Gig preview: Wolf Alice at O2 Academy Leeds

Wolf Alice
Wolf Alice
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Named after a short story from magic realism writer Angela Carter’s 1979 collection The Bloody Chamber, Wolf Alice are a four-piece alternative rock group from north London who were one of the breakthrough bands of last year.

Their debut album, My Love Is Cool, reached Number 2 in the UK charts and led to them being nominated for the Mercury Prize, a Grammy and a Brit award.

They also became a major draw on the festival circuit, and played high up the main stage bill at Leeds and Reading.

Although no overnight success – singer Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie originally formed Wolf Alice as a duo in 2010 – the kind of critical and commercial success they enjoyed last year can still take time to sink in.

Rowsell pauses momentarily when asked about the upturn in their fortunes. “I think it might have been just one night or something when we were all sitting around chatting – it might have been on a night off on tour – when we all took it in,” she says. “Generally we just take it day by day or I’d think we’d get a bit scared.”

Such success was also welcome reward for five years of graft. “I think we always had quite high ambitions which were at some points feeling ‘Is this going to happen?’” Rowsell concedes. “I don’t think we gave it too much thought, but yeah, we’re an ambitious band and I think we work hard. I’m not saying we expected everything that happened but I definitely feel we put the work in.”

Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice

In an era of viral flashes in the pan, Wolf Alice have built up an audience in the old-fashioned way – by relentless touring.

For Rowsell, being up on stage is a thrill. “In a way, when you look out to a large crowd that are all singing your songs and you’re really having a good time it’s a huge buzz.”

But she equally enjoys the songwriting process. “There are other sides to it which are maybe not so obvious, maybe when you first make a demo or something, and you feel really proud of it and you listen to it over and over again, you like that song as much as you like all your favourite songs by other people that’s a huge buzz as well but I guess it’s more a personal one that you can’t really share with other people at one time.”

Being in demand as a live act can leave bands with little time for writing songs. It’s an issue that that Wolf Alice have had to face too.

We’re an ambitious band and I think we work hard. I’m not saying we expected everything that happened but I definitely feel we put the work in.

“For a while we didn’t want to think about it too much because we were riding the buzz of just releasing our album,” Rowsell says. “We’ve not struggled but adapting to always being on tour [has been an issue] because normally we’d write at home then I think recently we’ve kind of got the knack of it.

“We’ve got a few demos and we’re thinking about making some more for our next record. I think we’re ready, it’s just about what time allows us where and when to record it.”

One thing that it seems we can continue to look forward to from Wolf Alice is their fondness for crossing musical genres. Rowsell admits to liking hip-hop and taking “some inspiration from production values and lyrical values” which she took with her for the album, but she’s keen to point out she’s “not a hip-hop connoisseur”.

“For me as someone who listens to lots of genres and is inspired by lots of genres and who never feels one thing all the time, it was natural to have an album where every song was a little bit different,” she says. “One day you feel one way and the next day another and I would think that would be mirrored in your work.

“I don’t feel like many people any more, with playlists overtaking albums in many ways, listen to one type [of music]. When I was younger maybe people would say ‘I only like punk music’ or ‘I only like hip-hop music’ but now I think it’s more common to have an appreciation for all the types of music and that must seep into your work, really.”

The band’s songwriting has certainly progressed in the past couple of years, Rowsell acknowledges. “From when we started to when we finished the album we were much better musicians, we were a bit more like perfectionists, we had a different understanding of what we were doing. Everything’s a learning process. I don’t think we were at our best when we finished the album but that’s just natural, hopefully the next album will be another progression.”

Wolf Alice play at York Barbican tonight and at the O2 Academy Leeds on Saturday. For details visit http://wolfalice.co.uk/

Spiral Stairs. Picture: Steven Simko

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