Now in the middle of an Australian tour (dates below), North London four-piece Wolf Alice were announced at the end of last week as the 2018 winners of the UK’s premier music award, The Mercury Prize.
Three years ago, when they were seen as the future of British music by some of the more hyperbolic music media, the band weren’t sure what to make of it all. A Mercury Prize wasn’t even on the agenda; they had to get past Glastonbury first!
On the eve of that 2015 tour of Australia, Ellie Rowsell tried to keep her head while those around her lost theirs.
IN THE LUGGAGE OF THE BEAST
It’s the day before Wolf Alice are to play Glastonbury and singer/guitarist Ellie Rowsell is packing.
It may be their second time at Glastonbury but boredom hasn’t set in. Not least because this time they are appearing as one of the leaders of a so-called "golden age" of British music.
"I'm definitely, definitely not bored with it. I think we are glad to be going back there with more confidence," Rowsell says of the band she fronts with drummer/songwriter Joel Amey, bassplayer Theo Ellis and guitarist Jeff Oddie. “There’s a palpable sense of excitement in the band at the moment.”
That confidence was justified, the performance rated one of the best of the weekend, even though performed in the teeming rain and beset with technical problems such as Rowsell’s microphone stand collapsing so that she had to complete one song on her knees.
While there were massive expectations, it’s not like it was a surprise. That’s what happens when you are declared the future of music.
"I never said that," Rowsell says quickly, with obvious concern.
No, she certainly hasn’t but it’s out there whether they like it or not. And it is affecting them, whether they want it to or not.
"I think you can't help but let it get to you a bit because when people say that there will always be a backlash of people saying you are rubbish," Rowsell says.
But hey, there are worse things: you’d rather be the future of British music than, say, “the death of British music?”, Rowsell offers. Yes, quite.
"We're not complaining because it's flattering and it builds up a good sense of excitement to your music."
But what about the four of them? Do they think in terms of grand plans or are we going to get some variation of “we just want to make good music”? After all, musically there’s no question that they have the sound to play big, mixing a range of ‘90s influences from dream pop’s airy melodies to Pixies drive and riot grrl punch, with little bits of more contemporary electronics seeping in and Rowsell’s frank lyrics boldly delivered.
"Always songwriting comes first, that is your priority, and if you do that then yeah, we do go on to have big ambitions for them," she says. "We have big things in mind but only because we feel like we have the material to take us there."
"We want to travel the world and play big stadiums and big venues in as many places as possible. And then write more albums, maybe five more or 10 more.”
Playing stadiums, or for that matter being higher up the bill at big festivals like Glastonbury and Splendour In The Grass, became more understandable and more possible in the past six months as Rowsell in particular has learned to become more comfortable and more outgoing out front.
"We fill the room with sound and production so I don't think I have to be different but it has made me think that we can't get away [with less],” she says.
“Every show has to get better and has to move forward but you can't force yourself to fill stage – I don’t want to be someone that I’m not or I’ll hate myself when I look back on it - and if it doesn't happen then you're not ready."
Wolf Alice are ready, even if almost sotto voce, Rowsell does say, “I wouldn’t say I don’t want to do it but I would probably shit myself”. But then she laughs.
Wolf Alice play The Corner Hotel, Melbourne today (September 26), Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane, September 28, and Powerstation, Auckland, September 30.