Perched on a tour bus couch and sporting a Ushanka hat, Theo Ellis, long-time bassist for Wolf Alice, dishes on the success of Blue Weekend, being an ‘ideas-based’ band, opening for Harry Styles and the need for a good “crying playlist.”
Approaching its first birthday, Wolf Alice’s third album, Blue Weekend, has gathered widespread acclaim. It was the band’s first album to make it to number one on the U.K. music charts and made significant headway in the American music scene. The album also received a 2021 Mercury Prize nomination and the band took “Best Group” at the 2022 Brit Awards.
Despite its proven success, Ellis still seems in awe and disbelief at the band’s accomplishments. When asked about the awards and honors Wolf Alice has received, he responded, “I never thought Wolf Alice would even be in the conversation, let alone win one of them. So that was a really surreal, but really fun experience. It's the kind of thing you don't think is gonna happen.”
As for the band’s American tour, Ellis offered an apple pie’s worth of praise. “It is great to be back in America; the audiences are so nice. You guys are really good gig-goers, like maybe some of the best in the world.”
But the tour wouldn’t be as special or have as much power to it without the music and messages behind their recent album. A record featuring songs of angst, heartbreak and begging, Blue Weekend was conceived as a salve for COVID-19. With songs and questions, such as “How Can I Make It Okay,” it thrives in the era of new beginnings as people venture out into the world again, still carrying the emotional baggage of the past two years.
The emotions prevalent in their latest album are no accident. After the band finished their previous tour, they decided to take a three month hiatus from one another in order to decompress and become their own separate people again. The urge to ‘get back together,’ quickly returned once the hiatus was up.
“We all kind of got back and kind of pieced our lives back together a little bit… and quite quickly, that urge to start making songs again started to develop,” Ellis said. “I think it was one of the first times that we didn't have much material, [so] we really got together and started to work on making new music in the same room.“
By the beginning of 2020, they had already taken a selection of songs to ICP Studios in Brussels with producer Markus Dravs and began the recording process. But halfway through recordings, COVID-19 hit. As Ellis put it, “[it] was fucking crazy. It was a residential studio, in Brussels, and it was one of the first places to lock down. So everyone got a kind of cabin fever.”
Instead of a fairly regular recording experience, the process took much longer than anticipated and clouded their ability to gauge the album’s value. “They (were) making the album over a long time, and no one knew whether it was any good or not. Everyone couldn't see the woods from the trees,” explained Ellis.
“No one listened to it for like two months. And then two months went past and everyone started to listen to it. We were like, wait, I think this is actually quite good. And (the album) was,” Ellis joked. “We're all super proud of it now, but it was a very labor intensive and kind of scary record to make. I think it's all for the positive; for the best in a way.”
Ellis commended his producers, bandmates and other collaborators for the ultimate success. He praised everyone who finished the record during such a tumultuous time: “Credit to the guys who worked on it as well. Not just the band, but Iain Berryman, Markus Dravs and some others really stuck with us. It was a scary time in the world… people, understandably, could have wanted to have done their [own] thing, but they didn't.”
The songs on the album ended up carrying much significance for the fans and band members, both sonically and lyrically.
“There was a moment where Ellie was writing, rewriting or rephrasing and kind of changed and chopped the lyrics to ‘The Beach II.’ I saw her doing it while she was changing those lyrics. And I just remember being really moved by it,” Ellis revealed. “(And) I love the feeling I get from playing ‘How Can I Make It Okay.’ When you're playing a song to someone who hasn't got it before you can kind of see them getting into it; it has a lovely build to it. And by the end of the song, it's one of the best things.”
Grateful and gleeful seem to be a common theme within the Wolf Alice dynamic. Ellis dedicates the power of Wolf Alice and the comfort of playing in the band to the teamwork and collective understanding behind their music and song writing process.
“I feel so lucky that I'm in this band all the time. Because we've got a good thing going,” Ellis said with a smile. “But what I love the most about it is the fact that we kind of pick up any instrument and do whatever you want. It's all an ideas-based band… I don't think we have a rigid kind of structure like some other bands. That’s not us.”
When asked about the band’s upcoming gig with Harry Styles, a grin formed around Ellis’s face.
“I don't know what that’s going to be like,” Ellis laughed. “He came to one of our shows at the Hammersmith Apollo, which was one of our headline shows in the U.K. It was funny; I was playing and he was standing right there, right next to the monitors… I think in a weird way we’re a good match.”
Playlists soon came into discussion when I revealed that my crying and therapy-themed playlists primarily consist of Wolf Alice songs. Ellis chuckled, “I need one of those at the moment. I’m in need of a good cry… I really like that, it’s good. That’s what it’s supposed to do, I think.”
Having been together for a decade now, Wolf Alice is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Theo joined when he was just 19-years-old. He essentially grew up in this band, as he explained.
“I am partially synonymous with the band. The band has shaped me, you know what I mean? I've definitely made my own choices as I navigate life, but I have very much been shaped by this whole experience… and now I feel very comfortable being me in this band,” Ellis added. “That's probably to do with the fact that the other three are so great to be around.”
“We're dedicated. We'll play. If people come, we will play,” Ellis exclaimed. “We're getting older though, so just buy tickets now. Because you're gonna see an older version of us soon otherwise!