Q&A: Wolf Alice On ‘Blue Weekend,’ Brussels, Chicory And Touring With Queens Of The Stone Age
English alternative rock quartet Wolf Alice weren’t planning on taking four years between their Mercury Prize-winning Visions Of A Life and their superb new collection, Blue Weekend.
The plan was to come back in 2020, but frontwoman Ellie Rowsell admits that wasn’t going to happen. ” Corona or no Corona we kind of took longer than anticipated anyway,” she says.
So the band congregated in Brussels, Belgium and utilized the extra time to put together an album that actually surpasses its Mercury Prize-winning predecessor. Smart, fierce, diverse, powerful, inspiring, thought-provoking, Blue Weekend is a strong statement that Wolf Alice are ready to ascend to the next rung of rock heroes in 2021.
I spoke with Rowsell and guitarist Joff Oddie about the making of the new album how the Belgian vegetable Chicory may have fueled the whole record, their excitement to return to the stage and how Oddie worked up the nerve to show Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme his QOTSA tattoo on tour together.
Steve Baltin: After the hiatus how are you adjusting to getting back into the swing of things?
Joff Oddie: Yeah, there’s a lot going on. We haven’t had the privilege of playing in front of people properly yet, but we’ve done sessions and stuff like that. It’s been a really nice outlet, it’s been great to be able to play together and kind of perform in a way together. We’re desperate for some real proper gigs, but like you said, it’s weird to kind of get back into that mindset of all things go at all times. And I think Coronavirus really does put a bit of a crazy twist on that situation (laughs).
Baltin: Did you anticipate such a long break or did COVID extend your break?
Ellie Rowsell: I think it was supposed to maybe get done a bit earlier. But Corona or no Corona we kind of took longer than anticipated anyway. So the cancellation of all tours for the foreseeable future kind of worked in our favor a little bit cause we would not have been ready with these songs. So at first, as much as we missed playing live we were like, “Oh, this is good cause we’ve got time to focus on getting the record right and not rush it.” But now we’re just itching to get out, yeah.
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Baltin: But now that you are close, it’s like the end of a road trip, when that last 30 minutes feels like forever.
Oddie: It’s like signing posters. When you sign 7,000 f**king posters last feels like forever (laughs).
Baltin: When you sign that many at once do you at least have people giving you massages or bringing you food?
Rowsell: We were just saying how we need someone to come and bring us takeaway.
Oddie: We need an incentive. But at the moment all I’ve done is go to the shop and get us 7UP and some peanuts. That’s what Coronavirus has done for us, we get our kicks out of peanuts and 7UP.
Baltin: Was there a food that fueled Blue Weekend?
Oddie; Oh my god, you know what, it was a residential studio and it was fantastic. The food was brilliant and the kind of environment they put us up with was fantastic. But there was quite a consistent vegetable called Chicory that kept coming up. And the guy who produced our album, Markus Dravs, seems to have a negative relationship with it. And I think I just heard him talking predominantly about whether Chicory was on the menu or not. It seemed to plague him more than whether the songs were going well. So Chicory, and that might be the least rock and roll thing I’ve ever said. That Chicory had that much f**king involvement in our album. But that one sticks out (laughs).
Baltin: I have never even heard of the vegetable.
Rowsell: I think it’s a Belgian thing.
Oddie: Yeah, we did the record in Brussels. I think it’s a Belgian thing.
Baltin: Was the album written primarily in Britain or in Belgium?
Rowsell: Very little of it was written in Belgium. But we changed how we envisioned the songs once we were in Belgium. We recorded there and I think the environment did impact the outcome of the songs mainly because there were very little distractions and quite a lot of time, more time than we’d ever had before. I feel like that probably influenced how it came out. But not necessarily the writing.
Baltin: Were you freer to concentrate on the record because you weren’t at home?
Oddie: Yeah, the intention was we were seeking that kind of focus. That’s why we traveled there. We did the previous album in Los Angeles, which I had to say probably had more distractions than you could ever imagine. But we went there for that isolation and that kind of focus. It was magnified times 10 by the Coronavirus situation and the fact the guys were only able to be there with the record.
Baltin: Are there things that surprise you on the record when you go back and listen to it?
Rowsell: There are lots of hidden gems on this album that makes it nice to just return to even as someone who was part of the process of making it. Things that maybe we stumbled upon now when I look back on them, like, “Oh, we didn’t need to worry, that sounds great. That’s not even a huge bit, I wonder we got so hung up on that.” The process is full of those, like, “Oh no, this reverb’s not right.” When I think if it had been normal times, “This reverb’s fine.”
Baltin: Are there songs from this album you are particularly excited to play live?
Oddie: Yeah, there’s a particular song on the record I’ve had an attachment to since Ellie sent it over. It’s called “How Can I Make It OK.” I’ve loved that chorus for so long and I think one of the things I love the most about going to gigs is seeing people sing something in unison. I love it in a lot of different environments. I love it when you take your grandma to church in Christmas, I think people singing together. Or when I go to football matches, people chanting together I find it deeply moving. And that song I’m desperate to hear people sing back. For me that one is the big one.
Rowsell: Yeah, agree. [But] all of them really just to be quite honest. “The Beach” has that call and response so that will be fun to hear people if they know the words. And then “Play The Greatest Hits” obviously will be a really fun one to play live. It’s quite punk-y and very fast.
Baltin: You are playing both Reading and Leeds. Is there one artist or one song you are looking forward to losing it to as a fan after all this time?
Oddie: On the Reading and Leeds lineup there is Queens Of The Stone Age, who we’ve played with. And I’ve got a Queens Of The Stone Age tattoo. I’ve loved them since those formative days of like 12, 13 where you get enamored with bands. I think I’ve been in every mosh pit I can for them. So that one would be amazing.
Baltin: Did Josh Homme see the tattoo when you toured with QOTSA?
Oddie: So this was a big thing for me. I was like, “I don’t really know.” My preconceived notions of his character meant that I was nervous to be on tour with him with a tattoo. And it turned out the day I got there the guy who was doing security for them was on a tour I was on, and I think I pissed him off before. But he’s actually one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. And he was like, “I’m gonna let Josh know you’ve got that tat.” And I was like, “Oh god.” So we were on a southern state tour, we were playing like Florida and Texas. It was hot and I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt most nights. And then it came to over one of many tequila’s that I had that tattoo. And he was so unbelievably cool about it. He said everything you could want him to say as a 14-year-old fanboy. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
Baltin: Ellie, do you have a tattoo of any band or would you get one?
Rowsell: I can’t imagine I would ever do that. But I always liked the horse on the cover of White Pony by the Deftones, so maybe I’d get that.