9 questions for the indie pop band MisterWives
There is no official land speed record for making it as a band, but if there was one, the Brooklyn-born MisterWives might just hold it. After forming in 2013, the Brooklyn-based indie pop group played its first show at New York's now closed Canal Room – and the next day, signed a record deal with a label.
Barely two years later, that quickly sparked music career has shown no signs of flickering out. The band released its debut album "Our Own House," dished out hit radio regulars like "Reflections," performed on talk shows like "Late Night with Seth Meyers" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and hit the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage at this past summer's Big Gig playing in front of fellow pop breakthroughs Walk The Moon. And now, the band returns to Milwaukee for a gig at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Wednesday night.
Before MisterWives hits the stage, OnMilwaukee chatted with bassist William Hehir about the group's blindingly fast start, writing its debut in a tree house of all places, that time he was starstruck by a "Breaking Bad" star and the dangers of trying to perform in Utah – not least of which being named after some Mormon-themed wordplay.
OnMilwaukee: How do people react to the name MisterWives – a gender-swapped play on the concept of sister wives – out in Utah, in Mormon country?
William Hehir: I don't know, actually; we're actually in Salt Lake City right now. Unfortunately, we haven't yet played a show in Salt Lake City because the first time we were on our way out here, we more or less got into a car accident on our way from Laramie, Wyo. There was so much snow that we ended up hitting black ice and skidding all over the place.
We were terrified. Then the next time we were here, we were all pretty much under the weather. We set everything up and then we just weren't able to perform, but it was fun because we were able to do a little acoustic thing with BØRNS outside of the venue.
OnMilwaukee: So this has almost been like a cursed place for you guys so far, first getting into a car crash and then getting sick. Now it's finally happening.
Hehir: In a few hours, I'll be better able to tell you how everything gets accepted over here. (laughs) We couldn't be more excited to be playing this venue and the tour in general, but hopefully the Mormons aren't pissed at us.
OnMilwaukee: What's your favorite venue to perform in so far?
Hehir: It's hard to pick one. We've had so much fun in so many different venues. Obviously, any time there's hometown show, it's always so fulfilling because we grew up in New York and spent our years going to shows at The Bowery Ballroom and the Music Hall of Williamsburg, so to play those venues, we're pinching ourselves and trying to figure out how all of this happened.
The Troubadour will always have a place in our hearts because that was the first venue we played when we went out on our first tour. We were so excited to be out there.
OnMilwaukee: You guys had a very unconventional start, getting signed almost immediately after forming. What was that like, and how do you keep that insane momentum moving?
Hehir: Dude, honestly, we just keep moving. It was definitely insane to us. Within the context of a show, we had our two managers, our booking agent, a label and a record deal. Everything we ever dreamed of happened in one day. It was so overwhelming initially. From the moment we started, we thought we had something with one another and were just excited to be playing shows, so to get all of that and then put out a record and actually get to do this is just insane. I guess we just take it a day at a time and realize that at any point in time, it could all go away. So let's just enjoy every second of it.
OnMilwaukee: For your debut album, you wrote that in a tree house, correct?
Hehir: (laughs) Yeah, Mandy (Lee, lead singer) did write it in a tree house. She writes all of the music – the melody, the chord structures, the lyrics.
We had the EP release, and then the pressure was obviously to put out an album. It ended up that we started working on it, I want to say, at the end of the July, and we had through November really to finish it because we wanted to hit all of these target dates. And then we were offered a tour with Bleachers, so we were super excited to get the opportunity to do that for a two and a half week run. Then three days before that tour started, our booking agent called us up and said Twenty One Pilots wanted to bring us out on tour, and we were like, "Hell yeah, we'll have to do that." But that was two and a half months of time that we were supposed to be working on the album that just got eviscerated.
So what we ended up doing was slapping Mandy into the tree house and Etienne (Bowler) – her boyfriend and our drummer – and his mother would bring her smoothies and drinks and stuff to get her going and make sure she wasn't completely insane while she was working her ass off on the album.
OnMilwaukee: Why this tree house?
Hehir: Honestly, I think it was just something that was out in nature and outside of the environment of where you would typically be and get distracted.
OnMilwaukee: Your music has a lot of '80s influences. Are there any particular influences that really speak to you, and what got you into that music?
Hehir: I just like music in general. The Police are obviously a big influence on us and Cyndi Lauper. For all of us, I don't think there's one particular influence – I mean, obviously No Doubt plays a pretty seminal role in a lot of the stuff we do, from the music we make to the way we actually perform. But we all come from such different musical backgrounds that it kind of meshes into what is MisterWives. One of the hardest questions that we get asked is, "What does MisterWives sound like?", because there's influences of folk, influences of pop, influences of funk, influences of reggae. We just try to put all of that together and make it not this cacophony of sound, but something that sounds remotely intelligent.
OnMilwaukee: Do you have a particular activity you all do on the road to keep busy or show you watch?
Hehir: It almost sounds made up, but honestly, I'm playing in a band with my best friends, and we're on the road with everyone who works with us – from our production manager to our sound engineer to our lighting engineer – who are the greatest people on Earth. So we just keep distracted by hanging out with one another. That's what we do; it'd be easy to sink into just watching a TV show and not talk to one another, but we're so excited to be with one another and love one another so much that we're basically just hanging out.
Sometimes we play poker. I'm not very good, but it's still a fun activity. It's more of us communicating with one another and just being friends.
I also love "Breaking Bad," though. I've already seen it some ridiculous number of times and literally had a panic attack when we were in Albuquerque. I got into an elevator at the hotel that we were staying at, and Hector Salamanca walked in and asked what floor I was going to. I completely blacked out, just, "Uhhhhhhh." I don't know what happened. I just said, very explicitly, "You're f*cking Hector Salamanca, dude. Holy sh*t!" But he was the nicest dude in the world. It was the first time that I've ever, like, fanboy-ed out about someone.
OnMilwaukee: Who's the best in the band at poker?
Hehir: I'm going to go ahead and say it's a toss-up between Etienne, Mandy and our sax player Murph (Mike Murphy). There's a strategy that's not very explicit, but I think they're working together to break me down.
OnMilwaukee: Many have pointed out that a lot of your songs come from a feminist perspective. Was that intended or something that just flowed out?
Hehir: It's hard to say that was necessarily intentional, but it is very surprising from the context of the music industry to see how they try to put the group through the rigmarole of, like, dressing a certain way, which has never appealed to us. I totally understand; I believe that there are certainly feminist aspects of it. But to us, it's just a level of egalitarianism. Everybody should be treated the exact same. So a song like "Not Your Way" isn't so much necessarily about female empowerment as much as it should be a song about empowerment in general. Be who you are, do what you want and no one really has the right to tell you to do otherwise. I think that's where we all come from.
I mean, I have three sisters and a mom, so there definitely is a certain level of women empowerment, because it is pretty unjust the way they're portrayed and presented widely in the media. But it's still music, so you can't necessarily come off being very preachy – not that any of us would be particularly preachy because who the hell is gonna listen to us? (laughs). It's just a matter of do what you love, follow your heart and be happy.
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