Lifelong Arsenal supporter, Theo Ellis of Wolf Alice lets us in on his love for the club, the ride along the way, and personal milestones on route to the top of the charts with a number one album.

Wolf Alice have been one of the most acclaimed bands of the last decade; sound after sound, breaking waves as well as charts. A king at their core is Theo Ellis – a lifelong Gooner and bassist, as well as a damn nice guy. A unique perspective on where football meets music and adding style as well as substance, we travel from the first shirt through to the most recent kick about.

Arsenal then to begin with. What does the club mean to you? 

I grew up in North London and everyone in my local school was an Arsenal fan. I was right by where Highbury was growing up, so the natural thing was to support Arsenal. My dad had a season ticket. A pool of people on my street, where I grew up, we had family enclosure at Highbury and going to Highbury from when we were young was just amazing. I grew up with arguably one of the best teams in the Premier League. Now I'm upset that I didn't savour it more because I still support Arsenal in a huge way, but what I was watching was so momentous. It was everything to me as a kid I was a fanatic. 

Sharing a ticket like that, it's really pure and what football is all about isn't it? 

That Highbury era was just amazing, where you had the banks, the stadium was so close to the pitch and you had much more of a community atmosphere than at the Emirates. Not that the Emirates isn't a beautiful stadium, it is what modern football is. Like you said it really felt like a nice family thing. 

Do you remember the first time you heard about Arsenal as a kid or had an emotional connection that kicked it all off?

I think the first time I got an Arsenal kit was when my babysitter, Julia, came back with it must have been the JVC one. You know when you really want your first football kit? That was the moment I got it and I was absolutely buzzing. 

What was it about certain players that attracted you as icons for you? 

I loved flair and character. I loved Emmanuel Petit, not really sure why. I loved Ray Parlour, which is so strange for a kid to love Ray Parlour. That's such a weird player to really like but I think it's that character. He was very much an architectural image of pint drinking, Romford Pele, so cool. I never was really interested in people who banged loads of goals in, I was interested in people who did loads of stopovers and looked really cool. Robert Pires with the gold boots and stuff like that. 

So iconic. I always think of Ian Wright and seeing a little bit of his chain out of his shirt and little things like that…

Knowing my vanity and love of clothes now it was very much like that with football. I would rather see someone go past someone in style than score a goal while wearing cool boots. 

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Football has a history of being so ‘ladsy’ do you ever feel like an outsider as someone who is creative, into fashion but also loves football?

I felt like that when I was younger. I played loads when I was a kid and I loved playing football. I was bang average, still am, but there was a point when you get to that teenage age and how you become predetermined by people around you as to what you are. When you get into music you are then a creative type, it was way more tribal than it is now.

I think the magpie culture of social media, Instagram, you see so many kids picking and choosing loads of different things and mashing them together. I'm so jealous of it for what my childhood could have been like. When I was getting into bands and listening to punk music, wanting to smoke cigarettes behind an Odeon, I felt like I could only do that and football was for someone else. It's really interesting to see now.

I feel like the democratic of football fans is changing so much for the better. It's more inclusive with different walks of life. It's always been a multicultural sport but it's also been quite male dominated. I definitely felt like an outsider a bit in my teenagehood. I was still watching Arsenal but I didn't want to play anymore. I wanted to be in a band and I didn't think that is what you did. Unless you're Serge from Kasabian.

I guess that's the flip side, Hector Bellerin as an example, you get more characters like that. It's all about representation really. Showing you can have interests that don't follow the narrative…

100%. Fingers crossed that should be changing and reflecting. I always find it horrible when musicians get berated for talking about politics. That was something we experienced recently, watching football players getting berated for having interests. They get attacked for the most minute things, for having an opinion. It doesn't breed through a culture of anything positive, footballers don't just have to perform on a weekend and that's where they exist. What Bellerin is doing conversation wise is amazing. From the environment to photography.

It's amazing you observe that and can see that. What you just said needs to be taken to a football team.

Someone was saying the other day that they think some of the online abuse footballers receive would maybe be less if they expressed more personality, so you feel you get to know them. At the moment they are isolated and a revered thing. It's just humanising it, they seem so unrelatable, but of course they are relatable.They are human not just machines.

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How much are you craving the experience of going to a game and the community of it?

The community thing is the most damaging and saddening thing as a byproduct of what's happened with Coronavirus. Even playing in a Sunday league team that is a lifeline or friendship and community across the country. It's really damaging for loads of people. That's where their community exists for people who live and breathe football. That's the aspect I think I have missed the most. The lower level and grass roots stuff. Supporting a team like Arsenal is so huge and you are sitting as a season ticket holder miles away. So watching it on TV has not been terrible, of course I miss going to the game. But it was more the low level playing football, hanging out with your friends and I imagine it would be way worse if you're a non league team.

We often make comparisons between being a player and being a musician. How do you compare to going to a gig as a fan and going to a match as a fan?

I always think that. I think it's 50,000 times harder to be a football player in front of people performance wise. First of all because when you sell tickets to a gig, those people generally want you to do well. If you're playing away 60,000 want you to die. They really dislike you. In terms of the mental health side of things, I am in awe they are able to perform in that arena. Imagine having a bad first touch and 60,000 people calling you a wanker. If I play a wrong note people are still singing the song. I always think that this would be hard. How many gigs have you gone to and people have just booed? You are very forgiving because if you have paid for a ticket you like the band and heard the music already.

What about the routine of the preparation and the training? There's a lot of parallels in terms of the graft that goes into being a musician…

There is now in the way it is kind of it has become cleaner a little bit. Without sounding derogatory to current music, coming from a musician, it's less associated with people being all over the shop. The Rockstar cliché way. Which is sad but also great as you are getting better gigs but you're also getting less of that mad romance. For us we really feel you owe it to people who are paying for tickets to put on a great show. There are definitely parallels where you all lock yourself away in a room, for about two months, and get the show to a point of muscle memory. It becomes instinctive and you will go away to play 150 shows in a year. It can become, through repetition, a sport in a way. As an artist you are not necessarily progressing or doing the same thing each night.

Say you are going to a game, a goal goes in and you get that rush of adrenaline. Can you compare that to hitting the right note when you get on stage? Or when you step off stage and that's being a proper victory.

They share exactly the same pallet of energy, it's something you can't get anywhere else. Our guitarist, Geoff, was talking about it the other day. That feeling, that adrenaline, is something I think I find only at football games. Especially when you are there. I think that's partially to do with massive groups of people coming together to do one thing. The energy is just amazing.

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As someone who goes to football matches and is passionate about fashion, what do you actually like to wear to a game?

Do you know what I definitely do have a predetermined football outfit. It's difficult because seasonally it's fucking cold and you are going to wear anything that keeps you warm. Most of my memories of live football are being cold. But yeah I definitely do you know. I think it's a subconscious thing. I will try and scale back what I am wearing. I will try and not stand out so much. That boisterous, taking the piss, some of the funnier chants, is a side of it I love. But it is also very negative because it's causing people not to truly be themselves. I would love to show up in a Dior suit with an Arsenal shirt on. To be honest you probably are a wanker if you wear a Dior suit down to the Emirates. It would be amazing if it was diversified a bit, with different styles and it wasn't just Stone Island pumping to the max, as much as that is a fantastic ascetic. The style that comes from the terrace culture I think is amazing. But I probably don't represent myself.

Football has been so prevalent in your life despite music coming into it. How has it been while you are on the road? Is it a healthy distraction? A good form of escapism?

Yeah it's a really good distraction. You can become quite consumed in what you are doing. When you have your crew, your management, all this different stuff. Ultimately gearing up for this one bit of an hour and a half. So getting your head out of your own immediate world is really positive. If you are watching 90 minutes of football or anything that really helps your mental health. There's a lot of sitting around when you are a musician.

While it is a little bit cliché, football being a universal language, you do romanticise about being on the road and bands bumping into other bands and you can instantly talk about football.

That happens. I remember the World Cup just gone. We were on tour and it was festival season, it was so funny watching all the English bands trying to get a stream. You find Liam Gallagher’s monitor had a stream and all the crews trying to hang out. I remember watching it with some of Liam Gallagher’s crew and it literally was that unifying thing.

Are there moments like that where you're, not a fanboy, but your inner child comes out?

With the musicians you like, yeah. When you meet someone you have idolised you are always looking for common ground and 90% of the time football is the topic. Even with the transient aspect like local crews. You want to chat to new people because you have been with the same 10/12 people all the time. Just taking to someone in Marseille about Marseille you get a taste of the culture.

You have almost been in the band for 10 years. How would you describe the decade?

It's been amazing. It's so hard to quantify. 10 years ago I was 18 and now I'm 28. So I've literally become who I am in that time as well. At the moment I am trying to look at it from a bird's eye view, untangle which aspects of my personality have been shaped by being on tour for so long. Which aspects are just me becoming older.

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When you started in the band and the expectations for the things you have done now. Did you have those expectations or were they just dreams?

My main thing was to play the O2, pay the rent and be able to survive. Music was always a hobby, until it becomes your job, so it was your dream to monetize that. That sounds very much like I don't love the art of music. When that happened that was a massive success. Then the goalposts change when you get a bit bigger and start to think “It would be amazing if we get to play The Forum at Greenwich.” I remember when we played at Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace) and from since then I was saying I completed it for me. Everything else has just been a fucking bonus.

Where are the places that you dream about and would love to play?

You always want to headline Glastonbury, festivals and stuff like that. But honest to god I've been career happy since Ally Pally in 2018, I've been basking with a glow for three years.

Again parallels with football in terms of how commercial and more shiny it gets, does that happen with music? Where you become further away from the fans?

It does just by the nature of it becoming a business. Because if you have people come out to see you and have to do it in multiple countries, multiple cities, over the course of a week, then people will facilitate that. It's just the business side of things. But now with Twitter, Instagram and everything, there's so many more ways to connect with fans. You don't get to chat with everyone outside and have a pint. When there's ten people at your gig you're buying everyone Jägerbombs.

Could you describe for your love for where football and the summer meet? We have the Euros this year, festival season too - it’s such a great time of year isn’t it?

Just excitement. If I had a festival combined with the Euros that would be magic. That World Cup frenzy was euphoric. I remember coming out of the pub and everyone just stopping all the buses. It's such a great unifier isn't it? Everyone gets together for that, it's just a good occasion. The world could definitely do with a bit of joy.

It's the perfect storm. If England can do well and we come out of this vaccinated, it's the perfect party. Do you have those memories of watching it in the garden or when you were a kid?

I think the one that I remember the most was Korea and Japan. I remember watching it on projector screens in school. That was the one that was amazing. I remember, as a football fan who knew a little bit more about how the game works, rather than just being a child. Was the South Africa one with the Vuvuzela’s.

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On Stadium sounds…Have you heard one of your tracks in a stadium before?

No but I would kill for that to happen. I don't know which one it would be though. Last Man on Earth, our new one, was on the rugby the other day. So that was not interesting to me. In fact I was annoyed. They always play Right Here Right Now at the Emirates and at Highbury they played it as well. That feeling was my euphoria of that song. If that could somehow switch to one of our tunes for the foreseeable future I would love that. That would top the Ally Pally.

What about the process of writing music and hitting that sweet spot. Again with the football crossover, if you hit a perfect volley you know that's just so sweet, what about with making music?

To date there has not been a perfect volley within writing a song. It's a lot more bit part and a lot more coming to and from it. There are times where you have moments. You are playing different ideas and you might hit that right note, that takes you to a different pit of the song, then that's how we get to the chorus. But that ain't got a patch on top bins.

How about the whole of last year and lockdown? Has your mind changed? Are you still the same or have you down out with a different mentality?

I think I found it really amazing. In terms of taking a look and thinking about the experience all of this has had. I just can't believe sometimes I was on a flight to South Africa and then play a show in Australia. All the while you are probably just thinking “I'm tired.” But it's actually such an unbelievable experience. So I've got a lot of gratitude for that. I'm diabetic and one of the ways that I deal with my diabetes is through playing football. My blood sugar levels are always so much better when I play a lot of football. I've become kind of addicted to football because I run a lot but it's so boring. Team sports have been a lifeline. So getting that bit of cardio from a personal perspective, having that taken away has probably been the shittest thing.

You still play football too, you must be so keen to be playing again. With that in mind, your mates who you play with must be pretty buzzing to have a mate who's doing so well in band?

I'm desperate to play football. It’s funny with football, careers are irrelevant when you’re on the pitch. You have a bad touch you're getting screamed at. If you have got a hot tune or not. It's more of team sports being a great unifier. I've played football with my mates for a while so I don't think they care about what I'm doing. It's funny I did play a game and this lad on the halfway line before we kicked off was like “Fucking hell are you in that band?” Then just put a massive tackle in on my straight away.

Do you think just being you is the equivalent of a kid who turns up with the silver boots?

I feel like that sometimes. I'm a black boot lord at the moment. I would love to get a pair of something yellow but I feel like I've got a target on my head. Not everyone who I play football with knows who I am. We actually play in a league, there's a team called “Western Ballers” and I think Dave plays for them. I've seen him on the touchline and we are supposed to be playing them on Wednesday… I imagine that must be an absolute nightmare because he's famous famous. I think he's got a bit about him too. A good player.

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Photography by Elliott Wilcox & Pete Martin
Styling by Robbie Canale

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