The UK punk trio drop their sophomore slab of sneery dance pop
The British trio Dream Wife came kicking out of London in 2018 with a super debut (after a 2016 EP), leaking neon garage pop that bounced around with the kind of intrinsic chutzpah inherent in the best first albums.
And that’s saying something for a band whose music so immediately elicits comparisons. Influence checking is inevitable considering where rock’n’roll sits. Young bands should never be blamed for excited exposing of their Spotify mixes. Here though, the comparisons made are grateful ones, not based on copycatting but reinvigorating some of the best femme-led fury of the last three decades of post-punk.
Yes, mentioning they’re “all female” is not doubt annoying and increasingly irrelevant, though I guessed Dream Wife’s main fave bands are other non-binary blasters like Le Tigre, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and a few of those unfairly underrated, post-Hives “neo-garage” groups of the early aughts, like the Sounds and Sahara Hotnights. I guessed that, but it’s better to ask, and so we did.
Dream Wife have just dropped So When You Gonna… (Lucky Number Music), a solid slab of songs that expand on their fevered influences, suffused with more of their casually castigating lyrics, and with a bit more of the disco gleam touched on in that debut, making their already current crash’n’pop sound even more relevant. We caught up with singer Rakel Leifsdottir.
VIDEO: Dream Wife “Sports”
That opening line on the new album – “Fuck, sorry, fuck. Please, will you so kindly start again?” – I’ll guess that was an actual vocal booth overdub request (or not?). Tell me about why you chose it to kick off the new album. Does the band feel it’s in a kind of starting over position?
Actually we wrote that in from the start for a reason. It’s from the song “Sports!” that was written after an intense game of badminton in Bella [Podpadec, bassist]’s parents backyard. We spent some time in their home in the west country to dig into the writing of this album without the distractions of London at hand. When we’d get restless of sitting down so much we’d take a break and play our version of badminton. There was only one rule: If you dropped the ball and said “sorry,” then you lost a point. It was hilarious. So we took that mentality back into the writing space. No more unnecessary “sorrys” if you make a mistake in a song, we’ll just start again. Keep your apologies for when they’re needed.
Speaking of which, one of the rules in that song – “Never apologize.” Come on, there has to be one time where you apologized for something.
Having been raised as a female in this society, I wish I had been told to never apologize for taking up space in a male dominated world. Had to learn that later on. It’s so inherent in the upbringing of young girls that apologizing equals politeness and politeness will get you far. When in fact standing your ground, apologizing for when it matters, making that apology known, and to be kind rather than uncomfortably polite is just fundamental.
Here’s the “The sound of the new album is a little cleaner” question — When You Gonna… does shift right into dancey beats and more layered vocals from the get-go. So was this direction like a sitdown band meeting at a pub thing, or just where the songwriting went?
We’ve always had a pop sensibility to our music. With this album we got to explore it more, and we loved it. We kept the rawness and mixed it with what we were excited about that day when we were writing. Actually there’re less layered vocals in this album compared to the first one, but hey who’s taking count, heh. The vocal on this record is a lot of one-takes and really sinks into the feeling of the song. Was really lucky to work with Marta Solangi, the producer. How she mixed and recorded my vocal was unlike anything I had heard before, and felt like it was the closest representation of my voice that I had heard.
VIDEO: Dream Wife “Hasta La Vista”
So let’s jump back a bit — tell me about the art project the band grew out of. And how’d you get going in general?
We formed [in 2014] towards the end of our time in art school in Brighton in South England where we met as friends. On a night out, me and Bella got talking about how much we wanted to visit friends that were living in Canada, and got the idea of forming a band to be able to tour around Canada because that made the most sense to us. We asked Alice [Gough} to join on guitar later that night, and she woke up to a really hyped messenger chat. A few days later I needed something to show at a gallery piece for my course at uni. I was studying performance art and thought, “making a band for the sole reason to tour Canada,” that sounds like performance art. My tutors loved it, and I got an A. Probably the easiest A I’ve ever got in a university level. So our first show was in the gallery at uni with two half-finished songs.
What’s a favorite story from that Canadian tour?
None of our friends at uni actually thought we were going to go to Canada and tour. They only realized it when we started posting pictures on Instagram in various Canadian cities. We got amazing friends in these cities to help us out with getting shows, promoters on board and being the ultimate hype-men. We lucked out, most of our shows were busy. One show in Montreal even had 200 people there, which made no sense to us seeing as we didn’t have any songs out at the time. Think we had about four songs ready that we stretched to seven-minute long songs each to fill the set. Our friend Dylan did call everyone he knew to come to the show and asked them to bring all their friends. Don’t underestimate the power of a good hype man.
VIDEO: Dream Wife “Somebody”
I’ll admit a little confusion about the band’s beginning, with the Canadian connection…
We’ve also heard a lot of confusion about how we started, which we find funny. One story was we won a talent show to go to Canada, one was about creating a fake girl band. I’m from Iceland. Alice and Bella are from England, and we met in art school in Brighton, but now all live in London.
You’ve toured a bit in the States, right? How did that go, and what was your main take from that tour?
We did our first U.S. headline tour in the fall of 2018. It was amazing. We didn’t know what to expect, and our expectations were blown out of the water. Met so many good people, played some of our favorite shows, saw a lot of interesting gas stations, and just hope we get back there soon. Before that one, we supported The Kills and Sunflower Bean on east and west coast tours. And of course played SXSW. That was like a rollercoaster in the sun with a margarita with those little umbrellas in your hand.
What were some recording differences between the first album and So When You Gonna…, as far as how long they took to make, production decisions, etc.?
The first one was recorded in less than a week, and we even had two shows. So it was a rush, but fun. We really were focusing on getting the live show sound down. Recorded onto tape, so that meant a lot of takes per track that weren’t being recorded, and left you with a bunch of blisters by the end of the day. It took ages to mix it so we learned a lot with that process of how we want to engage with the recording space and time and shift our focus. This time around we were focusing on the songs and songwriting, so we did a lot of pre-production before going into the studio, and had the luxury of spending a full month in the studio so we had time to get into those conversations with our recording team about sounds and the creation. That showed in the mixing process, because we had already gone so deep into the core of the song and the sound that we almost said yes to the first mixes we got sent back.
“Validation” — I hope the story of breaking into a cemetery that wasn’t a cemetery is true. If so, can you tell me that story? And if it wasn’t a cemetery, what was it?
It’s a true story. It wasn’t a cemetery, but it sure looked like one from afar with whiskey glasses. Seeing as the cops let us go because we thought it was a cemetery, I’ll let it be a mystery.
“U Do U” almost has hints of doo-wop. Is that a sound that floats around the band’s tour van mixes at all?
What’s a doo-wop? Sounds like an Australian animal.
Ha. I’m a big Red Aunts fan, so I’m going to ask – the song “So When You Gonna…” and some other songs of your’s sound like they have a debt to that band. Is that fair?
Also sounds like an Australian critter. Haven’t heard of that band. Are they American? Should I check it out?
VIDEO: Red Aunts “Roller Derby Queen”
Yes, most definitely! Sort of speaking of which, we’ve evolved to a place where questions about “women in music” obviously seem superfluous and unneeded. But you have said the band made it a point to work with all women on this album, so tell me about that plan.
The question, “What is it like to be a woman in music,” makes me hurl still to this day. Incredibly pointless. Who made rock ‘n’ roll? Sister Rosetta Thorpe, a queer black woman from the south, not Elvis. This isn’t new seeing women play. For us with this album we wanted to highlight the women working behind the scenes. The fact that less than 5% of albums that came out last year have a woman producer on the team is unacceptable. There’re loads of women and non-binary people working in mixing, mastering, engineering, and producing – you just gotta hire them! We worked with a brilliant all female team, learned a lot from them, and made the album of our dreams.
People keep saying that with these fucked-up times – fascist leaders, deep political divisions, a poorly fought pandemic, wide economic disparities, racial violence, etc. – that there are going to be all these angry political songs demanding action. So, where are they? Or maybe they’re out there, but given the way the internet gathers people into their own tribes, the idea of wide, well-known collective anthems is a thing of the past…?
There’s a huge shift in our society right now, and change is going to come. It’s becoming clearer now with seeing quicker results through protesting and online campaigns. Music and art is a part of that and has always been throughout our history, so let’s see.
Tell me about the band’s podcast, and hopes for it going forward.
We got this idea by being in the studio with Marta Solangi, our producer for this second album. The conversations we were having in the studio, about how she started out, funny jobs on the way, gender bias she’s had to face, who in their right mind would ask a producer if they know how to plug in their desk… So we thought this would be an interesting conversation to be listening in on. So we recorded a podcast back in February that’s been coming out every Wednesday, a new episode with creatives in different fields – people that we’ve been collaborating with, friends, and also creatives we’re just really excited about and want to learn more about them, what they do, and how they started. The reaction has been pretty wild, so we want to do another one. In some form or another, let’s see how this all goes.