The Brighton garage-punk trio on the importance of holding space for safe expression, anger and, yes, joy
By: Yeow Kai Chai
If their band name rings a bell, chances are you are an old-school cinephile, a diehard who adores old Hollywood films. Dream Wife is the title of a 1953 American romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and directed by Sidney Sheldon, later a writer of novel potboilers.
As it is, it is the name adopted, tongue fully in cheek, by one of the most exciting rising rock bands today – the Brighton garage-punk trio, comprising lead vocalist Rakel Mjöll (from Iceland) and her bandmates, guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec. It instantly sets up conversations about women rights, gender roles and equality.
Interestingly enough, the group was formed as a “fake band” – part of an art-school performance project in 2014 while all three were attending Brighton University, and which ambitiously included a mockumentary shot in the style of This Is Spinal Tap. And lo and behold, they got an excellent response, and suddenly, Dream Wife became something of a viable proposition.
They recorded their first self-titled EP in 2016 and did a tour of Canada and Iceland, eventually performing at South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas. By then, they had earned a reputation for their blistering live shows and anarchic music videos. They released their self-titled studio debut album in 2018 to critical acclaim, with pundits praising them for their “polished, assured slice of melodic punk” and one rhapsodising: “God damn have we been waiting a long time for a band like Dream Wife.”
It’s a thrilling sound one can trace back to the Riot Grrrl of the 1990s, but also to their finely-honed ear for the super-lean New York bands of the noughties like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Kills (which they opened for during a Stateside tour).
Beyond music, Dream Wife are also making sure women are being taken care of. To create a safe space, the band implemented a ‘bad bitches to the front’ crowd policy; invited female and non-binary acts to come on their British tour last year (2018); and had been working with Girls Against, a British organisation campaigning against sexual assault at live shows.
Dream Wife sound off on the #MeToo movement, the ingredients of a great live show and where they would like to visit when they make their Singapore debut at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions.
Female sexuality and gender roles are very much part of the ethos of Dream Wife. With the reverberations of #MeToo still rumbling through the world, how do you think the work of Dream Wife fits into the current conversation?
What #MeToo did was highlight just how universal issues surrounding sexual assault still are throughout the world and across all social and economic backgrounds. The movement brought these individual experiences and struggles together and pointed to the flaws in our collective understanding of not only what is acceptable behaviour but also how we conceptualise survivors and the process of speaking out.
Holding space for the continuation of these conversations is important, so is holding space for people to come together, holding space for safe expression, holding space for anger and holding space for joy.
Do you see any changes, radical or incremental, in how women are being treated in rock these days?
Maybe one of the most uplifting shifts I have observed from this current wave of female empowerment is the doing away of competition among peers. Womxn in rock have been (and let’s be fair, still are) hugely disproportionately represented in the mainstream.
The shift seems to be toward the empowerment of each other rather than tearing each other down or viewing each other as competition. It is no longer about viewing a womxn as an anomaly in a ‘man’s world’ but shifting the parameters of that world to make it more inherently inclusive. Womxn belong in rock.
The song ‘Somebody’ has become a feminist anthem and is based on a personal experience by Rakel. How does it feel to witness the audience embrace the song, and shout back the chorus?
It’s a mutual experience for all. Being judged because of your gender or what you look like or your abilities and disabilities. The song speaks to many because we all experience this in one way or another and we need to reclaim our own identity and life.
The more we played this song around the world, more people came up to us with so many stories of violence, assault, and negative labels that had been placed on them because of their body or behaviour, and how by singing this song they felt a solidarity. To have written a song that speaks that way to people, is an honour.
Dream Wife started as an art school project in Brighton when you were all schoolmates. At what precise point did you realise that you were actually quite good, and could make it a full-time pursuit?
There wasn’t really a precise point. Initially the band was meant to be a few months’ project culminating in a very D-I-Y tour across Canada. Upon completing this, there was a strong sense among us all that it was something we just couldn’t stop doing and it’s just snowballed from there, the snowball is still getting bigger and gaining momentum.
You have gained a reputation for being a great live band. What do you think are the elements of a great live show? Were there bands/musicians whom you admire, and have learned from?
A great live show can look like a lot of different things. For us it’s a kind of an intersection between high, frenetic energy, sweat, existing in the present and a kind of controlled chaos. We’ve been super honoured by a number of the bands we have gotten to play with, and have learned so much from them.
Notably from Sleigh Bells we learned about the line between being a musician and being an athlete, and the importance of looking after yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. From The Kills, we learnt about on stage chemistry and DRAMA. It’s all about having fun and enjoying the moment, because you’re not gonna get it back, so let’s have the time of our lives and dance and feel the music!
You are also known for your D-I-Y and collaborative spirit, crediting artists, photographers, designers, directors and musicians. Why do you think it’s important to cultivate such a community?
We went to art school – it’s in the DNA of this band. Collaboration is fun, and it broadens your perspectives and horizons. One of music’s greatest powers is bringing people together and the shared space it creates. It’s important to honour the collaborations that make what we do possible.
Talking about dream collaborations, are there any other musicians/filmmakers/artists you have yet to work with?
This is a big question. There are so many wonderful artists and people in this world. Right now we’re loving our creative team that we’ve got around us and we’re excited to see what we will make together. For the future, who knows? But yeah obviously, Madonna.
The Bad Bitch Club, started by photographer Meg Lavender, turns the limelight on your audiences and their stories. What have been some of the most interesting encounters you have had with your fans?
It was really amazing after shows when Meg would grab you and be like “Hey, hey, you need to meet this person.”
One encounter that sticks in my mind is a 16-year-old girl who’d never been to a rock show before tells us a secret – that she has only shared in her diary – that she is gay. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to speak your truth and I hope she is on a path of moving more and more into herself.
Are you already writing songs for your next album? How different are they from those on the first album, thematically and musically?
It’s been a game of teasing out all the extremes present in the first album. The wild bits get wilder and the emotional, sensitive parts get more space and delicacy and the cheeky bits get sillier. It’s pushing the light and shade with power and honesty.
You will be performing for the first time in Singapore in December. What can the audience expect? And do you have any specific message you would like to say to them?
Let’s get sweaty.
It’s our first time ever visiting to Singapore! We have lovely friends there, and heard so many great things. Very excited to perform a rock show, see friends, make friends and explore the city. We’ve heard there is an amazing botanical garden too.
Dream Wife performs at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions on Saturday, 7 Dec, at the Pasir Panjang Power Station. Get tickets here: http://bit.ly/ABCapactix