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Interview: Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell on their new album, 'Visions Of A Life'.

Interview: Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell on their new album, 'Visions Of A Life'.

In ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, Wolf Alice frontwoman Ellie Rowsell unashamedly sings lyrics of romanticism at its finest - “I'm like a teenage girl / I might as well write all over my notebook / That you 'rock my world!' / You do, you really do.” The stream-of-consciousness and frank lyricism that flows through Wolf Alice’s music is just part of their appeal, and coupled with their deft knack for untameable shoegaze-inspired instrumentation, this a band that is at the top of their game - unrivalled.

The band’s debut 2015 album 'My Love Is Cool' established them as one of the most exciting new UK bands - it led to a Mercury Prize and a Grammy Award nomination - and on their follow-up ‘Visions Of A Life’, it’s clear that they’re one of the UK's very best bands, with early reviews proclaiming the album one of 2017’s finest. And the acclamations aren’t wrong - songs like ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ and 'Space & Time’ showcase Wolf Alice operating in a musical league of their own, and the almost eight-minute-long title-track ‘Visions Of A Life’ is the perfect closing statement.

We caught up with Ellie Rowsell recently to discuss the release of ‘Visions Of A Life’, as well as their upcoming visit to New Zealand next year to play Laneway Festival...

There shouldn’t even really be a word for unconventional - everyone should be celebrated for all the things; it’s who they are. It’s those little things that make people, and that build someone’s character.

COUP DE MAIN: We’re so excited that Wolf Alice are going to be coming to New Zealand for the first time ever to play Laneway Festival 2018! You're finally going to visit us.
WOLF ALICE - ELLIE ROWSELL: Yeah, I’m very excited. I’ve never been to New Zealand and I’ve always wanted to go, it’s been too long a time coming.

CDM: Is there anything in New Zealand that you want to do in particular?
ELLIE: I wanna go to the beach. <laughs>

CDM: We're on it. And we’ll have to take you guys to the zoo to see your animals that we adopted you when we last interviewed you in Sydney! I think you have a Red Panda.
ELLIE: Yeah! Yeah, we’ll have to go and visit them. <laughs>

CDM: The last Wolf Alice show we went to at the O2 Forum Kentish Town in London, Theo was in hospital, so please make sure he looks after himself in January before you fly out to the Southern Hemisphere.
ELLIE: I will pass on the message!

CDM: I literally got goosebumps as soon as I heard the first few minutes of ‘Heavenward’, it’s so stunning - as is the rest of the album. What made you decide to open the album with that song in particular?
ELLIE: I think it was purely because it had quite a slow, rising, dreamy intro to the tune that we felt was a nice opener - Joff’s guitar that kind of seeps in, and then swirls around. It was purely a musical decision.

CDM: I love that ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ kinda feels like the sequel to ‘Bros’ - which will forever be one of my favourite Wolf Alice songs. Do you think it’s important to celebrate unconventionality in music, and in life?
ELLIE: Of course. There shouldn’t even really be a word for unconventional - everyone should be celebrated for all the things; it’s who they are. It’s those little things that make people, and that build someone’s character.

CDM: You guys have been playing some album songs live on your U.S. tour - ‘Visions Of A Life’ and ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ - what’s it been like playing those unreleased songs to audiences for the first time?
ELLIE: Quite daunting, because people like to hear what they already know, because that’s why they come to a show, I think. So it was quite scary, but people have been reacting really well, and it’s been really interesting to see. We’ve switched around some songs to see which ones work the best in the moment, or have more of an instant reaction.

CDM: Do you have a favourite song to play live from the new album at the moment?
ELLIE: ‘Visions Of A Life’ is quite fun to play live, because there’s lots of heavy guitar riffs and stuff which are fun to play.

CDM: Another highlight on the album for me is ‘Space and Time’. Do you have a favourite song, lyrically, on the album?
ELLIE: Lyrically? Hmmm, I think I like ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’. And I like ‘After The Zero Hour’.

CDM: Was it a conscious/purposeful decision for ‘Visions Of A Life’ to be the closing, longer track on the album, which also named the album - just as ‘The Wonderwhy’ closed out ‘My Love Is Cool’ (where the hidden song at the end, ‘My Love Is Cool’, was the album’s title)?
ELLIE: I didn’t even think about that, but, <sarcastically> yes. No, that was a happy accident. We didn’t really want to have a title-track on this album because we didn’t want to have any extra focus on one song. But we really liked the name, we felt it was really fitting, and we actually didn’t want to have 'Visions Of A Life' at the end either, because we were a bit self-conscious to have the eight-minute tune close the album, but it didn’t really fit anywhere else. So it was all a happy accident.

COUP DE MAIN: You and the rest of Wolf Alice were so vocal about the UK election, and other political issues such as Brexit - and our election here in New Zealand is coming up at the end of September. Do you have any advice for young voters in New Zealand, particularly around the importance of voting?
ELLIE: I think it’s incredibly important to vote because politics is for the people, and we shouldn’t leave it just to the parties because then we’re in some kind of helpless society where you have no say in anything and in things that are going to affect you. Government was formed to represent the people, but if you don’t vote, then you’re not being represented. Don’t be intimidated by... Politics has become quite an intimidating word, and people think of-- I think of things that I don’t understand. I think it is seen as for intelligent white men that I can’t feel quite affiliated with, but that’s not what it is. It’s just another word for everyday decisions, and life choices, and we have to step by step remove the intimidation that comes with politics that was never supposed to be there. By voting, that’s one step towards that.

CDM: I think it’s the same in the UK as it is in NZ, we have really, really low youth vote rates - do you think that is because of the fear of not thinking that it’s understandable?
ELLIE: I think that’s part of it. It needs to be made more accessible, and you can find that you might actually be really passionate about it once you start to become more involved. There’s a range of factors though, if people don’t feel like they’re represented by their government, then they’re going to be reluctant to get involved.

CDM: And there’s so many facets to politics - from healthcare, to education - so people might just need to find the thing that they’re passionate about.
ELLIE: Yeah, and even these things are essential to you - the price of a loaf of bread is politics, it’s decided by politics.

CDM: Do you think it’s important for voters to learn about tactical voting?
ELLIE: Yeah, I mean unfortunately, yeah, sometimes that’s going to be the lesser of two evils.

CDM: Do you also think it’s hard for young voters, when so much of their political viewpoints and world-views are shaped by their parents?
ELLIE: Definitely, and that’s not fair because some people’s parents don’t get involved, or some people don’t even have parents to tell them what to do. You should form your own opinions, and I think that’s why social media is good because it’s an alternative source of information that can help you form your opinion, that might not be your parents, and might not be what the media is trying to force down your throat. So that’s why it’s important for artists and musicians to speak up, because for those people who have an inkling that their parents’ views aren’t right or that their parents don’t have any views or whatever, that’s an alternative source of information that can help them form their own opinion.

CDM: You set up the Bands 4 Refugees movement with Theo, which has been doing really great things, and it’s such a huge issue in the world at the moment. How did those shows go?
ELLIE: They were really fun shows, it was really nice to play with other musicians. There’s this romantic idea that I felt like happened back in the day, perhaps not so much anymore in guitar music - it happens all the time in rap and pop and hip-hop, but not really in guitar music - and so it was really exciting.

CDM: What’s your favourite thing about working with Dirty Hit as your label?
ELLIE: It’s really fun. I think the guys at Dirty Hit give us a lot of creative freedom and support us in all our decisions, especially when it comes to music. You get scared when you sign to a label that they’re going to try and tell you what kind of songs you should be writing, but we don’t have any of that. Jamie [Oborne], he signed us because he was excited about our songwriting, and that’s at the core of everything he does. It’s nice to be part of a little family - a growing family. It’s fun to watch grow.

CDM: If Charli XCX had cast Joel, Joff, and Theo in her 'Boys' music video, what gender stereotypes do you think they’d have portrayed?
ELLIE: Gosh, I don’t know! I think Joff would be milking a cow. Joel would be playing 'Zelda' or something. And Theo would be spinning on his head.

CDM: We know you’re a huge lover of pop music - what’s been your favourite pop release of 2017 so far?
ELLIE: Lorde’s album [‘Melodrama’]. Yeah, I really like it.

CDM: Recently you tweeted: "When journalists call Lorde 'weird' is it cos she's really good?" Do you think the media struggles with digesting successful female musicians who don’t rely on them to help their careers?
ELLIE: Maybe. I think people always have - not just journalists who help their careers, I think all people struggle with this idea that a female pop artist can write all her songs. Even I do it sometimes, you see a really good female pop artist and you’re like, ‘I wonder if she writes her songs.’ That’s never really my first initial reaction to a male popstar. But what I was talking about more with that tweet was that I don’t think Lorde is weird at all. Yeah, she’s slightly kooky - perhaps, maybe, I don’t really know what that means - but I don’t see her as weird. I think what weird is, is like those more manufactured, really boring, no-tune pop artists. I can’t think of any examples because I don’t search them out, but that idea of an artist that is made to make radio hits. But I find it quite weird when people call her weird, I want to know what is weird about her. I recognise her in girls that I hang out with, she’s just showing herself as a human. When you watch her interviews, she’s very human, she speaks to the interviewer like she’s having a chat with one of her mates. That shouldn’t be weird, that should be normal. It’s weird to have mechanical robotic answers.

CDM: ‘Silk’ featured in the ‘T2’ soundtrack - which must’ve been so exciting! If you could contribute a song to any movie, future or past, which would it be?
ELLIE: There’s this really small film called ‘Electrick Children’, I don’t know who directed it, but I really love that movie. They’ve already got quite good music in it, but I often think about it, and the imagery in it. We often reference the trailer, because we thought the trailer was so good - the movie is good as well, but musically the trailer was a big inspiration for us, and how it made us feel. I’d like to find whoever [Rebecca Thomas] directed that and ask them to make a new movie with me, and we can collaborate or something.

CDM: You guys were the subject of Michael Winterbottom’s documentary from last year, ‘On the Road’ - what was that experience like?
ELLIE: It was okay. You’re never quite yourself when you’ve got a camera in your face, I believe. He did a good job of it, but you start to question how you even fit normally, do you know what I mean? It’s a weird experience… But that film feels quite old to us now, it was kind of a tour where I feel that we’ve become a lot better, we’ve got different songs, it’s a different stage of our life now, so we don’t want people to watch it and think it’s an accurate representation of all of us. I think it’s one side to us at one point in time, but it was a nice documentation of time.

Wolf Alice’s sophomore album ‘Visions Of A Life’ is out now - click here to purchase.

Watch the ‘Heavenward’ music video below…

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