Though Wolf Alice had a humble start as an acoustic duo in 2010, it didn't take long for the band to find success after plugging in and adding a rhythm section. Now a quartet, the guitar-forward London outfit incorporates a spectrum of alt-rock sounds, from shoegaze grandeur and gauzy dream pop to snarling grunge and electro-infused folk. The band's power lies in the earworm melodies of frontwoman Ellie Rowsell, as well as her lyrics that are both scathing and introspective. In the wake of September's Visions of a Life and tour stints with Queens of the Stone Age, the band is poised to break onto bigger stages stateside. Before the band returns home for another round of gigs with Foo Fighters and Liam Gallagher, we caught up with Rowsell to get her take on navigating the band's new level of success.
INDY: What are the biggest differences you've noticed with touring the U.K. versus touring the U.S.?
ELLIE ROWSELL: When we first started coming over, the main difference was going back to playing really small pubs and clubs. Now that we've toured here quite a bit, the main thing is that every place is so different; we'll be playing to two hundred people in one end of the country and then we'll play to two thousand people in New York. That can all happen within two days, so it's quite a hard thing to get your head around if you go from such a huge gig to such a small gig in a matter of days. It's not quite to that extreme anywhere else for us. It should be a bit deflating to go from a massive show to a tiny one, but sometimes it's really nice. It shakes things up a bit and it varies the intimacy, so it's quite nice, in a way. I also find the audiences are a lot more vocal, or vocally enthusiastic, over in America.
When you're writing lyrics, are you mindful of which styles will flavor each particular song or does that come more into play when the rest of the band gets involved?
Most of the time, I go into songwriting without thinking about genre or style at all. Sometimes I'll go "I really want to make a hardcore song or a sugary pop song," and then I'll kind of rely on the fact that the four of us, who have been playing together forever, will bring a Wolf Alice sound to it and it won't, stylistically, be too far removed from anything else we've done.
In terms of writing in different styles and genres, I'm kind of writing for no one but myself. If I really want to do something, I won't not do it because I'm worried that it won't fit. I'll cross that bridge when it comes. I think we still have some work to do in terms of making an album sound like it flows well together, but it's fun to have the freedom to write whatever you want. I wouldn't want to be confined to one style.
Speaking of that, did you have any hesitation about still writing such personal lyrics on Visions of a Life considering how big the band's audience has grown since the debut?
I thought I'd become less apprehensive, but the more time goes on, I realize that I've actually become more apprehensive about that kind of thing. The bigger you get, the more open you are to criticism. There's more people that might not enjoy it or think it's weird, so it is quite scary. But the beautiful part is that no one knows what's fiction and what's not, so I can write a song that's loosely based on myself or completely not about me at all and I'm the only one that knows. No one can really tell whether it's actually about myself. I can always lie. [laughs]
Now that you've reached this level of success, how does it feel to know you may be inspiring aspiring musicians in a similar way that bands like Nirvana and Pixies influenced you?
You don't really have to get to a Nirvana level of success to inspire people. When I was younger, I was inspired by tiny, tiny bands that are no longer bands now. I don't limit inspiration to how successful you get, but reaching a bigger audience is scary. People are watching what you do outside of just your music and that's quite scary, but it's also amazing to know that people are interested in what you have to say and what you have to offer.
You've gotten pretty vocal in U.K. politics, both leading up to the 2017 general election and, a bit before that, forming Band 4 Refugees. Why did you decide to use your platform for political change in those particular cases?
I guess just getting to grips with the fact I have a platform. Sometimes it's so alien that people are interested in what I think and because I didn't really think about that. It didn't take a lot of courage for me to do anything about it, I just carried on with what I was doing but made it public. I look towards people other than politicians to help build my knowledge and opinions on things, so if I do that, then other people might look towards me.
When I become vaguely sure of something—which, for something like the migrant crisis, was being portrayed so horrifically in global news—it's not too hard for me. I didn't feel like it was a gray area. It was a black and white [issue]; this is wrong and people are portraying in a fucked-up kind of light. I was looking towards my favorite musicians and artists to help clarify what was going on, because it wasn't being portrayed clearly in the news.