This story is part of Dialing Up, a series where the Preen staff gets cozy and comfortable with your fave people.
One of our favorite lines from Wolf Alice’s latest single “Smile” goes like this: “Don’t call me mad, there’s a difference; I’m angry / And your choice to call me cute has offended me / I have power, there are people who depend on me.”
Today, Mercury Prize-winning British rock band Wolf Alice premiered the music video for “Smile.” Electric and visceral, vocalist slash guitarist Ellie Rowsell says that the track is “one of the songs we wrote thinking that we would play it live.”
“I miss that feeling of singing on stage. It’s like screaming into a pillow or something—you can get away with being more nasty. There’s a whole other part of me missing,” she adds.
The track is part of their upcoming album “Blue Weekend,” set for release this June.
“Blue is a nice color, but it also means sad. And I often think the weekend is so fun, but lots of drama takes place then so sometimes it’s the catalyst for your downfall,” Rowsell told NME, explaining the choice. So should fans prepare to cry-dance when it drops? Will it have the same level of angst as “Visions of a Life?”
We sat down with Rowsell and bassist Theo Ellis to talk about the band’s new era, inclusivity in the Grammys and even their fave song in the past year—y’know, the usual stuff that people talk about when they’re catching up with each other.
The songs on “Visions of a Life” took shape while you were on the road. How different was the process for “Blue Weekend?”
Ellie: Yeah. That was going to affect the themes. I think a lot of “Visions of a Life” was [about] trying to manage life whilst touring while this was [about] trying to manage life after touring—but not drastically. I think when you’re writing in between tours, you kind of realize that [you’ve] got all these songs. Whereas when you’re supposed to be taking time off to write specifically, it’s a bit more pressurized. [You start thinking,] “Oh no, I’m not going to have any songs.” It’s a bit daunting [but] it turned out all right.
Would you say that this new era offers a more mature sound or perspective?
Ellie: I don’t know if it’s for us to say. But I hope so, in a way. Having more time and experience, you just go over your work a little bit more with a fine-toothed comb. It allows you to mature a bit.
The last track that was played in the listening party, “How Can I Make It OK?,” was a complete serotonin boost. What was the inspiration behind it?
Ellie: I didn’t realize it until I listened to it when it was finished. I’ve been listening to pop music like Christine and the Queens and I think she must have subconsciously influenced me a little bit. There are so many backing vocals in [her songs], which I really like.
When we were playing it in our rehearsal room, we felt quite joyous. So we wanted to capture that feeling in the studio, especially since we’ve got a lot of songs that are a bit down, or a little bit sad. We wanted to hold on to any feeling that was positive.
This question’s from my friend Jamie Ogalesco of punk band Catpuke. How do you know when a song is finished so you don’t risk overdoing it?
Theo: Great [band] name! It’s really difficult, to be honest. It changes all the time. In terms of the creative process and the actual songwriting, you feel like you’ve said what you wanted to say in so many words or so many chords. You feel like it [has] the right emotion.
I remember when we were a bit younger, going into these beautiful studios with so many things to explore, we would mess around with different ideas. Going down the rabbit hole took us away from what was best for a song. I think it’s a skill that you get better at with time, like most things.
Ellie: If you’re working on a song every day and you keep listening to it, you can’t see the wood from the trees. You need to go away from it for a few days or weeks.
Theo: The only time when we know that a song is done is… literally, sometimes it’s when we’ve run out of time. When the four of us think that we love it, we put a little padlock on it. But I think we’re not the best at that.
The Grammys talked a lot about inclusivity this year but a number of people online weren’t satisfied. What do you think are the next steps that need to be taken?
Ellie: It was better than in previous years, especially in the rock category. [In the past, the nominees were] a lot of older bands and [the nominations as a whole was] very male-centric. With some award ceremonies, [as a young band you wonder whether you’re] allowed to enter but you actually are, [it’s just] a bit difficult. Maybe the teams behind the ceremonies could open it up a bit more for bands that don’t have as much media [following.] Hopefully, it just gets better and better.
Theo: It was better but, I think, there’s [been a bigger demand for] representation and we want results quickly. Like Ellie said, shining light more on artists that are upcoming I think is the fundamental purpose of awards. It would be better than relying on established artists to kind of boast their career, which [turns it into a] business rather than a celebration of promising [talents]. Increased diversity in every aspect of the music industry, from the performances to the people working behind the scenes, [has] a long way to go.
Any plans to connect more with your Filipino fans?
Theo: We don’t have any plans set in stone but as we get closer to the album coming out in June, we’re going to try and figure out how we’re going to connect with everyone. We’ve got a lot of music videos coming out, so maybe we can talk about it with them and have a watch-along.
Any songs on your playlists that your fans might not expect?
Theo: I don’t have any guilty pleasures anymore. I’m too old for that. I’m proud of all the things I like.
Ellie: Yeah. It’s only when I listen to myself [that I feel embarrassed]. [Laughs] It’s like my nightmare to be listening to myself. [Laughs]
If there are no guilty pleasures, who was your favorite artist in 2020? What’s a track that represented the year?
Theo: A really good album was the Haim album (“Women in Music Pt. III”). “Gasoline” was spectacular.
Ellie: I don’t think it represented the year but it was a nice escape from the year.
Theo: Yeah, something terrible probably represented it. [Or maybe,] the sea shanty tune.
Ellie: I think there was a coronavirus theme song that [had] me like, [nods appreciatively but reluctantly].
In a word, how would you describe your new album?
Theo: Hopeful. I don’t know if it [reflects] the album but I’d like everyone to [feel] hopeful while listening to it.