MUSIC

Wolf Alice overcome pressure cooker to deliver inspired Blue Weekend

RENEWED FOCUS: English rock band Wolf Alice are, from left, Joel Amey (drums), Theo Ellis (bass), Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar) and Joff Oddie (lead guitar).
RENEWED FOCUS: English rock band Wolf Alice are, from left, Joel Amey (drums), Theo Ellis (bass), Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar) and Joff Oddie (lead guitar).

ALBUM three is notoriously difficult for successful bands. Just ask Noel Gallagher, who more than 20 years later hates Oasis' 1997 album Be Here Now, which is often blamed for killing Britpop.

Then there's The Strokes' First Impressions Of Earth (2006) which ended their run as the so-called saviours of rock.

Unlike the free-spirited debut album and it's follow-up, expectations are heightened for record No.3 from fans, the label, and most importantly, the artist themselves.

That was the experience for English rock four-piece Wolf Alice during the making of Blue Weekend.

After the breakout success of their debut My Love Is Cool (2015) and the Mercury Prize-winning sophomore release Visions Of A Life (2017), Wolf Alice rose to the top echelon of UK bands.

Fronted by the charismatic Ellie Rowsell, the London band were left holding a dim candle for their nation's famed rock traditions with a cacophony of grunge, shoegaze and dream pop, amidst a deluge of grime.

In 2019 Wolf Alice - which also features Joel Amey (drums), Joff Oddie (guitar) and Theo Ellis (bass) - reconvened in a Somerset Airbnb after a break from several years of heavy touring.

Before the Somerset trip Rowsell doubted whether she had songs worth pursuing. But across that week playing in an old church with her bandmates the songs began to present themselves.

"It was a pivotal moment," Rowsell says, her voice still thick with sleep after climbing out of bed. "That pressure we were talking about and the importance of the third album for bands had gotten to me and had gotten to everyone else as well.

Wolf Alice - Smile

"We were nervously sending each other music because it was like, 'if this song isn't better than the best song that we've ever put out, then what is the point?' Stupidly getting in our head about things.

"Going to Somerset was a pivotal moment because we came together and remembered what it was to be in this band and it wasn't because we had to write songs, it was because we wanted to write songs because it was fun and we had a laugh with each other."

Once the songs were ready to record Wolf Alice crossed the English Channel and decamped in a residential studio in Belgium with high-profile producer Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons).

The COVID-19 pandemic hit shortly after and the band opted to continue working locked down in Belgium for three months. Rowsell describes the experience as intense, but beneficial.

"We could go over them [the songs] with a fine-tooth comb, so we felt confident when we eventually decided it was finished," she says. "We weren't in a rush, so you think 'this song sounds good, but it would be better if we did this'.

"We were actually afforded the time to do that. We've never really had that. I do think it worked in our benefit, but it did make the process more difficult as it's hard to know when to stop."

Blue Weekend is a refinement of the Wolf Alice sound and Rowsell's ability to effortlessly range from fragility to seething rage to cocksure cool.

First single The Last Man On Earth begins as a gentle piano ballad before breaking open with swelling strings, while Smile is a frenzied blast of rock featuring Rowsell's most charismatic vocal performance.

DRIVEN: Wolf Alice recorded Blue Weekend during lockdown in Belgium.

DRIVEN: Wolf Alice recorded Blue Weekend during lockdown in Belgium.

When Wolf Alice first broke onto the scene Rowsell presented as a hesitant figure. Smile is indicative of her ever-growing swagger as the 28-year-old sings, "I am what I am and I'm good at it/ And you don't like me, well that isn't f--king relevant."

Rowsell has also become bolder in her public persona. Earlier this year she made headlines when she called out US shock-rocker Marilyn Manson for allegedly sticking a video camera up her skirt at a music festival several years ago.

More allegations of sexual abuse and harassment from other women have since been made against Manson.

Rowsell was trolled on social media by Manson fans following the allegation, but she is unfazed.

"I think it's a really nuanced conversation and you have to take it case by case," she says. "It's not always the right thing to do [to publicly call out that behaviour].

"In my case it was, but you need to treat each experience as it's own thing and think about what's the right thing to do about it.

"If you feel like you're being undermined or disrespected based on who you are, you shouldn't sweep it under the carpet."

Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend is released on Friday.

This story Wolf Alice rediscover hunger and fun on Blue Weekend first appeared on Newcastle Herald.