“I’m gonna fuck you up, I’m gonna cut you up,” sings Rakel Mjöll of Dream Wife on “F.U.U.,” the closer to the Icelandic-U.K. pop-punk trio’s explosive 2018 debut album.
The song has taken on meaning of positive aggression for Dream Wife, a band whose members, including guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec, have taken a vocal stand for both female and non-binary equality both on and off stage. To many, “F.U.U.” is about saying “enough is enough.”
Not many know the song, one of the first Dream Wife wrote, was originally about a bad haircut that Mjöll got. Later, the song continues: “…I’m gonna cut your hair and I want you to stare.”
Last summer, the band played a family-oriented music festival in northern England, at which point Mjöll and her bandmates switched up the lyrics once again, to “I’m gonna freak you out,” and the refrain, “I spy with my little eye bad bitches,” turned into a line about witches.
“All the kids were singing along! It was the cutest thing,” she said from Iceland, ahead of Dream Wife’s first headlining U.S. tour. “We could see loads of little kids on their parents’ shoulders, rocking out. And I was like, ‘You are the coolest parents!’
“[F.U.U.] was about a bad haircut, and the power the person has, with the scissors,” she said. “But that’s what I love about songs. Their meanings are changing and how you play is changing.”
Canada or bust for Dream Wife
As a band, Dream Wife itself has morphed from its original aim.
“The band was made with the sole purpose of going to visit Canada, and making a band to finance that trip,” said Mjöll, who was born in Iceland before her parents brought her to the San Francisco Bay Area.
She lived here from age 2 to 10. Her father, a software engineer, moved the family back to Iceland when he saw his three daughters and son start to lose their native language. Mjöll went to Brighton, in England, for her schooling in the theatre. Her father came from a long line of theatre artists, which made the software engineer the black sheep of his family. Needless to say, the family was happy when Mjöll and all her siblings pursued arts studies.
At university, Mjöll lived with Podpadec. One night, the two of them decided they wanted to visit Canada because they had friends living in various cities throughout the North American country.
To pay for the trip, the two decided to form a band and play shows along the way. The next day, they realized they couldn’t have a band by themselves, and asked Go, the best guitarist they knew.
“I was studying performance art in the university, and … this sounded like performance art–making a band with the sole purpose of touring Canada,” Mjöll said.
Her advisors also loved the idea, which meant the band and the tour would also be counted toward her requirements. Their first show was at an art gallery, for which they had only two half-finished songs.
“It was fun,” she said, chuckling.
Equality in the music industry
Dream Wife’s inaugural Canadian tour wouldn’t have been possible without the band members’ friends. The trio didn’t know what it was doing, Mjöll conceded. The members didn’t know how to produce and manage a tour, so they relied on their friends for everything, even getting from city to city.
They also relied on friends to get introduced to a concert promoter
“A lot of this band has been done in a DIY sense,” she said. “We’ve rather wanted to learn than to expect it from someone else. I think about all that kindness we’ve been given. Now we have a wonderful team around us who are incredibly helpful and understand our vision so we can do more.”
The popularity of Dream Wife has grown quickly in the U.K. and in Europe. They’ve gotten to tour and learn from the likes of Garbage last summer.
“In the U.S., we don’t necessarily have a large platform,” Mjöll said. “But if you have a platform, you should give back.”
To meet that goal, on its fall tours, both in the U.K. and the U.S., Dream Wife announced an open call for openers who had at least one member who identified as either female or non-binary. The project was undertaken alongside nonprofits GirlsRock London and the Girls Rock Camp Alliance.
It also reaffirms the band’s goal to face society’s objectification of women head-on. The band name itself was chosen as commentary of this.
The roll call received about 500 submissions, Mjöll said. That’s got the band thinking about hosting their own music festival.
“I’m looking at the U.K. right now, but it’s almost appalling seeing the lack of diversity [at festivals,” she said.“And when you ask about the lack of diversity, you’re often met with ‘Oh, but there aren’t that many exciting female acts going,’ or something like that. … There are, and that should be showcased rather than people expecting it to be a niche.
Dream Wife will be filming its tour for a documentary, and is excited to speak to all of the bands chosen to open.
“The best part is when you get to meet these bands and you get to learn more about what is happening in the local scene,” she said. “When you come from a different place and you’re only there for a day, it’s so great to have an insight into, like, ‘What is the San Francisco scene like?’”
Audience fuels style
In its own songs, the band often addresses discrimination, consent, societal expectations and self-worth. In the middle of the album, “Love Without Reason” provides a respite from the aggressive nature of the rest of the songs. Mjöll likened its vibe to that of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps.” Like that early-aughts classic, it’s about the acceptance of open vulnerability and the beauty of falling in love—whether that’s with someone else or yourself, she said.
“It’s this idea of letting go, and everything’s fine,” she said.
After Mjöll and her bandmates finished the album, was was largely shaped by their own experiences and that of their friends, they stepped back and realized the central theme was “showing different faces of women.”
“You write what you know and what we are are three women in our 20s,” she said.
Mjöll cites an unlikely writing inspiration: Dolly Parton; particularly her honest-but-cheeky nature.
The band’s rough-around-the-edges style comes from its live shows more than its inspirations. All three members grew up around sugary pop rather than rock. The Strokes are an influence, but so are the Spice Girls.
“The punk elements have to come in when you’re really enjoying the vibe of the audience and you’re getting rowdy together … and Alice breaks all the strings on her guitar and then jumps into the crowd,” Mjöll said. “That reminds me the live show is entertainment. And it’s not just entertainment for the audience; that’s for us to get that kind of level with the audience.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.