Contact CU Independent Audio/Visual Director Xandra McMahon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @xanmcmahon. Additional reporting by CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Tommy Wood.
Theo Ellis, bass player for London alt rock band Wolf Alice, was sprawled out on the floor of Denver’s Bluebird Theater hours before the venue would be packed for their sold out show. The smell of sweat, booze and weed had not yet filled the space, and Theo was taking some time to rest before sound check. Without getting up, he introduced the roadie lying next to him.
“That’s my dad,” he said in his North London accent. After some eager “hellos,” he laughed. “Just kidding, that’s not my dad.”
Theo decided the best place for the interview would be the band’s tour bus — we just had it to find it first.
Theo headed down Colfax, stopping every so often to check an alleyway for the elusive bus. He talked about how it was his birthday and how he was still recovering a bit from the previous night’s celebrations.
Finally, after some assistance from tour manager Piet, the bus appeared around a corner.
On the table in the bus lounge area sat Theo’s Kylo Ren mask, a pack of fake mustaches and a Burger-King-looking inflatable crown.
“Here, you wear this,” Theo said, as he placed the crown on Tommy’s head. Then he pulled out one of the fake mustaches and stuck it to his own face.
“We’ve never had any vision of anything, we kind of just write songs and see what happens,” Theo said, as he discussed Wolf Alice’s vision. “It’s never very pre-calculated. We never go like ‘we need an indie song’ or ‘we need a radio song.’ We just write songs for the sake of it and wherever they naturally go and what we think is best for the song is what comes out.”
Wolf Alice’s music defies genre restrictions. Their multiple EP’s and first full-length album, My Love Is Cool, demonstrate broad diversity and a mature sound — a characteristic usually only seen in bands that have been around for years and years.
And that’s what’s so peculiar about Wolf Alice’s music. They sound like they’ve been putting out albums for ages and have had great lengths of time to establish their sound. But they haven’t.
But Theo doesn’t consider any of them to be rock stars. Instead, he rejects the idea of the rock star, calling it a cliché, among other things.
“Rock stars are all dicks,” Theo said. “Except for me, I’m a nice guy. Ellie is alright as well.”
Theo then leaned his head toward the back of the bus, toward the closed door that led to the bunks.
“YOU ALRIGHT ELLIE?” Theo shouted to Ellie Rowsell, the band’s lead singer, who was hanging out behind the door.
“No!” Ellie called from the back.
“No…She’s being a rock star,” Theo snickered.
He moved on to musical influences and inspirations. Theo cited Queens of the Stone Age and Sex Pistols as major music figures in his life. But there were some surprises in there, too.
“I’m in love with Miley Cyrus,” he said.
After some Miley talk, Theo went back to explaining how the band gets inspired to write.
“Ellie always says something clever — it’s easy for her to get inspired by conversations and people and interactions and movies,” he said. “Rather than just listen to a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album and go, ‘Now I’m inspired.’”
Of course, new music is on the way, but that really won’t start coming together until after Wolf Alice have wrapped this tour and can get back into the studio.
“This isn’t the best way to write properly and concentrate, there’s a lot of people,” Theo said. “I personally find that quite hard.”
Wolf Alice lives for touring — they’re big into it, Theo said, and it’s important to them — and this is their most consistent run yet. They’ve gone more than two months without a break and played close to 150 shows last year. When they do finally get back there’s a few things Theo wants to do before they get the songwriting process in full swing.
“I’m going to have a bath, think about my actions, think about the things I’ve done, repent, guilt myself to sleep,” he said with a laugh. “And then make some tunes, go to the pub, celebrate my birthday with my friends.”
Theo stepped off the bus and walked back up to the venue, only stopping to question a restaurant across from the Bluebird that sells itself as the “home of the sugar steak.”
“What the fuck is a sugar steak?” he asked with a disgusted face.
Hours later, the sold out show wasn’t uncomfortably packed. The crowd seemed to be split evenly between middle-aged adults and 16-year-olds who were barely old enough to get in the door. But when 8 p.m. hit, there was no messing around. The lights fell and opening act Slaves swaggered on stage.
Slaves, a two-man punk band, were the fantastic, shocking shot of adrenaline to the face no one saw coming. Hailing from Kent, England, they give a new meaning to “stripped down” and “raw.” With just one electric guitar played by Laurie Vincent and a bare-bones drum kit played (standing) by Isaac Holman, who also sang lead vocals, Slaves were an entirely new experience.
Their sound is as aggressive as an angry bear and resembles the dirty, gritty punk sound of the ‘70s. But their image didn’t match the music they were playing too much — or at least it didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a punk rocker.
Slaves looked like normal, nice guys and engaged with the audience in a genuinely kind way. Their set list was strung together like a narrative. Songs were short but the guys would immediately tell the audience a story that would seamlessly lead into the next song.
Slaves were the perfect complement to Wolf Alice, and as they finished, they gave each other a big hug. Anyone who chose to skip Slaves’ performance was a royal idiot. And just like that, roadies — including the man who is not Theo Ellis’ dad — began setting up for the headliner.
Wolf Alice didn’t keep the eager crowd waiting long. Guitarist Joff Oddie, drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis walked on stage first. Lead singer Ellie Rowsell followed after she did a little dance offstage before walking on, Stella Artois in hand.
The band opened with a dreamy instrumental intro that led directly into the grungy “Your Loves Whore,” a great song to start with because it exemplifies how the band can go from zero to a hundred instantly. Rowsell shifts from singing light, airy melodies to screaming like a rock goddess, then back to soft, whispery singing — and she makes it all look so easy.
Earlier in the day, Theo joked about how the band wasn’t trying to push musical boundaries because they didn’t know how to play their instruments well enough yet, but for a band comprised of early-20-somethings with only one LP in circulation, they play like well-seasoned musicians.
The production wasn’t extravagant and they didn’t try anything too fancy. But that’s what’s so respectable about Wolf Alice — and this goes for Slaves too — they’re not trying to pretend to be anything they’re not.
The quartet just played their songs, and they played them damn well.
They graced the audience with not one, not two, but three encore songs. Well, four, if you count the raucous “Happy Birthday” that all of the Bluebird sang for Theo. The final song was “Moaning Lisa Smile,” the track that earned them the Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance.
The show felt like a breath of fresh air from the tireless, manufactured music played everywhere. Slaves and Wolf Alice gave the audience at the Bluebird music saturated with passion and soul.
And it won’t stop. Wolf Alice’s relentless touring hums along to Coachella on April 17, then to Oakland and beyond. They have international tour dates scheduled out through September. And as soon as they land back in England, before they go back in the studio, before Theo hits the pub for birthday celebration with his friends, they get off the plane, onto another tour bus, and the show goes on.