Dream Wife

It’s looking grim out there, like the veritable Ghost Town that The Specials so eloquently put it back in 1981 (albeit in response to the spate of riots at the time and rising unemployment). In terms of live music, it is grim. Beyond grim. Suddenly, after decades of uninterrupted live rock’n’roll, there is none to be had. Literally zero. Venues have shut their doors to live music, and as I write this the 50th anniversary of Glastonbury Festival is supposed to be happening. No festivals will be taking place for the foreseeable future. And while pubs are tentatively opening their doors, there will be no live music (the act of singing itself is deemed dangerous to other people’s health…) and probably not even piped music, as it is being guided that people need to be able to talk in normal tones and volume, rather than having to shout to get their point across.

God, it’s bad. There are no two ways about it. And for musicians, those who main raison d’etre is to perform in front of an audience, it’s nothing short of disastrous.

Resilience, however, comes in many different forms. And for Dream Wife, it currently means spending more time cooking and gardening, and doing the sort of things you meant to get around to doing pre-lockdown “Me and Alice are in the house together in South East London, and Rakel is in Reykjavik, says Bella, of the current whereabouts of Dream Wife. “It’s a tremendously unsettling time, especially with getting the government updates,” she says. “That’s very strange, and very unclear, and ugghh, yeah…. But, in terms of day-to-day life it’s pretty nice in the house, in this routine of having house meals every night. Basically, we’ve been cooking, eating, crying, reading, gardening, dancing, walking in the woods, biting nails while watching the news, making music, yoga, meditation, having meetings, lying really still for a long time, watching TV, DIY, tattoos, knitting, doing interviews about the album, watching the plants grow, drawing, baths, cleaning, worrying and so on.”

Alice Go, Bella Podpadec and Rakel Mjöll released their self-titled debut in 2018, earning support slots with the likes of Garbage, Sleigh Bells and The Kills, securing syncs in shows like Orange is The New Black, all the while using their platform to lift up other womxn (as they like to term women in general, including those of a gender fluid aspect) and non-binary creatives with empowering messages and their “girls to the front” ethos. Now, in the midst of lockdown and no live music, the band’s second album So When You Gonna… is out, dealing with topics such as abortion, miscarriage, and gender equality, and produced entirely by a non-male team of producer and mixer Marta Salogni, engineer Grace Banks and mastering engineer Heba Kadry. Like their debut album, it’s full of energy and spice. And in line with the album title’s meaning: “It’s an invitation, a challenge, a call to action.”

From the explosive cartoon-like energy of ‘Sports!’ along with its sister-in-arms title track, through to the sparser drive of ‘Hasta La Vista’ and coiled sprung-punk of ‘Homesick’, through to the David Byrne-inspired vocal delivery of ‘Validation’, and the gentler meanderings of ‘Temporary’, and electro-pop foundation of ‘Old Flame’, the album positively reeks of the fun-filled DIY approach that they have wholeheartedly embraced since forming whilst all at Brighton University in 2016. It’s just a shame that we can’t see them doing this live for the time being, although their UK tour is now expected to happen next spring. All we can do is keep our fingers and toes crossed and do what we think are the responsible actions. It’s so painfully obvious to even bring the subject up, but inevitably the question is popped: As a band it must be incredibly frustrating to not play shows… “As a band that likes to play live, it is obviously frustrating,” says Bella, stating the all-too-obvious, whilst hysterically cackling for effect. “What can I say!?

“Obviously, as a band who essentially built their career off playing live, we’ve always centered that as part of the experience of being in a band, and the importance of people coming together in a physical space. 2020, in all of our minds, was when we were going to be touring constantly. It’s been a very fast change of pace and perspective. I think the mental journey in accepting that that’s not going to be the way for now, is a difficult thing.”

Have you got any plans in terms of performance? Is it even possible for you in the online world? “We’re working on some ideas for some live performances that is semi-live, layering different people’s parts. It’s very much figuring out how to do things differently. A band that is a rock band, it’s about that full experience. It’s very hard to do the stripped back things that are appropriate for this time.”

We do have the album, thankfully. And equally thankfully, new music hasn’t suddenly disappeared. Since lockdown there has been a tremendously creative and invigorating outpouring of new music released, from all quarters. If nothing else, lockdown is affording greater opportunities for people to dive into a new release. Like Dream Wife’s new album.

“I think that in times of isolation and dislocation, music is a tool for bringing people together and not feeling alone,” says Bella. “I guess it’s hoping for finding ways to do things differently, and work with the situation. I really do think that limitations can be really interesting in breeding creativity. Everyone has to be creative in how they go about these things. And it’s such a constantly shifting situation as well, it feels like you are always trying to get to grips with it all.

“In terms of adversity people really need music,” continues Bella, “and I think sticking with the original release date feels really important in terms of being able to provide that. There was definitely a conversation about moving the date, and obviously we’re not going to be able to do the touring that was intended around that. There were tour dates around October this year, but it feels inappropriate, and disrespectful even, to be even thinking about touring. It feels that for the live aspect of the music industry, it’s such a full stop. With so many venues are under threat, it’s like who even knows where people will be playing when live shows come back?”

After performing over 200 shows in 2018, Dream Wife took the pedal off the gas in 2019 to concentrate on the all-important second album, the so-called sophomore album. When a band releases its first album, they’ve got all the material they’ve been working on for years to draw from and all the energy of youth behind them. To make a second album that’s any good, they need to start writing new material and be able to handle the stresses of being in a band full-time. Was there a different approach to the making of So When You Gonna…? “Oh yeah! The whole process was completely different. The first album was written over a much longer period, and actually largely written during shows. We would have an idea, try something out, and workshop it in this live environment. At the start of last year when we had finished touring the debut album, we did all these little trips away to write songs, and it was much more focussed, and getting into a zone, really working through something and digging into it.

“Just doing the first album we understood stuff about pre-production, and we worked on that, talking about structure and sounds. In the studio, with the first album, we recorded everything within the space of a week, on tape, whilst we also had a bunch of live shows on the go. They were incredibly long days, incredibly busy. With the second album, to be able to spend the time to make sure something was right, was good. And with the tape (analogue tape) you would practice something 20 times, your hands would be swollen. We worked with a producer, Marta Salongi who is the most incredible person – so intuitive, so technically proficient, so humorous, so emotionally engaged in everything we were trying to do, and working with someone so dynamic and creative, that was also pushing you to the point where you were in the zone. Not pushing you too hard, but helping you to find a place where everything is as natural and comfortable as it can be.”

“‘Sports!’ is a really fun, silly song, really high energy. We wrote that at my parent’s house. All of my siblings are massively sporty. Two of them have played international rugby, one of them is a black belt in karate, and then there is me over here, this kind of arty weirdo. So, we were in that environment, surrounded by all of those things. The song is acknowledging the ‘silliness’ of sports, and the kind of ridiculousness of it, and we’re drawing parallels between that and other things, expanding the idea of what sports can be, and where you can get those things which you can get from sports. Playing sports is great, if that’s for you, but there are so many other ways to be physical, to be with your body. For us, more often than not, it’s the rock show. Rock’n’roll is an extreme sport and we’re a team.”

I can hear the musical ghost of Prince here and there. Like on the Prince-like title of ‘U do U’ and the haunting album closer ‘After the Rain’. “We spoke a lot about Prince during writing! ‘U do U’ is about following your own path, the heartache of not being able to be truly present for loved ones while touring and all the other places you can pour love. And ‘After the Rain’ is an exploration of the thought processes following abortion. It’s a look at personal response, and social response. It questions the existing narratives surrounding abortion and body autonomy more generally.” 

It looks like it was important to have an all-female production team. “We did a bunch of producer dates with different people, and it happened in a quite natural way. Marta felt unquestionably like the right person to work with. But it also felt really important to support women in the industry. There are still crazy statistics like less than five percent of albums produced last year were produced by women. It’s shocking that is still the case. To work with women who are powerful and acclaimed in their field, it’s good for everyone.” Indeed, the subject of empowerment is very close to Dream Wife’s bosom, as epitomised by their excellent podcast series which sharply focusses on those developing their creative impulses, each episode a one-to-one interview with a different creative person, connected with Dream Wife, about how exactly they managed to start, develop, and hone their craft. Bella, Alice and Rakel take it in turns to interview friends, collaborators and people who inspire them across multiple creative fields. Having always been outspoken about holding up other woman and non-binary people in the arts and creative industries, the band have – as they say on the track ‘Sports!’ -“put their money where their mouth is” with this both informative and engagingly conversational series. What would you call the opposite of gate-keeping?” reflects Bella. “Facilitator? Enabler? It’s all about opening the gates.”

It’s this DIY, no-nonsense, direct action approach that has informed the band ever since they devised the band as an art project whilst at Brighton University. Brighton is where it all took shape, including meeting their manager, Tim, and releasing their first EP on his fledgling, incubator label, Cannibal Hymns. “We played a lot of live shows before ever releasing any music. One of these shows happened to be a very last-minute booking to support Karin Park and the now closed Bleach venue in Brighton, which was, at the time just across the road from where Rakel and I lived. Tim was running the venue at the time. Despite a promoter fuck up and literally five people showing up to the show, we gave it our all and developed a sweet camaraderie with Tim. It wasn’t until we were setting ourselves up to self-release our first EP that Cannibal Hymns stepped in at the last minute to release it. We started working closely with Tim from this point and developed deep mutual trust and respect.

“Yes, Brighton holds a very sweet important part of our hearts. We formed Dream Wife while studying various art subjects at the university. Honestly, the band was formed around a desire to travel; specifically to visit friends in Canada. It was kind of a joke but ended up being incorporated into an art piece and our first show was an art show on the uni campus. While I wouldn’t ever have described this project as a ‘fake band’ it did initially have a singular purpose of getting us to Canada and it wasn’t until we did that tour and came back that we realised we enjoyed making music together so much it would be a shame to let things end.

Dream Wife have just announced that all proceeds from digital Bandcamp pre-orders of So When You Gonna… will be donated to Black Minds Matter and Gendered Intelligence. Black Minds Matter connects Black individuals and families with professional and mental health services across the U.K., and Gendered Intelligence aims to increase understandings of gender diversity, working with the trans community and those who impact on trans lives, with a focus on supporting young trans people aged 8-25.

Jeff Hemmings