Wolf Alice – Ellie Rowsell on Their New “Blue Lullaby” EP | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 28th, 2024  

Wolf Alice – Ellie Rowsell on Their New “Blue Lullaby” EP

Peeling Back the Layers

Jul 22, 2022 Web Exclusive Photography by Andy DeLuca Bookmark and Share

UK band Wolf Alice were recently involved in a race against time as they frantically attempted to get to the Glastonbury festival on time after becoming grounded in Los Angeles. Indeed, Wolf Alice’s version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles made national (and international) news with UK TV News stations providing updates on their progress.

“It must have been a slow news day!” laughs Wolf Alice’s singer/songwriter and guitarist Ellie Rowsell during our chat over Zoom.

“But yeah, it really was a very intense couple of days,” she continues. “The flight we were originally booked on was cancelled and then the flight they planned to move us on to wouldn’t have got us back in time for Glastonbury, so we did have a bit of a panic-rush trying to find alternative routes. Thankfully, when we eventually arrived at Heathrow airport we were blessed by the traffic gods as the roads to the festival were surprisingly clear. We arrived with about two hours to spare. Which was tight but enough time for us to do the show.”

You’d imagine the band’s stress levels were through the roof, but in the 10 years Wolf Alice have been together they have certainly racked up the air miles and Rowsell accepts such logistical challenges are part and parcel of being a touring musician. “Well, although that situation was all very dramatic at least you’re only worrying about one thing—the ‘getting there,’ so the positive is you’re not overthinking all the other things that could happen prior to a gig!”

Their hectic journey and emotionally charged set on the iconic Pyramid stage which, in typical Wolf Alice fashion, saw them smash it out of the proverbial park, almost overshadowed their latest release, the beautiful Blue Lullaby EP. It’s a select collection of “lullabied” versions of songs from their Mercury Prize-nominated, critically lauded third record, 2021’s Blue Weekend. The reimagined versions certainly reveal a new depth of emotion, whilst reinforcing the old adage that sometimes less is more. The idea came about after the band had performed a number of acoustic sessions for various radio stations. “We actually really enjoyed those stripped-down sessions, which was surprising because that’s not always the case,” Rowsell explains. “Sometimes you feel like, ‘Argh, I’ve made the original song sound like this because that’s exactly how it works best and I don’t really want to restructure it. Yet peeling back the layers on tracks like ‘How Can I Make It Ok?’ and ‘Lipstick on the Glass,’ which we’d thrown a lot of ideas at on the original versions, was an incredibly enjoyable process and the songs became really quite cinematic. It was really exciting for me, because I love creating the sort of music you can imagine soundtracking a movie.”

And rather than simply remixing the tracks from the original Blue Weekend stems, the band went into the studio and recorded new versions replete with a choir and string sections. For example, their soaring celestial reinterpretation of “No Hard Feelings” seems to hit even harder, and across the entire EP, Rowsell proves what a wonderful vocalist she is, demonstrating an astonishing depth and range.

The band already had an idea as to which songs would translate best in terms of these new “softer” interpretations. The unhinged punk rush of “Play the Greatest Hits” for example, wouldn’t have been an obvious contender. “Yes of course some songs really don’t lend themselves to this sort of reinterpretation,” laughs Rowsell, “but funnily enough, Joff [Oddie, guitarist] did actually come up with a really cool open chord, kind of droney acoustic guitar version of ‘Play the Greatest Hits.’ But lyrically it just didn’t suit the more laid back vibe, so that was certainly a song that’s probably best left the way it was.”

The band also released a series of short behind-the-scenes videos from the Blue Lullaby sessions at The Church Studios in North London, which give a unique insight into the recording process. It also demonstrated the tight bond the band has and saw various family members dropping in. Among their number was Rowsell’s Dad in episode 2, who concluded that Blue Weekend is Wolf Alice’s Hunky Dory album in the sense that you’ll never tire of it. “That’s such a dad thing to say isn’t it?” laughs Rowsell, “but yeah he was working on a job around the corner and popped in for a cup of tea, and then he never left! But we had the choir there and it was just such a lovely emotional experience to watch a group of people singing like that.”

The behind-the-scenes videos also give an insight into how these alternative versions evolved as Rowsell explains. “We’ve not been into the studio too often recently and when we have in the past, we have perhaps been a little over prepared. We’d have the songs well rehearsed and then we’d arrive with multiple alternative demo versions of tracks. I mean, in this case, it obviously did help that the songs had already been written so we knew the structures when we were experimenting. But it was just such great fun as we’ve never really gone in before and thought, ‘Okay, let’s just see what happens.’”

Given Rowsell’s love of the cinematic, she’s certainly not adverse to scoring a movie soundtrack in the future. “That would definitely be on the bucket list for all of us,” she enthuses. “I do like the concept of writing to someone else’s brief. It would be a nice change from trying to spill what’s inside you onto a page, which can be emotionally exhausting. I’d certainly enjoy the challenge of taking someone else’s ideas and working out how that would fit to music. I find myself moved the most by music when it’s set to visuals. So that would be something I’d really love to try, but I’m not sure when!”

Of course, Wolf Alice are no strangers to the big screen, their promo videos are often hugely cinematic and they were also the subject of Michael Winterbottom’s drama/documentary On the Road. Most recently, they teamed up with filmmaker and photographer Jordan Hemmingway to create Blue Weekend - the movie. Rowsell explains how that idea came to fruition.

“Well, we’d always talked about wanting to thread music videos together. And whilst Blue Weekend isn’t really a concept album, there are obviously connected ideas that run throughout it. Also we did think a lot about the tracklisting and what the musical journey is from negative to positive and back round again. We thought visuals would be a really good way to draw the themes out. Jordan seemed like a really great person to do it. I mean none of the songs are based on fantasy. In fact, if you were to spell out what they are actually all about, it’s all very mundane. But with Jordan, he can shoot a simple portrait photograph and somehow make it seem like it’s from another world. He doesn’t so much try to create a fantasy world as a starting point but rather he brings out the fantasy from the real world. So we would go to him with a quite simple idea, such as—boy meets girl at a party—and he would transform it into something really magical.”

The band are currently in the middle of an intense touring schedule squeezing festival appearances in between opening for Harry Styles’ huge arena shows across Europe before more American dates in the fall. “Yeah the Harry shows are just amazing. They are like nothing we’ve ever experienced before,” reveals Rowsell. “I mean, I’ve previously never even been to a show with a crowd like that, let alone played to one! There’s a palpable energy from the fans, a genuine sense of excitement and total joy. It’s been a very special experience.”

Pragmatically it’s also a great way for Wolf Alice to introduce themselves to a whole new demographic. When they won the Brit Award for Best British Band, there were younger fans on social media wondering who Wolf Alice were. Touring with a huge pop icon like Harry Styles may go some way to remedying that. Of course there is always a flip side. The more “rockist-genre-specific fans” have questioned why Wolf Alice are on tour with a huge pop star. But the fact is Wolf Alice have always embraced a wide sonic palette and never restricted their creativity to one genre, as an artist that would seem pretty reductive. Also Styles seems to have excellent taste in support bands, taking artists such as Wet Leg, Jessie Ware, Jenny Lewis, and others on tour with him.

“Well, the people tweeting about us after the BRITS who didn’t know us were essentially doing our press for us there, so thanks for that,” Rowsell laughs. “It was so great for us to get that award and obviously it was brilliant for our label Dirty Hit, to have an artist on their roster to get that accolade. In terms of people wanting the band to stick to one genre and one genre only, well, if that’s the genre you like, you can keep listening to those songs, it doesn’t mean the songs are going to disappear or go anywhere, if the band start writing different material. To be honest parts of Harry’s shows are pretty rock too actually.”

Their live schedule marks a stark contrast to the pandemic when the music industry ground to a halt with touring impossible, but now Rowsell and her bandmates have had the opportunity to ascertain which songs from Blue Weekend connect best with a live audience as well as which songs they enjoy playing live the most.

“We do love doing ‘Play the Greatest Hits,’ as it’s a real moment to let off some steam,” Rowsell reveals. “Playing the heavier stuff live is always a lot of fun, it feels a bit like being a little kid having a tantrum and it’s like the one place where you are allowed to become a kind of goblin version of yourself. I think what’s really surprised me is ‘Delicious Things,’ which feels like a grown-up-sounding song for us. It’s also quite a long song and as our attention spans are so short these days I wasn’t sure how it would resonate with people. But actually, people seem to react to that more than any other which was really gratifying and encouraging.”

The band seem to have really engaged with and embraced social media whilst touring Blue Weekend around the world, particularly on this current tour, something Rowsell acknowledges.

“Well touring with Harry has been particularly good fun. Plus we are going around Europe, which we haven’t been able to do in such a long time. It’s also the summer, and as the support band we have had a bit more time on our hands so maybe that explains it. And it’s such a fun show too so it probably lends itself to more interesting social media content. It’s just really good vibes.”

After a decade being part of Wolf Alice, Rowell is still pushing herself as a songwriter and Blue Weekend has seen her produce her most direct lyrics yet. She accepts that making herself more vulnerable is part of that ongoing process rather than hiding behind metaphors and ambiguity, whilst acknowledging it can be quite daunting showing another side of yourself to bandmates and friends. Perhaps more so than singing them to a room full of strangers every night.

“I think that’s also true in life though, with people who aren’t songwriters too. That’s probably why we should all have therapists,” she laughs. “You think you know someone but you can’t ever know all of somebody can you? But it can certainly be so much easier to talk to a stranger about certain things than somebody who you are really close to. It can feel like that when showing somebody your songs, I guess it’s also because you value their opinion and don’t want to disappoint them. And that’s why you should always surround yourself with good people.”


Also read our list of the 12 Best Wolf Alice Songs.

Also read our interview with Wolf Alice on Blue Weekend.

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