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Dream Wife’s Rakel Mjöll on songwriting, touring with Sleigh Bells and their second album

Just like their upcoming album, Dream Wife are energetic, raucous and fun. The three piece pop punk queens began as the performance project of idealistic art school students in 2014. 

Rakel Mjöll was born in Iceland and grew up in California. UK natives Bella Podpadec and Alice Go knew each other from a fortuitous meeting at Battle of the Bands in Somerset. Whether it’s body image, gender inequality, mental health or the state of the world, there’s nothing staid or self-righteous in their vibrant electro-pop, girls-to-the-front delivery. Lauded by Billboard, Rolling Stone and BBC Music after their first album and live tours won them global acclaim, this interview took place weeks before the release of second album So When You Gonna…

In this interview for Blunt, lead vocalist Rakel speaks to Cat Woods from her family home in Reykjavik, Iceland.

“Things are pretty chill here, which I’m very thankful for,” Mjöll says. “I went to Iceland because I was concerned about the way the UK Government were handling the issue. I wanted to be in nature, because nature is so important during these times.”

With travel plans, launches, tours and festivals all cancelled, Mjöll and her bandmates have had to adapt to isolated conditions.

“We’re so used to working from home, as creatives, and organising our time. I was always touring, so I used to make the mistake of buying a gym membership but then I’d only be home for three days and wouldn’t feel like using the gym, anyway. I’m concerned about this pressure to do so much during this time though, learning languages and doing home yoga and stuff. Do what you want, it’s your time!”

Back in their university days, Mjöll and Podpadec were housemates on a night out when the concept of creating a performance project that would get them to Canada seemed like the only way they’d get to their dream destination.

“Making a band with the sole purpose of going to Canada? My tutors loved it,” recalls Mjöll. “We had our first performance at the university, but then we went to Canada for a month. It was amazing. Months after we got back, we were reflecting that Canada was pretty fun, so we figured we’d just keep playing live shows.”

With a relentless touring schedule, Mjöll is adamant that it only works because the trio really love spending time together and trust each other.

“We got compared so often to the Riot Grrl scene, but we didn’t really know it until we formed a band and started looking into it. That said, we were all really into Le Tigre during our formative years. We got a really beautiful message from Kathleen Hanna, from Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, after they first saw us and JD said we were his favourite band. I think Le Tigre is the band that has inspired us the most,” she says.

“This is the life that I choose, and the people that I love are doing their own thing and they’ll still be there when circumstances change.”

“The Yeah Yeah Yeahs live, and how Karen O performs with every single cell of her body is so inspiring to us. These kind of bands that you hear as you’re realising your self as a teenager, like CSS and The Strokes for me, I feel like they form us as people and as songwriters.”

Their debut album was recorded in one week, a stressful experience that resulted in a record where the speed remained constant between every song. The power of response to the album fuelled non-stop tours, including the Laneway Festival in Australia in 2018.

So When You Gonna… took a month to record after half a year of dedicated writing. “We had an all female team, including the engineer and master, which was incredible”, Mjöll recalls. “What we really wanted for the first album was to get the rawness and energy of our live shows into the studio. So, it was an introduction. What I liked about the process behind this album is that it was much more cohesive, it has a story.”

Mjöll was adamant that this album would have “at least two” ballads. “’After The Rain’, which finishes the album, is really focused on the vocals and it introduces a piano for the first time. I fought for those ballads! It is so easy for this band to turn a ballad into a really raucous rock song, and we have so many songs like ‘Sports!’ and ‘When You Gonna… ‘that are fuelled on adrenaline.”

Mjöll says that being a bunch of kids that went to art school has fed into a positive approach to bringing creative ideas and elements to the songwriting process and live performances. “Nothing is ever shot down,” she says. “We’re very hands-on when it comes to everything from photo shoots to videos. For the ‘Sports!’ video, we edited, filmed and produced that. Having green screens took forever though, no joke.”

While live performances aren’t on the imminent horizon, Mjöll has only enthusiasm for the many bands they’ve toured with and met thus far.

“We’ve done about three tours with The Kills. They always want us back, which is a good sign! They’ve been so great in helping us enter the US market,” she says. “They’re one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. The connection between Alison and Jamie on stage is incredible. Seeing that kind of energy happen every night on stage is really inspiring, and that stuck with us from that tour. The connection between them is so obvious and special. It’s about bringing your whole self to the stage, every night, and connecting to the audience with no front. It’s freeing, in a way.”

Mjöll’s major touring lesson to date came care of Sleigh Bells, “When they were getting ready for their show, which is so physical, they treated it like athletes. Derek says a rock show is like an extreme sport, which it is! After the show, they’re just wiped out. You can’t even talk to them. After that tour, we make sure we stretch for at least half an hour before we go on stage. We warm up, then we stretch after our shows too. If you want to be able to perform this way, you need to make sure you’re physically prepared. That’s made such a big difference.”

Mjöll is sad but resolved that touring, for now, isn’t on the cards. “You have to let it go that you’re supposed to be doing something else. What I really had to learn about touring is that it doesn’t really matter how long it is between seeing fellow artists and bands. When you see them again, it’s like time hasn’t passed at all. When you meet them again, you’re reminded that true friends are like that. This is the life that I choose, and the people that I love are doing their own thing and they’ll still be there when circumstances change.”