Wolf Alice have had a cracking couple of years. From the certified gold debut album to the Mercury Prize nomination to the ever-expanding glitter-coated fan base, the London quartet have cemented their position in the British indie scene. With the release of their sophomore effort Visions of a Life on the horizon, we talked to guitarist Joff Oddie about success, recording in Los Angeles, and why he’s not a fan of social media.
qmunicate: What kind of lessons did you take away from the recording and release of your first studio album, My Love Is Cool? Did any of those lessons shape or influence the new album?
Joff Oddie: Yeah, definitely. I think My Love Is Cool almost had a glass ceiling in where we were willing to take it. We love the record – we love My Love is Cool. I think there are certain moments where we held back; whether that be emotionally, or in terms of the kind of scope of where musical ideas could’ve been taken. So with this one, we were very keen to not regret anything, to not regret anything we decided not to do… and to be as brave as possible with song-writing, be as brave as possible with production. “Just don’t hold back”. That’s what we tried to do.
q: When the band started to gain traction, it often seemed as though music critics were interested in pigeon-holing you and giving you the ‘grunge’ label. How did you navigate that?
JO: It’s a natural thing, to be honest. I don’t resent anyone for going, “Oh, they’re a rock band” or whatever, because you know it’s just what human beings do, quite frankly. We just didn’t let it bother us, and didn’t let it influence our decision-making. We’re not particularly interested in sticking to one kind of sound or one kind of emotional feeling.
q: So it didn’t feel like there were any outside influences restricting you?
q: Great. Where did the title Visions of a Life come from?
JO: It’s a lyric in the song ‘Visions of a Life’ that we felt was applicable to the album as a whole. The album is kind of like twelve diary entries from the last two and half years, so the title Visions of a Life felt applicable to these twelve different visions of a period of time.
q: You recorded your second album in LA, which – as you’ve half-joked about before – might be considered a little cliché. In all seriousness, though, did being away from the UK bring anything to the table?
JO: You’re right – it is a cliché. I was worried about that. You sound like a bit of a wanker when you say “We’re going to record our second album in LA”, don’t you? The reason we went out there was because Justin [Meldal-Johnsen, producer] lives out there – he has a family, he has two young children, he’s just finished touring, and he kind of said he’s done with being away now. He said, “You can come to me, but I won’t come to you”, basically. So we said we’d come over. As to whether LA influenced the record… you know, things were written before we left, so I would regret it if I said it sounds like a West Coast LA kind of record, really.
q: You were all pretty excited to work with Justin. Why did he seem like the right fit for the album?
JO: He’s worked with a variety of different people – in different styles and different genres – effectively. He’s a great musician in his own right, and he brings a lot to the table. He’s incredibly talented on so many different levels: musically, technologically, personally. He’s a great mediator; he’s a great team player. And I think he really got what we were trying to achieve.
q: To the outside world, it seemed as though the band became very popular relatively quickly. Do you feel like progress was made fast? Do you feel like you found success at a speedy rate?
JO: Yes and no. I mean, me and Ellie [Rowsell, vocals and guitar] performed together for no-one, and then things were very slow the first year that Theo [Ellis, bass] and Joel [Amey, drums] arrived. It was after the record – after recording the record – that things really started to ramp up. It was a real slow burn into that first record, with a lot of time spent being very methodical and not rushing anything.
q: In March 2015, Wolf Alice played the Òran Mór in Glasgow, which has a capacity of only 500 people…
JO: I love the Òran Mór. Best fry-up in Scotland.
q: …and less than a year later, the band performed at the Barrowlands, which holds more than two-thousand people. That’s a pretty big jump in a short space of time, don’t you reckon?
JO: Yeah, I guess so. I feel like we played a lot of shows between those two. It was a steady burn in the beginning, and then when the album came out – like I said – there was a ramp-up. It’s difficult, because nothing feels quick on the inside. When you’re doing it every day, things are gradual. But we can’t pretend to be something like Elbow, who took ten years to make that first record, or however long it was. But it didn’t feel quick, I don’t think.
q: Speaking of venues, is there any venue you haven’t played that you’d really like to?
JO: I would really like to play the Bowery Ballroom in New York.
JO: It’s a very famous venue, and it’s supposed to be beautiful and really good. And we probably won’t play it now… But I’d love to play there. That’d be a great one.
q: Do you personally prefer being on the road or in the studio? Do you have a preference between those two?
JO: No. They’re both necessary parts of being in a band and keeping sane. I think if we did either one of those exclusively we’d go mad. It’s a beautiful balance of the two.
q: Do you think you’re striking that balance?
q: You’re the only member of Wolf Alice not on Instagram or Twitter. Is that a conscious decision you’ve made there, to stay away from social media?
JO: Yeah, it was a decision I made long before the band came together. I had a Facebook for a while when I was a little bit younger. I just think it’s all a bit toxic, on a personal level. I feel it contributes to a lot of problems. You know, the social media myth – where everyone portrays this wonderful life that they’re leading – can be super damaging. If people create a glorified version of themselves that they post online, it perpetuates this myth that everyone’s happy all of the time, everyone’s doing these wonderful things all the time. And I think that can be damaging for people.
q: A social media question seemed appropriate considering Lorde was very recently exposed as the curator of an onion ring rating Instagram account…
JO: A what? A RATING account?
q: Yeah. She had an anonymous account on which she rated onion rings.
q: On the topic of Lorde, she released her second studio album this year. You’ve obviously been busy making your own record, but have you been listening to any new offerings from anyone? Do you already have a favourite 2017 record?
JO: I can’t say I do, to be honest. I can’t think of anything that has honestly particularly inspired me that’s come out this year. I’ve enjoyed the Lorde record – that’s a lot of fun. And Perfume Genius is cool. But to be quite frank, looking at the Mercury list this year, I find that completely and utterly uninspiring. I was a little bit disappointed.
q: How so?
JO: I think the standard that has been chosen is a little bit weak, if I’m completely honest. There are a couple of people there that I respect, but on the whole I don’t think it’s the strongest, or most inventive, or most creative year the Mercury Prize has had.
q: Fair enough. Okay, last question: in three words, how would you describe the new album?
JO: Really fucking good.
Visions of a Life is out on 29 September. It is available to pre-order now.
[Morgan Laing – @sm4shingpumpk1n]