010 as an acoustic duo, when Rowsell and Oddie began performing together. The played acoustic gigs at first, and then they formed the band with Ellis and Amey. They released their debut single “Fluffy” in February 2013, and followed it with the single, “Bros.” Later that year, they released their debut EP, Blush.

Here’s the video of Wolf Alice’s single, “The Last Man On Earth.”

In 2015, Wolf Alice released their first album, My Love Is Cool, which contained the lead single, “Giant Peach.” Also included on this album is “Moaning Lisa Smile,” which received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance. Then in 2017, the band released their second album, Visions of a Life, which included the single “Don’t Delete the Kisses.” Notably, Wolf Alice won the Mercury Prize for this album.

Wolf Alice Interview

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice. She discusses the making of their album Blue Weekend, their single “The Last Man On Earth” and the band’s songwriting.

DK: Your new album, Blue Weekend, is your first album in four years. Can you talk about the past few years with the band, leading up to your new album?

Ellie Rowsell: I think we really came together in 2019, when we started playing through some of the demos we accumulated, and we whittled it down to about 12 songs that we took to the studio in Brussels (Belgium) at the beginning of 2020. And we were there for about a month, until they closed the borders (due to the pandemic).

As we were staying in a a residential studio, they were like, “Well you can stay if you want, but you can’t travel.” So we stayed there for about three months, because we knew if we left and went home, we wouldn’t be able to come back. So we were lucky in that sense, because we were in a residential studio. We were able to have something to focus on during such a strange time, and we got the album done in 2020.

DK: What’s your band’s songwriting process? Do you mostly come up with music and lyric ideas, and then bring it to the band to finish it? Or do you write all the songs together?

Rowsell: We don’t have a set way for every song. For example, on “Play The Greatest Hits,” we were in a room together, and Jeff (Oddie) was playing that riff and we joined in and made the drum and guitar parts, and the preliminary lyrics. So we were in a room with the band, just messing around until we came up with the bones of the song.

Here’s the video of Wolf Alice’s song, “Smile.”

On “The Last Man On Earth,” I wrote that at home on my computer, and then I sent it to the guys and we learned it. So there’s no one set way. For me personally, I always write notes in my phone of things that I think or hear or see. And when I fancy writing a song, I’ll look through my notes and build up from an idea.

DK: I like your single “The Last Man On Earth,” which has a unique title. What inspired you to write that song?

Rowsell: It was quite a long time ago when I wrote it, and I don’t feel like I was influenced by anything in particular. I just started writing it and didn’t know where it was going to go. I wanted it to sound a little bit like church music. I’m not religious, but I appreciate that kind of stuff. The section that goes “Let it shine on you,” that’s what was in my head. I was imagining a choir singing it.

DK: The song starts softly with piano and vocals, and then it builds up to a full-band and orchestral sound. So when you’re sitting at the piano and writing the song, did you already envision how big the arrangement would be?

Rowsell: No. To be honest, I just wrote it on piano because I didn’t have a guitar there. I was kind of in-between houses, so I was staying with a friend and I didn’t have much of my stuff there. So I was making it on the computer and used the MIDI piano sound. And because I was using piano, I think it informed the other instrument choices like strings. So it went down that route, which became orchestral grand.

DK: What I like about your band, is that you use a wide range of musical styles and sounds, ranging from soft and acoustic, to high-energy punk rock. How did the band develop its wide range of sounds?

Rowsell: Well, we started off acoustically, because if you don’t know how to get into the music industry, one thing you could do is turn up to the pub with your guitar and play open mics. So we were acoustic because it was the only way we knew how to start performing. Then with the more opportunities we had, and the more people and places you go, we let ourselves do whatever we felt inspired by. I don’t think we hold any rules against ourselves. We don’t care about what’s cool or not. We’ve always just worked with what we’ve got and what we’re feeling inspired by. So we’ve never given much thought to it (laughs). It’s just whatever we’re feeling.

Here’s the video of Wolf Alice’s song, “How Can I Make It OK.”

DK: Besides your single “The Last Man On Earth,” what are your other favorite songs on your album?

Rowsell: I really like “How Can I Make It OK.” Although the lyrics aren’t very cheerful, the music is, and it’s one that makes me feel uplifted in terms of sounds and stuff. I find it to be quite dancey. And then I like “Feeling Myself”— I thought that was quite different from anything we’ve done before. And it’s got my favorite passage of music on the album.

DK The first song on your album is called “The Beach,” and then the last song is called “The Beach II,” which is a different version. So how did you decide to start and end your album with “The Beach”?

Rowsell: Yeah, these songs were exploring similar themes of friendship, and both had nods to nature and the beach, obviously. So we called them the same thing and we started and ended the album with it, because then it felt like more of a journey, because “The Beach 1” is a tense and anxious song, and “The Beach 2” is much more free and flowing and positive. So it’s nice that you start this journey that went from bad to good, to basically feel uplifting and hopeful.

DK: Obviously, bands haven’t been able to tour due to the lockdown. But I noticed that you’re playing some shows in August, and then you start a big UK tour in January. How will it feel to finally play shows again?

Rowsell: I’m sure we’ll feel ecstatic to be doing live shows. We’ve got a tour booked for January and we’re playing a couple festivals this summer. And hopefully we’ll be playing shows in the U.S.

DK: Thank you Ellie for doing this interview. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about yet, that you’d like to mention for this article?

Rowsell: I’m just excited for people to listen to our new album, and to hopefully get out and do some shows. We’re excited about our new album. We’re proud of it, and we really worked hard on this one. It wasn’t easy—we stumbled a few times, but we’re really proud of the process as well as the outcome.

Here’s the link to Wolf Alice’s site: https://www.wolfalice.co.uk/

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima