It’s not every day that a band is formed from a college art project, but Dream Wife isn’t your average band. The British-Icelandic punk trio have been lauded for their biting anthems and rage-filled rallying cries, but even more so for their dynamic DIY live shows filled with handmade props and sets modelled after space beaches or even haunted graveyards.
Astrology is a powerful thing, they say, and chemistry doesn’t lie: the trio’s sonic connection and magnetic energy stems from Rakel Mjöll, Bella Popadec and Alice Go all being fire signs. It’s what made them realise their art project needed to be something more. So, they took their (literal) show on the road.
In 2016, the ladies put out their first EP and followed it up with several singles and another one called "Fire" one year later. Now Dream Wife just released their self-titled debut record at the end of January, after touring stints with Sleigh Bells and The Kills.
Before their show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, we caught up with Dream Wife about their connection, the magic of their live shows and empowering women.
Dream Wife was originally an art school project right?
Rakel: We all studied together at Brighton University and we formed this band as a project originally. We played a gallery opening as our first show in art school. We graduated and moved to London.
Alice: We had all been in different musical projects before and we were in art school. I think it’s this cross-breed of those two things going hand in hand. It’s the context that we’re artists and musicians. We’re out of art school now and the band is more of a conventional band than it was in art school.
How long did it take you to make your debut record?
Rakel: We spent a whole summer [making it]. We signed to a label called Lucky Number in the UK and they put us to work. We had a full summer of writing in a windowless room in Packham. We got no tan, but got loads of songs that summer.
Alice: We should have called this album “No Tan.”
Rakel: Dream Wife: "No Tan." I think Dream Wife, “Dream Wife” is a much better name for this album. We spent a few months doing that during the summertime and then we started recording and mixing, which took about a year.
How did Dream Wife become your band name? I remember being so enticed by it initially.
Rakel: We picked the name before we played a musical instrument together. Originally it was us tackling this idea that the “dream wife” of the 1950s and 1960s was in this package deal; you got the dream house, the dream car, the dream job and then suddenly you got the dream wife as if a woman became an object. Within our songs we lyrically tackle gender roles and different faces of womanhood. We write what we know, and we’re women in our 20s. Women are complex beings - they’re not just one thing.
Alice: It just felt right. It was quite instant. It’s complicated to explain but it means a lot of things. It’s that play of the dream wife doesn’t exist - women can’t be commodified. It’s trying to question the role of the woman and the role of the wife. It’s about us being three women and going out there and supporting each other through it. I think we’re each other’s wives in a sense as well. The meaning of that has become stronger by just doing this project.
Have you gotten any weird reactions to your band name?
Bella: There was this band called S*** Wife.
Rakel: And Dream Husband. Someone was like S*** Wife and Dream Wife...you guys gotta play a show together. I think people are intrigued [by our name]. When you hear the name, you’re intrigued.
Bella: I think you get the cheeky vibe and you get what’s going on here.
What’s the craziest story you have about a live performance?
Rakel: We had a crazy Halloween show once where Bella made about 20 tombstones and we took them over to Moth Club in London. It’s covered in gold - it’s an old pub. It was a graveyard party so that was the theme. People brought their own tombstones. B-Y-O-tombstones. It was so funny. Everyone was crying at the end. There was so much crowd-surfing. You couldn’t tell what was the audience, what was the band.
Alice: And what was the tombstone! There were so many crucifixes!
What’s your favourite song to play live?
Rakel: “F.U.U.” It’s so nice when the bad b***** come to the front halfway through the set. There’s this line, “I spy with my little eye bad b*****.”
Do you always want to make your shows memorable in that way?
Rakel: Definitely memorable, but I don’t think there will be lots of tombstones. Usually our London show has a fun set. You get all your friends, you have time and you live there.
Alice: As artists, there are a lot of things we’d want to do with a show that we can’t all the time, especially if you’re travelling. Shows can be really boring sometimes. You want people to feel like they’re present and you’re all engaged. We worked with our friend Aidan Zamiri and he did set design for our EP launch with a space beach.
You’re all fire signs and you have a song called “Fire.” How has astrology played into your music?
Bella: We always talk about ourselves as a fire trio - fire is present in a lot of ways beyond our astrological symbols. It’s a layer to it, but maybe not driven by it.
Is there a cohesive theme for your debut LP or is each song an anecdote?
Alice: I think it’s that we’re three women in our 20s, and this is what we’ve made, this is what we know and these are our experiences. Ultimately this is where we’re at. We’re women: it’s noisy, it’s angry, it’s sensitive, it’s sentimental, it’s nostalgic…lyrically and musically it’s showing the different faces of women. We don’t fit to a mold of what people think a woman in music should be.
Rakel: It’s our introduction to us. It’s like, “Hi, we’re Dream Wife. What’s up?”
Which artists informed the songwriting on the record?
Rakel: We all have different musical interests. Maybe stuff that you listen to during the songwriting process you don’t go in writing something that sounds like that. Stuff you’re listening to filters in and the outcome might be totally different.
Bella: It was in the mixing process when other artists became apparent because of influences. Everything was very subconscious when we were writing, but with the mixing we had the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, The Cribs, Be Your Own Pet and Gang of Four. It was really interesting to find different ways to describe these sounds that we wanted. It was a really different way of thinking about what we’ve written and how that exists ready in the world.
Is there advice you’ve gotten from artists you look up to that you’ve taken on your journey?
Rakel: We’ve gotten quite lucky to go on tour the last year with bands we love like Sleigh Bells The Kills and The Cribs - artists we discovered we loved when we were in our early teens. You learn by watching and getting to know these people too. I think that’s an amazing thing to do. With Sleigh Bells, for example, seeing them live and how their show escalates.
Alice: It’s an extreme sport for them. Their level of physical dedication is phenomenal. We started taking that a lot more seriously. It’s inspiring to be around these people you’ve looked up to for so long.
Bella: Also the way you dress...you want to feel free. Or how you want to be healthy on tour. We talked to Alexis [Krauss] about that.
Have you guys thought about your next record yet?
Rakel: We just finished this one. One baby at a time.
Dream Wife's debut album is out now via Lucky Number records - they are touring from now until May 2018 - more info here.