Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell says the internet makes you learn a lot about yourself
There’s a fair case to suggest that 2021 may as well have been called “the year of Wolf Alice.” Returning with their first new music since 2017’s Visions Of A Life, the British indie-rock act’s third album, Blue Weekend, proved to be their most eclectic and free-flowing release to date. Although it takes monumental creative risks — the sugary punk jam “Play The Greatest Hits” and the glimmering jazz waltz of “Delicious Things” are oceans apart, sonically — their strategy more than paid off, earning the album a slew of five-star reviews from critics and fans alike.
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Since Blue Weekend’s release, the band’s calendar has slowly filled up after COVID-19 restrictions were fully relaxed in their native U.K. in July, and live music was finally permitted to return on both sides of the Atlantic. Kicking off with their first-ever festival headline slot in their home country, and wrapping up their year with their current U.S. headline tour, the band have thrown themselves back into quote-unquote normal firing on all cylinders (though not without some discomfort).
When you listen back to Blue Weekend, how does it feel six months on from its release? Do you listen to it and think there are things you could have done differently?
ELLIE ROWSELL: In all honesty, I’ve not really listened to it because I’m in the midst of touring it. I think if I was listening to it, as well as playing every night, I’d probably drive myself insane. I think I need a little more hindsight to listen to it again, in its entirety. I’m still fully immersed in the world of it right now, so I just won’t listen to it for a while. But the last time I listened to it, I think, was probably when we released it, and I listened to it almost with new ears because I knew other people were listening to it.
And now, I didn’t feel like I would change much, which is a great thing. I think later down the line, there probably would be things I would do differently, but I really feel I had enough time to get to a place that I have felt satisfied with. There’s always things you could do more, but you just have to stop at some point with all creative things, really. You’ve just got to stop. Otherwise, [the creative process] can be endless.
Aside from putting the album out, what are the other highlights of your 2021?
I really enjoyed the shows we’ve played. In particular, I think the first show we played was in July, which was a warm-up show for Latitude [a U.K. music festival]. It was in Bournemouth [on the south coast of England], and it was maybe a 700-capacity room. I felt like the moment before we went onstage, feeling the anticipation of hearing the crowd and standing behind the curtain with the band and the crew, it was just a really unparalleled feeling after so long of not having that, and it was a really brilliant, really lovely moment for me.
I have actually no sense of time anymore, I can’t think what I’ve been up to this year. The line between this year and the last is very blurred to me. The pandemic has really warped our sense of time. I always feel like that because the nature of what we do involves doing the same thing all the time. But obviously, it’s a bit different. So it becomes a bit confusing when we think back to when everything was, and also my brain is fried. But I think everyone’s had a bit of a weird sense of time recently.
On that subject, how have you found adjusting back into the gigging life after being away for so long?
At first, I think I found it OK, but I just was on automatic. I was like, “This is so weird. It doesn’t even feel real.” So I just got on with it, really. Then our second show was headlining Latitude, which scored me a fairly big U.K. festival, and I don’t know how I did that, to be honest, because now I feel like I’m really nervous [before going onstage]. I think with anything, if you take time off, you need to ease yourself back in. I wasn’t freaking out, but I was like, “How do I get back into this? Who am I onstage?”
It was unfamiliar for us to be at home and have your career be so digitally-based. If you can’t go to different countries and play shows for your fans, then how do you connect with them? You do need the internet, but if that’s not something that you care much for, then navigating it is quite weird, and online, different things are [more] important than being onstage. It’s not always bad, but it’s not always good. It makes you think a lot about yourself.
When you’re playing shows, you’re very present, and being an artist online, you’re not very present — you’re forward-thinking, or you’re thinking back. It’s a very different thing, and it’s not one I had given much thought to. I don’t think it’s very healthy. But now I’m in America. I’m in the groove of things, and I feel a lot more confident. Things sound good. The audiences are very good. I feel great. I’m really enjoying it, and I’ve got a renewed sense of what it is that I’m doing and how fun it is. I’m older now. [I’m] doing it as a different person in many ways, and it’s fresh and exciting.
In what other ways do you feel you have changed and grown over the past year?
It’s hard to know, but I feel I would have changed and grown anyway, regardless of the pandemic. I’m about to enter my 30s, which is [a] transitional age anyway. I feel different than pre-pandemic, but I probably would feel different anyway. I couldn’t tell you how I’ve changed. Ask my friends, maybe!
Do you feel like there were any disappointments or mistakes?
Not really. Obviously, there are things that you look back [on], and you’re like, “Whoa, I probably should have done this or that,” but no. In the grand scheme of things, I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved, what we’ve done, how we’ve gone about it. I don’t know what I would have done differently, really, other than tiny, minuscule things, which I don’t regret. I’m learning all the time.
On that subject, what do you think is the most significant thing that you have learned?
It’s been a journey. [I have learned] to be brave and to listen to yourself and trust yourself but to know that, at the same time, you’re not always right, so listen to other people. Balance and compromise is a consistent thing I’m being taught. I’m also telling other people the same thing. It’s about practicing and preaching. But I think it always comes down to that, really. You can’t do this alone, but also, [you need to] trust yourself and have faith in yourself. It’s [a] constant cycle of forgetting that and remembering it again.
On Blue Weekend, your lyrics seemed bolder and more defiant than ever. You’ve also had things to say this year about the gender imbalance on U.K. festival lineups. Do you feel like you’ve been more outspoken this year than in others?
I actually think that I’m much less outspoken than I’ve ever been before. I don’t really feel the need to talk about things unless I can add something to this conversation at the moment. [I] will offer my support for things that need it, but I’m not very good at putting my thoughts into something coherent. I could never be a politician or anything. It’s a tough thing.
If anything, I was [more outspoken] a few years ago because some things used to surprise me that people weren’t talking about, and then I feel like it’s a good thing to speak about what nobody else is speaking about. Then you can add something. I’m not afraid to if I feel like I have something to say, but [when you’re saying things] online, stuff gets weird when you’re stuck at home. You have to be careful with it. I don’t really see myself as an outspoken person at all, really.
If you could go back and talk to your 2020 self, what would you tell past Ellie to help her navigate the year?
I felt really blessed because my 2020 wasn’t fully bad, per se, but I didn’t lose my job, and I had something to focus on, which was building and creating and then releasing Blue Weekend. So, that was my savior. That said, I don’t have enough hindsight to look back and wonder if all my stresses were put on that. I don’t think I would change anything, but I’d tell myself to chill out a bit. Maybe say to myself, “Stop comparing what you’re doing to what other people are doing because you’ve just got to get through this, and everyone’s going to be doing [that] in different ways.”
Looking forward to the new year, what do you want your 2022 to look like?
I think I’d like to go to the places that we’ve neglected, whether that’s because of the pandemic or because they’re just not often on the touring circuit. I’d like to be more free in the way that I write music, not putting so much pressure on myself to make the best thing I can make, but rather make something with more emphasis on the process of making it more enjoyable for myself rather than extremely stressful. I’d like to collaborate with other people and experiment with the way in which I work and just have fun with things rather than thinking it always has to be so serious.
This interview appeared in issue 401 (the AP Yearbook), available here.