In March 2017, months before #MeToo and #TimesUp, London trio Dream Wife released “Somebody,” a poignant anthem dressed as a boppy punk track. The first single ahead of their 2018 full-length debut declared “I am not my body, I am somebody” over a whispering bassline, a notion women had long been rallying behind, though now consumed communally through the band’s dynamic live shows. Eventually the women, lead vocalist Rakel Mjöll, guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec began to notice the audience singing the refrain back to them, people of all genders approaching the band to share their appreciation for the song, showing off tattoos with the lyrics marked onto their skin forever. It felt like something was happening, a visceral reaction to political and social unrest, a cultural change sparked by a punk mindset.
“We definitely have a punk healthfulness in a sense that it’s a political given that we’re three women saying the things we’re saying in the way we’re saying them,” says Go. “Three women being aggressive in music in a positive and empowering sense.”
Their ethos as a band inspires conversations, from their blistering songs—like album closer “F.U.U.” where Mjöll almost demurely declares she’s going to “f—- you up, going to cut you up, gonna f—- you up”—to the ironic lens by which listeners consume these messages, marked by the cutting commentary of their band name. Because Dream Wife aren’t here to fulfill anyone’s expectations. Instead, they’ve consistently shattered even their own.
While studying at Brighton University, roommates Mjöll and Podpadec reached out to Go via Facebook to enlist her in their fictional performance art project band. They wrote songs and performed them at a gallery opening, though writing and playing live together felt too purposeful to stop once the semester ended. So they wrote some more, released an EP in 2016, toured Canada and Europe and effectively created a larger space for women in punk.
On their self-titled debut—which is in the Vinyl Me, Please store in an exclusive edition—Dream Wife create chaos and tension with Go’s beheading riffs, romanticism and indignation in Mjöll’s chameleonic wail and coax out a groove via Podpadec’s bass. Every song drips with urgency yet is endlessly danceable; they maintain that the revolution will be punctuated with love—that women can can have both sexual desires and bodily independence, can get in a fight and have a crush. If a dream wife is meant to serve every fantasy, this one has succeeded.
VMP: How much does your background in performance art influence the art you do now?
Alice Go: The context within which we were founded led to quite an open mindset to what the project was. At the time, it was this high conceptual project which manifested as performance art because we were studying art at the time. We had all been in bands before that so it was second nature. After the initial period of the art project, we thought we’d leave it at that but it was too fun to end. We came back after the fall holiday at uni and were like “Let’s try and do this.” This band has something to say and it felt very organic. There was an excitement around it and it felt like people engaged with it and people got something from it. If your band can cut through and people can feel something from your music, that’s an amazing thing.
Obviously, we’re art students too, and we’re constantly studying and analyzing what is going on here and what is the message. I think it’s important for us to allow creativity to happen organically and let this project find its own path. It’s this kind of finely tuned machine. It’s just grown in so many ways. It doesn’t feel wrong.
In a time when music and art are being examined as vehicles that buck the status quo, is there more pressure to create something that’s “meaningful”?
Especially in London right now, these turbulent political times, music is a tool for demonstrating. Punk was about a rebellion but it was about embracing the people around you and finding solidarity through that. In terms of women’s voices, we want to challenge expectations of women in the music industry. We write all of our own songs and we’re proud of that. There’s this really exciting punk thing happening in London right now. People feel unsafe and we have to remember we’re all in it together and maybe we’re all angry together but we can find ways to communicate things. In London, bands around us like Happy Meal Ltd. [now HMLTD] and Nova Twins as well, but it feels natural for these voices to exist given the current climate. As with punk, turbulent times in politics ignite things and question this thing we call reality, question the positions of power.
Even just being three women saying things that matter to you is still radical.
We’ve always gotten “How is it being a girl in a band?” and it’s this thing where it’s really lazy journalism because it’s another way of pigeonholing you. It’s not actually normalizing these roles for women rather than being a thing that some girls do. For us, it’s important to represent and to find a voice where you can normalize the fact that we’re just girls doing this, writing songs, we’re doing it our way. I was watching an interview with Kathleen Hanna from the early ’90s, this is something that’s happened nearly 30 years ago, but the question was really straight up and similar to the lazy journalism we’d experienced of being women in music. In 30 years, how hasn’t this changed? I think it’s a thing where [it helps] to be able to speak about things like this in this interview.
It feels unfair to throw those empty questions around when you have powerful lyrics like “I am not my body, I am somebody.”
When we put that song out there, it was a moment for people engaging and having a conversation, whether that be engaging on social media, someone even got “I am not my body I am somebody” tattooed on them. At a live show, there’s a moment when we play this song, all these women, and men as well, are singing “I am not my body, I am somebody.” It shouldn’t be intimidating for girls, especially in a rock environment. I think it’s important that you respect that everyone has to feel safe.
A few shows on our tour in the UK last year, we worked with a group called Girls Against who helped promote awareness of people being respectful and safe in gig environments. There’s a lot to access in our music, I hope, about these issues and these messages.
It’s good for young girls to see that image out there.
On the album, musically, lyrically, [there are] so many different shades and tones to emotions, feelings. It’s got soft, sincere moments and then it’s got these hyper wild, almost aggressive moments. Women are so complex. To see women represented in many different roles in a normal way, smashing through stereotypes—I hope our album encapsulates reclaiming identity in that sense. And hopefully messages of empowerment through that. Even with a song like “Somebody,” as much as it’s a predominantly feminist message, I think that song is definitely speaking for women, [and] it’s ultimately a message to men, too. Men need to have this conversation, too. It’s embracing everyone to question gender and the expectations on that.
Obviously you, like most women, have been thinking about these things for a long time before it became newsworthy. Given all that’s happening concerning consent and sex, do you think your album being released now will resound heavier?
Over the past year every night when we played “Somebody,” it felt like it was chiming in with this bigger conversation. There definitely is a relevance right now. I would hope that our album would be able to be a part of that conversation. I’m proud of the message that we conveyed. When we play these songs live, it definitely feels part of a bigger picture right now.
It’s cool how different cultural moments can come together and work toward a bigger goal.
It’s interesting, [on] the internet, you can find your own community. There’s all these different ways to engage with politics [that] it’s hard because we’re overexposed to information in terms of news. The actual change and actual voices coming together to make change, we’re so overexposed that it can dilute information. What’s interesting with #MeToo is it’s almost the other way. The power of the internet boosts voices being heard. It’s people coming together IRL, too. It’s a powerful moment in internet community and voices coming together. It’s the same with our followers online. We’re engaging with them online and it’s really important that we remember to touch base IRL. There is this bigger dialogue going on but it’s coming through in a sense of community, whether online or IRL.
Have you felt that energy within the Dream Wife followers online and at shows?
After a show you’ll be meeting people and they say “That song ‘Somebody,’ it’s really helping me right now.” It makes them feel something and they felt like close to change. It’s about an energy that people can find within themselves at our shows. We also sometimes tour with our photographer friend Meg Lavender, she helped us found the Bad Bitch Club, which is a way at shows for people to feel like they’re engaging and can shine. Meg will be in the crowd before a show and take pictures of the fabulous people coming down to watch a show. [There’s] this thing of you want people to feel like they’re on the same level as you which is really important.
After shows, we’re speaking to fans, we’re speaking to friends, we’re speaking to everyone together. Getting their picture taking by Meg and feeling like it’s a moment for them, it’s important for us in terms of engaging with our fans but also a sense of community and solidarity through that. We basically wrote this album, very much based on writing songs, jamming things through in a practice room and taking them out and playing them live. And it’s about what the energy is with the crowd, how people are responding to things, what are people feeling after the show, what are the moments that really spoke to people and taking that back into the practice room and then seeing what feels right and what was working. It’s important the way we’re engaging with people and that we respect this engagement. You want to be supportive of them back and find a voice that’s speaking for all of us together.