Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell Talks Screaming and Songwriting
It’s natural for those of us who grew up in the '90s to look back on that with fondness, especially when it comes to rock music. That's why we love Wolf Alice. Ever since their harmonious debut track, “Leaving You,” hit our eardrums in 2012, and EPs like Blush and Creature Songs fulfilled that initial promise, we’ve continued to champion the London four-piece as the next big breakout band.
Now, after finely tuning their sound and recalibrating their modernized take on '90s alt-rock, singer Ellie Rowsell and Joff Oddie—who began as a folk duo in 2010—along with Joel Amey and Theo Ellis (who were added in 2012), have finally dropped their first full-length album, My Love is Cool, and it's great. The record sews together past EP pop gems like “Bros” and the gender-bending rock track “She,” along with a heavy mix of electro, shoegaze, and screeching guitar wails that encapsulate both their musical influences and unique approach to songwriting.
We caught up with Roswell in May after Wolf Alice’s sold-out show at L.A,’s Roxy Theater to learn the science of screaming, writing songs in vans, and the art of the hidden track.
You’ve mentioned that before 14, you were listening to a lot of pop music. What influences inspired you to start listening to rock?
I think it was going to a big school, that kind of helped. But I guess it was more 12 or 13—whatever age it is you start going to secondary school—when I was exposed to different people and other kinds of music. I had a friend who had a big sister and she was kind of going through an indie stage where she was wearing Converse and shag pants and listening to the Moldy Peaches, so we were listening to a lot of the music she was listening to.
When did you start playing guitar and playing in bands?
I don’t really remember. My dad had an acoustic guitar, and I remember I was like 12 when I started learning to play chords. Then, I tried to be in a band when I was in school, albeit very briefly, where I wrote a few songs and went into a rehearsal room maybe once or twice with a few other girls, but I was really the only one interested in playing drums or electric guitar. I went to an all-girls school where most people played the piano or the violin, so I didn't really know anyone who wanted to be in a band. It was only when I was a bit older, like 15 or 16, when people seemed to want to play in a rock band.
Courtney Love said that the first time she knew she could scream, she felt liberated. Considering we get to hear you scream on the new album on songs like “You’re a Germ,” do you remember that moment when you realized you could scream and how that felt?
When we first started as a band, we were still playing the same songs, but I guess I became more comfortable on stage over time, and it is a liberating thing for me. It’s quite a recent thing for me, as well. But you just play so many shows that you’re willing to do new things and experiment. When you’re more comfortable than you used to be, something like screaming comes a lot easier. Maybe before, I would’ve been a bit scared to do so, but sometimes you need to spice things up for yourself a little bit.
How do you view your evolution as a band, and also as a musician, these past five years?
I still feel the same, but I think your songs change a lot if you change how you write them, in terms of the environment. I’ve always wrote, and it’s still kind of the same way, in my bedroom. The same bedroom as when I first started Wolf Alice. I don’t feel like things have changed too much, but the next batch of writing we’ll do on the next album will be a really different process. So I think we’ve evolved, but it’s been a natural progression from one album to the next. I still feel like everything is made up of the same DNA.
Is environment an important aspect for you in terms of songwriting?
I think so. If you’re always on the road and you’re writing from hotel rooms, or in a van, the songs are just going to be different. You have to work with what you have.
How about your evolution as a songwriter?
I used to feel that everything had to be perfect. When you first play with somebody, you have a natural moment of emotion; that’s something you can’t always replicate when you go into a studio and record something proper. I always felt like I had to re-record songs and make them proper. But I shouldn’t have to do that because the proper one is whatever feels the best. There’s a charm to writing without too much thought in the moment. So, I feel like I’ve gone a few steps back because now. I like writing whatever comes out first in the moment without thinking too much about it.
Being that you’ve been a band for about five years, was there a reason why you took your time releasing a full-length album?
People always ask us this, and to that I can say that I don’t really know what the norm is for putting out an LP. I think people tend to think that as a band, we’ve been together for five years, but it was five years ago that I first performed in front of an audience on my own or with Joff, with just an acoustic guitar. Eventually we went under the name Wolf Alice, and it wasn’t really the same band. I guess it just depends on where you consider your career to have started. This only became a full-time thing when we got a record deal. That was when we had time to devote to writing songs and going into the studio and gathering a decent amount of songs. Before that, it was quite hard to consider ourselves a band that was able to make an album, because we didn't want to make a lo-fi garage album or make a bedroom-rock album. There’s no proper way. But going into the studio with someone’s help, I think, is a pretty good way to make an album.
There’s a mix of different styles you incorporate into this album. Was this your intention?
Definitely. I think if all the songs sounded the same, it would be boring. I like albums that surprise you along the way because it keeps your attention. If we were sad all the time, then maybe the album wouldn’t sound the same, but we go through different moods and different walks of life; it seems only natural that the songs would tap into those different moods. You get inspired by so many things and so many bands, it makes sense that you would sew them into your music.
I love that you included a hidden track at the end. I feel like that was a very '90s thing of you to do.
Growing up and listening to albums, I always liked the secret tracks. I always thought it was a cool thing when I was younger. You think you’re the only person so far who's discovered it. I just thought it was also a cool idea because we have a lot of songs that are short, and it seemed like an appropriate thing to include.
I also discovered you have a fanzine online that you recently put out. What’s included?
There’s lyrics to our songs—because there’s lots of [inaccurate] lyrics floating around—guitar parts so people can learn to play the songs. I also do one of the classic fanzine things like posting playlists from different bands, and photos. I always like to take a camera on tour and take pictures that people can see of us. I’m hoping to make it into a real thing that you can actually get your hands on; something physical. I’m also thinking of including other things that don’t have to do with music, like people I admire. But one step at a time, right?