Ellie Rowsell, frontwoman for the British-born dream-pop band Wolf Alice, grew up shy. She remembers playing traditional Irish music as a young person, but she didn’t take much to it at first. Like many kids, she wanted to be outside with her friends. But soon she learned that she loved songs, especially singing them.
At first, Rowsell played flute and the tin whistle. But as she began to sing, as the words and melodies tumbled from her lips, she became more entranced by the act. Now, Rowsell and her band are entrancing audiences all over the world—almost like a musical love potion. And the band will continue as they head out on their global tour schedule in 2022, which spans stops in Australia, North America, and a myriad of festivals all over.
“When I started singing songs,” Rowsell tells American Songwriter, “and realizing that it moved me to sing a good song, I guess you taste that feeling and you figure out—you might think other things move you like that and then they don ‘t.”
It was this creative trial and error that helped shape and refine Rowsell’s ambition towards music. As a teenager, she started listening to a lot of indie rock and to dive into the culture surrounding the genre. Soon after, she tried her hand at writing and realized she wasn’t bad at that, either. Signs kept pointing toward her future role as a frontwoman. She soon embraced it. It helped Rowsell that she lived in London, too.
“I grew up in North London,” Rowsell says. “I think growing up in London is a huge privilege as a young person when it comes to culture. There were people from all over the world living in London. So, you can get a range of cultures. With that comes a huge range of music. That influenced me, maybe more subconsciously than consciously.”
Indeed, for those who have grown up—or simply just live—in a city, there are a plethora of options to explore, from music to food to languages. This was a boon to Rowsell, who says that when she used to watch live shows she just felt cool and that was a feeling she wanted to regenerate over and over. But there was still conflict. Rowsell was still somewhat shy. Though she was singing and writing some on her own, she didn’t feel comfortable sharing that with people she knew well. Enter: Joff Oddie.
“I met him online,” Rowsell says. “I wanted to play shows but I didn’t think I was a very good guitarist—I wasn’t a very good guitarist. But I wanted someone who could play the guitar to help me and I wasn’t confident enough to ask anyone I knew. Having a complete stranger [to work with] was easier for me.”
It’s funny how this can be the case sometimes. It can be easier to tell a complete stranger your hopes and dreams than it can be to tell your best friend or your family, sometimes. Rowsell says Oddie was also shy, like her. So, the two helped grow confidence in the other through their collaborative efforts.
“I think once you’re part of a team,” she says, “whether that’s with one person or five, you just have a little more confidence. When you feel as though you’ve embarrassed yourself, you can talk it over with that person rather than suffer through it alone. That’s one of the beauties of being in a band, rather than being solo—things that have the power to hurt you, you can make fun of amongst yourselves rather than let it build in your head and become totally debilitating.”
Together, Rowsell and Oddie became known in their circle as something of a folk duo. The two started Wolf Alice formally in 2010 and they added band members Joel Amey and Theo Ellis a couple of years later. Wolf Alice released its debut studio record, My Love Is Cool, in 2015 and followed that up with Visions of a Life in 2017. Today, Rowsell says she’s proud of her group’s evolution in the past ten-plus years, though it’s not something she says she harps on in any particular fashion.
“I feel really proud of us and what we’ve done,” she says. “When it comes to accolades and stuff [like that], I’m really grateful for it and it’s been really fun for us. But there are lots of people I don’t care for who have accolades, so it doesn’t make you good. It’s still kind of surreal, those kinds of things. But I’m proud of the music that we’ve made.”
Wolf Alice’s latest is the band’s 2021 release, Blue Weekend. The album offers the group’s signature restrained, dreamy sound, found perhaps most acutely on the standout track, “Feeling Myself.” For Rowsell, the process of putting together the album similard previous writing and recording sessions. It took a couple of years of building a repertoire of songs, sharing the demos amongst the members, playing them live, and eventually bringing them to a producer to help shape their final forms. And then choosing the best ones for the LP.
“We’re a lot older and more experienced than when we first started,” Rowsell says. “We’ve taken what we’ve learned into the studio this time around.”
The album has provided the biggest reception for the band to date. It’s a generally beloved record. But that doesn’t mean the band can plateau in any way. In fact, Rowsell says, they have to continue to work extra hard moving forward. She appreciates the positive reviews but says she wouldn’t pay attention to bad marks if that’s what the record received. It’s odd—in the UK, Wolf Alice plays to some 10,000-person rooms. But elsewhere, say, in the United States, some of those rooms are more like 300-cap. That, though, keeps things exciting as the band continues its push forward.
“I don’t feel always, like, wow we’ve done so well,” she says. “I don’t feel like I’m in one place in my career. I’m in several.”
For Rowsell, she hasn’t achieved such heights that she doesn’t still worry about the vitality of her friendships or if her family members are okay. Those things don’t change no matter how many positive reviews she and Wolf Alice might earn. Instead, there’s always work to be done, either personally, interpersonally, or professionally. And what that means directly ahead for Rowsell and company is tour dates. But they welcome this, especially coming on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and being away from gigs for a few years. At the same time, Rowsell is not complacent or even singularly focused. She is looking for new ways constantly to fill her time when she’s not on stage. Such is the through-line of growth. Yet, music and her passion for it—ever since those very early years—remains stalwart.
“I like playing music,” Rowsell says, “because it’s one of the only times I feel truly present, which is quite a rare feeling in this modern age. And I like listening to it because it makes me feel more romantic—and I like feeling romantic about life.”
Wolf Alice North America 2022 Tour Dates
Mon-Mar-21 Atlanta, GA @ The Buckhead
Tue-Mar-22 Chapel Hill, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
Thu-Mar-24 Asbury Park, NJ @ The Stone Pony
Fri-Mar-25 Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom
Sat-Mar-26 Harrisburg, PA @ Harrisburg University XL Live
Mon-Mar-28 Montreal, QB @ Corona Theater
Tue-Mar-29 Toronto, ON @ Opera House
Wed-Mar-30 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
Fri-Apr-1 Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
Sat-Apr-2 Grand Rapids, MI @ Elevation
Tue-Apr-5 Indianapolis, IN @ Deluxe
Wed-Apr-6 Madison, WI @ Majestic
Fri-Apr-8 Des Moines, IA @Wooly’s
Mon-Apr-11 Lincoln, NE @ Bourbon Theater
Tue-Apr-12 St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall
Thu-Apr-14 Austin, TX @ Emos’
Fri-Apr-15 Dallas, TX @ The Echo Lounge & Music Hall
Sat-Apr-16 Houston, TX @ House of Blues
Mon-Jun-20 Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheater*
Tue-Jun-21 Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl #
Sat-Sep-24 Dover, DE @ Firefly Music Festival
Tue-Sep-27 New York, NY @ Terminal 5~
Thu-Sep-29 Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground~
Fri-Sep-30 Boston, MA @ Big Night Live~
Sat-Oct-1 Albany, NY @ Empire Live~
Mon-Oct-3 Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall~
Tue-Oct-4 Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall~
Thu-Oct-6 Chicago, IL @ The Riviera Theater~
Fri-Oct-7 Minneapolis, MN @The Fillmore~
Sat-Oct-8 Kansas City, MO @ The Truman~
Mon-Oct-10 Denver, CO @ Ogden Theater~
Tue-Oct-11 Salt Lake City, UT @ Complex – Grand~
Thu-Oct-13 Seattle, WA @ Showbox SODO~
Fri-Oct-14 Vancouver, BC @ Commodore~
Sat-Oct-15 Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom~
Mon-Oct-17 San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore~
*-opening for Bleachers
#- opening for Halsey
Photo by Jordan Hemingway