Track by Track is a recurring new music feature in which an artist offers a comprehensive rundown of their new album.
Today, Wolf Alice are back with their sophomore full-length, Visions of a Life. The follow-up to the CoSigned British rockers’ 2015 debut, My Love Is Cool, the 12-track effort is available to stream below via Apple Music.
Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Paramore), the album is angrier and more aggressive than the Londoners have been in the past. You could hear that on the lead single “Yuk Foo”, and they even showed their dreamier side on “Don’t Delete the Kisses”. According to frontwoman Ellie Roswell, that sort of unapologetically guitar-driven sound is exactly what you should come to expect from the band.
“People [label us as] a grunge-meets-folk band. That’s a misconception,” she recently told FADER. “I’m not really sure what that even means. I don’t think people have got a grasp on us just yet. People are always like, ‘What kind of music do you play?’ and actually, I’ve started just saying ‘rock music.’ Because I feel like it’s such a dirty word, and I want to reclaim it. I’m just going to start saying that without a blush.”
Check out Wolf Alice’s brand of rock by listening to Vision of a Life below.
For further insight into how the album came together, the members of Wolf Alice have broken down Visions of a Life Track by Track. Check out what each member had to say about the songs below.
I feel like “Heavenward” was one of the first ideas we really got to grips with; we have a few demo versions floating around, one of which was made in our manager’s office basement and from which the opening build up noise is lifted. That passage always set such a mood and tone and for me that I couldn’t have imagined it as anything other than the opener. The guitars are so dense and there are so many nuances that we had to think carefully about how the sonics of the other instruments should sit; we wanted to avoid classic ‘radio rock’ drums and keep them almost small in size to really push the walls of guitar noise. It’s a favourite of mine, especially lyrically, but also for Joff’s guitar anti-solo that comes in the middle 8th. I won’t reveal how he gets the sound, but so far some people we’ve shown it to have said its a saxophone or a set of distorted bagpipes which should give you an indication of the way Joff approaches the guitar! — Jeol Amey
This stemmed from a demo Ellie made while backstage on tour in Colombus. A couple of days later our wonderfully bonkers guitar tech Jeremy came up to me saying he’d heard it, that it was the best thing Ellie had ever made and then tried to a cappella all the noises and gritty garage band bass sounds. In the studio we just worked on it until we finally had that rush of listening back through the speakers and everyone just getting on their feet and buzzing off what we could hear. Those moments are always important to the four of us, because if we’re excited hearing it for the 100,000th time then hopefully others will be too! The song is anger and a frustration explosion personified and the final vocal take is actually the guide vocal Ellie put down for me and Theo to track to. I’ve found it interesting how polarizing this song’s reception has been; it’s an explosion of anger and frustration personified in song yet people seem keen to critique its ‘intelligence’ or flag its profanity, which is odd to me, because when I’m pissed off there are no pleases or thank yous! I love the fact Ellie sings a lyric like, ‘I wanna fuck all the people I meet’ when people try and box us into the largely male dominated and historically misogynistic ‘rock’ world. — JA
Another song that has a few demo versions floating about before we surrendered to letting it be what it is; a tight, groovy pop song. There was a few moments while writing it where we tried to jam in other musically sections, almost in fear that it was just too short, but after taking a step away from it we realised they were all filler bullshit and it was so much stronger being as concise as it is. It’s probably the driest song we’ve ever recorded and certainly the least reverb we’ve ever used! For the drum tones we had Jacques Dutronc and some of Caans funkier moments in mind. in the studio, I couldn’t get the snare sound right, everything sounding too dense or too rock and it was throwing everything out until our drum tech (legend Mike Fasano) showed me this weird, old piccolo snare that he’d picked up and totally changed everything. We were listening back at one point after to a isolated drum take, after so much trial and error, kind of at that point of going mad over snare sounds, when the wonderful Blake Mills walked into the room from his studio to check out what we were doing. He was listening and tapping his foot and goes, ‘Cool! It sounds like Caan!’ Which was good enough for me to say, ‘We’ve got it!’ — JA
“Don’t Delete the Kisses”:
I wanted to write a love song because I was feeling in love. I find it hard sometimes to think with me feelings rather than my head, which is not good when it comes to love (haha)! So this song goes through the notions of that and overcoming it finally (although I’m not sure I had at that point, but I wanted to be optimistic). In that way, it’s quite an unromantic love song! I wanted the music to be emotive and perfect for a long drive. I’d watched Father John Misty at a festival in Spain and he played “True Affection” which is far more powerful live and the rolling synth gave me all the feels, so I wanted something like that in the tune. I also love that song “Drinking in LA”, which gives me a similar kind of feeling (what is that feeling?) and I suppose that what influenced me to do the more spoken word type singing in the verses but also because I just had so much to say! We went through a fair few versions of this song both at home and in LA, some were too night clubby and some were to indie and finally we found somewhere in between. — Ellie Rowsell
“Planet Hunter” was initially a far more acoustic song; Ellie would strum and sing the first verse regularly in sound checks during the touring of My Love Is Cool. We started to hear the song appearing in more of a shape that it’s in now when Joff came up with a guitar sound that we all fell in love with. This song lent itself to that dreamy noisescape Joff had found better than anything else we were working on at the time. “Planet Hunter” was one we revisited a lot during the recording process; we would make small adjustments, leave it and then open the project up again a few days later. Getting the final “riff” right was tricky, but there was that cliche moment during an overdub that we all felt we had done it justice and I think thats when we finally finished working on it.
We focused a lot on the dynamics of “Planet Hunter” while tracking it as its verses are quite sparse. — Theo Ellis
“Sky Musings” was a demo that had been floating around for a while. It took a few different guises before ending up where it is now. We had played it in a completely live full band arrangement during preproduction but it felt wrong. We ended up in true Wolf Alice fashion going back to the demo’s far more programmed arrangement; while sourcing the drum sound we were referencing Yeezus era drum sounds and Kraftwerk precision, we wanted the music to emulate the relentless nature of the encroaching panic that Ellie is describing. The track itself begins to open up from the concentrated claustrophobia as we added more Moog synths and mellotron sounds it being to grow into a mildly more organic sonic template. Joff’s guitar airplane disintegration sound at the beginning was merely the cherry on top. — TE
“Formidable Cool” again comes from a demo; it was realised properly in our rehearsal room. This song specifically I think shows off Ellie’s vocal versatility the most — there was a long time spent on whispers and screams. It was in fact the first song we recorded when we got to Los Angeles. We focused a lot on getting the initial groove right. It shares a similar DNA to “Beautifully Unconventional” in a way; it’s very taut and has a Motown groove to it, opting for flat wounds and a more vintage drum sound. It came together quite quickly for us and gave us a great boost of confidence going into the rest of the record. — TE
“Space & Time”:
We were in our rehearsal studio sometime late November getting to the end of our writing sessions before we had to pack up and leave for the States when during a quiet moment Ellie picked up her guitar and starting singing “Space & Time”. Joel picked up his sticks and began to play that straight down the line “Moe Tucker” beat. Theo followed suit and I sat there in awe as seemingly a Wolf Alice song had been written in the same time as it took to play it. The only way I felt I could capture the rawness and naivety of the song with my own contribution was to stamp on all of my distortion pedals, wave my guitar around and scream into the pickups making noise. Very shortly after that first run through we recorded a live take of the song that we felt captured the emotion and that was the demo done. Contented in the fact that sometimes under-thinking is the right course of action. — Joff Oddie
“Sadboy” was one of the latest additions to the record. Stemming from a bizarre kind of electronic Brian Jonestown Massacre demo that Ellie had created with de-tuned acoustic guitars and multiple character vocals we set about creating a live “Wolf Alice” version in our rehearsal space. The main body (or first half) was conceived fairly quickly but the later half had a few different incarnations from an instrumental version to a feature artist spot. It wasn’t until some time later when we were in a preproduction studio in LA and we were banging our heads together trying to work out what happens in that particular section when Ellie said to give her playback of the track and a microphone and she would ad-lib something. In classic Ellie form she found a part that was both musically, lyrically and contextually perfect for the section within her first two takes and had all us lads jumping around the control room setting off our airhorn apps. — JO
“St. Purple & Green”:
This was one of the earliest songs to be written, I think I remember writing it on tour with Alt-J in Europe. I wrote it about my grandma; she was a very chatty, eccentric character who unfortunately got dementia. She sang me a song about a place called “Purple & Green” and despite it not making much sense, it resonated with me for some reason. My grandma was not afraid of death but rather quite excited about it; I’ve always found death deeply terrifying so this outlook comforted me. I imagine her now in this make believe place called Purple & Green, which were also her favourite colours, and there she is the queen! This fantastical element to the song was peppered in to the music when Joel added the mellotron voices to the latter half of the song. They remind me of sirens, beautiful yet dark and twisted water fairies luring sailors in to the sea. I think this was one of our most ambitious songs; we had to do a little convincing to people that it was worth bringing to the studio as the demos didn’t quite resonate with anyone else except ourselves. I am so happy we pursued, as it has become a favourite and was one of the most moving to record — I did a shed a tear or two! — ER
“After the Zero Hour”:
This song was the one of the last to record. We wanted to keep it very close to the original home demo, so we weren’t too worried about it. I recorded the guitar outside in our engineer’s garden, which felt apt as I sometimes imagine an old Disney princess singing this song, like Snow White or something. Much like “Planet Hunter”, the lyrics are kind of about going through some sort of change and in this one I begin to see the change as positive. I didn’t think much about the words nor the music as I wrote this but rather let it pour out of me like a vomit of emotion. Most of the other instrumentation was also done on the mellotron and vocals were recorded through an amp in a shed at the back of the garden with Mike the other engineer, who was very patient with me as I was quite particular with how I wanted them to sound. — ER
“Visions of a Life”:
The prospect of getting to work on an eight-minute rock song in three different parts was something that we were all pretty excited by. We love playing with form and structures, but we had never embarked on anything so ambitious. Stemming from three different musical starting points that were woven together, we attempted to create a depiction of a personal journey, exploring different moods and contexts along the way. Though layered in different sections to create a sense of uniqueness to each movement, the main four instruments (two guitars, bass, drums) are a constant throughout. The drums and bass were recorded in one continuous take without a click track, which is a testament to both Theo and Joel as technical musicians. Being so long, we needed it to push and pull and for it to retain excitement throughout and thats what the boys did. — JO
Visions of a Life Album Artwork:
Visions of a Life Tracklist:
02. Yuk Foo
03. Beautifully Unconventional
04. Don’t Delete The Kisses
05. Planet Hunter
06. Sky Musings
07. Formidable Cool
08. Space & Time
10. St. Purple & Green
11. After The Zero Hour
12. Visions Of A Life