Wolf Alice bassist Theo Ellis owes his career to the noble profession of nursing.
Back in 2012, when he was just another anonymous, hard-up musician trying to make a crust in uber expensive London, Ellis was working with an early formation of the band in a studio he shared with a few other musos.
Then an opportunity suddenly opened up when Wolf Alice bassist Sadie Cleary decided to pursue a career in nursing.
It’s why Ellis says he counts his blessing every day to be a member of the Mercury Prize-winning quartet.
“Originally I was just filling in,” Ellis tells Music Confidential.
“She (Sadie) ended up leaving… to do something worthwhile (laughs). But somehow I ended up sticking around. I’m very lucky.”
When drummer Joel Amey – a friend of Ellis’ from his teenage years – joined that same year, the pair honed their craft on the tools. “We hadn’t really played our instruments too much,” he says.
“Joel had never played the drums before Wolf Alice. He’s one of those really annoying, really talented people (laughs).”
In fact, Ellis admits some of their early shows were “pretty bad”, as they agreed to “every show” that was thrown their way.
“We found our feet very much in front of everyone. It was quite fun in a way,” he recalls. “The four of us found our feet together. Battled through playing to one person in very strange bits of England and eventually got a bit less s..t.”
Ellis says it wasn’t until the band started to put together early song Fluffy in a rehearsal room in Holloway, north London, where things started to click.
He says there was an air of excitement, and the group began to believe bigger things were afoot.
Australian fans got an early taste of the group through the ’90s indie pop tones of Bros and harder edges of Moaning Lisa Smile, in 2015 – a sonic mix of Veruca Salt, Best Coast and Australia’s own Howling Bells.
But it was sophomore album Visions of a Life two years later – through the feels-punching Don’t Delete the Kisses and jaunty Beautifully Unconventional – which made them a Triple J staple.
Ellis says he was aware of the buzz they were creating Down Under, but initially didn’t realise how far the J’s tentacles spread across the country.
“Triple J started playing us, a really long time ago,” he says.
“We thought it must be some kind of small time student radio (laughs).”
Visions of a Life scored them a Mercury Music Prize for best album last year — and rare praise from a family member: “My nan texted me… and she very rarely engages in what I’m doing.”
It was sweet vindication for the band, who were once told by an industry figure they “didn’t fit the bill” of what a band should look like.
“We spoke to a lot of labels,” he says. “Everyone gave you a handshake and bought you a pint, but no one really drew up a contract and signed us.”
With their third album still in the “embryonic” stage, the band recently enjoyed several months of “just living” like normal citizens.
“Which has been so unbelievably nice,” he says.