Wolf Alice are the best new band in the UK. They play perfect grunge-pop, they dig selfies and Scotch and their fans are dangerously in love with them. Rhian Daly gets acquainted in Glasgow…
Hordes of sweaty fans are milling excitedly outside the front doors of Glasgow’s O2 ABC, the glitter on their faces sparkling. From above, the four members of Wolf Alice lean as far out of the dressing room window as safety will allow, passing notes down to some of the faithful they recognise from previous Scottish shows. “Fuck this, I’m going down there,” says bassist Theo Ellis. Picking up his plastic pint glass, he leads the rest of the band – singer and guitarist Ellie Rowsell, drummer Joel Amey, guitarist Joff Oddie – down the stairs and into the crowd. Every single person gets a selfie.
Wolf Alice have a lot of love for their fans. A buzz band as far back as 2012, the north London foursome took three years to get their debut album finished. In the meantime they gigged tirelessly around the country, amassing a loyal following for their sweetly savage songs, energetic shows and obvious commitment to having fun. When ‘My Love Is Cool’ finally came out in June, shallow hipsters had already dismissed Wolf Alice as last year’s thing. But the album’s depth, variety and abundance of instant indie-disco classics like ‘Lisbon’, ‘Bros’, ‘You’re A Germ’ wrong-footed pundits and it duly charted at Number Two, only missing out on the top spot by 528 copies to Florence + The Machine, who benefitted from a huge Glastonbury sales surge.
For many fans, Wolf Alice have soundtracked their coming-of-age. “There’s a proper little gang of fans growing now,” Joff enthuses. “They all know each other.” Theo elaborates: “There’s 10 of them coming down to Brixton that all have this same Twitter group thing. It’s a proper crew. They’ve all met through Wolf Alice. It’s so cool, ’cos that’s what I liked about bands when I was younger, that sense of community.”
At their Birmingham show earlier in the week, the band spotted another long-term fan in the crowd. “It’s so weird,” says Theo. “In just a couple of years we’ve watched him go from being a kid to being a teenager. I saw him crowdsurfing and I was like ‘you fucking legend’.”
Wolf Alice’s current UK tour, almost entirely sold out, is huge for the band. Over seven shows they’ll play to nearly 15,000 people, something that would have terrified them a year ago. Sitting backstage with the band in the past, there’s been a palpable sense of nerves. Now, there’s just elation.
“I’m so horny for a gig!” yells Theo, pulling his shirt over his head and writhing around on the floor of the dressing room. Yanking his top back over his torso, he bounds over to where Ellie’s daubing her face in Wolf Alice-branded glitter pinched from the merchandise stand and tries to get her to rub the gold from her cheeks onto his already sparkling face.
Despite all the attention they’ve received lately, Wolf Alice remain warm and welcoming to everyone who enters their dressing room, friend or stranger. There’s no diva behaviour, no haughty attitudes and no sense that anything is beneath them. Ellie is the quietest member, sitting with her laptop, while the boys run around loudly chanting the melody of ’70s novelty hit ‘Popcorn’, breaking every now and then for shouts of “Lads!” Joff is almost constantly strumming an acoustic guitar, making up spoof country songs about whatever’s happening in the room – at one point he uses a lighter to play it like a lap steel guitar.
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“This year, everything’s changed,” ponders Ellie. “You have to change your life to adapt to [constant touring]. I remember when we went to Berlin and I had to take a flight. I was so scared I had to take my dad to the airport with me. But we took, like, nine planes in a week recently. I told myself if I wanted to do this, I would just have to get over it – and I did.”
“Our lives have changed,” adds Theo. “Now we’re away so much it’s almost impossible to know what’s going on in the life that you’ve had for 20 years or whatever.”
Tour manager Johnny enters the room to give the band a few safety notices. “The venue have requested no diving into the audience tonight and definitely no inciting circle pits,” he tells them. “No inciting circle pits?!” Theo scoffs. “We’re not in fucking Slayer.” Johnny reminds him that inciting a circle pit is exactly what he did at Reading. “Yeah, but that’s fucking Reading,” says Theo. Naturally, he will ignore the requests as soon as he gets on stage.
Meanwhile, he’s spotted a technical hitch that needs fixing before the show. “Are your trousers still falling down?” he yells at Johnny. “We should get a trouser tech.” Johnny stops, looks back and pulls his jeans down, flashing his boxers at the band. “We’ve got guests!” gasps Ellie, mock offended.
On stage, Wolf Alice are joined by two backing singers – Jas and Chloe – hired to bring the album’s vocal layering to life. “This is our debut album tour and we wanted to do things that we’ve always enjoyed seeing ourselves do at gigs,” Ellie explains. “This is such a celebration for us.”
The band are welcomed to the stage by the entire venue chanting their name to the rhythm of ‘Whoomp! There It Is’, but Wolf Alice don’t launch straight in with the obvious crowd-pleasing numbers. As Ellie explains, this tour is all about “peaks and troughs” and “different moods”, and tonight’s show begins gently with ‘My Love Is Cool’, the hidden track at the end of the album, before shifting into the intense, swirling ‘Your Love’s Whore’.
On ‘Soapy Water’ Ellie puts down her guitar, removes the mic from its stand and positions herself centre stage, utterly transfixing as fairy lights twinkle through the backdrop behind her. Despite earlier warnings, Theo jumps off stage into the crowd twice during the set. “As soon as they said not to do that, I thought, ‘I’m definitely going in the crowd tonight,’” he says mischievously afterwards.
Autograph and selfie duties done, Wolf Alice settle down backstage with opening band Made Violent and their crew. The venue present the band with a congratulatory bottle of Scotch and Ellie doles out plastic cups full of it until the bottle’s drunk dry. There’s talk of heading to legendary Glasgow indie dive Nice ’n’ Sleazy for some mind-blurring rounds of Skittlebombs, but the normally party-hard Wolf Alice have a bus call at 12:30am so they can get back to London to play a Fashion Week party for Flaunt magazine. So they stay in the dressing room drinking, smoking and joking around with the band they’ve chosen to open for them on this tour, Buffalo, NY rock’n’rollers Made Violent, while Theo coerces everyone into doing the poppers he bought in Birmingham, filling the room with cackles of laughter.
It’s a scene that will probably be even more familiar by this time next year. The band’s plan is to keep touring until then, although they’re determined not to let that hamper their creativity. They’re learning how to write on the road and fitting in demo sessions wherever they can. “I really want to get some new music up by next summer,” says Ellie. “We’ve been touring some of these songs for so long now. We’ve been playing ‘Fluffy’ for three years!”
Joff leans forward. “Although knowing Wolf Alice the second album will probably take five years,” he smiles wryly. If it’s as good as the first one, we can wait.