Top image: Dream Wife, photography by Joanna Kiely
The story of how Dream Wife came to be offers real insight into the band’s creative flair and ethos. Innovative from the beginning, Rakel Mjöll (lead vocals), Alice Go (guitar, vocals) and Bella Podpadec (bass guitar, vocals) had the inspired idea to devise a band as a means to travel to Canada.
During this time, she repurposed the concept for an art project at Brighton University, where they were all studying. “We just got an idea that we wanted to visit Canada, so we thought it was a great idea to start a band for the sole purpose of going to Canada.” Rakel tells us below. Initially, the group didn’t see beyond their month-long jaunt overseas, but it was journeying on the Mega Bus with only four songs to their name that cemented their friendship and ignited their chemistry.
Dream Wife is a band, yet in many respects it would still be accurate to say Dream Wife is an art project (albeit perhaps a more evolved version of its origin). Since leaving Brighton and moving to London, the trio has continued to do things their way – hitting the road on a DIY tour of Europe, recording their debut EP in Alice’s flat, and enlisting the help of a talented network that are thicker than blood. They’ve never had a plan or an end goal – there’s no such thing in Dream Wife’s world. It seems everything is done through instinct and being of the moment, and it’s this urgency that carries their self-titled debut album.
Their songs are fun, but also purposeful. Music is at the centre, yet its importance overspills into topics such as safety for women at gigs, encouraging women and all-round inclusivity. Again, these sentiments are natural for Dream Wife – as a band, as part of an artistic community, and as friends who create the kind of celebratory space they champion.
Clementine Zawadzki: You all met at university in Brighton, which isn’t unusual for bands, but I understand things escalated quite quickly from there…
Rakel Mjöll: Me and Bella were living together, and Alice and Bella have been friends since they were teenagers competing in Battle of the Bands in Somerset, which is quite funny. Me and Bella wanted to start a band from a night out we went to and we just got an idea that we wanted to visit Canada, so we thought it was a great idea to start a band for the sole purpose of going to Canada. We knew we needed someone else in the band too and Alice was one of the best guitarists in Brighton at the time, so she was working on some music projects but we stole her. Then it sort of became part of an art project of mine – because I did what was essentially performance art – and I thought why not take this crazy idea I had with Bella and put it into an art format and my teachers loved it. So we documented this whole process of making a band and sort of fast-forwarding it, calling a bunch of friends and random dive bar’s around Canada, and we went on tour in Canada for a month before we even played a show in England.
Clementine: That’s really entrepreneurial.
Rakel: We played at a gallery installation as part of a performance project and luckily, for some reason, we had really nice friends all around Canada who happened to have a hand in music and were willing to help us out. We sold out a show in Montreal for like 300 people – which didn’t make any sense – it was so random. It was funny because we realised that by doing this really DIY, just taking Mega Buses around Canada and sleeping on friends’ floors, we had created this solidarity with each other and there was some kind of chemistry that we were just excited to explore more. We didn’t put any pressure on it, we just thought it was really funny to do and since then we’ve kept that ethos. I remember after we got back to Brighton, a few months down the line our friends were like, “So what were you up to in Canada?” [laughs]
“It was funny because we realised that by doing this really DIY, just taking Mega Buses around Canada and sleeping on friends’ floors, we had created this solidarity with each other and there was some kind of chemistry that we were just excited to explore more.”
Clementine: What were those first shows in England like?
Rakel: We didn’t have more than four songs or a drummer in the beginning. Thank god we have a drummer now because everything changed after we added drums. We actually started to sound like a rock band and not a ‘what are they doing?’ band. We got loads of emails after our first London show from labels and music industry types that wanted to take us to lunch and dinner, and all those meetings were pretty sketchy because we didn’t know what we wanted to sound like. It was kind of like they just saw three women that played instruments and they wanted to mould us into what they thought was interesting, so we ended up just ditching all of that and going on a bunch of buses around Europe without ever releasing a song.
Clementine: That DIY component to Dream Wife extends to a wider network. What do you look for in a collaborator?
Rakel: A lot of our collaborators have actually been people we met at uni, like Meg Lavender who is a photographer, she’s gone on tour with us a few times, but she’s mainly interested in documenting the girls that come to our shows. We’ve just finished a photo book together and she’s done photo shoots with us and she just really understands what Dream Wife is about. There’s really a community of people that we’re friends with, like Maisie Cousins and Elle Hardwick, and Ione Gamble who is the editor of Polyester Zine, which is really putting female and LGBT art in the forefront and conversation, and it’s unedited so artists are allowed to do whatever they want. Ione has introduced us to so many great collaborators, so she’s like a matchmaker.
Clementine: Friendship can only aid that artistic reciprocity…
Rakel: Definitely! It’s for them too, not just us. When you work with someone, you usually just trust his or her vision, and three days ago we did this crazy video with Aidan Zamiri and Alex Russo who we’ve worked with before, and I didn’t really know what we were getting into. It’s about allowing your collaborator to run wild.
“It was kind of like they just saw three women that played instruments and they wanted to mould us into what they thought was interesting, so we ended up just ditching all of that and going on a bunch of buses around Europe without ever releasing a song.”
Clementine: How did you find the album process?
Rakel: When we signed with Lucky Number, we just got to work. We thought we’d release another EP, but they were up for a debut album so it was great to get that encouragement. We wanted to include Hey Heartbreaker and Kids because we’ve played them a bunch and songs just change with you, and it just felt like they needed their own life. We spent the whole summer writing songs in a windowless room in Peckham and then we recorded it in Eastcote Studios in Notting Hill, which was like a wooden spaceship. Unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore, I think we were the last band to record there. It was great because we had the opportunity to record it to tape, and you only have about three goes and then you’re done, so you have to prepare for those takes and then give it your all. We recorded it live and we were all in the room together as if it was a concert, and then afterwards we would change things or add extra guitar if we thought it needed more, but we essentially wanted to get down this live sound.
Clementine: There’s a real emphasis on your live shows. What does that environment mean to you?
Rakel: Kathleen Hanna’s ‘girls to the front’ movement – even though she didn’t mean for it to be a movement – the idea of making women more present as audience members, creating a safe space where you’re allowed to be free and feel comfortable at shows – especially at rock gigs – is just really beautiful. The word girl band is something that’s been in discussion recently, about how it’s the wrong terminology for female music. We didn’t really realise what that word was about when we started out, but after playing more and more shows we realised just how often that word is used and how devastating it is to just put women into a genre. It’s a new word too, you didn’t hear of ‘girl bands’ until the 90s with Spice Girls and All Saints, and the term ‘girl band’ was used for vocalists put together by a large corporation to a mass medium as a pop product. It’s a very important and beautiful time in music – the creation of girl bands and boy bands – but suddenly that word stuck to any girl that happened to be in a band together after that which is such a 90s concept, because you didn’t hear of it in the 70s or 80s.
“If we can inspire teenage girls or women or anyone who comes to our shows to pick up an instrument and be unapologetic and feel welcome in the boys club, then that would be our job done.”
Clementine: You’re playing a bunch of shows soon. Do you have anything special planned for album release day?
Rakel: Yeah, we’re going to America and then we’ll be back for the album launch. We’re having a party on the day it comes out at The Sebright Arms, we’ve invited some friends and we’ll pop a few bottles, and then we’re going to Australia like right after. I’ve been hearing that the Melbourne scene has been exploding right now and it’s become such an exciting time for women to be a large voice in music. I also heard last year a band called Camp Cope said they wouldn’t play the St. Jerome’s Laneway festival unless it set up a sexual assault hotline and created safe spaces in the festival frame and protected awareness that sexual assault is something condemned there, and the festival replied that it was a brilliant idea and I think it’s so great for festivals like this to take a stand and make sure there’s added security and extra measures in place. If some big band… all I can think of is Foo Fighters [laughs], but like say if Beyoncé was playing Coachella, and she said she wouldn’t play unless there were ways of trying to correct this and for it to be visual that it’ll be condemned there, it would be a powerful thing.
Clementine: Where would you like to take Dream Wife next?
Rakel: I don’t know… I would like it to grow. I think there’s a certain responsibility that comes with it. It’s great knowing that people are hearing the sounds and they’re intrigued and they like the message behind it. If we can inspire teenage girls or women or anyone who comes to our shows to pick up an instrument and be unapologetic and feel welcome in the boys club, then that would be our job done.