Alice Go and Bella Podpadec – two-thirds of the punk-pop band Dream Wife – are sharing a laugh in their south London home as they wait for bandmate Rakel Mjöll to join us online from a cafe in her native Reykjavik.
The singer returned home to Iceland in mid-March at the request of her family, who were concerned about the UK’s response to the impending coranavirus crisis.
The small Nordic nation launched its testing programme, albeit for a far smaller population, at the end of January, and was praised for having “virtually eliminated” the virus by June.
In the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the government “took the right decisions at the right time”, including imposing the lockdown on 23 March, but a leading scientist has claimed the delay “cost a lot of lives”.
“I remember there was a statement where the prime minister said senior citizens should avoid going on cruise ships, and I was like, ‘What is happening?'” recalls Mjöll, as she arrives (virtually) to the conversation.
“How on earth are countries going into lockdown and the prime minister is telling people not to go on cruise ships?”
Many countries imposed strict lockdown restrictions earlier than the UK did – with a few notable exceptions, such as Sweden.
“After that my family was quite afraid and asked me to come home and I’ve been here ever since,” Mjöll continues.
There’s been no need for a lockdown in Iceland, and so there’s been no rush for Mjöll to return to her adopted country yet either. As her band drop their second album, there are currently no UK venues open (drive-ins aside) for them to perform it in anyway.
Instead, their fans have had to sink their teeth into the “beautifully gruesome” music video for its punchy title track So When You Gonna… as well as the colourful one for album opener Sports! – which was directed, produced and edited by the band themselves.
Dream Wife began life as an art school performance project in Brighton just over five years ago, but soon morphed into a serious musical force, captivating crowds at the BBC’s Biggest Weekend in Belfast in 2018, shortly after the release of their eponymous debut.
As well as riotous riffs and memorable melodies, the record tackled the topics of gender roles, and sexual assault head on. They then worked with the feminist collective Girls Against to ensure that their live gigs were safe spaces for their young female fans – who they named the “Bad Bitches” – and even put out an open call for a succession of marginalised female and LGBT acts in the UK, US and Europe to support them on different nights of their tour.
A few years on, they are continuing to try to redress the gender imbalance of the music industry with their follow-up record, produced by “an incredible team of women”, they say.
‘Sensitivity and power’
“It was, for us, a real putting-our-money-where-our mouth-was situation,” says guitarist Go, quoting the lyrics to the rock opera-style Sports!
“Having the time to actually be like, ‘How do we want this record to be recorded? What is the process we want to be supporting here?’ And for us it was practicing what we preach in that respect,” she adds.
“And certainly the themes, the spaces it’s going to sonically, there’s a sensitivity and also power in equal measure that I think was really delicately handled by [producer and mixer] Marta [Salongi]. We couldn’t have made this record without her and the conversations she held with us.”
While working with an all-female production team was a “deeply important part of the process”, Podpadec points out, “it wasn’t a contrived position or decision”.
“We were working with the right people, the best people to make what we’ve made,” she adds, referring to Salogni, engineer Grace Banks and mastering engineer Heba Kadry.
“Them all being women kind of really helped and enriched it.”
In their own press materials and social media accounts, the band spell the word “women” as “womxn” – a term which they and others view as being more inclusive to trans women and non-binary people.
Many people strongly reject this term, however, and the band are aware that there’s been a great deal of controversy surrounding gender terminology.
The argument hasn’t made the band’s bass player want to cancel everybody’s favourite schoolboy wizard just yet, but she does think the timing of Rowling’s comments was “particularly weird”.
Podpadec questions why the author chose to post her comments “at a time where the Black Lives Matter movement is at the front and centre of public consciousness – why would you take attention away from that?”
She also doesn’t believe that Dumbledore was written as a gay character, as the author retrospectively confirmed in 2007, but that’s one to debate another time.
For now, album two depicts Dream Wife reconnecting with their friends and family after several years on the road. It tells tales of love, lust, ignorance, not fitting in, and, in the case of Temporary, a heartfelt consolation to a friend who endured multiple miscarriages.
Another track, Validation, begins with its protagonists drinking whisky in a cemetery (or so they think) and leads to them pondering over life, and their need for approval from other humans.
“Lyrically, it’s cut between three verses examining different types of validation within our community,” explains Mjöll, who is the band’s lead lyricist.
“And asking, ‘why do we need this validation?’ From a lover, from an art show community, from your musical peers – and just questioning why that’s so important to us.”
‘Inspiring and educational’
“The Wives”, as they are affectionately known, are part of a growing number of young stars in the UK, which includes Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, who are using their online platform to try and bring about societal change.
So, as well as delivering the album, they’ve also launched its namesake So When You Gonna… podcast series, for which they interviewed friends, collaborators and creative professionals who inspire them, in order to help fire the imaginations of their fans, in turn.
“I wish I could have had these conversations when I was like a teenager,” admits Go. “The normalisation of non-males in these particular roles in the creative industry.
“It felt important to just hear people’s journey from A-to-B is, as it’s never the same, and hopefully it’s inspiring and educational for people.”
The indie-rockers believe the pandemic may have given more people more time to get creative, as well as “casting such a bright light” on global and domestic issues – such as climate change, domestic abuse and racial inequality.
They think it’s equally important right now, though, to simply “be present” whenever possible… whatever island they find themselves on.
“We’re just taking it day-by-day like everyone else and if we feel creative then we can use our creative outlets,” says Mjöll, “but also now to be physically and actively present is everything I’m thinking about these days.
“The tour will come back when it’s safe to do so [April 2021, fingers crossed] and I will embrace that with open arms.”
So When You Gonna… (album and podcast) is out now.