Interview: Dream Wife

Dream Wife is a pop-punk trio comprised of Alice Go, Rakel Mjöll and Bella Popadec, who met while attending art school in Brighton. I was first introduced to the band on a rainy evening in DC when they opened for The Kills at DC’s Lincoln Theatre, a large venue with seats. It seemed like an odd space to see a band with such fierce, raw energy but by the end of their set, they made the theatre feel like a dive bar. I was excited to meet up with the band on yet another rainy evening in the District, this time at DC9, on their first headlining tour in the US. We discussed Dream Wife’s origin, their experience as three females taking on the music industry, and the inspiration behind their empowering song, “Somebody.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I wanted to talk about the DIY scene in Brighton and your band’s origins -could you talk a bit about how you guys got your start in the DIY scene?

Alice Go: We weren't really part of the DIY scene, no.  We were at art school studying art. The scene that we were apart of was other people making art. And —

Rakel Mjöll: Parties.

Alice: It was very much this ethos of doing things yourselves and kind of putting them on —but it wasn't really being part of a community of musicians or anything.

Bella Popadec: No, it was more a community of creatives.

Alice: That is also relevant to when we then moved to London. But yeah, when we started out we weren't part of a music scene.

Rakel: But there would be parties where it was like us and then a performance artist and a drag queen performing.

Bella: Yeah it's like that sort of vibe, it wasn't just purely music.

Rakel: It's funny because we started out in Brighton in art school and it wasn't until we had moved to London and came back for a festival called Great Escape, which is like South By, that kind of vibe for the UK —they were like "OH yes, your a Brighton band, part of the Brighton scene." And we didn't know any bands —well, hardly any bands in the scene. So it was very funny to come back once we've moved away and now we were being referenced as part of a scene we were never part of. That was fun too though, you know, because we were in our art school bubble and when you go into that little bubble you just embrace it and we had a great time. But it's funny to get to know now bands from Brighton that were doing that. We were just in our own art school bubble, and it was fun.

How did your journey touring across Canada start?

Rakel: Well, me and Bella were living together and we went out one night with our housemates and we were talking on the dancefloor about how much we wanted to go to Canada and visit our friends that lived there. But they all lived in different places in Canada and we thought what’s the best way of traveling around Canada to meet these friends of ours? And we thought why not just make a band and make a road trip out of it and book a bunch of shows to finance our trip? And that's what we did. And then we needed one more band member, so we recruited Alice.

Alice: Yeah I got this message that was just like "hey wanna come to Canada?" And I was just like "yeaaaaaaaah!" And then yeah we took four songs out with us and that was that, it was really fun.

Rakel: Yeah, we didn't have a drummer we just had a loop station that had vocal loops and drum loops on it. So it was very just doing it.

Bella: We could fit the whole set up in one guitar case. 

*laughter*

Alice: Yeah, we traveled really light.

Bella: We also had like a half-sized, so literally everything fit inside the bass case.

Alice: We stayed on couches and friends' sofas.

Rakel: It was great though because we didn't really know how to do it any way else.

Alice: We just went and did it.

Rakel: We also did that because we didn't want to apply for a Visa in Canada... Hence the one guitar case. But yeah, it was great because it was a tour but it was most definitely a road trip. Like we had seven shows but we were out there for three weeks?

Alice: Yeah, it was awhile.

Rakel: But it was great because we made so many friends as well and we really enjoyed just traveling together and writing songs that we maybe played two weeks later just to sort of fill in our set. It was a great way of almost test driving a car. And then after that trip, a few months later when we were back in Uni we were talking about how much fun we had that summer and, what if we should play a show in Brighton or play a show in London? And that's sort of when we properly decided to make this into a band. All because it was a fun summer in Canada.

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It sounds like it was really fun. And you were just like taking Mega Buses across Canada, right?

Rakel: Pretty much. Megabus treated us very nice. Greyhound as well. Then we did our first tour around Europe, which was super random. We didn't know what to expect every night and same thing, FLIXBUS —the Megabus of Germany.

Alice: They made you pay extra for guitars because it was like "precious cargo" or something like that.

Rakel: We didn't have a tour manager and we didn't have a drummer during that time. And it was funny, because we were just doing it. And sometimes we were in pretty sketchy situations and sometimes it was nice. I think it's better to do it on your own for awhile until you're happy with the music you're making.

Alice: Yeah, it gave us time to figure it out on our terms.

Rakel: And yeah, also having been through some really fun but also some really sketchy situations together and realizing we could get through it as a unit. I think that's a really good way of looking at it.

What kind of sketchy situations were you involved in?

Alice: One time it was like we thought—

Rakel: We thought we were playing in Hamburg but turns out were playing like outside of Hamburg in a Russian wedding hall.

Alice: Yeah, that whole journey together there were just some funny, funny situations. But just sort of like some kind of sexist things. In this one place we played, I remember just after the show this guy just lecturing me, but we were all there as well, and we realized at one point, what was going on. He wasn't trying to compliment me anymore it was like about 'you need to practice your guitar more because in ten years when your looks fade, what are you going to do?' kind of thing. 

*Rakel manically laughs at this because of how ridiculous it was for him to say that*

Alice: It was just like WAIT.. what? Like WHAT? Ummm?

Rakel: He also told you to pick up Spanish guitar.

“you are in situations where you have to stand your ground together, you have to believe in this thing and see it through. It's only you, it's on your back, you have to see it through.”

Alice: Yeah, he was just telling me "oh, you think you've got these riffs but you need to learn, you need to learn Spanish guitar." Because he played Spanish guitar and I remember we just walked away and went back to our hotel room and watched Kill Bill —in German and we just sat there. I think it's like Rakel said, you are in situations where you have to stand your ground together, you have to believe in this thing and see it through. It's only you, it's on your back, you have to see it through. I think it was majorly formative, those tours, the ethos of Support Your Local Bad Bitch and women supporting women in music and how important that is and it's part of our roots in understanding this project.

Rakel: Yeah, learning to stand your ground is important as well, especially when you're just forming. You know, you're showing up at these places straight off the Megabus and you're not sure how things are going to go down. And you just have faith in people and humanity.

“I am not my body I am SOMEBODY.” Is that song a result of the story you just told or a combination of things you've faced as three women in the music industry?

Alice:  Partially but also I think it's stuff that, with all the songs, it's things being woven in. It's stuff that we've experienced as a unit through the journey of this band. But also, I think it's stuff that we were all speaking about in the practice room that day when we wrote it and I guess it's like, there's a lot woven in there and it's just stuff we know as women in our 20s making music. It's kind of ultimately that.

Rakel: It's a really simple song but there's a lot woven into that. We wanted to have it simple because of that. But with that, for this tour for example, with the story Alice just told, I think being judged because of your gender for some old, stereotypical gender roles, is really weird. Especially when you go out of your comfort zone, out of your circle, your bubble. And you see that OH, there's actually, you know, people think very differently and I wanna change that. In a way, the song is partly about not wanting to conform into these gender roles that were set long ago and are not relevant today —for any gender. You know, having to conform to these roles. But also, it was written in the wake of the SlutWalk in Reykjavík that was happening and it was two years ago that it was written. The one that started in Toronto and became a global movement. This is right before #MeToo was resurrected as well, so it was very similar to that. Women of Reykjavík, before the Slut Walk happened, they took to social media to share their stories about assault and rape and also, mainly to focus on how the justice system had failed them. How these cases had dissolved up until, you know the court, and if they even got to court. It was also a critique about —it was a massive critique on how laws are built around these cases. That was so inspiring, seeing that and I remember seeing it everywhere and so many friends of ours talking about it and then sort of coming into a practice room, talking about it, and talking about your own experiences and just being like, "this is fucked." And that song is actually written in one go —lyrics just came out of a conversation. And I think that's so good, when you go into that kind of space of trust and making music together that you just have and allow that open flow of just, whatever it is you're thinking about and whatever it is you feel. And just accept it. 

I don't wanna be conformed to this male gaze and I don't want this to be my fault.

"You were a cute girl standing backstage it was bound to happen" —I love that line because it's so relatable. It's said to women all the time. Going into male dominated spaces feeling like you can't be yourself because it might be taken the wrong way. The male gaze it just too much.

Rakel: Well, that was actually something that was said to me. That's what that verse is about —it goes "you were a cute girl standing backstage it was bound to happen" and then it goes "you had a smile on your face…" You must have been flirting, no, I was literally being polite or I just froze, I didn't know what to do. And then it's "what you wore and how you bore it so well, what'd you expect to happen?" So that's kind of the voice of unfortunately so many. And also critiquing that and being like I don't wanna be conformed to this male gaze and I don't want this to be my fault. Taking the blame from the victim and putting it back to the perpetrator. The same thing as well with these cases, the ones that hurt the most is how, not just between the victim and the perpetrator, but other peoples's voices and opinions —"well of course that happened, what you wore!" And that is something that I think is really, unfortunately, ingrained in our culture and has to change. That's the same thing with the justice system, that having to change too. I mean the past year has been great, but with so many of these waves there comes a big burst and then it goes back down. So it's on us and men and everyone to sort of keep on talking about this, so it doesn't go back down again.

In keeping with the band’s mission to support women and non-binary artists in music, for this tour the band put an open call out to female and non-binary artists in every city to open the show for them. The band received hundreds of submissions and that night, NY-based, New Myths opened the show along with Russo. “It’s good to show that there’s so much out there, it shows everyone out there —festivals, booking agents—that there is so much talent in bands that are fronted by females and non-binary individuals. It doesn’t matter how big you platform is, you do what you can”

All photos shot by Cina Nguyen for Capitol Sound.