Joff Oddie is not the kind of man who can be so easily pigeonholed in his creative output. The primary guitarist of north London quartet Wolf Alice, he could be readily identified as alternative rock, at the broadest of brushstrokes. But he is not someone for whom genre dictates when it comes to his craft; as musicians, he and his bandmates rather feel that the mood fuels the tune, instead of aiming towards melodic preconceptions.
“It’s always driven by the songwriting, and how the music should be a reflection of the emotion within,” he notes with an affable, self-analytical interest. “When you hear material in its raw form, you have to go and work out what the song deserves in a sense, what musicality does it need to reach its emotional potential. The textures and soundscapes are heavily dependent on the songwriting, really; there’s never an initial intention of genre at the start. It’s something we’ve always tried to do, though I don’t know how successful we’ve always been at it.”
There’s a warm modesty to Oddie that laces his occasional words of self-deprecation, softening any real sense of artistic discomfort. Wolf Alice are gearing up to release their sophomore effort Visions of a Life this month, the follow-up to 2015’s fizzing debut My Love Is Cool. A deserved commercial and critical smash for the band, it peaked at Number 2 on release and littered end-of-year lists with a tenacity reminiscent of their animal namesake, with a Grammy nomination to boot. Expectations, understandably, are high for album number two.
“We only finished touring behind the first record last August,” Oddie recalls, “and we gave ourselves until January to really try and get the album written. We had been touring non-stop for 21 months or so, and we only gave ourselves less than half a year before we had to head back to the work, head back to the studio. You can’t help but feeling a little bit of pressure, you know, especially with the time restrains upon you. In a sense, you’ve got forever to write your first album – it took us 23 years. But with this one, we’ve had two-and-a-half years, except most of that was on the road. It was an intimidating prospect.”
Was there ever external pressure upon the group to replicate the immediate success of their first outing? Oddie refutes such interference, praising the band’s label for their relatively hands-off approach, but acknowledges forlornly that others aren’t as fortunate. “I’ve seen it happen with to other musical projects other bands we know, and it’s always a shame when there’s external factors, when the record label or management is putting bands under pressure to do something they’re not comfortable with.” A pause. “Art is art, y’know, and you really shouldn’t have too many people saying to do it like this or that. It’s not a natural way to do anything.
“We’re super, super lucky that we have a record label, Dirty Hit, and a management team that completely trust us, almost, and will allow us to do…” He breaks off to consider himself. “Not whatever we want, but will trust in the music we make and trust us to know what is best for us. People were always telling us we could have more time to get it right with this record, so that was great really. Externally, we are very fortunate not to have those pressures and people breathing down our necks.”
Such artistic freedom has meant that Wolf Alice are able to formulate a follow-up that is a veritable smorgasbord of musical influences, from the gauzy wash of My Bloody Valentine, to the industrial blister of Nine Inch Nails, via the Cocteau Twins and Grandaddy (Oddie splutters with delightful laughter at the suggestion of the latter as an inspiration). The arrival of former Beck sideman Justin Meldal-Johnsen as producer, the guitarist feels, complimented the band’s eclectic stylings in the studio.
“He brought out what we wanted to find within the songs,” he states plainly. “Justin’s production career has been as varied as our songwriting, working with The Ravonettes, M83, Paramore and so on. We like to jump around a lot and he seemed like the perfect person to facilitate that kind of… madness a little bit.” How does the group tell when a song is ready to record? “Our process as a band is that we always feel like a song is reaching its natural place when the four of us have a really good stab at playing it together. It’s almost the electric equivalent of the campfire test, to see if stands up among us all.”
For a band whose output is tinged with political rage to some extent, questions linger over whether Visions of a Life would address the harshly divided landscape around them; Brexit, Trump, May and the DUP to name a few. Oddie is hesitant however to say the album is a direct reaction; less confrontational, more confessional seems to be the vibe.
“Ellie (Rowsell, frontwoman) write’s the lion’s share of lyrics so I’d be reluctant to speak completely on her behalf,” he demurs. “I think that the political culture and climate now is more an emotional undercurrent than something overt. You can’t help the society you live in influence the songs you write; that’s a foregone conclusion. But I would say it is a very personal record rather than a response.”
2017 has been a relatively under-the-radar year with the group, barring an appearance on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack (“Bizzare!” Oddie exclaims) and a warm-up tour across America. But with their new album arriving imminently, they are gearing up for a late autumn tour that takes in Alexandra Palace and Leeds’s O2 Academy – a show that will be “bigger, better, faster, louder”, he promises. Are the upper echelons of major festival line-ups the next step?
“Yes,” Oddie puts bluntly, before laughing. “That’s the simple answer. Completely. We’ve never been afraid to say that we want to headline festivals. We want to be that band for sure. Our fingers are crossed that we’ll keep on going that way and get there sooner rather the later.” If their latest long-player incites the same reactions of their first, it seems a safe bet to believe that Wolf Alice will topping the bills before the decade is out.
Visions Of A Life is released on September 29. Wolf Alice play at O2 Academy Leeds on November 18. wolfalice.co.uk