London band Dream Wife have been an emerging favorite since releasing singles and an EP over the last couple years. Early in 2018, the trio of Rakel Mjoll, Alice Go, and Bella Podpadec (along with drummer Alex Paveley) released their debut full-length album before supporting high profile tours with The Kills and Garbage. Right as they embarked on their first U.S. headlining tour, the band joined us for a live SubModern Session and interview.
FMQB: So I guess it’s been a couple years since you released your first single, "Hey Heartbreaker?"
Rakel Moll: Yes, it must have been 2016. Alice recorded our EP in her old home.
Alice Go: My parents used to have a nursery in their house, and it was sort of sound proof, so it ended up being the band practice space. And we actually went back there to record the EP there, I mean, what, three years ago? Yeah? But yeah, "Heartbreaker" was actually one of the first songs we wrote as a band.
FMQB: Let’s go back even further than that about how Dream Wife got started. As I understand it was an art school project before it was a real band or something like that.
RM: Well, the story is a bit weird. Me and Bella, we were living together, and we were all studying at the University of Brighton doing different art subjects. We went out one night with our flatmates, and we were talking about on the dance floor how much we wanted to go to Canada. And we thought how do we get to Canada? We had friends living in different parts, so we had to go to a few cities, and we thought why not just make a band and tour around Canada? And then we can maybe even out the travel costs. We thought that was a great idea, so the next day we recruited Alice because she was a sick guitar player, and we really needed more instruments in this band of ours. I was doing performance art at the time, and I needed something for my gallery show. I thought this sounds like performance art, forming a band with the sole purpose of going to Canada. My tutors thought it was hilarious, and we ended up playing our first show at the gallery for this opening in our school. And, yeah, it was such a fun show, and then we went to Canada for about a month, this really DIY wacky road trip.
AG: With like four songs.
RM: I think each of them were like 10 minutes long.
AG: I think we took "Heartbreaker" out there, actually.
FMQB: The 10 minute version, original version?
RM: We did jam. We had this kind of human pyramid at one point.
AG: We had some moves. We had some synchronized dance moves.
Bella Popadec: We also didn’t have a drummer.
AG: No. It was kind of like Le Tigre somehow. It had this rock vibe, but it wasn’t a rock show in the way that it is now. It had this kind of electronic vibe more then, but it was still definitely like rock music.
RM: The electronic vibe came from just having a Roland loop station that had drumbeats on it.
AG: And Rakell would put vocal loops on there as well. It was kind like had a dancier feel, but it was definitely still rocking. We’ve kind of fine tuned that.
RM: It’s so great to have a drummer. We recruited Alex about two years ago. We realized that these songs deserved to have drums and to take this kind of very lo-fi, very DIY kind of approach to it. And be like, no, actually we want to make this real and give these songs a bit of justice there. And Alex is such a great drummer. So, yeah, that’s the story. And luckily that trip to Canada was really fun, and we found this kind of solidarity between us on the road as well. We realized we could work together. We could be in strange situations together and laugh about it, and we work well as a group of wives on the road.
FMQB: Is that where Dream Wife came from?
RM: Actually the name came before we even played a note.
AG: Yeah, we definitely understood it sort of after the actual naming, but…
RM: We thought it was a cheeky name. We decided on the name before we even had our first band practice, which was quite funny. It sort of is kind of idea of critiquing the idea that a dream wife exists in the kind of ’50s stereotype of the American dream of having a dream job, a dream house…
AG: A woman is a commodity almost.
RM: Yeah, and adding a woman is that package deal of the dream, the American dream, and that kind of idea of suddenly a woman becoming an object of one of your things to tick off of the dream list. So we thought that was an interesting kind of approach. And the name is just so cheeky.
AG: Yeah, definitely about the subversion. It’s empowering through that, definitely.
FMQB: It is. Cheeky, subversive, ironic…
AG: Flipping the script, definitely, definitely.
RM: But then through doing this band since that fun road trip around Canada, we sort of … Yeah, this kind of solidarity of this is essentially a marriage. Being a band is a marriage.
FMQB: Oh, in many ways. I’ve talked about this with bands a lot. You’re tied to these people in many ways closer than a marriage.
FMQB: It’s funny. You’re a British band who bonded in Canada with an Icelandic lead singer, right?
RM: Yeah, globalization.
FMQB: Yeah. And you also spent a lot of time in your childhood here in the States, right?
RM: Yeah, I partly grew up in California, hence this little… Every single time I come to America, I go full-blown valley girl for some reason.
AG: It comes out in full!
RM: It’s so weird how accents… Like now… Yeah, accents are funny. I feel so comfortable being…
AG: Back to the roots, yeah.
RM: Yeah. I love England though.
FMQB: Do different accents come out, like here it’s the Californian, in England it’s that, and then is there an Icelandic version of you too?
RM: Yeah, if I get quite shy around people or maybe a little bit too drunk, I become super Bjork.
FMQB: That’s not a bad thing.
RM: It’s not me, so it’s almost…
AG: It’s a part of you. It’s a part of who you are.
BP: It’s definitely one of your layers.
FMQB: We’ve kind of got the genesis of the band, and then it took still a while longer for the album to come out. So what was it like going from recording the EP in the nursery to recording the album and putting it out this year and being on tour all year long pretty much?
AG: I think it’s the thing like certainly with our label, Lucky Number, an indie label based in London, it’s a thing where they definitely support and trust our vision. I couldn’t imagine us working with a better group of people for releasing this first album. It’s just been amazing, and they’ve completely supported us. We’ve been able to have time to get it right on our terms. It’s been a journey of fine tuning it and to get that live show down. It’s been an amazing year of taking those songs around internationally.
FMQB: And speaking of your live shows, I just wanted to say, I love the album, but seeing you live is a whole different thing. It’s a whole other level. You put on an amazing, energetic, enthusiastic show. Another highlight of your live show is "Somebody" and you have a special intro for it. Can you about that a bit?
RM: Well, this song is pretty special to us in many ways. In one way it sort of tackles gender ideals of what you’re expected of your gender, be it any gender, and this kind of idea of having to conform to other people’s ideals and be judged upon that. This song was originally written, having been inspired by the Slut Walk in Reykjavik, where a lot of our friends took part in a similar campaign. This was right before the Me Too campaign was resurrected, that they were going to… you know, publishing in different types of media and taking our socials to talk openly about sexual assault and rape culture and how the system had not been there for them, how the system is sort of designed to be against victims of rape and sexual assaults. So this kind of outroar really affected us, and we wanted to make a song about it. And through that as well, sort of filtering in to this idea of being judged for your gender, as well came into the song as… "do you know how to turn on your amp?" Or this kind of like, still today, having people judging you and your ability on your gender and wanting to box you up. And before the song I like to speak about gender, and the idea of how gender is only a construct, and you shouldn’t be confined within those walls other people and generations have built around it. It’s 2018. You should be allowed to not be boxed up in your own gender, or any gender. So I think it’s more about letting yourself be free from those expectations.
FMQB: You just got off a tour in Europe with Garbage.
BP: Oh, they’re amazing!
RM: The reason why Shirley Manson is so amazing, at least in my opinion…
FMQB: Because she makes her own rules.
RM: She does, and she supports others. I think that’s incredible. She lifts people up. She talks about so many social issues that are not often spoken about on stage, and she makes people feel included, and including us.
FMQB: She was Tweeting and Facebooking about you guys so much.
AG: Yeah, incredibly supportive.
RM: Incredibly. And every single night. That also amazed me, because they’ve been going on since, what, ’93? They’ve been such a great unity together for all those years and produced such great music, but their new songs are as good as what came out during the ’90s.
AG: Butch Vig as well. What a legend.
RM: They’ve been through so many different types of times and music. And she talks about it, and she talks about the injustice, and she talks about the love. It’s just such an incredible thing to be able to witness her live shows. And every single night on this tour, she would take time out of their set to praise us, a new band, and it was beautiful. And she had such kind words to say about our music, and such kind words about our future that it gave me goosebumps every night to know that she was taking that time out of their set to praise us.
FMQB: Now, you’re just embarking on your first U.S. headlining tour. What are you looking forward to on this tour?
RM: Well, similar to how these bands [that we’ve opened for] have a platform, and they invited us to join them on that platform, we were thinking about it doesn’t matter how big or small your platform is. I think it’s so important to sort of understand that you do have one and that you want to support others around you. So for this headline tour that we’re doing, we decided to put out an open call for local support acts that were female identifying and non-binary fronted. We had one week of submissions and we got 433 submissions in one week. It took weeks to listen through it all, but the amount of talent we heard was just so inspiring. And we’ve invited bands to come and share the stage with us; often bands that are either starting out or don’t have the financial backing, label backing, or don’t have the followers. It’s not necessarily a big stage, but it’s so great to be able to share a mutual respect for each other and support other people.
By Josh T. Landow