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Wolf Alice's 'Blue Weekend', a Masterpiece Made In Challenging Times

For more than a decade, London's Wolf Alice has made records for the true music fan. With debut My Love Is Cool and the Mercury Prize-winning follow-up Visions Of A Life, the quartet have done it all and experienced everything, yet with their exceptional third album - Blue Weekend - they have arguably offered their most consistent and accessible longplayer yet. We're calling it early - ALBUM OF THE YEAR! On the eve of its release, guitarist and co-founder Joff Oddie jumps on a Zoom with our guy Ben Preece.


Ben Preece: It's so great to be talking to you about Blue Weekend, Joff -- bloody helly, mate - a huge congratulations, you've got another winner on your hands, that's three for three now, You must be over the moon with how it turned out.

Joff Oddie: <laughs> Well, thank you, Ben, When I hear things like that i feel very grateful, thank you very much. Super excited, you know we’ve been working on these songs for a really long time now. So the idea that in a week tomorrow, they’ll be out, I can’t believe it.

BP: It must be a very strange time, I know it's a strange time for anyone in the world, let alone a working/touring band, who suddenly has their legs chopped off, so to speak, and is forced off the road, and possibly had to force creativity and make it all happen during a weird, weird time for the world.

Joff Oddie on Zoom with Ben Preece

Joff: Yeah, it's been very strange indeed. All the songs were written well before lock down, so we finished the Visions Of A Life tour and had a couple of months off and then started work on this record in about March 2019 and we were just in the studio - we are writing almost just like a 9-5, in a studio in North London. I think we were there for about ten months maybe before we went to Brussels with Markus Dravs, the producer and his engineer, Ian Berryman, and we were in there for a month and a bit before the lockdown happened. They locked down a couple of weeks before the UK did. And then, I think we were making a record in complete isolation, which is odd cos you know you want to have a bit of isolation when you are making a record which is kind of why we went to Brussels, we went somewhere where we don’t know anywhere and the guys don’t know the pub scene too well, you know, which helps. There was about 2.5-3 months maybe in a completely locked down studio, which was interesting. It's odd, I think you do need a little bit of respite to be able to go out and blow off some steam, and we couldn’t do that, so everything else was just focussing on the record, even a day off you were in the studio, always there, always present.

BP: I’m not too sure how much you have listened to the record since you have finished it, I can’t imagine it's too much, but how much of those isolated, sort of feelings or vibes have crept their way into the record do you think?

Joff: I think everyone needed to escape in lockdown, i think they needed an outlet to take them someplace else when they were feeling like they were stuck where they were and I think for us, we managed to do that through the songs, working on these tunes took us to another place, so I don’t think the isolation itself seeped into the songs. I don’t think they suddenly became introverted or all that kind of stuff. It meant that we got to look at things in a greater degree of detail, more than we would have ever done, which was a benefit but it was hard work mentally I think.

BP: It feels like this one is a lot more thought out and a lot more detailed. Is there any truth to the tale that they used to say about album number three being the one?

Joff: I don’t know, I think it's the most true to us, right now and for the past couple of years. They are all very different, different time periods, with us being at various stages of being musicians. The first one is your greatest hits records, at that time - it's all the best songs you’ve written ever throughout your life, until that point. That one was recorded very quickly, I think it was about five weeks. The second record, I think is a bit more experimental, has kinda, more abstract in parts, I think that was us kind of playing and kind of experimenting with the tools of the trade. I think this one is more song focussed. I think Ellie wrote an incredible batch of songs and I think, I felt that they were so good, they needed to be front and centre. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to get too crazy with them. If you’ve got something good, let's just put that in the front, work out how we support that in the background, use all the tricks that we’ve learnt throughout the years, make something you know, that connects on an emotional level.

BP: Ellie feels like she is coming into her own, even more so than before - she feels a lot more confident, she feels a lot more assured. She feels a lot more fearless.

Joff: She's on fire. It's scary, she keeps on getting better and better. Her song writing keeps on getting better, her singing keeps on getting better and better, her playing keeps on getting better. She needs to chill out, or she's going to overtake us all.

BP: She's going to explode with talent! Now you led this campaign with single The Last Man on Earth’ which is an interesting choice for a first single, a brilliant choice I might add. What inspired that choice?

Joff: We always had it in the back of our minds that this was a special song that played with musical ideas that we hadn’t used before. There are real strings on it, there’s a piano. I just knew how it affected me when I heard it for the first time, how excited I was when I heard a demo of it, how excited I became about things to come and I think I hoped that people would share that feeling.

BP: It feels like a little Bowie nod, with The Beatles sprinkled in there too, but yes, it's very much Wolf Alice, not necessarily a new direction, as you’ve got things on the previous albums that sit in the same sonic category, but still there is something different there.

Joff: A lot of people are saying, this is so different, so out of left field, but essentially for me, it feels like it lives in the same world as something like 'Blush', it's just got piano. You know what I mean.

BP: Absolutely. You’ve always got these amazing album centerpieces too. This time, I feel you have a pair that sit together beautifully. Right after ‘Smile’ , you slip into ‘Safe From Heartbreak...’ and the into ‘How Can I Make It OK’, which is incredible by the way. Those two songs are probably the biggest different feeling for Wolf Alice fans....

Joff: How interesting, I think ‘Safe from Heartbreak...' we’ve done before - we were doing that before Wolf Alice was ever really Wolf Alice, if you know what i mean.

BP: A bit of folkier, for want of a better description?

Joff: Yeah, we have a bit of context for that and that's been something really fun on this record, getting to play with some of those old ideas we were employing nine years ago and now picking them up and going, "ooh, we can do this as well." Yeah - ‘How Can I Make It OK’ is one of the more different ones, and probably Feeling Myself’, in terms of being a little bit more synthy-led.

BP: 'Feeling Myself’ is another one, it's gorgeous. I mean, there's this intimate sort of lyrical nature and then it drops into this amazing wall of guitars, doesn’t it. That must be where one of your moments to shine on the record I suppose would be - would you agree?

Joff: I mean there are a lot of synths in there, a lot of guitars, to be honest, a kitchen sink went into that one. <laughs>

BP: Am I right in saying, the songs were pretty much there when you went into the studio with Markus. I read somewhere the songs were there, he just sort of decorated them, so to speak.

Joff: The songs were written pretty much, we made some changes, we reverted back to some old changes, the guitar-y element from ‘Safe From Heartbreak...’ was kind of a redesign and that happened in the studio. 'The Beach II’ had different lyrics - it wasn’t called that when we went in, so there is a bit of change but most of it was kind of building this album.

BP: What are you personally feeling on the record? I’m loving your little licks on like ‘Delicious Things’, at the end, there, I love the little guitar note there. It's one of the little musical highlights on the record for me. What are you, as the guitarist, Joff, what's your personal treat there, that you listen to time and time again and think, I’m really proud of that?

Joff: To be honest, I think it would be 'No Hard Feelings’ where I’ve robbed the bass from Theo. <laughs> That's a bass, that thing in the background, kind of arpeggio, and that song came to us in a load of different ways. We were playing it almost like a garage piece at one point and it was all upbeat which didn’t really feel appropriate. <laughs>

BP: Given the lyrical nature?

Joff: Exactly, kind of how fragile and beautiful the words and the vocals are, I just picked up a bass and said, "why don’t we just do this and chill it out a bit."

BP: Lyrically, ‘Smile’ - is right up there. It's just Ellie with a big middle finger in the air, which I adore. She has been criticised for saying things “that girls shouldn’t really say”, I mean, how is she going to answer some of the questions on this record do you think? There are some heartbreak songs, break up and I know she has a high profile relationship. How is she going to answer some of these, do you think?

Joff: Ellie is a really talented songwriter, in that you listen to the record and you may think "oh, these are all break up songs" but I don’t really think that's the case. I think a lot of them are allegros for other things. I think she touches on relationship things, perhaps more so than she has before on previous albums, but the thing that I’ve learnt from Ellie as a songwriter is that she takes an idea or something that has happened to her, or something she has seen to someone else and she embellishes on it and builds this world around it and she takes bits from other places and kind of tacks them along to it to create this type of story and this world, so, you know, I wouldn’t take everything that she writes to be kind of purely autobiographical.

BP: She is a very compelling lyricist - are you ever mid-take, thinking "what's this about?" You know, does she confide in you guys along those lines?

Joff: Yeah, you know, always if we ask. Sometimes I don’t like to. Sometimes, you go.. "What's that about?" And other times you go, "I don’t want to know". I just want to keep the illusion, if part of me can still be a listener and have that ambiguity, I like that.

BP: I do wonder that a lot, if musicians are fans of their own records and their own bands and their own music, it must be a difficult scenario. Silly question, I’m just interested, but what do you guys listen to? What are those identity conversations like?

Joff: You reference bibs and bobs when you are making a record. I think we talked to a producer before we talked to Marcus and he was a little bit confused as to what we were trying to do because he said this song kind of goes over there and this one is like this and this one is like that, when does it all come together? And how does it all become cohesive and from one place? We talked about that, we talked about that quite a bit, but I think essentially we know what a Wolf Alice song is even if it sounds like it shouldn’t have the elements of what makes a Wolf Alice song, but its kind of a feeling for us, we know in our gut whether it is or not.

BP: Definitely a feeling, Wolf Alice definitely has an air, it's subliminal.

Joff: We are the glue really, in that respect of identity. Of having almost a schizophrenic identity, if you know what I mean? I think the thing that holds it together is us.

BP: It's probably exactly the thing that grabs and appeals to us hard fans, it's what we love about you.

Joff: Oh thank you

BP: And you’ve announced a tour, gosh, what does that feel like?!

Joff: Oh man, brilliant, I cannot wait to get out, I cannot wait. It feels like a big part of our lives have been kind of missing.

BP: Have you started working on set lists yet?

Joff: Yeah, we’ve been able to rehearse over here, we got the green light from the government in January to start doing that, so we’ve been in the studio since January. So we’ve got no excuse if we’re shit when we come back (laughs).

BP: Great to meet you and talk to you Joff. We will see you down in Brisbane. Congrats again on the record and all your success - we will see you soon!

Joff: Really really lovely speaking to you, Ben. Come say hello in Brisbane. All the best.




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