DREAM WIFE further their mission to combine the highly political with some much-needed silliness.
Words: Jamie MacMillan.
“When was the last time we were asked what it was like to be women in music? Oh, last week…”
In a world where so much has seemed to have changed over the last few years, it appears that in some ways at least, nothing is different – especially for Rakel Mjöll and her fellow Dream Wives, Alice Go and Bella Podpadec and the tired questioning that surrounds non-males in music.
But, with their exceptional third album ‘Social Lubrication’ ushering in a new era for the band, time is most definitely running out on the dinosaurs of the world, and a fuse has been lit. Their previous record, ‘So When You Gonna…’, suffered, like most of 2020’s releases, from being ushered into a world that was locked down and scared. While no artist had it easy, it was a real blow for a band who lived, breathed and were even fuelled by their emotional connection with their fans and live performances.
Today, it isn’t just the world around them that feels different and back to life. The band themselves seem re-energised, with a ferocious flame burning deeply. Stung by comments that their live sound was never quite captured on record, this time around, it is as raw and as in-your-face as it is when watching the band in the flesh. This feels and sounds like a group ready to take on the world once again. Chatting to the trio over Zoom, the energy is palpable – even for an interview taking place at breakfast time. ‘Reset’ can feel like a dirty word in music sometimes, a suggestion that something was wrong in the first place. The band are embracing the word, however.
“It feels like we are re-establishing ourselves,” nods Alice, the sole producer this time around of a record that is pure, unfiltered Dream Wife. “Obviously, with it being a record, it is a different experience listening back to something rather than being present at live shows,” she continues. “So we have dubs and layers put in, but it’s a very delicate sprinkling and not overdone. I think on the second album, we overdid all that.”
“We’re a rock band, so we can talk about things and maybe try to incite change”Bella Podpadec
For ‘Social Lubrication’, the guitarist is clear that it was all about getting back to the energy of a live show. “Alice produced the record,” explains Bella. “And I think having that kind of control and power from within our unit meant that there wasn’t space for other people to project their ideas on the art. It was really about taking the reigns and shaping what the beast is from the inside out. And for us, the live show is where this band is alive.”
With no sleight or dig at previous producers intended, that element of total purity is obviously a key element in the magic this time around.
But for a band who feel most alive in a live setting, the enforced lockdown was a smothering force on their inspiration. “All the songs that we were writing for this record were really melancholy and lacking in energy and that lust for life,” admits Alice. “But coming back to the live show and the community that comes with that, this is what it’s all about. It’s a celebration of the live show that we’d all been missing so much.” Latitude Festival was their first performance back, a set that didn’t come without its own dramas for Rakel. “I had just broken my shoulder about a month earlier,” she grins. “I had only just been able to sort of move it. And then I’ve seen videos of me after, and I am SWINGING that shoulder around… It’s called ADRENALINE.”
Their mojo returned, the next week saw four new tracks being written and the eventual birth of ‘Social Lubrication’.
Aside from the raw vibes of the album sonically, there quickly comes the sense of a band who have decided that enough is enough. Never ones to shy away from political issues, Dream Wife have also never overtly been A Political Band. They are still walking the line here, but it’s pretty obvious that they aren’t going to take any more crap. From the very first song ‘Kick In The Teeth’, Rakel is singing that “I’ve spent so much of this youth questioning my value”, and today she explains further.
“I’m sort of done,” she says. “Done with being unnecessarily polite or staying in situations because of social habits when I already feel uncomfortable. So the start of the record is kicking down the door…”
Always mindful of their position and the limits of what they can do, Bella takes it on. “Obviously, we’re a rock band, so we can talk about things and maybe try to incite change,” they say. “But we’re not the points of change, and we’re not able to crumble the systems as a rock band. But I think it’s a way of telling stories about what we see and maybe inviting people into that conversation. Over the last few years, the kind of structural inequalities that are present – be that with socio-economic, race, gender, sexuality, climate collapse… I think the pandemic has really cast a light on how these systems just aren’t working. There’s a kind of impossibility or unfairness in which these structures are literally serving such a minute amount of people!”
It’s no surprise in hindsight that the searing ‘Leech’ was the first single then, with its anguished and devastating screamed mantra of “Have some fucking empathy!” at its core. In part inspired by what Rakel saw in those early months of the world opening back, in particular noticing the same men in positions of power still not being held to account, it is as devastating in its ferocity today as on first listen.
“That part for me is about the music industry, but it could be any industry,” points out Rakel. “You come back really hopeful, and then there’s some stuff that you can’t just push under the rug. We’re not here to tear anybody down, we’re not here to call out names, it’s more about rebuilding a broken system.”
“You never know what a kind message can do to someone”Rakel Mjöll
Freshly back from Texas for this year’s SXSW, the American state in the process of rolling back abortion laws and transgender healthcare, it’s a timely reminder that empathy is missing all around the world in many aspects.
“People don’t understand that women’s reproductive autonomy and trans rights are the same conversation!” points out Bella. “It’s having autonomy and access over your body and being able to do what is right for your body. And the people that have nothing to do with that are the ones able to make the decisions. So yeah, have some fucking empathy….”
For all of the success that movements like Time’s Up and a focus on gender-balanced festival line-ups has brought on the surface of things, progress seems slower up close. “You do maybe see more of a spread of people involved in terms of diversity and equality amongst performers,” says Alice. “But once you step behind that, it’s there that the issue lies. Across the board in the creative industries, looking at the people that are in positions of power or control – that’s where the problem is. That’s only the first stage, and you have to go deeper than that for there to be real change in the music industry.”
It’s frankly depressing to read older interviews with Dream Wife and to realise just how long these conversations have been happening with limited results. On the title-track, the band poke at that with its side-eyed line of, ‘What’s it like to be a woman in music, dear / You’d never ask me that if you regarded me as your peer’. The song itself only came to life at the end of the recording process, despite already being selected as the album title. But what exactly IS social lubrication? Bella takes on describing its meaning.
“It is speaking to the mechanisms and actions that we use to gloss over those structures that don’t serve the people that live within them,” they say. “They’re oil in the cogs of capitalism; they’re being polite where you should be ‘actually, no, fuck that’. It’s the ways we excuse and placate, like getting really drunk at a party when you actually want to go home. Or diversity within performers when the people who hold all the power are still white CisHet guys. Or big corporations saying that if they recycle, then they are good for the environment.”
The others smile as Bella really picks up speed, the bassist blaming it afterwards as “feverish tonsillitis vibes” with a laugh. “It’s better not to make love to the universe than get fucked by the system,” they say, as Alice and Rakel whoop in response. “Genius is coming through,” grins Alice. With sexism continuing to rear its head in the industry again (the interview came at the height of some nonsensical Internet Discourse about certain female bands being industry plants), it’s clear that fighting against these forms of social lubrication remain vital.
The album takes in far more than just that, of course; Rakel describes it at one point as “hyper-lusty”. Hyperlust, a new genre, just dropped there, folks. Early single ‘Hot (Don’t Date A Musician)’ is a joyously silly classic Dream Wife romp where they point and laugh at themselves as much as anyone else, and on the album, it is joined by standout tracks like ‘I Want You’ and ‘Curious’. Bella describes the latter as “The bisexual polyamorous anthem that we have all been waiting for, or at least what I have been waiting for”, and it’s clear that it is at the heart of this latest era.
“Bodily autonomy is also good, and it’s also being able to express your lust,” explains Rakel. “Whether that’s for the live show, life, your own being or your own sexuality and sexual feelings. That’s really exciting for us too.” ‘Curious’ contains a memorable reference to the singer’s 85-year-old grandmother’s sex life – prompting a nervous grin from Rakel as the sounds from the next room indicate that the great lady herself is up and around during our chat. “She hasn’t put her hearing aid in yet,” she laughs. “But obviously, there are different standards regarding women and men in music and ageism – and it was an interesting thing to touch upon here.”
It all goes back to the underlying theme throughout all of social lubrication, that EVERYTHING is political whether it’s overtly a political subject or not – even the silliness and joy at the heart of songs like ‘Hot’. “It’s so important to make fun of yourself, too,” nods Rakel. “And to allow that silliness to be there. I think it’s an important combination, and it’s also highly political to be silly too at some times.”
There’s a sense that Dream Wife have now come full circle, both with the sound of the new record and also in their announcement as supporting Le Tigre at their first London show in 18 years. For a band that believe in their community as much as this, it is a Real Moment to be playing with an artist that first brought that element to life for them. They share memories of receiving moments from the band and from JD Samson individually, notes of encouragement to keep going and sharing that they were, in turn, Le Tigre’s favourite band.
“It’s such a strong sense of community about supporting each other and this underground scene,” explains Rakel. “I think with Dream Wife, that’s what we’ve always been aiming to achieve too. You never know what a kind message can do to someone; you don’t know what your songs might mean to someone. Trying to go to school through a snowstorm at the age of 13, not feeling like they belong there and then having ‘Decepticon’ get you through… You never know!”
Dork asks if the band feel and recognise that they are providing that same emotion and motivation to others. “I really hope that is true,” smiles Rakel. “But you don’t know what you mean to people. So you might as well just keep on making your art and putting a lot of joy into it. I don’t think we would really be a band if it wasn’t for the community around us.”
“Le Tigre and what they stand for has always been this really hopeful thing for finding your people,” agrees Alice. “For doing things on your terms and in your way, and it’s the flag they fly. So I think if we can in any way inspire or touch people with our music anywhere near close to that, we’ve done our jobs. It’s an honour to be able to feel like you can share your platform or give people hope in whatever way. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Standing up for and alongside the next generation, now is proving the perfect time for Dream Wife to make their points loud and clear once more. The world better be listening. ■
Taken from the June 2023 edition of Dork. Dream Wife’s album ‘Social Lubrication’ is out now.
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