British alternative rock band Wolf Alice is starting to take a turn towards pop. After three EP releases, the band is releasing their first full album, My Love is Cool this summer -- and it's less angry and more approachable than any of their previous work. I chatted with Ellie Rowsell, the band's lead vocalist, about five songs that define Wolf Alice's new sound:
The beginning of Wolf Alice's sound can be traced to the band's first self-titled EP, Wolf Alice, release in 2010. At the time, the band was only made up of two people, Rowsell and Joff Oddie. Later, the band expanded to include a bassist and a drummer, and that's when Rowsell wrote her first song for the group called, "Bros."
"I wrote this song when I was nineteen. It was about my friend that I’ve been friends with since I was three. It’s kind of about kid friendship," Rowsell told me. "Lyrically, I think it resonates with people because it’s just quite sentimental. What you do when you have a best friend."
In 2013, Wolf Alice's first EP Blush became a little gentler in its sound. The guitar was softer and twangier than on "Bros," and Rowsell's voice rose into a higher soprano. "Don’t chicken out, it’s all good/ You’re allowed to be what you could./ Punch drunk, dumb struck, pot luck happy happy," she sang. It's a mess of words that don't make perfect sense, but rhythmically, it works.
"We got the lyric by opening pages in the dictionary and stuff," Roswell explained to me. "That’s where that dumbstruck thing came form. It’s been in loads of different forms besides the current one, but I think this is it's best form."
"White Leather," 2013
"White Leather" isn't Wolf Alice's most famous song, but it's one of their strongest, and is the second track on their single release, Fluffy. "This is our sad B-side. It’s one of our favorite songs. We never felt like it got enough coverage," Roswell told me about the 2013 song.
"It makes me feel sad. It’s about being on the outsides of the group looking in. It never quite caught it." White Leather has softer lyrics than the bands newer work, or as Rowsell joked:
"I’ve always described [our sound] as the party and the hangover. "Giant Peach" is the party, and songs like "White Leather" are the hangover. "
"Moaning Lisa Smile," 2014
"Moaning Lisa Smile" is a song about Lisa Simpson of the animated series The Simpsons, Rowsell told to me.
"We wanted to write about what she might be feeling when she was 18 or something," she said.
This song is probably Wolf Alice's most popular song. It found placement on HBO's series The Leftovers this year, and garnered Wolf Alice a larger fan base outside of their native Britain.
"We used to sing Neil Young in a screamo way. It was a fun cover that song in a way that felt so different, and then we were like "actually this riff is quite good,"" Rowsell told me. That melody became the opening riff for "Moaning Lisa Smile," which shifts between a gentle picking pattern and a heavy handed electric guitar pounding in your ears.
"Moaning Lisa Smile" embodies the bridge between the new and the old Wolf Alice. Here is a song with the angry roots of their earlier work, and the catchy, singable choruses of what seems to be Wolf Alice's future.
"Giant Peach," 2015
"Giant Peach" is the first glimpse of Wolf Alice's forthcoming album. It feels cleaner and more pop than anything the band produced in the past, but it also has a ton of energy.
"It was our favorite thing to play in rehearsal," Rowsell admitted. "I felt a rush from it. It’s really dancy and kind of aggressive."
The first minute of the song is completely instrumental and builds in anger and momentum as it heads into Rowsell's chanting clean vocals. "We kind of wanted a heavy, instrumental type song that we would eventually put vocals to. It’s kind of an amalgamation of quite a few ideas that we had, but I think it really works."
"Giant Peach" is the future of Wolf Alice's sound, Rowsell explained. It's not only technically more advanced than any of their previous work, it had a hell of a lot more heart.
Wolf Alice is playing at U Street Music Hall on February 27 at 7:00 p.m. as part of the 9:30 presents series. You can find the rest of their tour dates here.