In the atrium of the Corus Entertainment building at Sugar Beach in Toronto, there is a three story slide that Wolf Alice guitarist Joff Oddie and bassist Theo Ellis have decided to try and climb… together. It’s an odd take on the myth of Sisyphus, where in place of the rock, they shove each other up the hill. Upon failure, they both tumble out of the slide atop each other. Oddie springs up and exclaims “and that is how babies are made.”
It really isn’t surprising to see them blowing off steam in a spectacle of childish glee. After all, they’ve just disembarked for a quick visit to 102.1 The Edge after a twelve hour bus ride from New York. Following their Toronto show at Adelaide Hall, they will undertake a fourteen hour haul to Minneapolis for another gig.
Wolf Alice has been moving at a dizzying pace for months now, without a day off. A show at The Drake in Toronto this March, an album release and an epic performance at Glastonbury this past June, strung between many other appearances, keeps the bus rolling. The need for a good laugh seems paramount.
The interview itself begins with Ellis mockingly suggesting “He doesn’t want to talk to me. I’m the bass player. He wants to talk to Ellie… or Alice!” It’s a moment with a pure facetious tone as he explains how some people still seem to think that the “Alice” in the band name is a person on stage. Of course, there is no “Alice” just like there is no “Pink” in Pink Floyd. “Kid calls me Alice and I just want to…” It’s a throwaway line filled with deadpan dark humour from a guy who has glitter under his eyes where heavy bags should be.
The contrast fits well with the band that, less than two weeks before Adelaide Hall’s 500 capacity venue, they were playing Brixton Academy to 5000. Ellis admits “It has been weird. Just before Pawtucket (Rhode Island), the last show was our headline London (UK) show. There is definitely a difference… It wasn’t a million people, but… it’s quite cool, quite exciting, to do it (large and small venues) like that.” As he finishes the sentence, Ellie Roswell (vocals/guitar) and Joel Amey (drums/vocals) enter the room.
For the uninitiated, Wolf Alice released their debut My Love Is Cool at the beginning of summer. They have had critics comparing them to bands ranging from ‘grunge’ to ‘shoegaze’ and all points in between. Yet stylistically, the comparisons don’t cover it. Roswell comments, “When we went into the recording studio, we didn’t have a list of bands we wanted to replicate. But we do listen to Queens of The Stone Age, whatever Jack White does, Radiohead… who we always forget to mention. And they’re a big influence.”
My Love Is Cool tends to cover themes from dark desperation to depression, which the band also brings out when doing covers at some of their shows. Roswell grins at the observation. “I think it’s fun to play something as far from you as possible and sometimes it’s a “cheer people up” song. It’s quite cool to see how dark you can make it. Like the One Direction song (“Steal My Girl”). It’s obviously about his girlfriend but when you make it dark, the lyrics come out as possessive and nasty.” Drummer/vocalist Joel Amey elaborates “It is a cool thing to explore. Like with Sting’s (The Police) “Every Breath You Take.” Everybody thinks it’s a love song about a guy and his girl… but it’s twisted… it’s about a guy watching (obsessing about) her. That subversiveness is fun to play with.”
Still, I’m looking at the band and I can’t help wondering what the hell they do to break the monotony of being on the road. They offer quips to the question. There is an awkward exchange involving fully clothed, separate bed, band bonding over episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Another about the movie Saw not enhancing song writing and then a nod to touring mates Drenge as the “weirdest and nicest guys in the world.” But, never having been in a touring rock band, I leave the interview confused as to how Wolf Alice can bring their “A-Game” for every show. That thought stays with me as I arrive at Adelaide Hall later that evening.
It takes all of thirty seconds for those questions about monotony and energy levels on the road to be answered. The venue might be small, but the audience is loud, and from the opening chords of “Your Loves Whore”, band and patrons alike show their enthusiasm for one another. With just a few instruments, a sound system and lights, Wolf Alice emerges with full rock star swagger. The show they put on is electric.
Joff Oddie’s fingers are up and down the neck of his Fender Jaguar, only interrupted on the occasions he flips over to a keyboard and then back to guitar. Joel Amey puts down the steady beat even when he takes the lead vocals on “Swallowtail.” Theo Ellis is all over the stage with the bass, whipping fans into frenzy as he leaps atop the kick drum in full ‘rock out’ pose. Ellie Roswell balances between the ethereal vocal moments of “Silk” and the explosiveness of “You’re A Germ.” While I hadn’t noticed the Radiohead influence on My Love Is Cool, hearing it performed live makes it all become clear. Nuances are flushed out and the show as a whole is proof that this band has surpassed the tag of “next big thing” and has become “the band to see.”
As the final encore ends with “Moaning Lisa Smile”, there is a mutual admiration thing going on with the band thanking the audience, and the crowd wanting more. A promise to return soon is given, and people disperse with wide grins. Driving home, I realize that to Wolf Alice, being on the road in a bus is a small price to pay for the opportunity to have a great night playing their music to appreciative fans.