“Your current quest is Nine of Swords,” Bella says, pulling her enormous woolly jumper over her checked trousers as the light wears thin. It’s Halloween and I’m having my tarot read on a tree stump by one quarter of Dream Wife, bassist Bella Podpadec. They’ve spent the past month recording their second album and today is the final day. After building a reputation as a solid live band, signing with indie label Lucky Number and relentlessly touring their riotous debut for over a year, writing jams in a seventies studio in London Fields seems like a spiritual retreat.
Fast forward seven months and it’s day 356000 of lockdown. The new album, So When You Gonna…, is set for release in just a few weeks. With the sun blazing hard, I log on to Zoom for a distant chat with Bella and guitarist Alice Go. Vocalist Rakel Mjöll is on her way back to Iceland, which I know, bizarrely, because I bumped into her on a bike ride through Stamford Hill yesterday. As I wrestle with my laptop audio, the Wives pop up on my screen sprawled across a mattress in their back garden, nonchalantly sharing a joint. “Welcome to the Pleasure Lounge!” Bella giggles. Are rockstars born with swag?
I finally get my microphone to work and ask them what it’s been like preparing to relinquish your life to a gruelling schedule of interviews and shredding live sets, only to suddenly be housebound with the imminent threat of the music industry collapsing. “We’re very glad that we’re still releasing So When You Gonna… on the original date,” Bella says. “Especially because I think music is so important now. I’ve been really clinging to a handful of albums that are speaking to me and, I don’t know, it feels like the right thing.”
The tour is such an integral aspect of releasing an album, especially for a band like Dream Wife, who began on the live circuit and like to play until their fingers bleed. There’s a cluster of tracks on the new record that are hazy summer slices of candid pop I can just imagine swaying to at a festival, shouting the lyrics with a warm beer and my hands in the air. “Yeah, at our core we’re a live band, so it’s interesting to have to just sit with them.” Bella says. Alice continues, “when we got into the studio this time we’d toured for two solid years, so we were a really tight unit, and we had so many bottled up ideas that we’d been waiting to try. We started writing and there was just…an energy there. It was like a well-oiled machine, and that really allowed us to dig in and be sensitive together, without being afraid.”
So When You Gonna… takes its name from the frustration leading up to steamy encounters, but is more figuratively a challenge, or a call to arms: “like, when are you gonna do that THING you’ve been talking about for so long?” Bella quips. Opening track ‘Sports’ wriggles its way into your ears, poking fun at machoism and ‘the game’ with nonsense catchphrases like “height is time, time is money, never apologise!” and a jagged lead guitar throbbing with arrogance. By contrast, second single ‘Hasta La Vista’ rolls in delicately, with its saccharine vocals and muted, clean bass licks, a theme that’s consistent throughout the record and moves the band towards a softer, shoe-gazey pop sensibility. Rakel’s razor-sharp lyricism is penetrative and playful as she snarls sweetly like a tiger chasing its tail.
The introduction of synths on tracks like ‘Old Flame’ sees Alice really exerting her technical proficiency. “So, a lot of the sounds you hear aren’t actually keyboards. I’m playing my guitar, but also using it as an interface and running it through my Kaoss pedal. The pedal converts the vibrations into a digital signal with no latency, so I can play both at the same time.” She credits the spatiality and texture of the record to producer Marta Salogni. “Certainly as womxn, it happens too much where you can feel like you don’t have a say in the studio setting, but from the off it felt like a collaborative space. There’s a rawness in the way she mixes, but it’s very intuitive and in line with the conversation that we wanted to hold.”
The concept of space features heavily throughout the afternoon. Bella says she has found the live show to be a place where she can really “explore what my physicality is and how I use it. Womxn are taught to really minimise the space that we occupy, not to be loud, not to be aggressive. Music spaces especially can feel extremely exclusive and hard to penetrate and as a womxn you don’t want to ask for help because people assume that you’re stupid anyway.”
So When You Gonna…is accompanied by a podcast in which each member of the band interviews friends and experts in the creative arts. Alice says she wishes she could’ve heard it “when I was fifteen or something. So I would’ve known that it’s not just one size fits all”. The fight for equality in the music industry has been raging for decades, and it’s easy to look from afar and see things moving quickly. But we still have a long way to go, and it’s worth remembering that less than five per cent of music techs are womxn, and in the latest UK Music diversity survey in 2018 only 17.8 percent of respondents identified themselves as BAME.
One of the most refreshing elements of Dream Wife is their willingness to practice what they preach, or, in their words, to “put your money where your mouth is”. Last year they put a call out on social media for bright new LGBTQ+ and non-cis bands to support them on tour and handpicked the winners. “We get asked so much about gender politics, if we’re not going to be giving the fucking jobs to women then what’s the point? Why are we pedalling this shit?” Bella says. I ask her what her feelings are about the music industry in general, especially within pop. Her brow furrows. “I’ve always found the idea of making money off of your creative ventures to be really complicated. We’re signed to an independent label and we don’t make much but I still feel like we’re intrinsically part of the problem. It’s idol culture. People really shouldn’t be elevated to that level of singularity.”
When I bump into Rakel I ask her if there are any burning questions she wants answered. She smiles innocently. “How about not asking them what it’s like to be a fucking woman in the music industry?”
‘So When You Gonna…’ is out Friday 3rd July via Lucky Number. Pre-order here.