Ellie Rowsell: ‘There is a power in collective stories about harassment’

Wolf Alice singer speaks about her experience with Marilyn Manson and online trolls

Wolf Alice: ‘It feels like we’re ready to take the next step, whatever that may be’

Wolf Alice: ‘It feels like we’re ready to take the next step, whatever that may be’

 

Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell always had a vague understanding that the internet was full of weirdos, misogynists and people with terrible taste in music. But it was only when she spoke out about abusive behaviour by “shock rocker” Marilyn Manson that she truly understood how much bile was out there, sloshing around Twitter and elsewhere.

“I guess I feel disappointed,” the guitarist and singer says. “I should have expected it, really: that there were so many people online that were angry and, you know, ‘attacky’. I’ve seen trolls online. I’ve never had them on my case before.”

Wolf Alice are preparing to release a remarkable third album, Blue Weekend. But it’s impossible to discuss the group’s recent endeavours without bringing up Manson. This is obviously a heavy subject. Rowsell (28), however, discusses it calmly and thoughtfully.

Rowsell had decided to go public in the context of statements by Evan Rachel Wood and other women about misconduct on the part of Manson

“I met Marilyn backstage at a festival a few years ago. After his compliments towards my band became more and more hyperbolic I became suspicious of his behaviour,” she had tweeted on February 8th.

“I was shocked to look down and see he was filming up my skirt with a GoPro. There were no repercussions for his behaviour, his tour manager simply said ‘he does this kind of thing all the time’.”

Rowsell had decided to go public in the context of statements by Evan Rachel Wood and other women about misconduct on the part of Manson.

The singer was subsequently dropped by his label, touring agency and manager. Last week, his former assistant sued him for sexual assault, battery and harassment. Manson had denied earlier allegations, saying his relationships had always “been entirely consensual with like-minded partners”.

“When all the Manson stuff came out, a lot of the arguments he was using were around consent,” adds Wolf Alice guitarist Joff Oddie (29). “And the thing he did to Ellie was devoid of consent. Ellie just said, ‘I’m thinking of doing this – what do you guys think?’ And everyone unanimously said, ‘we’ll back you no matter what you decide’.”

Manson’s accusers had been subjected to an orchestrated campaign of intimidation, mud-slinging and gas-lighting by a deranged element within his fanbase. It was these attacks that persuaded Rowsell to make a statement.

“You don’t always have to speak out about your experiences – that’s entirely up you,” says Rowsell.

“Every story is different. When a number of women are bringing up a story about a particular man abusing and harassing and he has been given almost godlike status – and no one is believing these woman… Not only are they not believing them, they are attacking them, bullying them, harassing them online…”

There is strength in numbers she adds after a pause. “With more people coming forward with their stories – it shouldn’t have to take that – but it does feel there is a power in collective stories. That is the reason I felt the need to talk about it. I didn’t feel the need to talk about it just if it was my own story.”

Rowsell speaks softly yet there is steel in her voice. The same could be said of Wolf Alice’s music. All sorts of influences go into the blender: what comes out will appeal equally to fans of Hüsker Dü, Slowdive and Billie Eilish. And if you happen to be equally well-disposed towards Hüsker Dü , Slowdive AND Billie Eilish, then congratulations: Wolf Alice are probably already your favourite band of the past decade.

With a Mercury Prize win and two top five LPs under their belt, there is sense of musicians hurtling towards the bright lights. Success has had its downsides, though. Around the time the group won the Mercury for their second album, Visions Of A Life, Rowsell briefly became fodder for the tabloids. The Sun ran a story that she had become engaged to Slaves singer Isaac Holman.

This was in no way a scoop – who cares about the domestic doings of indie singers? – yet was presented as the bombshell of the century.

“It’s not news – why are they putting it in the newspapers?” she says. “I would imagine that it’s very scary if that happens to you all the time. Do we need newspapers doing that stuff? It’s just so old-fashioned.”

Rowsell and Oddie are from North London and Plymouth respectively and first played together as an acoustic duo in 2010. The name Wolf Alice comes from a short story by Company of Wolves author Angela Carter about a girl raised by wolves (“ she cannot speak, although she howls,” it begins).

Their recent single, The Last Man On Earth, for instance, is a gothic power-ballad suggesting Tori Amos collaborating with Joy Division

Four years and countless gigs later, and now expanded to a four-piece, they signed to Dirty Hit, the London label which has nurtured The 1975, Beabadoobee and others. A debut LP, My Love Is Cool, followed in 2015. It charted at two in the UK and earned Wolf Alice their first Mercury nomination.

Wolf Alice have a rare gift for applying themselves to different genres – whether that be the post-grunge of Yuk Foo or the Kate Bush-at-the-indie-disco of Don’t Delete The Kisses.

But because this is 2021 and we’re not allowed have nice things, they’ve sometimes been called out for not being “radical” enough. The case against them is they’re a tad “indie schmindie”.That there is something old fashioned about four Londoners rocking out in a well-worn angsty style.

As it happens, there’s a lot more to Wolf Alice than student disco anthems (not that there is anything wrong with student disco anthems – how poorer all our lives would be without them).

Their recent single, The Last Man On Earth, for instance, is a gothic power-ballad suggesting Tori Amos collaborating with Joy Division. It’s a stunning showcase for Rowsell’s voice, to boot: when she bursts into the chorus of “Let it shine on you” the song leaves its earthly orbit and shoots off into the heavens.

And yet, Wolf Alice were held pinned and wriggling on the wall slightly when winning the Mercury in 2018. Even those who admired the record felt obliged to grumble about Visions Of A Life placing ahead of a field that included King Krule, Jorja Smith, Lily Allen and Sons of Kemet.

Blue Weekend was largely recorded in Brussels during the first lockdown early last year and feels like the culmination of everything they’ve worked towards in their career to date

“Wolf Alice are worthy winners – but the Mercury prize must think bigger,” went a headline in the Guardian. “So what is the Prize’s aim today? Wolf Alice don’t exactly help answer that question,” added the London Independent.

“Of course it bothered me a bit,” says Rowsell, herself a Mercury judge in 2016. “You get given something nice and someone says you don’t deserve it – you always second guess yourself. It’s just a celebration of music. It doesn’t mean you’re any better than anyone else.”

Blue Weekend was largely recorded in Brussels during the first lockdown early last year and feels like the culmination of everything they’ve worked towards in their career to date.

Its release follows an appearance by the band at this year’s live-streamed Live at Worthy Farm event from Glastonbury (the virtual festival was a technical disaster but by every account Wolf Alice, performing in the middle of a stone circle, shone). And whenever Glastonbury returns in earnest, the chatter is that Wolf Alice will make for potential headliners. They are also very plausible contenders to headline Electric Picnic 2022.

“After every album, there’s usually a handful of shows where we go – ‘can we do this?,” says Oddie.

“You look back at the very early days, doing Dingwalls in Camden. We’d sold it out: 500 capacity. It was the most nerves I’ve ever had for a concert: ‘500 people is a ridiculous amount, can I do this?’. But we had faith. And on the next record it was Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and then Brixton Academy and then Alexandra Palace and the main stages of festivals. It feels like we’re ready to take the next step, whatever that may be.”

Blue Weekend is released June 4th

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.