By Jose Lopez-Sanchez of Dead Curious
Joel Amey laces each of his rapid-fire words with a thick Cockney accent – a twist of pronunciation that you might think exists only in Guy Ritchie movies. The Wolf Alice drummer is as energetic as a wind-up toy, which is exactly what you’d expect from a twenty-something who’s been thrust into the international spotlight.
“I really feel that the U.S. just gets bands, even in the early days,” he says, speaking from a busy rehearsal space next to a garage in London.
A few weeks ago, Amey’s band wrapped up its first tour of the United States, logging a few thousand miles on the road and winning over minds and hearts from SXSW to the mid-Atlantic to Vermont. Wolf Alice gained instant and ravenous attention in U.K., but across the Atlantic, it’s prepared to put in some elbow grease.
The task doesn’t daunt Amey. He reminisces fondly over the band’s initial exposure stateside with a certain wonder: “We had an amazing time – a proper amazing time. Good experiences, cool people. Your country is huge!”
In the meantime, Wolf Alice has a debut LP to release, the highly anticipated My Love Is Cool, due out next week on Dirty Hit/RCA Records. (Side note: Ugo Ehiogu, former Middlesbrough legend and England defender, is one of Dirty Hit’s founders. Ehiogu is a well-known name to any other geeks who played “Championship Manager ’99.”)
When we speak, the band is enjoying some down time at home, but the demands of growing notoriety mean that the calm will be relatively short lived: Wolf Alice is playing a handful of shows across the U.K. to support the record, and before then, a one-off at Greenwich Village’s Le Poisson Rouge.
After Amey steps outside to overcome an unreliable phone connection, he signals that he’s ready to go with that unmistakeable London verve.
Wolf Alice plays NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge Thursday, Montauk’s Surf Lodge August 1, and DC’s U Street Music Hall October 1. My Love is Cool is out next Tuesday on RCA Records.
Wolf Alice formed as a band, and then it wrote the songs. How did it feel to have one of your tracks chosen as the “Hottest Record in the World” by Zane Lowe? That’s major validation, pretty early on.
Yeah! That was amazing. That’s quite a big thing in the UK, and we were in shock. We were chuffed. And I was just as chuffed that Annie Mac, who replaced Zane Lowe on [BBC] Radio 1, chose it as the first ever song on her show. It was a big moment – people were counting down wondering what she would play first. We were in the States and I was thinking, “Well, it would be funny if she played us, just for the hell of it.” And then, shit, I saw on Twitter that she did! [Laughs]
She’s super cool, and I think she’s pretty much at the forefront of what modern radio has become. I mean, Zane Lowe is massive and has gone over to smash it over at Apple Radio or whatever that is, but Annie Mac is the Golden Egg of the future of radio, I think.
My Love is Cool sounds like a love-letter to the sound of 90s . What’s the first band that you remember truly obsessing over?
It would have to be Linkin Park, really. I was nine or ten when that first album came out, and I took my pocket money – which was basically my mum’s money – and made my grandmother take me to Woolworth’s to buy it. I remember it had that lyric book, and knowing every single word to that song. [Laughs]
I was really into that metal look, wearing the baggy trousers and buying magazines that had Linkin Park in them, and trying to be a metaller. A fat, chubby metaller. [Laughs] It was just cool and I liked them.
Throughout my teens I listened to punk, and hardcore, and eventually everything. Earlier on though, my music was very much heavy music. As much as my mum played the Beach Boys, The Beatles, Captain Beefheart, and all these great bands – and I was into all of that shit as well – I discovered emo and metal by myself.
Linkin Park are now venture capitalists. They have their own fund and invest in tech startups.
Well, I guess they’ve made so much bloody money, they might as well. [Laughs] They sold like 40 million records, or something absurd like that. They must be laughing all the way to the bank. And if they fancy giving me a tenner, I’d be fine with that. [Laughs]
You’ve touched upon the concept of the honesty in your musical style and have defended the fact that you write this music because you love it, not with a specific aim. I’ve read a couple of older interviews and it seems like you’ve been asked about whether your sound is a calculated move or not. Why do you think people have been a bit skeptical of what you’re doing?
We never wrote anything with any intention of being a certain sound or having a certain edge. There might have been a few times when we’ve tried to write a massive song that we can open with – to be hard and fast – but we’ve never said, “We should write something that sounds like Nirvana,” which was basically a pop band, anyways. Certainly nothing on the record was written with the mindset of this is going to be this style.
It really confuses me when people listen to an album and they’re surprised when all the tracks don’t sound the same. I mean, think about it this way: If you were reading a book of short stories, and each story had the same characters, the same story lines, and the same endings, it’d be a fucking shit book, right? In an album, if someone decides that something should be on keyboard instead of guitar, everyone starts to get paranoid and ask whether we’re trying to confuse them or be clever. No, it’s just fucking boring to play the same thing over and over again. We’re touring an album for, like, 18 months, and it would be hell to play the same kind of song, over and over again, every night. It would be mental.
The album wasn’t written with us thinking like that, but after listening it and hearing people say that it reminds them of this band or another and asking if we wrote things with a certain sound in mind, I have to say not at all. We wrote what we enjoyed, and we recorded what we felt worked the best, and what was exciting in our guts. We recorded the stuff that made us excited to share with everyone – drum machines, loops, whatever. Everything was written by feel, rather than thought, if that makes sense. We wouldn’t know what the hell we were doing if we tried to actually preconceive something, so we just roll with it.
And I wasn’t aiming that at you, by the way. [Laughs]
If you weren’t playing music, what would you be doing?
Me personally, I don’t have that many great skills outside of music. [Laughs]
I’d probably be in a pub somewhere trying to hang out and put together another band. In all seriousness, I’ve only ever done music and have only ever wanted to do music. I don’t think of life without some kind of writing or creating, whether it’s on a computer or sitting on my guitar and writing a song. My life essentially has always revolved around making music.
How has your relationship been with Dirty Hit? Have you had any interaction with Ugo Ehiogu?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! This is something I found out about later on. I don’t even know who the dude is; never met him. It’s mainly run by Jamie Oborne and Chuck Waite, with another guy called Ed Blow.
But they’re amazing. We tell them what we want to do, and they came in and said they would sign us. And mind you, we’d been hearing that from every major label for about a year. But they came in, heard our ideas, and said “We’ll be back to sign you tomorrow.” And they just did. That was sick. [Laughs] And we went from there.
They’re a great label, and they’re really cool. We love them. We got to this stage finally, with them, and I don’t know if we would have gotten here without them, Maybe we would have. It’s been a lot more fun working with them than it would have been any other way. We’re eternally grateful.
What are you listening to these days? Do you have any time to listen to music?
Yeah, I’ve got shitloads. When we were trying to drive across your country, there’s not a lot to do but listen to music, mate. [Laughs]
The new Hudson Mohawke song is the best fucking tune I’ve heard all year – it’s incredible. He’s insane.
I went and saw Patti Smith the other day. I know she’s not new, but she’s great. I’m gonna get back into Patti Smith, I think.
I saw The Replacements the other day, and they’ve my favorite band ever.
New bands you guys should check out are: Crows; Bloody Knees; this girl called Pix who just signed for 4AD, I think; this really great band called Thrones Club, who haven’t put any music out yet, but I heard them at a party, and they’re wicked. And Swim Deep is putting out their album in September, and you should get a hold of that if you get a chance. There’s some really great bands out there.
If you get a chance to read Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids, you definitely should.
I bought it for the girl I was seeing at the time, and she really liked it. I’m gonna get that and read it. Patti was cool, and she reminded me that most people are shit. It takes quite a lot of effort to actually be good. She just oozes cool.
Had you traveled much Stateside before this?
Nah, we’d never done traveling like we did on this tour. Previously, we’d seen so little of the country – I’d been on holiday there, and so had Theo [Ellis], but South by Southwest last year was the first time that Ellie [Rowsell] and Joff [Oddie] had been to America. Yeah, it’s still so romantic and exciting, you know, to be asked to be play over here.
I really enjoyed everywhere we played, and each city had its own character. The smaller shows, in like Vermont and stuff – I have good memories of those because you don’t expect anyone to know you are there. It’s mental. People turn up everywhere, and it’s crazy. The stuff in L.A. and New York was also a really good time, and it’s always pretty amazing for us to go and play in a place we haven’t even heard of.
What’s been the focus of your set list for American audiences? Is it mainly My Love Is Cool, or have you gone for some of the deeper cuts off the old LPs?
Nah, I mean, we’re playing some stuff from My Love Is Cool, because we want to debut some new songs and work them out live, but mainly we’ve been playing songs people would have heard before. We throw in a few rarities, but it was pretty much the same thing we played on our UK tour, with a couple of the new ones in there, like “Lisbon”.
But for the New York show, I think we’ll play a lot more of the material off the upcoming album.
Additional contributions by Philip Runco.