Ellie Rowsell sits in the lobby of the Omni hotel in Austin, Tex., on a recent afternoon. She wears a coquettish American Apparel minidress and Doc Martens.
“I’m really more of a jeans-and-T-shirt girl. I don’t think I own a piece of designer wear,” she says. “Not that I’m opposed to it. But, well, I can’t afford it.” That could all change soon. Rowsell, 22, is the lead singer of the London-based quartet Wolf Alice and she was making time at the hotel a few hours before one of the five back-to-back gigs they’ve booked at South by Southwest ahead of the June 23 release of their debut album, “My Love Is Cool.”
This story first appeared in the March 20, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Today alone, they’re playing two shows — 1:30 p.m. at Red Eyed Fly, then 4 p.m. at The Mohawk — a preview of how hectic things will become in the next year, when they headline their first U.K. tour.
“I don’t know what a big break is, but the moment I was like, oh, this has moved on from trying your luck and going to a venue and you [have a] crowd of people who are already in the pub [to] actually realizing that people are leaving the house to come to see you,” Rowsell says.
The band began as a duo, and like many modern-day couplings, would not exist without the Internet. “I wanted to start playing live just on my own, but I didn’t really want to play the guitar, and I was a bit too shy to ask people I knew to play with me, so I went on a guitar forum kind of thing,” she says. Enter Joff Oddie. “He had just moved to London to go to university,” she says of their fateful meeting six years ago. Their band’s name was inspired by a short story in “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. “They’re all kind of twisted fairy tales. Most of her work has feminist undertones, and they’re all quite rude and dirty. I just thought it sounded cool,” Rowsell says. Plus, “Someone told me once I looked like a wolf.”
Later, with the additions of drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis — the four-piece band honed in on an alt-rock sound and released a few EPs, including last year’s “Creature Songs,” which landed on some important best-of-year lists, like the BBC’s Sound of 2015 and Billboard’s Artists to Watch in 2015.
Rowsell, whose fantasy is to one day tour with Kings of Leon, describes the new album as “an amalgamation of lots of old stuff and lots of new stuff. I can’t pigeonhole it.” Though she’s the only girl in the band, she doesn’t dwell too much on her gender.
“I don’t really think about it, until I’m hanging out with a girl on tour and then I’m like, ‘Oh, I forgot I love painting my nails,’” she says, laughing. “I kind of adapt to my situation. Not that I become a boy. Of course not. It’s kind of sad. I’ve stopped being girly.” Thankfully, her bandmates can relate, she says.
“All the guys in the band are in touch with their feminine side.”