North London alt-rock quartet Wolf Alice have blown our wee minds clean away with their excellent second album, Visions Of A Life. We put some questions to drummer Joel Amey.
Everything about opener Heavenward suggests majestic, upward, sky-bound movement. Why did you decide to begin the album with this song over some of the tighter tracks?
I think the more the recording of that song progressed, the more it felt like the perfect opener. I’m sure we all have our own reasons for it, but for me the way the intro builds up and then sort of just lets go, just didn’t seem right in any other place. It hit me hardest when I had nothing preceding it. It’s strange ’cause I don’t hear it as ‘loose’ as some people have commented; maybe I’m focused on the rhythm. But for me it drives as hard as some of the more direct arrangements; it just happens to be layered with these swooping textures. Joff’s [Oddie, guitarist] guitar solo is also one of my favourite moments on the record.
“I really don’t consider myself a drummer – I’m very late to the game with it”
How does Ellie make those three bestial chomping sounds after the first verse of Yuk Foo? They sound blood-curdlingly inhuman.
[Laughs] I don’t know her technique, but maybe there is a bit more of the wolf in Ellie than I realised… She’s very good at letting herself go in moments like that, and it’s always fun to sit there and listen back, and pick and choose takes of what is essentially someone sounding possessed.
Sky Musings‘ lyrics are contrary, with lots of conflicting rapid contemplations; it’s a brave song. Why are they ‘sky’ musings – does the enormity/expanse of the sky provoke wide ideas for you guys?
I think we’ve all had a couple of wine-induced epiphanies while in the air the last couple of years. Ellie said she read that studies think it’s down to the feeling of not really being here or there; [you’re] in motion, and surrendering to the fact that your life is in the hands of someone else. I think we took about 52 flights during the last album cycle, which – with enough gin and tonics – can result in some serious over-thinking. I decided to start taking it a bit easier when I found myself crying at that bit in the last Star Wars movie when Han Solo is talking about how the force is real…
The unifying quality of the drumming across the album is undeniable; it reminds me of Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain (particularly when Visions Of A Life slows down into the floor tom-heavy segment). When do drums enter the writing process?
Ah man, that’s a hell of a compliment, thank you. Actually I really got into his drumming style during this album process – he never recorded a single song to click track! Which, as it happens, is what we did with [the track] Visions Of A Life. We knew from pre-production that the song had to flow, and tempos should increase and decrease naturally, so it’s pretty much one take. We layered things on top after, but the core instruments on that song are the four of us all in one room. I really don’t consider myself a drummer – I’m very late to the game with it – but all four of us love rhythms and drum sounds so it can come quite early on in the writing process. I remember clearly thinking at the start of the writing that I wanted rhythms to make people dance, and have groove; I looked to Can and Jac Drutronc for songs like Formidable Cool.
The end of Sadboy is a very epic thing. Did you plan much of this beautiful chaos or did you just let yourselves go mad?
The end of Sadboy had a few versions actually, vocally, but the riff was an early favourite idea and we just wanted to do that justice. It has one of my favourite Ellie vocals bits at the end, where she really sings out and it almost goes into a pop vocal take – I remember in the studio when she sort of ad-libbed, [I was] just freaking out like, “You haaaaave to put that in!”
Did you record the opening harmonies of St. Purple & Green in a church or is that some savvy production going on?
Dude, that is actually lifted from a demo we made in our manager’s basement on [digital music program] Logic. It’s just Ellie stacking vocal after vocal, and we couldn’t replicate what we liked about it when we tried, so we just took that version! I should have lied and said we did it in a St Paul’s, but it was actually an office near Dalston.
After The Zero Hour is something else completely… it’s literary! Ellie’s vocals have the vibrating strength of Kate Bush. How did it come together?
That song was one of the first things Ellie sent me, maybe two years ago. And it’s always been a favourite. Again, it was a song where the demo had such quality to it that we lifted certain sounds to retain the character. One of my favourite recording memories is watching Ellie recording the vocals by herself outside the small room of the main studio, microphone in hand, picking up all the natural sounds of the garden. It was a mic that went into an old Fender amp, and it just echoed around the garden while she recorded it. A happy memory for sure.
Visions Of A Life by Wolf Alice is out now via Liberator Music/Dirty Hit.