It might be early days, but it’s apparent that there isn’t much that can stop Dream Wife.
The London-based trio have been making music together for a couple of years, and although they have only recently started making waves in the United States, they have the perspective and tenacity of veteran punk rockers. Underpinning it all is a drive to shake the habitual and challenge the status quo by speaking their mind – in person as well as on their records.
“We had meetings with people from major labels before we had even figured out what this project was going to be,” says guitarist Alice Go when I reach her over the phone in late August. Go’s speaking style does justice to her stage name – words gallop out of her mouth with relentless energy and at a machine gun cadence. “It was the feeling of people putting things in your mouth – their vision on you, rather than actually listening to what you had to say. It was all learning curves from that point on.”
Where others might have given into the pressures or acquiesced for a shot at discovery, Go and her bandmates Rakel Mjöll and Bella Podpadec stuck to their art school principals.
“We were feral; we didn’t know how we were going to do it, but we knew we wanted to do it our way,” she says, as birds chirp in the Southeast London air. “That’s been the driving force that keeps us going.”
Brightest Young Things: How are you, Alice? Where are you right now?
Alice Go: I’m doing really well! Where are you calling from – where are you?
BYT: I’m based in Washington D.C., actually.
Go: Ah – we love Washington D.C.; we opened for The Kills a few months ago. It was kind of strange with all the helicopters flying around constantly. I guess Trump’s choppers or whatever. [Laughs] It was our first time in town.
But yeah, I’m sitting at a park in Peckham in Southeast London. There are pigeons gathering at my feet, to paint quite the British scene for you. They’re somehow magnetized to me – they’re getting some kind of vibe from me. Maybe they can sense some crazy old cat lady energy, perhaps.
BYT: Do animals often congregate at your feet?
Go: Not necessarily – this is the first time. It’s quite the experience.
BYT: It sure does sound like a city scene, and it could be anywhere. How long has Dream Wife been based out of London?
Go: We moved here properly a couple of years ago now. The band got started in Brighton, while we were all living there for art school, and a couple of years ago we all congregated in London. We’d all be down here so much, and a couple of our friends from uni from our creative scene back in Brighton also ended up here. So yeah, a lot of those connections crashed over and we all ended up in London. It’s just been – yeah – we can’t really live anywhere else right now. It feels that even with all the coming and going on tour this year, this city definitely is our home.
BYT: From what I’ve gathered, it sounds like Dream Wife is pretty established as a part of the creative and musical community you are a part of. Is that still the case?
Go: I think for us collaborating with other artists you can share a vision with has always been a thing. There’s a lot of really exciting photographers in London who we met in uni or through friends, and it’s quite an amazing scene – people like Maisie Cousins, for instance. She’s doing really well right now. Francesca Allen, Elle Hardwick; some real talent. Also, I don’t know if you know about Polyester Zine? It’s the project of Ione Gamble and she’s been a major force in connecting quite a lot of people we’ve come to know in a creative sense, through this project. Their tagline is amazing: “Facing Your Own Bad Taste.” And their ethos – their way of thinking – is all about trying to engage people in new ways.
That aligns with the way Dream Wife operates as a band. We want to tackle issues and start conversations. We feel an alliance and a solidarity with Polyester Zine and other creatives in London at the moment, and it feels like we’re really part of a scene. We’re questioning gender, questioning ideals of life in a sense. It’s about finding your own path through life – be that through photography, through art, through music. That vibe permeates London right now. There are these bands in town: Nova Twins, Happy Meal Ltd [now HMLTD] – they’re doing it on their terms musically and aesthetically. There’s a really exciting aesthetic consideration in London right now, and there’s a choice in how you present. It’s a conversation amongst the communities here right now.
BYT: I love hearing about this sense of camaraderie and community, and it leads into my next question:
Something that really caught my eye about your tour is the fact that Dream Wife have held a support slot open call for local women & non-binary artists at most stops. How easy or difficult has it been to select bands to play with that fit that bill?
Go: Well, we just finished the selections the other day. I think we got over 430 total submissions for Europe and the United States. The fact that we got so much more content than we expected to get back, and there was some real magic in so many of the messages – people who submitted were suggesting their friend’s bands as well. It was this sense of community majorly coming through, even before we listened to anything. It was immensely hard to define “this is the one that gets through; this is the one for the show.”
For us it was about trying really hard to get bands that were local when we could, to try and tap into the local scene. You want to have that conversation with the place you’re going, and maybe you’ve never been there or only been once – it’s important for us to touch ground with a place in that way. In that sense it was great seeing in all these different places that we are heading out to, but picking just one band for each place was obviously really, really hard.
However, it was a really enjoyable process to just see the amount of talent that is unsigned. There isn’t an outlet for it. The fact we got such a massive number of submissions from our call out proves the necessity for having the conversation we’re trying to have. It’s worth showcasing and supporting female and non-binary artists at this time; we’re trying to practice what we preach. We’ve made the choices now, but it was not easy.
BYT: You’ve talked about the local considerations, but who gets to make the ultimate decision as to who gets this opportunity?
Go: It’s the three of us. We basically listened to the submissions and narrowed it down to the kind of things that would be suitable… For instance, we got a lot of cis straight guys applying for it – and it’s not that we want to exclude men from this conversation, but the purpose is to showcase female and non-binary musicians. That was an obvious filter. But ultimately it was really hard because the criteria was trying to find these amazing things that weren’t getting the attention and recognition they should be getting at the moment, and maybe pushing people into the next level. Elevating bands that maybe haven’t played that many shows together but have great potential.
The criteria was always flexible and that’s why it was so hard. The kind of talent was across the board: signed people, people starting off, people making music in their bedrooms. We were trying to get bands from across the spectrum, and it was hard not putting too many rules on it. We tried to listen and understand each act as we went through it. At the end of the day we selected the acts that spoke to us in some way, and I’m really happy with the selection we’ve got at the moment.
BYT: I thought it was such a novel and necessary idea and approach.
Go: I think it was a thing – and it surprises me this isn’t done more. If you’re in a position like we are, with a team of people around us who support our vision and allow us to be in a position where we can put a call out, and we know our agent will sort out this stuff in a booking sense, why wouldn’t you do it in such a way? It felt important given our situation right now – with our following on social media or whatever – it feels like we’re really engaged with our fanbase, and we can put these things out and get a response. That is really what matters to us. We’ve got great management and a wonderful team around us, so we feel really supported. In turn, that allows us to try things like this.
And yeah, this selection process was me, Bella (Podpadec, bass) and Rakel (Mjöll, vocals) sat in Rakel’s flat listening to music, or in the back of the van with a portable Marshall speaker and portable wifi. [Laughs] We’ve been doing it for a few weeks and going through it, and getting in touch with the bands that submitted. It’s absolutely exciting stuff and an absolutely difficult process.
BYT: Similarly, I was asked to be a judge in selecting D.C. bands for a SXSW showcase. Even with a couple of weeks to listen to them it was so difficult to choose from 600 bands who submitted when they have such different styles. You want to make sure that there’s representation across race and gender, and you want them to also fucking kick ass!
Go: Yeah yeah yeah yeah! It’s hard because a criteria forms in your head. But being on the road and performing shows was really helpful because you had time away from it and it allowed for us to come back to it with fresh ears and a positive mindset. But it was an amazing thing.
BYT: I’ve heard the tale of how the band came together – of how you formed at Brighton University art school, and originally came together for a performance art project, with your sights set on securing a trip to Canada.
Go: [Laughs heartily] Yeah! Yeah.
BYT: What was this trip to Canada? Where were you guys going?
Go: I’ll try and start from the top somehow. Bella and Rakel were flatmates in Brighton, and they were out one night dancing or whatever. I got this Facebook message from Bella and it basically asked if I wanted to come tour Canada with Rakel. They had a fantasy about Canada – and to be honest, obviously I had it as well. [Laughs] At the time there was exciting music coming from there; I think Grimes had just come across our radar, and other bands from the Montreal scene. Dream Wife is based on us having these wild plans and seeing them through. Somehow getting through it and doing it, and this is the start of us doing that.
It aligned with Rakel’s project at uni, where she was studying performance art at the time – I was doing sculpture, Bella was doing painting. It was a thing where we did a show at the gallery of the uni, and we had dance moves, and there was a human pyramid. I did a solo on the back of a few people who were on all fours. [Laughs] It was really playful and it could be anything we wanted it to be, and it just so happened to be a band. We all had histories in bands, so it wasn’t an unnatural path for us to take. It came out that way and it kind of still is.
After that, we realized we all had friends in Canada. So we sat in Bella’s bedroom and looked at a world map, and said “we’re going here and we’re going there” and called in every favor from friends that Rakel had met out at Iceland Airwaves. There’s a major Canadian connection to Airwaves. We planned our tour and soon were driving around in a van and sleeping on people’s sofas. It was really fun and figured it all out on that journey. We had no idea what this would be and came back thinking “this is way too much fun to quit.”
There’s something very special and organic about how this project grew – snowballed in a similar fashion. It’s kind of hard to say how it went from art school to playing [Summer Sonic Festival] in Japan just last week. We say “dreams of Canada”, but Japan was another dream of ours that just came true – things like that continue to surprise us, and our attitude is very open ended about what this project can be and what it can do besides being a band. We are always thinking about how we can operate from this bigger platform to empower other women and say, “go for it. Just go for it.” That’s what we did.