With their pounding drums and use of distortion, it’s tempting to label north London’s Wolf Alice as grunge rock, but don’t pull out your flannel shirts just yet. Between the band’s musical influences (ranging from “polished, melodic pop” to “heavy, sludgy” rock) and singer Ellie Rowsell’s dreamy vocals, Wolf Alice has a unique sound that’s impossible to categorize—and one that can span multiple genres within a single track. We spoke with Rowsell between tour stops about living out of a suitcase, jeans vs. dresses and holing up at Toronto’s Drake Hotel.
How would you describe your sound in a few words?
Alt-rock is probably a good one. We use heavy drums. We have two guitars, a bass. We use lots of distortion, so you could call it rock but it’s not straight down the line. We have other inspirations that make it alternative.
What are some of your musical influences or inspirations?
I think it varies and changes all the time. We like Fugazi and sludgy, heavy stuff, but we also like polished and melodic pop music. It’s an amalgamation of things.
How did you come up with the name Wolf Alice?
It’s a short story by an author named Angela Carter, from a collection of adult fairy tales called The Bloody Chamber. I just felt like it sounded cool and I like the vibe of her writing. I wasn’t really thinking too much about it; I didn’t think it would be a serious thing, just a little hobby.
When did it change from a hobby to something bigger?
I think that when we signed our record deal, it suddenly became a lot of work and we couldn’t really keep jobs or any other projects, so that was when it became full-time. That was like a year and a half ago.
You’ve recently kicked off a major tour. What are your favourite and least favourite things about travelling?
My favourite thing is knowing that you’re doing something that you would dream about doing, and yet you’re actually doing it. Travelling mixed with playing music is really great: two things that I always wanted to do and now I’ve combined them to make a career out of it, which is just mind-blowing to me. I like seeing new places, meeting new people and trying new things. At the end of the day, playing music is great. The downsides are it’s hard to live out of a suitcase, it’s hard to maintain any normal relationships back home because you don’t see anyone very much and it’s hard to build a base for yourself because you don’t really have one. But it’s also exciting, so the good outweighs the bad.
You recently played Glastonbury. How does playing such a huge festival compare to a smaller, more intimate venue? Do you have a preference?
It’s always nice to play your own show because people have come there specifically to see you and it’s kind of your way of saying “Thank you for supporting us” by putting on a good show. But it’s definitely exciting playing festivals. Sometimes they just really hit the spot, but they’re all so different. At your own show, you get to see the same faces and it becomes like a party.
Do you have a festival performance style?
I think it’s always nice to get a little bit dressed up. It marks the occasion and gets you in the mood more, and it gets other people in the mood. But I don’t really have one thing that I wear every festival; [I’m happy] as long as it makes me feel a bit more special, whether that’s putting on something sparkly or putting on a two-piece. No heels or anything like that! There’s nothing stupider than a pair of heels on a muddy field.
What’s your day-to-day style like? What’s a typical outfit if you don’t have a show?
Probably a dress and a pair of boots. I used to say I was a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of person, but I actually think if you really want to be comfortable, a loose dress is probably more comfortable than a pair of jeans.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your debut album, My Love Is Cool, and what first-time listeners can expect?
Kind of a snapshot of what we’ve come to after three years of us being together. We didn’t go away and set ourselves an amount of time to write it, so there’s no themes and we didn’t listen to a bunch of stuff and then go and write an album. It’s hard to pin down what the inspirations were for it because the songs span such a big lifetime that the inspirations are all over the place, but people can expect a kind of a montage of Wolf Alice.
We’re so excited that you’re coming to play a show in Toronto on October 3rd. Have you been to Canada before?
Yeah, we played in Toronto before at the Drake Hotel. We had such a good time. We actually didn’t leave the Drake! They serve good food and we spent the whole night in the bar upstairs with some of the people who came to the show, which was nice and friendly. It was just a really pleasant time.