Dream Wife: Doing what they want

From humble beginnings as a university art project and a means to get to Canada from the UK, Dream Wife have since stormed ahead in the indie-punk scene.

They wield apt and cutting lyrics about the realities of being a woman over shredding guitars and slick riffs. After a blistering couple of years, they find themselves in Australia for the first time, playing Laneway Festival and a handful of headline shows. A few weeks shy of their arrival, Rochelle Flack spoke with lead singer Rakel Mjöll. 

I want to start off by talking about the evolution of Dream Wife. You formed initially as a college art project. Can you tell us a little bit about those early days?

To sum it up, me and Bella (the bassist) were living together and one night out we were talking about how much we wanted to visit Canada, because we have friends there. And then we thought, why not just make a band and tour Canada? That seemed like a great idea at the time. Dream Wife. We made Dream Wife just for the sole purpose of going to visit our friends in Canada.

I was studying performance art in uni and the day after I needed a project for my gallery piece so I thought, “this sounds like an absurd idea,” and the teacher’s loved it. So, [that was] the first show that Dream Wife played. In this gallery, all to get to Canada. 

We got a friend to help us book some shows and we slept on coaches around Canada… It was DIY, we played in some really funny dive bars and it was just the best trip ever. We formed this sort of solidarity by being in a country we didn’t know and having funny and weird times, but having them together.

We had literally written like, 4 songs. And somehow managed to tour Canada with that. We’ve written more since. But, yeah, that did it for me, then a few months after that trip we were talking and saying how incredible that summer had been and that we should definitely play a show in our home town of Brighton or London. So that’s when we started to make Dream Wife into a proper band. Since then it’s been snowballing so I’m really glad that Canada treated us right. I hope Australia treats us right too.

I’m sure we will treat you right. There’s a lot of hype around you in Australia. I think We’re seeing this movement of women in music and that’s particularly prevalent in the AustraliaN music industry. I think people are really excited about that.

I think that’s important… I mean originally we were just friends who wanted to go to Canada. But, we didn’t form this band because we are all women. That was how it happened to be.  I think when we first formed the band we… did a bunch of things without asking anyone. We went on your funny little tours, then we finally recorded something. After that is when we chose the group of people around us – like a manager, label, so on. I think it’s really important to value just doing things, then choosing people to work with after. So they that they trust your vision. I think you really need to know what you don’t want… There’s so many different groups [so] you can make that choice. I think it’s a really good thing when a woman knows what she doesn’t want, you know?

Because we started with a DIY sort of idea – just doing things with no purpose, like touring around and not releasing anything until we were ready – I think it’s a really good thing. For women in music,  people often want to move you into something else and it’s just dangerous to do that too early. So I think with us, we managed somehow avoid that. And just to do it exactly how we wanted to do it.

Yeah, absolutely. I really respect that, too. In Australia there’s a couple of bands over here who are really fiercely independent and Take things head on … They do what they want. There’s a particular band called Camp Cope, and their approach to music is like, “we’re not gonna let anyone tell us what to do, this is our project.” So I’ve got an immense respect for that.

I think that’s really good. I think I have heard about that band. It’s so good to do that, but then again, when the right people that share your vision come along, it’s so good to embrace them, too.

Like, I think it’s such an important thing as well to be able to embrace the right people and to know that they are the right people, because they share your vision.

I want to talk about your lyrics for a little bit. they’re quite charged by feminism and politics. why do you feel it’s so important to write about such important topics?

We’re just writing about our lives and the lives of our friends and our peers. And we happen to be in a female body so often you write about your own experiences. It happens automatically – it’s in the subconscious of your writing.

I think it’s important just to write as you, and now we happen to be women in our twenties. I think it’s a very important thing to do, to write about your experiences and the experiences that your friends are going through, your peers are going through. Some of the themes our tracks are based on include the many faces of women, sexual assault and being judged on your gender rather than your mind – which is what ‘Somebody’ is about. Our other songs are out there exploring what it is to be a woman.

Like the song ‘FUU’ [‘Fuck You Up’], it’s so fun to play that live because the crowd doesn’t know what to do. We’re not sure if they’re intimidated or if they’re having a great time. I think it’s interesting. I mean Dream Wife is sort of a critique on the idea of a woman with this one face… This beautiful homemaker that never existed… Because we as women have so many different elements and parts to our personality.

There’s so many different parts of being a women. So, you write about what you know.

On that topic, personally and for many others, your songs are like rallying cries. We listen to them and we’re inspired. How do you feel about the fact that your music encourages women from all across the world to stand up?

I think it’s amazing. I really like the fact that I hear of people who love to listen to ‘Fuck You Up’ or ‘Let’s Make Out’ and get energy from it.I’m really happy that people are using it to benefit themselves.

In the song ‘Somebody’, there’s a line that says ‘I am not my body, I’m somebody.’ On tour, I met a few girls that have that tattooed on their arms – they told me how that helped them to deal with or understand their own sexual assault. That song helped them. If anything you do benefits someone else’s life then what you’re doing is right. I think it’s so important as well, the fact that we are human – and the most human you will ever feel is when you’re helping another person.

Essentially we are a pop band as well. There’s a mixture of pop, rock and punk in a way. I think it’s so good to explore that because pure and honest pop is such a physical avenue. And, we get to go to Australia! It’s so cool. It’s so far away and so nice that our songs are reaching totally different parts of the world and a culture that we never met that I look forward to meeting.

Yeah, it’s a whole other world away. It’s so far away.

Yeah. Which is great. It’s like every Australian I meet knows a lot, knows a lot about … Everyone’s like, oh no, it’s not that far away. It’s close by. It’s like …

Just next door, you know.

Australians travel so much. Yeah, they travel so much so they’re just like, you know, this is fine, it’s close by.

‘Kids’ and ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ are featured on the album as well as your first EP. is there a reason you wanted to revisit them for your debut?

Well, because not many people had heard them. We released that EP with a small label in Brighton called Cannibal Hymns. But these were such good songs we really wanted to explore them more. That EP we recorded in Alice’s nursery. Her dad plays drums on the tracks, and we were very much in control of the sound.

But now, while doing a big album and having played so many shows, our technique has gotten better and we know each other better. Our song writing has sort of developed around that. These were the songs we wanted to bring to the big album. It would be a shame not to have them.

Like, we re-released ‘Heartbreaker’ earlier this week and it’s just mad. The album was all about trying to get the live sound we had created, into a record. How we recorded it, how we like, played all together, during recording we can put on tape through most of it. We just wanted to give it a raw sound like that. We really wanted to hear ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Kids’ have that bounce. So, the version that you hear on the record is the version that we were aiming for. 

Editor note: Dream Wife on safe shows and spaces.

Towards the end of our conversation Rakel and I spoke about playing Laneway, and how the festival (with the help of Camp Cope) launched the 1800 LANEWAY – a hotline for patrons to report unsafe or unwanted behaviour. 

“Venues should make it so clear and essential to get help if you feel uncomfortable. It should be everyone’s job to make sure that the gig goes well and everyone feels safe. So I think it’s really cool that Laneway is doing that.” 

A safe space and support at shows is something the band are passionate about. They also believe everyone should contribute, and I tend to agree.

“This is something that every single band should be thinking about. Safe spaces isn’t a new thing at all. It’s something that’s been going on for decades.

It shouldn’t just be one and one band that are encouraging safe spaces. It should be every single venue and every single promoter.”

Listen to Dream Wife.