A year after the release of their highly acclaimed third studio album Blue Weekend, Wolf Alice has not shown any signs of slowing down soon. In addition to opening for Harry Styles on his European tour, the London-bred band is slated to play a string of festivals this year including Lollapalooza in Sweden, Mad Cool Festival in Madrid and When We Were Young in Las Vegas.
Riding off the success of Blue Weekend, Wolf Alice recently released a companion project entitled Blue Lullaby EP, a five-track project with reimagined and stripped-back versions of beloved songs from the album. Despite their busy schedule, vocalist Ellie Rowsell found some time before their band’s soundcheck for their second show with Harry Styles in Stockholm to chat with mxdwn to discuss the new EP, her current pieces of inspiration and the band’s rather hectic past couple of weeks.
mxdwn: How is the tour going with Harry Styles?
Ellie Rowsell: Well, we’ve only done one show so far. But that show was really, really fun and everyone seems very nice. So far, so good.
mxdwn: I know you had some recent travel trouble getting out of LA. How stressful was that situation and how close were you cutting it to making it to your set at Glastonbury?
ER: Yeah, it was very stressful to be honest. We got there two hours before stage time which is, all things considered, good, but cutting it pretty fine. Especially for our crew who have to set up and all that kind of thing. But we were just lucky to have made it. And it made the whole thing more of a special memory in some ways.
mxdwn: Now that Blue Weekend has been out for over a year and has gained much critical acclaim, does the album hold more significance seeing how much praise it has gotten, or do you try not to let the success alter the way you view the project?
ER: I think seeing it being received well by anyone feels good. So in that respect, it’s going to alter something somehow. But obviously, I don’t sit there pondering that for too long.
mxdwn: In addition to releasing the album, there is also the release of the Blue Weekend film and now the Blue Lullaby EP. With these different modes to experience the original album, how do you think each enhances the listening experience for the album? Do you have a recommended version for someone listening to the album for the first time?
ER: I think the album is best listened to from start to finish, but I think some of the songs tapped into the lyrics and emotion more stripped-down a little bit. Or at least could offer some other kind of emotional response. I wouldn’t say listen to one over the other. We’ve thrown a lot of stuff at the album versions and we were interested to hear them stripped-back a bit. We really enjoyed playing them like that, so we thought other people might enjoy listening to them like that.
mxdwn: So is that how you were inspired to make the Blue Lullaby EP?
ER: Yeah, pretty much. We did a session with Blogothèque and we did it stripped-back and with a choir. It was really moving for us, and we wanted to see what other songs that we felt were our most emotional would feel like playing that similar way. It was really nice for us to go into the studio, like there’s obviously less pressure on you since you’ve already done that song in its main form. It’s a really nice way to see what it’s like to be in the studio without all the pressure.
mxdwn: What was the decision process for choosing which songs you wanted to make a “Lullaby Version” for?
ER: I think it was the ones that lyrically were a little bit more serious and a little bit more emotional. And also some of them have, like “Lipstick on a Glass” and “Feeling Myself,” a lot going on in the album versions. Some of the ideas in there were getting lost because there was so much going on, which is great for the album version when you listen to it in full. But we wanted people to hear it in a different way because there is a lot of stuff thrown into those songs. Maybe we kinda overpower the pure emotion of the lyrical content of the songs sometimes.
mxdwn: When hearing the word “Lullaby,” one might think of music to fall asleep to. But with these new versions of songs, it’s used to describe a more stripped-back version of the original tracks. Why did you decide to call them “Lullaby Versions” rather than anything else?
ER: I think because “acoustic version” doesn’t sound very romantic. There’s something more romantic about the word “Lullaby.” It’s its own project. It’s not just acoustic versions of some songs from Blue Weekend. It just felt a bit boring, “acoustic version of some songs from Blue Weekend.” It gives it a little bit of romance.
mxdwn: Would you ever perform these “Lullaby Versions” to a crowd of children?
ER: No (laughs). I don’t think they can handle it. Like you said, lullabies are supposed to soothe people to sleep. I think most lullabies, maybe they can be sung without anything else going on. Lullabies are more just one person singing someone to sleep or singing to relax someone. That’s kinda what we were going for: songs that could just be sung rather than having all these production elements to make it what it is.
mxdwn: You had a pretty hectic, but exciting past couple of weeks performing at Red Rocks with Bleachers, opening for Halsey in LA, playing Glastonbury and now supporting Harry Styles on his tour. Have you had the opportunity to fully grasp performing these massive stages?
ER: Yeah, I have. Once Glastonbury was out of the way and we were on our way to the Harry Styles tour, I was like, “Wow, this is really going to be a week that I will hold forever in the forefront of my memories.” We’re very lucky to be playing these iconic stages with these brilliant artists. It’s all a learning curve as well which is so valuable to an artist at whatever level you’re at. It’s been a really inspiring week. And stressful (laughs).
mxdwn: What are some things that you have learned this past week?
ER: Little things like being reminded of what’s important and what isn’t as important. I won’t go into it, but when you meet a lot of people who are doing the same thing as you, it serves as a reminder that each to their own when it comes to things artistically. Watching people’s shows and stuff, seeing what they do production-wise, it’s really interesting to see. I haven’t been to or played with many artists on this tour, so it will be interesting to see what kind of production values each has. Learning new things, and always reminding myself of old things as well. It’s like my brain is working for once.
mxdwn: It’s definitely nice to have a working brain.
ER: Sometimes (laughs). It’s sometimes nice to be able to switch off.
mxdwn: What upcoming shows are you looking forward to playing the most?
ER: I’m really just looking forward to doing this tour. We haven’t been on a European tour in some time now. And it’s really fun to visit all these different countries. And watching Harry’s show is quite a jubilant affair. It’s a brilliant show and very uplifting in many ways, so that’s really nice. Then we got some festivals. We’re playing a festival this Sunday in Stockholm. Some of my favorite artists are playing like Turnstile, HAIM and Lorde, and I’m really excited to watch them. I’ve got a lot of things to look forward to.
mxdwn: Hayley Williams recently gave you some very high praise in her Everything Is Emo podcast saying that she wants to sing with you. What did that feel like getting recognition from her, and are there any updates regarding a future collaboration?
ER: I was really flattered, obviously. She’s a fantastic vocalist for a start. It means a lot coming from someone like her to talk about us in that way. She’s a brilliant songwriter, brilliant performer and I’ve been a fan for a long time now. That was really, really cool actually. I haven’t met her, so for now it’s just a really lovely thing. I don’t know what it means beyond that.
mxdwn: Now that you have been playing shows, have you found new meaning in the songs being able to hear them in new contexts and hearing audiences sing the songs back to you?
ER: I think when we first started playing them live we were really surprised. It wasn’t always the most obvious songs that were going down the best. You forget that there’s no other way to tell truly what resonates with people until you play them live and people can see them live. Whether it’s live on YouTube or live in the flesh, it’s been interesting in that respect. At the start, there are some emotional songs that can be quite hard to sing, but I’ve managed. It can’t happen every time otherwise you’d be emotionally exhausted.
mxdwn: With being in a band for over 10 years now, what are some tips that help you still find that creative spark and always move forward?
ER: I’m not someone who always writes all the time. I can’t really force it like that. I know that works for some people but I think you just have to have faith that even when you’re not working or writing, something is brewing inside you. As long as you’re just watching movies, listening to podcasts, reading books, and having conversations with people, you’re not aware of what you’re taking in. And as soon as something does inspire you, make note of it. I don’t know about everyone else, but I have a rubbish memory so as soon as I have an idea or something is resonating with me, I quickly write it down on my phone because even if it feels like an epiphany or feels inspiring at that moment, you’re going to forget it. Just keep yourself an open book.
mxdwn: What are some things inspiring you currently?
ER: At the moment, I just read a book called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I really loved. It was really wholesome. I went to see Oklahoma! the musical in London and I was really inspired by that. I thought that the lights, taking away from it, surprised me that there were things that I can incorporate into my own show even though it was a musical. So, that was cool. We watched that movie Her by Spike Jonze and loved that. I loved some of the writing and loved the soundtrack by Arcade Fire. I’m a big fan of trash TV, so I often have to force myself to watch something good. When I watched that I was like, “I must stop watching Love Island and start watching good things.” But I also don’t believe that you have to watch or read acclaimed things to be inspired. I’ve got a lot out of watching, reading, or listening to so-called “trash” or guilty pleasures. You don’t know where you’ll find something inspiring.
mxdwn: Besides playing a ton of shows and festivals this year, what do you hope is next for Wolf Alice?
ER: We’ve got a lot of touring to do, to be honest. It’s quite hard to find the time to squeeze in anything else. I think looking forward, we’ve got some time off next year, so I think that will be dedicated to creating new work. And in the meantime, trying to write where and when we can. We’ve got a big back catalog of songs that were never used, so maybe try to repurpose those and see what we can do with those. I’m just trying to stay present and enjoy myself on this tour because I won’t get this time back. Don’t try to think too far into the future.
You can catch Wolf Alice on tour with Harry Styles this summer, or during their headlining US tour this fall. Also make sure to check out their Blue Lullaby EP, streaming now.