Ahead of their gig at The Ritz in Manchester, and after a brief tour of the backstage area looking for a place quiet enough to do an interview, Silent Radio’s Adam Smith spoke to Wolf Alice bassist Theo Ellis and Drummer Joel Amey in the dressing room being shared by support bands Crows and The Magic Gang while Crows were on the stage sound checking.

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Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice

You’ve just been in America for a month?

Theo: We’ve just come back.

Joel: It was three weeks travelling around and then one week at South by Southwest.

Were you playing for the whole three weeks?

Theo: Yeah, nearly every day.

Joel: A couple of times we had to drive for nearly two days, because you’ve got to get from Chicago to Seattle or something.  Which is this incredible two day drive through Yellowstone National Park that’s just mind blowing and then you go and play in a sweaty club later on.  It’s kinda weird.  I think that was the biggest pinch-me moment so far, us getting out there and doing “the states”.  That’s every English kid who’s in a band’s dream.

So tonight is your third gig back in the UK?

Joel: Yeah, we had a day off here in Manchester yesterday actually, which was weird.  Two days and then a day off isn’t really my vibe but it was really fun.  We’ve actually played here before at The Ritz with Swim Deep and it’s one of our favourite venues in the country.  So it’s a pleasure to be and play here.

Have you actually been home yet?

Joel: I’ve been home for a couple of hours.  We flew in, got in about 7AM, I went home to my mum’s house and went to sleep until 5PM.  I woke up, my mum had washed all my clothes, then I got on a train to London, stayed over in London and we  drove off in the morning.  It’s pretty intense. We’re pretty much on tour 24/7.

Theo: We’ve got a week off for rehearsing all our new album material we’ve got to play. Then we go back to America for a month, then we come back and do festival season and we’ll hopefully have another UK tour.  It sounds like I’m being a miser when actually this is an absolute dream come true.  It’s the funnest thing in the world, so I don’t care.  Oh I’m not in Finchley central, what a fucking shame.

Do you ever miss home?

Theo: Yeah I miss my mum and my girlfriend, a bit.  Of course you get homesick and tired and some days I want to punch him in the face.

Joel: Yeah, sometimes you just really want to hurt each other.

Have you deliberately kept up momentum, because the album’s coming out?

Theo: The album’s out this year and we’re really proud of it so we want to work for the album.  Working towards hopefully more people hearing it.  You know, it’s all about selling records and chart positions.

(both laugh)

Theo:It’s not, it’s got nothing to do with it.  It’s just exciting, we want to promote this record as much as we can.

Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice

It could happen though.

Joel: It fucking better!

(both laugh)

Do the charts come into your thoughts at all?

Theo: It crosses your mind.  The idea of being in the charts is weird and its never been an influential aspect in our lives.  It very rarely comes up in conversation.

Joel: I’d like to be number one because it’d make me laugh, rather than it being “dream achieved”.

I assume given your schedule you are doing this full-time now?

Theo: Yes

Joel: Work wondered where I’ve gone, they keep ringing me.

How long have you been doing it full-time?

Joel: We signed our record deal January last year.  That was when we managed to quit our jobs and start to take it more seriously.  Beforehand we were quite staunchly DIY.  All the money from gigs went to renting the van for the next gig and recording, like what most bands in the UK do.  We didn’t produce ourselves at home on the computer, we went into studios for a more polished sound and we had to pay for those.  We’re very lucky that a studio called Dean Street in Soho would always give us really cheap days.  They were completely instrumental in the beginning of our band and the recordings of ‘Bros’ and ‘Fluffy’ and the Blush EP.  We did those on shoestring budgets thanks to those guys.  After we got signed up we were able to go to ICP in Brussels and do a more polished recording with Catherine Marks and then you get to start thinking about who you want to do the album with.  It seemed like it took a long time, but we got it done before Christmas.

How long was the whole process?

Joel: About 7 weeks recording.  We went in with 18 songs, at one point we were spitting the idea around that we were going to do a double album as our first album, but we just decided to spend more time on each track and really sonically explore things.

Did you do it a track at a time?

Theo: We were flipping between tracks.  If you’re excited about a track than you centralise on that.  What we realised with Mike, who produced the album, is that one-take pieces of audio where it’s a rhythmic thing or a guitar part, if it’s uncomped and energetic then it’s probably going to give better life to the song.

Joel: There was one time we doing the end of ‘Bros’ and we decided to switch it around and then I did the whole of ‘Lisbon’ with Theo in one take.  It’s a cool way to work.

You’ve supported loads of people, I’ve got a list here: alt-J, Manics, The 1975, The Cribs, Tribes, Peace, Swim Deep do you get a lot of offers?

Theo: We actually didn’t for a while and then we suddenly had and did do quite a lot of support slots.  It was one of the most important things for our band, because it’s informed who we are now, how we play and what we appreciate.

Joel: I really liked the Manic Street Preachers tour for that. They were so humble and so professional.  We played for three days and we learnt a lot.  The 1975 taught us a lot, they’ve got such a drive to be a pop band that you can apply that to someone like us.  We want nice lights and smoke machines and shit.  Even though in our heart we’re like a little primitive garagey kind of band, an element of us wanted to do big stage shows and those shows with alt-J showed us that you could do that.  We played to over 100,000 people over that month.

Theo: I can confirm that Brian May is coming on stage at Shepherd’s Bush, so get your tickets now.

Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice

I don’t even know if that’s true or not.

Theo: Neither do I, but I’m saying it.

Joel: And that’s how Wolf Alice works.  Say what comes into your head, when it comes in.

Are you getting to pick the bands that are supporting you now?

Theo: That’s always been one of the most important things to us playing live.  Taking a band you love and believe in is really great.  Crows who are on first you should 100% watch because I reckon they’re the best live band in London, in England.  The Magic Gang write incredible songs and are really fun to watch, just brilliant.  We got to take Gengahr and Superfood on our main tour and that was amazing.  So being afforded that is a privilege.

Joel: We’ve always picked our support bands.  Nobody has ever told us who we’ll have support acts.

Theo: It’s fucking sick having your mates with you on tour as well.

You won “Best Breakthrough Act” at the UK festival awards.  Do you care about that?

Joel: Yeah, totally. The guy from Fun Lovin’ Criminals gave us the award and gave us a bottle of vodka and he said, you drink this

Theo: No

Joel: Oh, I was going to tell you what he said, he said something quite funny

Theo: No, he said nothing

Joel: Then we just went to the pub and got drunk.

Theo: We left the award in the pub.  It’s in the Hawley behind the crisps.

Joel: It is behind the fucking Hula Hoops.  We have our local pub and we’ve started keeping all our awards there.  But yeah, that stuff does matter to me.  I’m not the kind of person that’s like, look at the trophy cabinet, we’re clearly the best British Breakthrough act because the thing says so, but there were so many big festivals there.  Festivals we care about and the people that run them were the ones panelling it, so for them to say something like that accolade is such an honour for us.  So we accept that with huge open arms.

The first time I saw you guys was at Glastonbury

Joel: That was fucking mental.  Ellie was crying her eyes out about two seconds before we walked onto stage.  We’ve got a really funny selfie of us trying to look like, “here we go”, Ellie was trying to smile through the tears and Joff was like (nervous sound).  I was up for it.  I’d never been to Glastonbury so I didn’t know what was going on.

Do you think playing at lots of festivals has helped grow the band?

Theo: Yeah, why not?  We love the festivals.  Love fields, lager, bands.

Joel: Festivals have taught me more than just music things over my lifetime.

Theo: How not to approach women? How not to drink? How to drink?

Joel: Just being naughty.  And then when you play them, you know the people in the crowd have got that same feeling of mischief and you have to try and channel that.  You have to be the band where everyone is like, “that was my shit today”.   That’s someone’s £200 weekend, best weekend of their life.  I think we’ve learnt from that how important it is every night, for this gig this evening it’ll be the same, you have to try and give the best night of someone’s life.

Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice

You’ve got loads more festivals coming up again this year too, you’re going over to Japan aswell.

Joel: Yeah man, which is ridiculous.  We got a text message saying we’re doing Summersonic and we lost our shit.  We were driving to Seattle at the time and I was just like, what is going on?  That’ll be amazing I think.  I think the Japanese are going to love Theo, he looks like an insane Manga character anyway.

At the other end of the spectrum, a few years ago you were playing Sofar Sounds.

Theo: We had a whole tour with it.

Joel: Nobody knew about that tour.

Theo: No, nobody knew about it because it was a secret tour.  That’s a good idea isn’t it.  A secret tour for a small band.  We’re playing, but I don’t know where.

Joel: I was with the guys from Sofar Sounds in South by Southwest, I was walking down the road and Tom who does their stuff was walking past.  Then he was like, hey do you want to come and watch Miley Cyrus? I thought yes, I do.  So I went to watch Miley Cyrus with the guy from Sofar Sounds.  She was very good, that was my highlight of the trip I think.

Do you still get out to see a lot of gigs?

Theo: Yeah all the time.

Joel: If I’m not playing a gig I’m usually at somebody else’s.

What are your favourite gigs that you’ve seen recently?

Theo: Bloody Knees smashed Old Blue Last out of the ballpark the other day.  They handed out Stellas and played Supersonic, which is pretty funny.

Joel: It was so good. That’s it really, the only gig we need to think about.

Theo: It was great, so fun. They’re joining us on the tour in Bristol too.  And Crows, every time they play.

Joel: They were playing that day as well.

Theo: Oh yeah, they were supporting, they were sick.  And you drummed for them.

Joel: Yeah, just remembered that.

Theo: So we’re drumming for other bands too

Joel: Crows are probably my favourite band at the moment.  Them and this guy called Shamir, I think he’s really cool.

Is there anyone you really like that people wouldn’t expect you to?

Theo: The 1975 is one of those bands that have been victimised by people giving them shit in the indie realm, but they actually just wanted to be a pop band.  Everyone has always been shocked when we like them.  I love them, I think they write great pop songs.

Joel: I think people will be more shocked to find we don’t like some bands they think we’ll like. I think everyone thinks we walk round listening to Hole and Elastica.

Theo: I’ve never listened to a Hole album ever.

Joel: The only song I’d ever heard by Elastica before everyone started talking about it was the Trigger Happy TV theme.  Celebrity Skin by Hole is a tune, but I’ve never heard anything else.  I sit on my arse listening to Captain Beefheart 24/7.

Were you at a gig when you decided you wanted to be a musician?

Joel: I’ve just always wanted to do it.  I don’t know why, but I can’t focus on anything other than music.  So for me there wasn’t a pivotal point, I just knew I was going to be.

At this point Crows return to their dressing room having finished sound checking. 

Ok, so last thing, Silent Radio has a radio show on a Saturday afternoon where we play the bands who are currently on tour.

Theo: You should play Crows.

That was going to be my question, who should we be playing on the radio?

Theo: Pray is the name of the song. (To Crows) Is it out to buy already?

Crows: You can get it online or you can buy it on pre-order but its not being sent out for a bit.

Theo: Alright, just listen to it then.

Joel: That’s the song you should play on the radio, Pray by Crows.

Anything else?

Theo: Nope, play it twice.

We’re on for two hours.

Theo: You could play it for two hours.

Wolf Alice are currently on tour in the UK.  Their debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’ will be released by Dirty Hit Records on 22nd June.

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Adam Smith

There is nothing I'd rather be doing with my evenings than watching excellently crafted live music. In fact, there isn't much I'd rather be doing than watching half-decent live music. Having too often seen excellent bands fail to garner the attention I believe they deserve, I'm here to spread the good word of the under-appreciated musical performer. I encourage everyone who is reading this to do the same.