Taking America: Brit Bands Wolf Alice and Drenge In Conversation

We met up with Wolf Alice and Drenge and made them talk to each other about drunk times, Taylor Swift, and the experience of a bunch of Brits traipsing across America.

af Eve Barlow
20 oktober 2015, 4:29pm

Wolf Alice shot by Jenn Five

Wolf Alice love LA. They come here often and every time parts of them remain here, and not just pieces of their hearts—memories of weird nights are built and swiftly lost, vital possessions go missing (credit cards, a passport), portions of their dignity die here never to be resuscitated. What remains, however, is the impression they make, which is why a line has already formed outside the Fonda Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard on the fourth consecutive day of brain-warping 100 plus degree heat. It’s October in the City of Angels. Some of the banner-wielding fans here have been stalking them since a show in Arizona three nights previously. Wolf Alice—like 90s Britpop stalwarts Blur—are undoubtedly a rock band, but one filled with four pop personas, lending themselves perfectly to fans who want to cut out their favorite member and adorn their school binders with their images. There's Ellie Rowsell (frontwoman, bookworm, funny without intending to be), Theo Ellis (bassist, punk, harmless riot instigator), Joff Oddie (guitarist, wilds out onstage like he’s in a prog rock band), and Joel Amey (drummer, wilds out offstage like he wants to be in any band).

In 2015, it's not enough to just look alluring and exotic thanks to forming across the Atlantic. British bands need to put the legwork in to make a dent Stateside. My Love Is Cool—the foursome's debut record—shot into the British charts at number two this past summer, losing out to Florence & The Machine by a whimper when her third LP enjoyed a last-minute sales surge following a triumphant headline performance at Glastonbury festival. They needn’t feel too mopey though: last week they were shortlisted for the UK’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize. My Love Is Cool is a record that communicates blasts of screaming anguish (“Your Love's Whore”) and moments of whispering romance (“Swallowtail”); poppy odes to friendship (“Bros”) and fizzy indie club tunes (“Freazy”). It's erratic, like all searching debut albums from bands who are yet to fully form one sound.

The North London-based band have built their gigs and fanbase at home over the course of two years, first in support of indie brethren Peace and Swim Deep, then headlining dingy London clubs like Dingwalls and Scala. Between all that, they've repeatedly slingshoted their way across the ocean to perform in America. In nine months, they've gone from planting a seed at a midnight Bardot showcase for 100 people, to headlining the legendary Fonda, which is 10 times bigger. Days before they arrive in LA, they played a hometown show to 5,000 fans at London's Brixton Academy.

But backstage they're as hungry as they would have been at Brixton, which might have something to do with the energy rush Ellie and Theo are experiencing thanks to the vitamin B-12 shots injected in their “arses.” Sounds fun. “It's time to do some ironing!” says Theo, grabbing his favorite gold shirt, showing off his latest tattoo. There's a new one every time I see Theo, which is once every six to eight weeks. He doesn't like when I make fun of the one that looks like a blackened rectangle. It's supposed to be a pint of Guinness.

In the bowels of the Fonda it smells of boys. Dozens of boys. Roadies, managers, photographers, security guards… Ellie, a lone wolf (and—for the last time—not named Alice), sits on a couch with a cup of tea. She's glad to share her struggle with a rare female companion. Tomorrow they've been blessed with their first day off in a long while and, for once, they've scored individual hotel rooms overlooking a pool. A journalist took her in a car to help her find an H&M so that she could buy a bikini to enjoy the facilities, and not only did said journalist take her on a wild goose chase around the city, but once located, the H&M betrayed her. “They only had bottoms. No tops," says Ellie, miffed. “It's not the type of hotel you can go swimming in your underwear. It's posh! They have rules."

It’s coming to the end of this headline tour and Sheffield exports Drenge have been in the bust with them for the ride. Now swollen to a threesome to beef up the sound of the Loveless brothers (Rory on drums, Eoin on guitar), Drenge are one step ahead of Wolf Alice: performing in support of their second record, Undertow, a collection of lean, mean psychedelic riff-heavy songs with zero fat. Together, Drenge and Wolf Alice are two of Britain's finest new bands, pushing the quality of breakthrough rock performance and also showing how versatile the genre can be. If Drenge are the murky smash in the gut that comes with downing a pint of Northern ale, Wolf Alice are the bittersweet, champagne sensation in your stomach once the bloating’s settled. And because of sentences like that, we felt the best thing to do was to have Ellie and Eoin answer questions together about what it's like to tear up the great US of A…

Continues below.


Noisey: Do you find alone time difficult on a shared bus?
Ellie Rowsell (Wolf Alice): I've got to the stage now where I don't want any alone time! I don't want to think.

Eoin Loveless (Drenge): Whereas I love being alone. I spend most of my time running away from the bus.

What have been some of your weirdest finds across America?
Ellie: I'm into psychic shops that sell tarot cards and have hexes on the walls. I bought a book on how to read people's futures. I haven't used it on Eoin yet.

Eoin: I've become at one with nature. We drove through Nebraska for two days, exploring these amazing deserts.

When did Drenge and Wolf Alice first fall for each other?
Ellie: I first heard of them when they were playing shows with Mystery Jets. Those Mystery Jets are fortunetellers when it comes to great future bands…

Eoin: I first saw Wolf Alice when they were supporting Splashh at The 100 Club [in London]. I came downstairs into the venue with my beer and I hadn't signed a record deal yet. I remember shouting: WHO ARE THESE? THEY'RE GREAT. We first hung out at Best Kept Secret festival.

Ellie: That was three years ago. That was mad!

What happened?
Ellie: It was the first time I ever went to a festival where there was a backstage bit for artists. I was like [shouts] OH MY GOD I'M BACKSTAGE! I was stealing the food and someone told me it was free, and I was so excited. IT'S FREE! OH MY GOD!

Eoin: It was the worst festival I've ever been to because there's free booze everywhere.

Isn't that good?
Eoin: No! both times I went there it ended up with something breaking.

Ellie: I have a video of you smashing a lamp with your head.

Eoin: Yeah! And then another time I almost got kicked out.

What do you add to each other’s tours in terms of vibe?
Eoin: We're vibe killers.

Ellie: No, you're not.

Eoin: Well, when I text Theo [Ellis, bassist] to ask if Wolf Alice needed someone to support them in the States I hadn't heard the record and thought, “This is gonna be great! Guitars and stuff!” Then I remember listening to the record thinking, Oh God! It's really quite poppy.” I was terrified we'd come out onstage and rock out and people would think we're terrible.

Ellie: That works in your favor more than ours! Everyone thought we were going to make this really dark, heavy album. And now we come out onstage and people go, “Fuck! At least I got to see Drenge!”

Eoin: Can I ask a question? I prepared some on my iPhone…

Ellie: I didn't prepare any questions. Was I supposed to?

Go ahead, Eoin.
Eoin: Ellie, last night you played “90 Mile Beach” which you haven't played on the tour before. You also played your cover of [Chris Isaak's] “Wicked Game.” There was a country vibe about you in those early days. Your tracks got rockier when “You're A Germ” and “Moaning Lisa Smile” came out. And now you've got this weird sad pop thing… So I just wondered where it's gonna go next?

Ellie: I can't speak for all of us but… there's a communal feeling that we wanna do something which we know we'll have the most fun playing live. Our sad pop songs are really fun to record and write but they're not that fun to play…

Do you not like playing “Swallowtail” then, Ellie?
Ellie: Uhhhh… nah! Hahahaha!

Eoin [interjecting]: But you get to rock out at the end!
Ellie: Yeah, that's the thing. I'm like, “Oh phew! It's the end!” But the faster songs are easier to perform.

Eoin, let's talk about your Tumblr tour diary. You are observant about bananas, mentioning them more than once. You described one banana as being “the perfect banana.” What is the perfect banana?
Eoin: For me, it's still a little bit green, almost questionable plantain. I once spent five minutes entertaining the bus by passing a banana in between my cleavage and down past my groin. I let it fall and it went down like a water slide.

What other games do you entertain yourselves with on tour?
Ellie: Truth or Mare is our favorite one [This game is a more extreme version of Truth or Dare. “Mare” is British slang for Nightmare]. There's never Truths, just Mares.

What's the worst Mare you've witnessed recently?
Ellie: [Laughs.] On our way back from Leeds Festival in the van, we taped James Balmont's [Swim Deep, keyboardist] head to the table in the van using gaffer tape. He had to sit there until we stopped at the service station with his head taped to the table. It was really good. He had his hands taped to his head as well.

I see that you, Theo and Eoin have all painted your nails the same orange/pink color. Was that a Mare?
Eoin: No. BUT I almost got stabbed in five different truck stops across the Midwest with these nails. I had them in my pocket so deep and didn't want to get them out at the till. [That’s Brit-speak for cash register.]

How are your US audiences compared with British crowds?
Ellie: They talk to you in between songs here. [Adopts US twang] “You fucking rule, man! You guys are the fucking future!”

Eoin: We finished our opening song at one show and a really loud man shouted: “Welcome to Pawntucket!”

Ellie: But then they don't mosh! Whereas on the UK tour…

Eoin: Moshing every night.

Wolf Alice, Drenge, and Made Violent onstage in San Francisco

So you're saying it's hard to get people to move in America?
Ellie: Yes.

Eoin: It's the obesity epidemic. Joking!

Eoin, in Pawntucket, you decided to be Wolf Alice's temporary lights guy for the night. Why?
Eoin: There was no one at the venue to do lights. Having just seen Wol Alice at Brixton on these huge shows, it felt a bit sad to watch them without any production.

Ellie, what would you give Eoin out of ten for his efforts?
Ellie: TEN.

Eoin: Better than any of the other lighting I've seen on this whole tour.

Ellie: And that makes sense because you know the set more than anyone and you're just naturally talented.

Eoin, you were tweeting a Linkin Park lyric the other day. Is this an unlikely influence upon Drenge?
Eoin: No, they were on the radio in the bus and he goes, “Caught in the undertow, caught in the undertow.” Our record is called Undertow. Every time I find a cross-reference between us and another band, I log it. The Tool LP called Undertow came out 18 years to the day that our Undertow came out. It's embarrassing. Everyone thinks we're trying to be Tool.

Eoin, are there parts of the tour you've neglected to diarize in your Tumblr?
Eoin: Yeah maybe but only because I'm covering up other people's actions. I'm notoriously good.

Ellie told me earlier that she wants to write a rival Tumblr…
Ellie: Now I'm thinking there's no point though because I just started writing a diary. I feel like I'd be doing the same thing but censored. I'd have to rewrite it depersonalized.

Eoin: You could do an anonymous column called Secret Person In A Band.

Ellie: What's the point of that?!

Eoin, Drenge did a cover of Taylor Swift's “Bad Blood” on this tour. How did that go down?
Eoin: It almost saw us venturing into the comedy genre of music. Really horrible. I suck at choosing covers.

Were you inspired by Ryan Adams?
Eoin: No, this was pre-Ryan Adams.

In your version of “Bad Blood” who is your Katy Perry style enemy?
Ellie: Taylor Swift!

Eoin: Ryan Adams. He's murdered that album.

What's the strangest item you have in your tour suitcase?
Ellie: I bought slippers but I'm too embarrassed to wear them. My mum said, “You haven't packed slippers.” And I asked: “Should I?!” And she said, ‘Oh definitely!”

Do you feel like this tour has been a joint British Invasion crusade?
Eoin: No. Invasion is a strong word. Maybe in 20 years time when we do the reunion tour…

Ellie: I do! When you get to those venues that have posters with all those legendary lineups… I need to save a poster for this one. Nobody else cares. But I care! I'm impressed!

Eoin [thinking of other names for the tour]: British Petroleum Spillage… no that's too… British Stain… hahaha.
Ellie: The British Stain On America Tour!

Are you going to go and get Wolf Alice/Drenge tour tattoos like the cast of Lord Of The Rings after they finished filming the trilogy?
Ellie: We'll let Theo do that on behalf of all of us!”

Eoin: I have one more question for Ellie. Do you feel like when you're onstage now you're an Ellie Row-sell, Elie Rou-sall, Ellie Ro… [Eoin struggles to pronounce Ellie's surname.]

Ellie: Row-sell… I'm thinking about changing it! Haha. Yeah I do. Do you feel like an Eoin Loveless?

Eoin: I feel like I'm a different thing. If I went onstage as me now, it would involve falling over, saying the place name wrong because I'm confused… Sometimes when I come offstage I don't go back to being this guy right away.

Wolf Alice’s album My Love Is Cool is out now via RCA.

Drenge’s album Undertow is out now via Infectious.

Eve Barlow feels like an Eve Barlow, but always offstage. Follow her on Twitter.

Wolf Alice
My Love Is Cool