In the glory of an adrenaline-filled triumphant moment it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and say something you may later regret. However, fans of Mercury Prize winners Wolf Alice know that bassist Theo Ellis has always lived with his heart on his sleeve and remained his true charismatic self while giving the acceptance speech for their sophomore album, Visions of a Life. “I remember the first label meeting we ever had. We walked into a room and the geezer said ‘the fuck… you lot don’t look like a band at all. What are you supposed to be? Your songs sound different, you don’t look like each other…’ We never really figured it out, but here we are. So, fuck you.”
The Wolf Alice project originally began in 2010 as a folk duo of lead vocalist Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie before drummer Joel Amey arrived two years later. Theo Ellis was the final addition, his wily charm and boisterous personality an entertaining and lively addition to the band, part of what makes Wolf Alice so special. In his own words, he was “not so much like a lion to an antelope but more like a kitten to a pretty ball of string” in becoming the band’s fourth member. While his quirkiness may be what is adored about him, Ellis’ ability on the bass has been instrumental in allowing Wolf Alice to chase alternative and exciting new sounds. Oddie’s quiet genius functions as the base which the band could not grow and thrive without, while Amey’s rhythms are the perfect complement for Rowsell’s stunning range.
Their debut LP My Love Is Cool reached number two in the charts and served as a platform for their preeminent follow up. Wolf Alice’s music explores many different directions and takes risks, but that’s something they like. “I’ll watch one band and be like ‘I want to be in that band’ and then I’ll watch another completely different band and be like ‘actually no, I want to be in that band’. But why do I have to be in one or the other?” Rowsell told the BBC’s Mark Savage. “We’re easily influenced, but I think the thing we’ve learned the most is that you have to trust your gut”.
It’s a good thing that they didn’t pay too much attention to early meetings with ignorant executives, then. Visions is a masterpiece exploring multi-faceted dimensions to their music, crafted from a maelstrom of emotions – it wouldn’t make sense to categorize it under one genre.
Rowsell both ridicules and romanticises young love in “Don’t Delete The Kisses”, a track that seriously reinforces Wolf Alice’s versatility, contrasting well with the band’s lead single “Yuk Foo” which illustrated pure and unadulterated rage. As Jazz Monroe of Pitchfork points out, the song shows that “clichéd romance is tedious and shallow only until it comes for you. Then, it’s electrifyingly real”.
“Formidable Cool” is an intense, raucous track that captures the precariousness of falling for someone that is better avoided. Wolf Alice’s capability of creating a tone that is harsh and merciless in its delivery is some of the most outstanding lyrical work on the album. “If you knew it was all an act / Then what are you crying for?”.
“St. Purple & Green” is one of my personal favourites as Rowsell delves into the concept of death after being inspired by her grandmother, creating the alluring notion of an afterlife that is exciting because it is unexplored.
The title track is arguably the best on the album, guided so masterfully through its seductive build up before launching into a fiery eruption of Rowsell’s piercing shrieks in tandem with Amey’s frenzied drumming and some astonishing solos, closing beautifully. In reflection, not awarding Visions the Mercury Prize seems incomprehensible now.
While their recent achievements could point to an imminent meteoric rise – they’ve already toured with Queens of the Stone Age and Foo Fighters – their feet remain firmly planted on the ground. For a band of Wolf Alice’s burgeoning stature, they’re still striving to include and reward their loyal fanbase. At last November’s Barrowland gig a teenager was invited to play in front of a sold-out crowd, while Rowsell arranged a proposal on stage during their recent Reading Festival set. There aren’t many who would go to such lengths.
They’re also outspoken on a number of important issues, chief among them mental health as Amey told Apple Music’s Julie Adenuga: “We’re very close with each other and if something’s up usually the other three can tell pretty quickly and we’re good about talking through things. I’ve found myself feeling quite guilty about talking even if you’re tired or feeling low because from the outside it’s like the most exciting and amazing thing to be doing… you don’t want to be seen like you’re complaining. It is the most amazing thing ever but people, especially recently men in rock, [is] where a few people have committed suicide and you need to just talk and be encouraged and have people tell you it is absolutely fine. When would it not be fine?”
As well as championing positive wellbeing, Rowsell launched a benefit gig called “Bands 4 Refugees” in late 2016 after the destruction of the Calais Jungle, while in May they collectively decided to support the Palestinian people’s call for a boycott of Israel “as a means of peaceful protest against a brutal and bloody occupation”. Ed Nash of The Line of Best Fit believes that a band doesn’t have to compromise its values to be successful, and that is certainly something that Wolf Alice’s success has highlighted.
After a frenetic touring schedule Ellie, Joff, Joel and Theo will close out the year with two shows at the 02 Brixton Academy before returning home to remind loved ones of their existence. It may be a while before we see them at venues such as the Olympia Theatre again, but rest assured if Visions is anything to go by, the wait will be well rewarded.