An Art Lesson With Wolf Alice Frontwomen Ellie Rowsell

Design Log 17 Feb

Wolf Alice frontwoman Ellie Rowsell talks about the North London rock band’s distinct sound, the visual elements that influence the merchandise and album art, and the India tour they’re currently on.

  • 7A Scene From Their Music Video Lisbon

A scene from the band’s music video Lisbon, created by Eat The Danger.

We’ve been fans of Wolf Alice ever since their debut album My Love Is Cool came out back in 2015. From the initial folk-grunge-dark pop sound, the band slowly evolved to a more synth-heavy, shoegaze sound, which can be heard in their second slammer of an album Visions of a Life (2017).

Doing alternative rock right, the young and highly energetic band have performed around the globe, ticking off all the big festivals off their list. So when we heard that they’re coming down for The Humming Tree’s Backdoors Festival 2018 in Mumbai and Bangalore, we were stoked! Not only were they sure to be a great act to watch live, their quirky music videos and experimental artworks also make their visual narrative delightfully compelling.

We spoke to the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist Ellie Rowsell about their visual aesthetic, the songwriting process, and the many art projects they’ve been a part of recently:

How did the band arrive at the 'The Wolf Alice sound', however you'd define it?

I don't know. We don't give much thought to things like that. I'm not sure we are even looking for a particular sound; we just do whatever we like and hope that it will be coherent in some way. We don't seem to really have communal influencers. We are more influenced by songs we hear that we like rather than artists as a whole.

Take me through the songwriting process. How does a Wolf Alice song happen?

We don't have a set way; sometimes, someone will come with a fully formed demo that we will all learn and sometimes, someone will have a riff or some chords and a few lyrics and we will build it up from there.

Our guitarist Joff Oddie often likes to make his guitar sound like anything but a guitar and that recurs sometimes. A few lyrical motifs return but that is a subconscious thing.

As a band, we like to do fun things to interact with our fans. Like for Visions of a Life, we sent out postcards to some of our fans with the title names on the photo side and scribbled with a cryptic message.

What's the band currently working on?

We aren't working on anything at the moment as we have been touring way too much. The second album Visions of a Life is still quite fresh for us. 

Since we're a design-centric publication, we'd love to discuss the visual aspect of the band. Is art or a certain visual aesthetic crucial for the band's merch, album art and music videos like Lisbon and Freazy?

It's crucial but it’s not something we spend hours creating. We normally wait until we see something that just feels right. We don't care about keeping a coherent aesthetic for our band, it's about what works with the songs and the feelings and what we think looks nice. That's why we often use photographs because they're more readily available to find.

When it comes to the music videos, the band usually comes up with an idea and find the right director to work with. We give them the full freedom to execute as they like.

What's the process of selection? For instance, why did you choose the photograph of your aunt for Visions of a Life or the child in My Love Is Cool?

We felt the image for Visions Of A Life fit perfectly with the album title and with the juxtaposition of pretty but also dark which recurs with our music.

With My Love Is Cool, the image just looked so ambiguous and yet powerful that we instantly wanted to use it.

  • 3 Wolf Alice Visions Of A Life
  • 2  Wolf Alice My Love Is Cool

The album art for the debut album My Love Is Cool and sophomore album Visions of a Life.

What is your studio space look like?

Sadly, our studio has been shut down and is probably being made in to luxury flats. But it was a very cool building called The Fortress Studios which has been around for years and has been used by different bands. It was very gritty and extremely cold but we had a great time in it.

Do any of you have any other means of creative expression, like painting/doodling?

Our drummer Joel Amey is a really good at sketching and he’s very proficient at making cartoons. I used to like painting and drawing but I haven't done it much in a while. Though I have recently started taking pictures on a new camera, so that’s been exciting. Our bass player Theo Ellis can pull some pretty impressive dance moves sometimes and Joff is good at cooking.

Nice! Wolf Alice was part of Art in a Corner in 2016 and painted Heart of Gold together inspired by The Beatles. How was the experience?

We just drew whatever came first in our heads, much like our music. We didn't really plan anything. Instead, we just let our feelings dictate. We’re quite happy with the way the painting came out!

  • 4  Art In A Corner Wolf Alice Painting

Wolfe Alice’s painting for Art in a Corner, an initiative where some of the world’s biggest bands and performers followed The Beatles’ footsteps to create their own paintings, in support of two of the country’s leading arts and music charities.

The band also participated in the The Yellow Bird Project fundraising campaign. What was the idea behind your hand drawn sketch of 'The loneliest werewolf on Earth', which was printed on a t-shirt and sold for charity?

It was a picture in an old sketchbook I had. I like the artist Kiki Smith and I guess I was trying to do something like her. I don't really remember, to be honest. I like seeing things that are supposed to be scary look vulnerable, much like the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

Everybody who visits India has a certain image of the country in their head. What's that vision in your mind?

I was finding it hard to imagine as it’s such a big country and I know so little about it. I am looking forward to meeting any Indian fan we might have and to just experience the country for the first time.

The Mumbai show was really great. We had no idea what to expect so we were blown away when there were loads of people down at the front singing all the words to our songs. There is an air of excitement in Mumbai and that was palpable at the show. It was also really inspiring to play at a festival, working along side an organization like Amnesty International and to see smaller organisation's running stalls at the festival selling zines made by women and children in the slums.

Design Log is a weekly design document logging every relevant art and design occurrence in India.