With new album Visions of a Life, Wolf Alice have made a record that is impossible to ignore, while getting even better in the process.
Wolf Alice know how to make a mark. With their debut album, My Love is Cool released in 2015, Ellie Rowsell, Theo Ellis, Joel Amey, and Joff Oddie amassed a monstrous following and received extensive critical acclaim – the album was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, “Moaning Lisa Smile” received a Grammy nod, and “Bros” was nominated for the Ivor Novello best song award. It seemed like everyone was covered in the golden glitter that is sprinkled across their debut album cover and which their fans traditionally apply to their faces at their shows. After an intense touring period, the band retreated to write their sophomore record. Less than a year after they declared the end of My Love is Cool’s touring cycle, they returned with “Yuk Foo,” a song that punches you in the gut with its bold, punk-leaning guitars and screams. Not too long after that, they announced Visions of a Life, to be released on September 29th via Dirty Hit Records.
Visions of a Life could not be more appropriately titled for, like life itself, it is beautiful, enchanting, haunting, and unexpected. It takes you from love in “Don’t Delete the Kisses” to grief in “Heavenward” and “St. Purple & Green”, celebrates friendship in “Beautifully Unconventional” and ponders upon the unknown in “Sky Musings”. It barks with frustration in “Yuk Foo”, where Rowsell sings “Deplore me? I don’t give a shit”, and is acutely self-aware in title track “Visions of a Life”, where she declares: “Stay as you are, everybody likes you, everybody cares”. There are explosive highs and trance-like, overwhelming lows. Visions of a Life is a heightened depiction human life, and you’re forced to feel the album and its experiences on your own skin, like these were your stories to tell. Wolf Alice have made an album that is impossible to ignore, and somehow have gotten even better in the process.
Wolf Alice returned to their fans before they could barely have a taste of what Visions of a Life would sound like – the band went on tour in North America and the UK playing sold out, small venues and choosing local, unsigned bands to open for them each night, as well as playing a surprise set Reading and Leeds Festival. Now, they’re preparing for the album release and the huge UK and European tours they’re going to embark on this fall, before returning to North America at the end of the year. Atwood Magazine got a chance to speak about Visions of a Life to frontwoman Ellie Rowsell after Wolf Alice returned from their North American tour in the summer, read what she had to say below and make sure to see Wolf Alice live soon.
A CONVERSATION WITH WOLF ALICE
Atwood Magazine: You just finished a tour in America and are about to go on two UK tours, a European one, and back to America at the end of the year. That’s a lot of touring! What do you think your live show adds to the whole Wolf Alice experience? And what’s your favourite thing about going on the road?
Ellie Rowsell: I think we’ve got quite a good range of dynamic to our songs and that comes through in our live show, it’s not all one of the same thing. If someone’s sitting down and watching they’ll have just as much of a good time as someone who’s in front watching too. My favourite thing about touring is playing the shows, it’s fun to watch people enjoy something that you’ve enjoyed making.
For My Love is Cool you had this abstract kind of photograph for the artwork. And in Visions of a Life the artwork is a photograph of your aunt. How did you decide upon each of these?
Ellie Rowsell: We’ve never really made any artwork, we’ve always just waited until we’ve seen something that we liked for both albums. We liked the picture for Visions of a Life because we thought it fit the name. You look at the picture and you see the girl in her dress dancing around the skull, she has some kind of vision, imagining up some kind of game or scenario in her head. It makes you think. I think I spent a lot of time when I was a kid imagining another kind of life for myself, playing stories out in my head, it resonates with me.
You finish My Love is Cool with “The Wonderwhy,” a track which debates the existence of a higher being and heaven and hell. Now you open Visions of a Life with a track called “Heavenward,” a celebration of a friend of yours who passed. Has there been a change in your beliefs?
Ellie Rowsell: I don’t really believe in heaven or hell or god or whatever, I don’t know what I believe in. (pause) Sorry?
I didn’t say anything…
Ellie Rowsell: Oh, I thought I heard some weird noise. That’s probably god wasn’t it, that’s probably a sign. I think I’m just interested in things that are less tangible and less easy to explain. With any kind of creative form, it’s just nice to get your thoughts down. I don’t really know, the themes and stuff on the albums, they’re all subconscious, it takes someone else to spot them for me.
Both “Bros,” from your debut, and “Beautifully Unconventional” on Visions of a Life are about you celebrating a friend. Personally, I think friendship is the most special thing in the world and it feels good to see it celebrated in songs. Are you talking about the same person? How do you compare these two songs, and both depictions of friendship?
Ellie Rowsell: No, I’m not talking about the same person. I don’t know how to compare, they’re two different people and songs. I just look towards people that I know, friends and stuff, to give me inspiration when I don’t have anything self-involved to get out. If you’ve got a piece of music and you want to write a song, but you’ve used up all your experience and feelings for other songs, there’s always people that you can write about – how you feel about them or just explain them in a kind of romantic, not romantic in lovely but storytelling, kind of way. You’ve always got something to talk about if you know any kind of interesting people.
Could you tell me more about “Sky Musings”? I think it’s one of my favourite songs on the album, it’s so eerie and haunting and a little weird.
Ellie Rowsell: I’d been taking a lot of flights and doing a lot of travelling, and every time I was going on a plane I just kept having really, I don’t know how you call it, but deep thoughts and kind of mini existential crises. Apparently it’s quite common, something to do with being neither here nor there, and you’re on a plane and your life being in the hands of someone else. I just wrote a stream of consciousness to music about those thoughts and feelings that I was having on those flights. It is quite dark but it’s also slightly humourous.
“St. Purple & Green” is a song that takes you completely by surprise - when it starts you think you know where the song is going but all of a sudden we end up somewhere very different to where we thought we’d be. What’s the story behind the song?
Ellie Rowsell: The song is about my grandma, she was really eccentric and cool and she got dementia and it’s about that process. She was quite a fantastical person, interesting, supernatural, and that comes through in the song – it’s kind of weird and fantastical, if you know what I mean. It allowed me to merge the choir too. That’s why it goes that way.
Why did you choose Visions of a Life to be the title of the album? How do you feel that song represents the album as a whole?
Ellie Rowsell: It was more that we just liked the line, we didn’t actually want to have a title track. But I guess that that song’s kind of like, it’s a running theme in all our songs really, thinking about life and feeling a little bit uncomfortable all the time. Because the song had so many ups and downs already, it is like life itself.
Space and sky seem very present in your album - “Planet Hunter,” “Space & Time,” and “Sky Musings” - why do you think that is?
Ellie Rowsell: I think because these are things that give you a bit of anxiety.
Something which I love about the album is how many different ways we get to hear your voice. At times it’s layered and hypnotic, at times you scream, at times you speak, at a point it’s a choir. What made you want to experiment so much vocally?
Ellie Rowsell: I think because I didn’t really do it that much in the last album, mainly because we weren’t afforded that much time, but we’ve also become much more confident now and better at our instruments and singing and stuff. So that’s why. It keeps it a bit more interesting and a bit more fresh as well. The voice is an instrument as well, so you can adapt.
You’ve said the album is made of extreme highs and extreme lows, moments which defined your last two years. Where do you think we can see the highest and lowest points reflected best in the album?
Ellie Rowsell: I don’t know because they’re different types of highs and lows. Some of them are lows that are manifestations of my mind, and some are lows because they’re sad things that have actually happened so it’s quite hard to pinpoint. And some of the highs, like I was saying before, highs that aren’t actually highs but you make them that way and some are much more obvious highs. I don’t know!
Thematically, I feel like My Love is Cool was a lot about your inner thoughts and feelings, like a look into your mind, while Visions of a Life seems to be about people around you and your relationships with them. Almost like we’ve moved on from a reflection of your inside self to a reflection of your outside self. Did you intend to do that?
Ellie Rowsell: It just happened and I think it’s because My Love is Cool was written in my late teens and earlier 20s and that’s the point in life where you’re brooding and completely inside your head and figuring things out, turning into an adult and what that means and how that feels. Visions of a Life was when I was an adult – in my early to mid 20s – I’m trying to figure out, instead of what it feels like to turn into an adult, find my feet as an adult. I had much more life experience so it was my reactions to that rather than my reactions to just being a miserable teenager.
I went to your show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn recently, and during the gig you said you were a bit nervous performing the new songs, you compared it to introducing your boyfriend to your parents. I love the comparison because it’s like you’re showing important people something or someone you care deeply for and are proud of. What about this album are you the most proud of?
Ellie Rowsell: I don’t know what we’re most proud of. I think we’re much more bolder in our choices and stuff and we really made this album for ourselves, not thinking about what was going to make us more successful. You always think what’s going to make each song better, and don’t think too much about anything else really. I think we support each other in our decisions in experiment and stuff, and being around this support and making these kinds of choices hopefully has paid off because everyone in our team and all our band really like this album and hopefully show that that kind of method of work, works.
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