Wolf Alice released their third album, Blue Weekend, in June 2021. It had been nearly four years since the London band’s second album, the Mercury Prize winning Visions of a Life. But despite the extended gap, Blue Weekend topped the UK charts and debuted in the ARIA top ten—two firsts for the band.
Blue Weekend is yet further proof that Wolf Alice are one of this era’s most interesting alternative rock acts. The world created by vocalist/guitar Ellie Rowsell, guitarist Joff Oddie, bass player Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey is one in which guitars reign supreme, but where sonic and stylistic experimentation are heartily embraced.
The mingling of the band’s multifarious influences, ranging from alt-rock and pop to grunge, post-punk, dream pop and indie balladry, makes for an enthralling listening experience. But there’s more to Wolf Alice than just a fine talent for merging the angsty and tuneful sounds of rock music’s past.
In celebration of the band’s performance of ‘Lipstick on the Glass’ for the Jim Beam Welcome Sessions—filmed live at London’s Union Chapel—here are five things you didn’t know about Wolf Alice.
Ellie Rowsell started out singing in the local community choir
Wolf Alice frontperson Ellie Rowsell grew up in the London Borough of Islington. She first laid eyes on the architectural splendour of the Union Chapel when she was just a kid singing with the local community choir, whose headquarters were on the adjacent street.
Wolf Alice’s music isn’t exactly hymnal, but the band are prone to choral embellishment. The song ‘Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)’ is a prime example, with Rowsell’s lead vocals almost indistinguishable from a stack of background harmony vocals.
The recorded version of ‘Lipstick on the Glass’ is another track that benefits from vocal overdubbing, which made it an apt choice for Rowsell’s return to the Union Chapel for the Jim Beam Welcome Sessions, where the band were supported by a nine-piece choir.
The four members come from different parts of southern England
Wolf Alice formed in London. They did all their early gigging in the pubs and bars of London and have played their biggest headline shows in London. They’re a London band, essentially, but the four members grew up in a bunch of different areas across southern England.
Rowsell grew up in the London Borough of Islington, a cosmopolitan area in the city’s north. Oddie grew up in Cornwall, a historically Celtic region of south west England. He connected with Rowsell in London after finishing high school.
In an interview with Rolling Stone Australia, Oddie reflected on his first impressions of the city. “Because I grew up in Cornwall, it’s kind of mind blowing to think that within a square mile there are so many places to play,” he said.
Amey grew up in the small town of Effingham in the county of Surrey, roughly 45 kilometres south-west of Central London. The nearest music venue was the Boileroom pub in nearby Guildford, which is where he and Ellis first met.
Amey told Rolling Stone Australia that if it “wasn’t for that venue, I wouldn’t have had some of the most inspiring moments of my formative years that put me on the path of where I am now.”
Wolf Alice were officially the UK’s “most blogged about band” in 2013
Before signing with their current label, Dirty Hit, Wolf Alice worked with London’s Chess Club Records on the release of their debut single, ‘Fluffy’, and debut EP, Blush, in 2013. In between these two releases, Chess Club put out a demo version of the wonderfully jangly ‘Bros’.
‘Bros’ was later re-recorded for My Love Is Cool. Though, it didn’t fail to catch listener attention the first time around. In fact, at the end of 2013 Wolf Alice were named the UK’s most blogged about band by BBC Radio, an accolade determined based on Hype Machine data. Speaking to BBC Radio 6 Music’s Tom Robinson, the band had this to say:
“We’re all pretty sure that it’s actually all our mums on the internet and maybe Rob, Ellie’s dad,” said Ellis. “But yeah, it’s pretty astounding. I don’t think we ever thought we’d be talked about that much.”
Ellie Rowsell is a great lyricist
When we say Rowsell is a great lyricist, we mean she’s one of the more genuinely compelling lyricists in modern FM rock music. The trouble is, given Wolf Alice’s stylistic plurality and melodic panache, Rowsell’s lyrics don’t get as much attention as some of her male peers (e.g. The 1975’s Matty Healy, Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten).
Blue Weekend’s ‘Play the Greatest Hits’ is an excellent example of Rowsell’s lyrical complexity. Despite being a throwback to first wave punk rock, the song doesn’t raise its middle finger to the band’s fairweather fans. Rather, with lines like, “Life seems to move in circles / When you take your straight white lines,” it could be a comment on the touring lifestyle or simply a snapshot of life for a 20-something in 21st century Britain—Europe’s epicentre of cocaine use.
Then there’s ‘Lipstick On the Glass’, which, amid angelic falsetto and choral backing vocals, contains some of Roswell’s finest lyrics. The chorus—”I take you back / Yeah, I know it seems surprising when there’s lipstick still on the glass”— raises more questions than it answers and demonstrates how our actions and emotional responses don’t always align with our abstract conception of morality.
The new album, Blue Weekend, is also a film
While the UK endured a devastating COVID winter, which ruled out any gigging for Wolf Alice and their peers, the band teamed up with director Jordan Hemingway to create a minute-for-minute film companion to Blue Weekend.
The complete film is available on YouTube, split into 11 separate segments; one for each song on the album. Hemingway’s film documents a frenzied night out in London. We watch as the band members encounter a range of troublesome, apathetic and admiring characters and also find time to jump onstage at a bunch of crowded pubs.
It’s an occasionally sordid, occasionally ridiculous companion piece to Wolf Alice’s best album to date. In the band’s own words, “Pints and ciggies have literally never looked this good lol.”