Dream Wife Wants to Wake You Up

By David Jenison on September 19, 2018

In the 1953 film Dream Wife, Cary Grant's character states, "There must be a girl somewhere who thinks it's a wonderful career to just have a home and baby and whose only thought is to make her husband happy." One might wonder how society ever survived the '50s, but the bigger wonder is how so many vile 1950s attitudes still survive today. They won't survive much longer if the modern Dream Wife gets its way.

The London-based trio Dream Wife—featuring bassist Bella Podpadec, guitarist Alice Go and Iceland-born vocalist Rakel Mjöll—challenges antiquated assholery with an indie rock sound steeped in punk attitude. On its 2018 self-titled debut, the band tackles issues like ageism ("Act My Age"), rape culture ("Somebody") and unapologetic sexuality ("Let's Make Out") alongside affirming anthems like "Kids" and "Fire." PRØHBTD spoke with Bella in a wide-ranging conversation about slut walks, revenge haircuts, female conservatives, medical cannabis and the productive type of male empowerment.

The most impactful lyric to me is, "I am not my body, I'm somebody." How would you describe the lead up to that lyric and the moment when you actually put the words to paper?

The song "Somebody" came out all at once, almost fully formed in the practice space. It was a catharsis. This was two summers ago, around the time of the 2016 SlutWalk in Reykjavik. It's a reaction to the collective pain shared through the safe space that this movement fostered.

One of my favorite moments is when you use Spice Girls' "Wannabe" lyrics in a song about fucking someone up and cutting their hair. How does a haircut serve as a metaphor for unleashing anger on those who deserve it?

When giving a haircut, you have so much control. You can really fuck someone up very quickly with a bad haircut. It's a disposable part of you that nonetheless is intrinsically linked to identity and sense of self. But that song is finding a glee, a positivity in that anger. It's getting those feelings out through the music.

You held an open call for female and non-binary artists to support Dream Wife on its latest tour. Any particular artists you discovered from this process that you want to give a shout out?

The response we've had to the submissions has been so overwhelming and humbling. It's crazy to see bands you're just a straight-up fan of already or stuff you can't believe you haven't heard before on the list. So many incredible artists. We've not even finished picking yet! It's so hard! Might have to keep a lid on the choices for now, but we have lots of plans and should be able to feed more through soon.

How would you define a "strong woman," and what is the first step toward pursuing that strength?

Strength looks different and beautiful on everyone. And I'm sure the journey to that strength is different. For me it began with questioning the rules and values I'd been conditioned with and figuring out what makes sense to me and what doesn't regardless of any preconceived notion of "woman." I think the idea that a woman has to bow to patriarchal standards to be considered strong is out of whack—practicing compassion is strength, softness is strength, being in touch with yourself emotionally is strength. I feel strongest when I feel kindest.

Dream Wife is associated with themes of female empowerment, but how would you describe an ideal form of male empowerment that would have a more positive effect on society?

Men. Need. To. Talk. About. Their. Feelings. Stop trying to own people... own things... and own their own shit. Gonna hammer this point from the previous question home—opening up, emotional intelligence, tears, feelings are not signs of weakness and should not be considered "emasculating."

To what extent has or will the music address LGBTQ empowerment?

No one ever really asks about where we are at in relation to LGBTQ empowerment, people always want to hear what we have to say about women. It's funny how the questions you're asked write the scripts for you or frame how you understand what you do. Our music contains a lot of flipping the script on heteronormative values. Sexuality is fluid and intangible.

You posted support for the SlutWalk on Instagram. Tell me about the march and why people should know about and support its mission.

It's a day for the reclamation of sexuality. Through language and the reclamation of the word "SLUT," through the city, physically reclaiming the street, from the power of abusers through sharing and collectively processing trauma. As I've talked about previously, it holds a special place in this band in relation to the writing of "Somebody."

For songwriting, are you more creative when you are angry, sad, happy or some other emotion?

We do the bulk of our writing together in a practice space. It's about the coming together of multiple minds to make something bigger than yourself. Maybe it's a concoction of energy, humility, patience and willingness to jump off the edge.

What are your guiding principles for balancing art and accessibility?

A big one is trying to play all-ages shows. The idea that keeping young people away from live music is ridiculous. Doing things like the open call for support acts on our tour has been big, too, opening up the conversation beyond what the "industry" allows in. Social media has done a lot for direct communication with a community, cutting out the middleman.

What is your favorite moment from a live show in which you invited members of the audience on stage?

It's hard to choose a favorite moment. Probably a time when the people who made it onto stage were people we loved. But it's a different kind of crazy special feeling when you get to share that moment, that solidarity, with people you don't know, but in that moment you do.

When it comes to press interview like this, what difference in questions do you tend to see between male and female reporters?

Interesting… Some people are clued up and ask informed, interesting questions, like they actually want a conversation, and with some people, it feels more like checking off a buzz word because what else could we possibly have to talk about? It can be frustrating endlessly answering the questions about being a woman in music and never about the music. I'd say generally women [reporters] tend to be more informed, but that's not always the case. I've had some enlightening and interesting conversations with men about feminism and some very stagnant, base conversations with women.

Lastly, I have two U.K.-related questions for you. Why do you think the U.K.'s only two female Prime Ministers were both conservatives?

It's unfortunate... but [it's] back to this idea I've been talking about throughout. Within the confines of a patriarchal structure, the pattern reads that—in order for women to gain power, the power to lead a country—she must assimilate into traditionally masculine values. The conservative party and its values lend itself to this traditional power structure.

Second, the U.K. is one of the biggest producers of medical cannabis, yet it has some of the strictest laws against recreational and medical cannabis use. What is the government disconnect between supporting a policy based on profit and stopping a drug war that continues to hurt the public?

I didn't know the U.K. produced so much medical cannabis... another hypocrisy this country carries. Obviously it's about the money. Obviously it's just about the mind control, clamping down on anything that could foster free thinking. Obviously the people making and upholding the rules don't know much about cannabis at all. Conversations are being had, though, and laws are being reviewed. As America seems to be moving pro-ganj, the U.K. will probably follow close behind. It's important for the country considering this whole E.U. shitshow.

Photo credit: Joanna Kiely.

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