Tuesday, 25 November 2014

10 Questions with... Wolf Alice

It's been a long time since I fell in love having encountered them at a festival, but London's Wolf Alice were that treat back at Beacons 2013, an intoxicating mix of punk spirit, 90's-tastic delivery, and a genuine passion for what they are doing. In the past six weeks alone, they've been announced as the opening act for Alt-J's 02 Arena date, selected for Government export funding and released a free download of a 'Storms', a song that only serves to further exacerbate the desire for their debut record. But just who are Wolf Alice? After a few false starts and a lost set of questions, we caught up with lead singer Ellie Rowsell for a quick chat about festivals, living the dream and teenage angst...

Hi Ellie. With December fast approaching, it's been a pretty cracking year for you and your band, especially in terms of public perception and reviews, what has been your biggest pinch-yourself moment thus far?
For me it was when we went to America and played South by South West. I'd never been to America and it was like stepping into a movie! So to be invited there for "work" was a dream come true. Our shows were all really fun and people seemed to really enjoy themselves so it was a big success too.

You've built up a following through EPs before you release a full length album; do you think this is important for new bands?
It's a good idea for some artists but not necessarily for others. It gives you time to develop, get studio experience and build a fan-base, but it also adds pressure on your debut as you've been waiting so long to do it.

You signed to the Dirty Hit label earlier in the year, why did you decide to go with them?
They're a small label at the moment so we knew they would have lots of time for us; they give us a lot of creative freedom and their enthusiasm for music was very apparent.

You're named after an Angela Carter story; have any other writers had influence on your work? What inspires you lyrically?
Yes, I find it incredibly inspiring in terms of writing lyrics to read a lot of books and watch a lot of films. It means I can write lyrics about other people and experiences other than my own when I don't want to write or think about myself.

I caught your sets this summer at Leeds Festival and 2000 Trees, how did these shows go for you? Do you prefer northern or southern crowds?
2000 Trees was a really nice surprise for us. The crowd were amazing and we had a really good time. Leeds was a dream come true and lived up to all our expectations. Sorry to be boring but I like northern and southern crowds and haven't noticed much difference.

Who would headline a Wolf Alice curated festival?
Miley Cyrus fronting Deftones …

You all grew up in London and even found out that you were at the same Horrors gig aged 14 before you'd met each other; how do you feel about all ages gigs? Do you think there should be more all age gigs/festivals for young people to get into music?
Joff actually grew up on a farm in Cornwall! But, yes, when I was growing up I went to lots of all ages concerts and it upsets me that it's not such a huge thing anymore. I know some concerts are 14+ but to have shows curated specifically for underage kids was incredibly exciting; and drew people to music who would maybe not bother go to a normal gig, and therefore give them an experience they might otherwise not have had.

As a female fronted band, you're often lumped into regressive 'women in rock' round ups; what do you make of this sort of thing? Do you think feminism in music is as big an issue as people make out?
Some people put more effort in to talking about the role of women in music than they actually do writing and playing good music, and I don't think that's a good look, but feminism in music is an important issue. As for the women in rock round-ups, I don't mind them as long as they don't call us girl rock.

'She' is pretty much teen angst encapsulated in a 3 minute rock record – how do you describe your teen years? What advice would you give to teenagers struggling with growing pains?
I found my experience as being a teenager very emotional, and that's why up until now most of my lyrics were about that period in my life - very internal, personal and introspective, which is fun to put into poetry or lyrics and helps in some way to release and understand what you are feeling. So I guess I'd say channel your growing pains into something creative, because your brain is thinking about some of its craziest stuff that deserves to be heard!

Imagine if Wolf Alice were a person. What would be your bio on a dating website?
Wolf Alice enjoys holding hands and long walks on the beach. Also enjoys lager and marathons of the Simpsons.

Download 'Storms' for free from Wolf Alice's soundcloud on the link below.

Monday, 17 November 2014

LIVE: Jamie T, Leeds Academy, 8.11.2014

Fighting my way through a sea of greased back hair and oversized denim, I can see that tonight’s sold-out show is going to be a rowdy one. Five years away has done nothing to dim the popularity of one Jamie Treays - the average age of the audience suggests more than a few have been lured in my the success of his impressive new record Carry On The Grudge, probably only in their pre-teens when he was snarling his way through Wimbledon first time around. However, tonight is about more than the music - it’s a saturday night, and the need to party is palpable.

When Slaves arrive, I wonder for a second if I'm about to be treated to some Dapper Laughs stand up. However, from the first careering crash of their stand-up-drum and guitar combo, it's pretty obvious that they're more madcap than misogyny. Their austere pie'n' mash, halloweeny helter-skelter punk is occasionally heavy-handed, but drummer Isaac Holman's best Sex Pistols impression is oddly watchable, sinister yet likeably cartoonish. Take 'Where's Your Car Debbie', which is apparently a 'laaavely' song about protecting a girl from a Sasquatch. As you were. Much like Gallows before them, there's no denying that their formidable stage presence will offer them something of a cult-like celebrity, with inevitable fame and a spot on the NME Cool List to boot. Ones to watch, without a doubt.

As Jamie T himself shuffles on stage in a beat-up kagoule and a baseball cap, the place erupts in a
way that really shouldn't suit a man of his initial appearance, but is altogether justified as he roars through new album opener, 'Limits Lie'. It appears a few audience members have reached their own limits - reviewing takes a back seat as I avoid the bunch of coked-up lads trying to grope passing girl's bums, try not to look at the bloke with his hands down his girlfriends tights and lean as far away from possible from a drunk girl who promptly spills her WKD cocktail concoction down my back. Luckily, my drenched back evaporates quickly with the heat in the room - old classics Salvador and 368 sound incredible, while new favourite ‘Don’t You Find’ is hollered back with an intensity normally reserved for ‘If You Got The Money’ or ‘Sticks N Stones’.

At the helm of the fracas, Jamie looks as if he's enjoying himself. He speaks very little compared to his last tour back in 2009, perhaps a sign of his increasing social anxiety or perhaps just because he is overawed at the reception he is getting after so long away. It's obvious that he has grown older in the same way his music has - more cautious, less inclined to throw out the punchlines so easily. The setlist is understandably heavy with new material, but it blends well, the album artwork backdrop falling halfway through ‘The Man’s Machine’ to signal the change of pace. New material and old sounds faultless, every spat lyric echoed back in earnest by the crowd.

Despite the rabble rousing, a quiet interlude of 'Emily's Heart' and new slowy ‘Love Is Only A
Heartbeat Away' get the hushed respect so often lacking at gigs like this, a devoted singalong with pints aloft. It’s become painfully clear that this is not a refined audience - people are openly racking up lines, indulging in drunken foreplay that would be better confined to a bedroom, swaying with their eyes closed in a chemical-induced stupor...in fact, in a bizarre twist of fate, every single Jamie T character, good and ugly, is played out here for all to see. Sheila's 'clean young mess’ is being held up by Top Banana Martha near the sounddesk, Boozy Susie is perched on the shoulders of Smack Jack The Crackerman...even Jamie's fucked-up alter ego, Peter, is flicking his ash and staring menacingly at the bloke in fronts girlfriend. It's like a fan convention has broken out in the middle of leeds, a twisted fairytale songbook of social observation brought to life. Perhaps this depraved rave is exactly what our reluctant star has been waiting for. Far from the most comforting of environments, but then, Jamie T never was famed for his sweetness and light. Welcome back to the dark side lad, we've missed you.

Monday, 3 November 2014

REVIEW: Taylor Swift, '1989'

‘I got that red lip classic thing that you like… I got that good girl thing and a tight little skirt’… Taylor Swift knows exactly how she looks to the wider world. Serial dater, lyrical dirty-laundry airer and yet somehow the doe-eyed innocent, the perfect american dream. A good country girl who pines after her beloved, watches the cheerleaders jealously and counts the teardrops on her guitar. Confined to the realms of the family-friendly, destined to be sidelined while the less wholesome girls do their thing.

In one fell swoop, Taylor Swift killed the prom queen. ‘Shake It Off’ was a mission statement with handclaps, an f-you to naysayers that could only have been made more obvious if it had donned hot pants and twerked in the viewers face…oh wait. Attacking her complainers with good grace and humour, she began to show signs of life behind the glossy blue eyes, creating music to match her new-found feminist attitude. 

It should come as no surprise then, that 1989 is an album with similar directness. While ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ and ‘Dear John’ were thinly veiled ‘up yours’ to ex boyfriends, the tales of love, loss and lust displayed here are far less embittered and much more observational for it. It’s not much of a stretch to guess who ‘Style’ might be about, but it doesn’t really matter - far more exciting than a One Direction tryst is the future-pop niche Swift carves out, icy verses blending into a fist-pumper of a chorus that lodges itself deep into the cerebral cortex. Similarly satisfying is ‘I Know Places’, sure the result of Swift’s new found BFF-ness with Lorde, so darkly delicious and almost RnB like is the melody. 

In fact, it comes from a place of kindness when we notice that much of the record is rooted in the better moments of it’s pop forefathers, or more, accurately, foremothers. 1989 is a pinterest board of female influences, inherently feminist in that it celebrates the best efforts of much of pop's most interesting women. Wildest Dreams is the song that Robyn and Lana Del Rey never wrote, the epitome of the gap in the market that Taylor should occupy. The lyric ‘He’s so tall and handsome as hell/ he’s so bad but he does it so well’ is simple, but captures the essence of the breathless Tumblr love that Swift sings so succinctly. ‘Out Of The Woods’ underwhelmed initially, but in the context of a record, it has something of Kylie’s ‘All The Lovers’ about it, whilst ‘I Wish You Would’ could have been lifted directly from the studio sessions for Haim album number two. 

However, it’s only truly great pop stars who can save the best till last. 'New Romantics' is that song. Revisiting Swift’s penchant for a scarlet letter, this is nearest Swift has ever come to a song that could make it onto the ‘Girls’ soundtrack, drawling the lyrics with the cool-girl care of a someone who is having far too much fun. ‘The rumours are terrible and cruel/ but honey most of them are true’ she teases, staring directly in the eye of anybody who might attempt to slut-shame her into submission. Swifty doesn’t want to play Romeo and Juliet anymore - she wants to be a millennial girl, and more power to her. 

Whether you’re approaching adulthood or feeling re-energised after a break-up, this is an album to file alongside ‘Beyonce.’ The sexual politics might not be there with the same force, but the liberation of a girl discovering who she wants to be sure is. Embrace it or fear it, there’s no way you’ll be able to avoid ‘this. sick. beat.'