Dream Wife on art school, playing live & tackling sexism

Gearing up to release their debut album, Dream Wife tell us about transitioning from art school project to full-time band, collaborating with fellow creatives and how appearances can be deceiving

Feature by Nadia Younes | 17 Jan 2018

Dream Wife are your ultimate fantasy, just not in the way their name may suggest; not your average Stepford Wives, Dream Wife are bad bitches and proud of it.

Since transitioning from a performance art project to an actual band, word has spread thick and fast about Dream Wife’s live shows, and those words are “holy fuck!” To see the band live is to take the youthful energy and raucousness of the late 70s punk scene and merge it with the playful attitude of 90s girl bands. But when it comes to IRL punk behaviour, their antics haven’t quite reached Sex Pistols level yet. 

"I stole some £1 hairbands on a whim. I don't normally shoplift, I just really wanted some hairbands, then Alice called me and it was time to go so I just ran out of the shop but I think I looked really suspicious and I think [the shop assistant] thought I stole a lot more than I did,” explains bassist Bella Podpadec about getting banned from a Glasgow branch of Matalan last year. “I think it was Bella's green hair," adds vocalist Rakel Mjöll. "They're just not used to it because we look like punks, but we're absolute angels.” 

The trio is completed by guitarist Alice Go and all three members met while studying at art school in Brighton. The band came to life as part of a university assignment, for which they developed an imaginary band, but what started off as a bit of fun quickly snowballed into the formation of Dream Wife as we know them today. “It wasn't until a few months after we had done that, we realised there was this incredible chemistry between us and we decided to pursue this,” says Mjöll. “It was this sort of ongoing energy from something we thought would just be like 'that's that',” adds Go. 

Fun is a key factor in Dream Wife’s appeal. Listening to their upbeat 70s punk meets 90s pop bangers, or seeing them frolicking around on stage, it’s evident that they're relishing every minute of their success, and that enthusiasm is incredibly infectious. They say that this playfulness is rooted in their ethos as a band, stemming from their unconventional beginnings, and is still as important now as it was when they first started. “When you're studying art, what you're doing is playing and that was exciting at the time for all of us,” says Go. “[University] is a very safe space for people to exchange ideas and you're allowed to just play, and we were all in very playful places,” adds Podpadec.

And the playing hasn’t stopped. Dream Wife’s self-titled debut album captures all that is great about their live energy but packages it up into a perfect pop-punk masterclass. Go’s razor-sharp guitar riffs and Podpadec’s slick basslines lend perfectly to Mjöll’s staccato vocals: the melodies shifting from angst-fuelled fury on tracks like Let’s Make Out and F.U.U. to delicate beauty on Love Without Reason and Act My Age.

The album was recorded in Eastcote Studios in West London, which was founded and personally designed by former owner Philip Bagenal in the 80s and over the years has been graced by the presence of Adele, Depeche Mode and Tom Jones, to name a few. The trio brought in an old university friend, Alex Paveley, to play drums on the record who has since continued to play with them at their live shows. But, despite all their experience of playing the songs live, the recording process didn’t turn out to be quite as plain and simple as they'd anticipated.

“For us, songs are always changing a little bit – the more we play them live, the more elements we realise,” says Mjöll. “When we started recording, we thought we'd just get this done in two months and it would be ready, but when we started the mixing process we realised there were so many things missing… so we needed to step away to be able to understand what it was.”

“What we wanted to get down is trying to get the live sound as true as possible, but I think in a way that it was elevated as a recording as well,” adds Go. “It is an active process and taking it out and seeing how it goes down at the live show is a really important thing for us to be engaging with and understanding our music through, rather than sitting back and thinking about it more clinically in a studio.”

Refusing to leave their art backgrounds behind though, the trio also take a very hands on approach when it comes to their set design and have been known to conjure up all kinds of weird and wonderful themes for their shows. At their EP01 launch party, friend and collaborator Aidan Zamiri designed a space beach set, which included silver-painted palm trees and mannequins – one of which was stolen during a gig in Glasgow, on the same day of the infamous Matalan incident – and they also hosted ‘The Graveyard Party’ at their show at Moth Club in London on Halloween last year.

Collaborating with different artists is something that's very important to the band. In the early days, the trio were rarely seen outside of a pastel colour frame in their videos and images but rather than being a palette they wanted to be associated with, this pastel aesthetic came about through collaborations with photographers Maisie Cousins and Meg Lavender, as well as an array of creatives associated with intersectional feminist fashion and culture zine, Polyester.

"We met a lot of people through that network and we definitely see ourselves as kind of being part of that scene of people,” says Go. “It was really fun to leave Brighton from university to move to London – university just continued because you're in the same kind of group that was excited about this kind of collaboration and playing, even though they were also working on projects that were serious too,” adds Mjöll.

While the band are clearly fond of having fun, they do also address important issues in their music. Somebody, for example, is a track that addresses sexism and rape culture very openly and was inspired by the SlutWalk, an event which takes place in several cities across the world on various different days. The walks began after Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto police officer, said “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised" at Osgoode Hall Law School during a forum advising students on personal safety, particularly addressing the issue of campus rape.

'You were a cute girl standing backstage / It was bound to happen,' Mjöll begins before proceeding to list off a series of stereotypical comments made towards woman about their appearance. But that opening line has a much deeper, personal meaning. "My friend said that line when I got assaulted backstage at a concert,” says Mjöll. “The whole event itself, I got through that a few months afterwards by talking about it but that line didn't leave, that line is still in my head.

“When that song was released a few months ago, I did not expect an initial reaction from so many of our friends. I got so many messages and it was almost a wake-up call for some people. It's a statement: I am not my body, I’m somebody,” concludes Mjöll. Podpadec adds: “It speaks to both sides as well, even in the way you sing. You're singing from both sides of the story and I feel like it provides people an opportunity to think differently about their own situations and about the way in which they act around other people as well.”

It’s not all fun and games with Dream Wife, they want to challenge you too and they perfectly bridge that gap between pop and punk ideologies. As Mjöll notes, punks can be angels too and Dream Wife prove just that, even if Matalan security disagree.

Dream Wife is released on 26 Jan via Lucky Number
Dream Wife play Stereo, Glasgow, 23 Mar