Albums of 2020: Dream Wife
Not content with putting out an incendiary debut, Dream Wife spent their first years creating an inclusive world around them. Now, they’re getting ready to welcome everyone back in for a second time.
Since the release of their self-titled debut at the start of 2018, Dream Wife have carved out an increasingly-exciting niche for themselves in a way that most artists could only, well, dream of. The trio performed 150 shows that year alone, conquering Europe, America and Australia while becoming some of indie’s most recognisable advocates for female empowerment and gender equality. Perhaps it’s an unlikely trajectory considering the band’s modest art school project roots, but as they embark on an exciting new chapter, they’re gearing up to do it all over again.
Borne out of a period of exhaustion, reflection and a renewed sense of purpose, the band’s second record is currently receiving its finishing touches, its release slated for later in the year. Speaking from “the best possible wifi location in Somerset” (bassist Bella Podpadec’s parents’ house), singer Rakel Mjöll is looking back on the rollercoaster journey that took them to their current tipping point, about to helter headfirst into the as-yet-untitled album two.
“It’s been crazy,” she exclaims. “We never had any room for expectation before the album came out. We were completely wrapped up with touring for quite a few months before, and then when it was released we didn’t really come home for a year. That period was all about enjoying the moment - but also just trying to keep all our physical strength to endure it at the same time. It became our profession, and it took over our lives.”
While the trio count their recent trip to Singapore for the all-female Alex Blake Charlie Sessions Festival as a highlight, for much of 2019 it was important to take a break from the stage in order to write again. “After two years of touring non-stop we were exhausted. We had to take some time to really reconnect with family and friends again,” she continues.
Recovery and re-assimilation would be pivotal in kick-starting the writing process for album two, much of which took place at Bella’s home studio in Somerset, where the countryside surroundings inspired the band to rediscover their creative spark. “We realised we hadn’t really made songs together for a while, even though we had become stronger as a unit and really tight as a band,” says Rakel. “But as soon as we gave ourselves time and space, and started doing it again, we were excited. We felt re-energised.
“We’ve got songs with feelings, and rage, and all that’s in between.”
— Rakel Mjöll
“It’s the opposite of how the first album came about,” she continues, referring to earlier songs that would often be written on tour between shows and cities. “This record still has that rawness; it still fits the same model. But having time to write songs and do them properly means there was no need to rush them. It inspired us to be silly, energetic and sassy. We’ve got songs with feelings, and rage, and all that’s in between. The songwriting is better this time - there is balance.”
With recording sessions helmed by producer Marta Salogni taking place at Pony Studios in London Fields, any suggestions of second album struggles were swiftly thrown out the window. “It all came together very easily,” says Rakel. “We just clicked when we met Marta. She has that musical ear. We left the studio every day feeling wonderful, and that’s how you should feel when you’re making an album.”
Alongside Marta, the record was put together using an all-female production team. Though the band state that this was a happy coincidence, it’s also endemic of what the trio perceive to be an improved presence of women in the industry, something they have rallied for since their inception. “Bad bitches to the front” has long been a live show policy for Dream Wife - a way to create a safe space for women to express themselves. But one of the band’s more creative steps to support women came towards the end of 2019.
The ‘Tour Support Reimagined’ LP, released in October, was the culmination of an ambitious touring plan to have gender non-binary or female-fronted artists support the group at almost every stop on a 50-date stint across the UK and America in 2018. The band’s sound engineer collated live recordings of the performers, which were then remixed by guitarist Alice Go for the final release. All profits were donated to Girls Rock London, a charitable organisation dedicated to empowering women through musical opportunities.
“Within a week we got about 450 responses to that initial open call, which was pretty amazing,” says Rakel. “The acts had such interesting stories about the scenes in their towns, but a lot of them were the same. Often there were male promoters who would just book their friends’ bands for support slots every time an exciting headliner came through town. A lot of the non-binary and female-fronted bands couldn’t get their foot in the door because they weren’t in that friend group.
“I think that shows that you need to share a platform to be able to get to the next one. That community is a platform in itself,” she continues, “you don’t have to be part of the promoter’s club. So the project was really all about taking people seriously as songwriters, and creatives, and people - getting all these groups together so they can make stuff together and continue that relationship.”
“You need to share a platform to be able to get to the next one; community is a platform in itself.”
— Rakel Mjöll
Much of Dream Wife’s music stems from personal experiences about “living in a female body,” and it remains a theme on album two - but Rakel believes that it’s the listener’s interpretation that holds the most value. “‘Somebody’ was written about being judged for your body or your gender, and things like slut-shaming,” she explains of their anthemic 2017 single. “But in Portland, for example, there was a blind man in tears who said that when he heard that song he felt his disability was not him. He’s a human being - that’s what he got out of that song. That meaning then becomes the song, regardless of what our intention was when we were writing it.”
“Now that we’re doing our second album, I feel especially excited to see how the songs are going to resonate with people,” she says. “There’s one song that confronts abortion rights. It’s told from my family’s perspective; it’s my family’s story. It comes from very close to the heart, so I’m intrigued to see how it will come out.”
But in the meantime, with “three music videos” currently being made and an “incredible live show” in the works, the band are steeling themselves for the next chapter. “We’re just excited to play this album and see who it connects to,” grins Rakel. “To go to places we haven’t been before and share it with different kinds of people.”
“It’s going to be the whole shebang, and a damn good show wherever we go,” says Rakel. “That’s the plan, and we’re excited.”
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