Q&A: MisterWives ‘bloom’ again with new music and more on the way

MisterWives, Mandy Lee, Etienne Bowler, William Hehir

MisterWives, Courtesy: Shervin Lainez.

The Denver studio where MisterWives spent the morning working didn’t appreciate bassist William Hehir trying to light up indoors, which is why he’s found himself outside, joining the band’s vocalist and primary songwriter, Mandy Lee, in a phone interview Wednesday.

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“They got real pissed,” he elaborates. “I was like, ‘Whatever man. That’s cool. Rock and roll.’”

“Yeah, they kicked him out,” Lee chips in, to which Hehir adds a totally incorrect assessment: “We’re no longer allowed in Denver.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth, because if you’ve ever spent even a few minutes with MisterWives, you’d want to invite them into your own home. The jubilant connection Lee, Hehir, drummer Etienne Bowler, guitarist Marc Campbell, saxophonist Mike Murphy and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Blum share with each other, they tend to impart on the people around them.

In the numerous conversations we’ve had with the New York band since 2015, it has been a tradition to ask whether there had ever been a fight among the friends. The answer was always a solid “no.” Judging by the unease present in Lee’s lyrics on the band’s new EP, mini bloom, such as bruised bangers like “Whywhywhy” and “Coming Up for Air,” that may no longer be the case. But whatever the bandmates have faced, they’ve overcome it.

Since concluding the tour for their second album, 2017’s Connect the Dots, they stayed hard at work writing new songs while also enjoying domestic life for the first time in years. Lee and Bowler, a long-time couple, tied the knot in 2018. Last summer, the band switched record labels to Fueled By Ramen.

Now MisterWives are on the road once again, on the appropriately titled “No Place Like Home” tour, and playing two shows at the Independent Sunday and Monday. We spoke to the two about preparing to release their forthcoming third album, writing with vulnerability, switching labels and the most difficult stop on any tour.

“We feel the altitude,” Lee said. “Denver is always the hardest show to play on tour, by far.”

RIFF: There’s a lot of thematic unease in some of the new songs. Are the songs personal stories or stories of people close to you? On Reddit, there are fan discussions about the state of the band.


MisterWives perform at Sonoma Harvest Music Festival in Glen Ellen, Calif. on Sept. 21, 2019. Live photos: Martin Lacey/Staff.

Mandy Lee: The band has never been better. I think I always have written from a personal standpoint and the songs are very personal to me, and very vulnerable. There’s definitely been big life changes, but I’ve been happy that I’ve had the music to lean on. And it’s made me appreciate the music as I did when I was a teenager—of needing it to get through something. The guys had been the most supportive, and there’s nothing to worry about with the band. I genuinely think we’ve never been closer, more on the same page and having the best time.

Music will always be personal to me, and I’ll never be writing from another perspective. That’s the whole reason why I need it. … It’s just, life is hard and it’s important to be honest about those moments and not shy away from it because it is very personal and vulnerable. …

Etienne and I have gone through some personal stuff for sure that we didn’t foresee, but we are still the best of friends, and it’s been amazing getting to make these songs together. And that’s been a big healing process for the two of us—having that and leaning on each other in the hard moments and having the music. No matter how hard it gets or whatever it is that we’re going through, the love and bond that we have; that doesn’t waiver whatsoever.

On “Coming Up For Air,” what are you getting over?

Lee: “Coming Up For Air” is just a moment of feeling when things are really hard and heavy, to have a moment of clarity of finally feeling like you can breathe again and take control of your life. You know that things might have been difficult, but you get the second chance at life. And even if things turn out differently than you expected, you deserve that chance and freedom to start over and feel like you can breathe again. That song is sort of what it revolves around.

While you’ve been working on new material, and getting married, what has the rest of the band been up to the last couple of years?


MisterWives perform at Sonoma Harvest Music Festival in Glen Ellen, Calif. on Sept. 21, 2019.

William Hehir: I feel like we’ve been off touring for a good bit, but we’ve just been working on the third record. Mandy has … written like 45, 50 songs for this. So we were basically sitting at home twiddling our thumbs, getting ready to come back.

Lee: No way.

Hehir: You know, it was definitely very interesting. It was the first time where I think all of us had the ability to go home and develop some type of routine. Individually, you’re working on your craft, and everyone’s kind of playing their instruments and bettering themselves in that department. And then just spending time with family. In my apartment [it was family] because I don’t really have any friends outside of the band. [laughs].

Lee: I was obviously writing the record all year, but it was the first time that we had not been on tour. So it was this weird change of pace in life of everybody being home for the first time. That’s why it felt so rewarding and amazing. I’ll get back to it and realize how much we need it and how much we don’t take this for granted. It’s wonderful to be home with our loved ones and that’s been incredible. But it felt like something was missing in my life; not being on the road with these guys.

Hehir: It’s a lot easier, I think, to make the transition. Going home and trying to get acclimated, that took me months. Whereas, when we got back on the road I was, “Oh, this is it. Now I’m back. And this is where we are.”

When you say “record,” are you talking about the EP you just released, or is there something else that you’re working on?

Lee: No, no. The full-length record is coming out next year, and we just put out the EP because we’re going on tour for a couple of months and wanted people to have new music in their hands so they could sing along with us. That’s kind of why we put it out; really, last minute. We weren’t even planning on putting out the EP until a month ago. It came together very quickly. But yeah, the whole album is done. We wanted people to be able to hear a taste of the new music and get familiarized. It’s more of a party when everybody’s getting to sing together as one than knowing four or five songs that we’re playing.

Sonoma Harvest Music Festival, MisterWives

MisterWives perform at Sonoma Harvest Music Festival in Glen Ellen, Calif. on Sept. 21, 2019.

How difficult was it to write a breakup song like “Whywhywhy?”

Lee: It was really difficult. It’s scary because it was the first time I was being really honest about something that I wasn’t sure I could be honest about. But at the same time it was really liberating to put something out that I was fearful of being … very transparent in front of a bunch of people I do not know, which is scary and vulnerable.

But it’s been received so wonderfully that it kind of makes all of that go away and makes you appreciate the power of being really honest in your music and not being afraid of how people are going to judge or look into things and just how it’s resonating with everyone. Honestly, that’s one of the songs that are the loudest every night. People sing that all together with me. It gives me goosebumps every single night. It’s very cathartic. You know, what’s the point of making music if you’re not going to tell your story honestly?

And that’s the first song I made for the record. … That was the one that started the whole thing.

Last summer you signed to Fueled by Ramen. That’s a pretty big change for you. What brought that change on?

Lee: We’ve been a big fan of Fueled By Ramen from the beginning and it’s always been a dream label to be on and get to work with. When we left Republic, it was pretty easy. We didn’t do the whole shopping around for labels thing. We found out that they were interested and were the most eager to work with them. And it’s just really refreshing to work with the label that cares so much about their artists, the music you’re making, what’s the best plan for the album and us, and growing and tour and all of that stuff. … Fueled By Ramen is predominantly bands that we’re such huge fans of. So I think they get us more, you know? Things don’t slip through the cracks. I think the last label we were on; [they are] wonderful people, it just was tricky because—

Hehir: Definitely [it was] just different styles. [Fueled By Ramen is] very collaborative.

Lee: The head of the label, Mike Easterlin, calls me frequently. You just have very personal relationships with people and it’s just a completely different way of handling things.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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