As far as origin stories go, Dream Wife’s genesis is a bit bizarre. It’s still relatively unknown on this side of the pond, where the London-based indie pop trio recently played its first-ever show in America at Austin’s love-it-or-hate-it industry shindig South by Southwest.
Dream Wife — named for a 1953 romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr — was originally a performance piece created by three art students in Brighton who had no intention of pursuing music careers. Bassist Bella Podpadec was studying painting, guitarist Alice Go wanted to be a sculptor, and frontwoman Rakel Mjöll dabbled in visual art.
It wasn’t long before making music became so much fun that the girls began doubting the career paths they’d already chosen.
“Once we realized that this was something we were excited about and we could make music together and be on the road together, then we decided to take this further,” Mjöll says from Podpadec’s bedroom, where the band recently finished remixing a track by the pink-haired East London rapper Girly. “It was almost like giving it a test drive.”
As students, the members of Dream Wife had never been particularly involved in the Brighton music scene. “We didn’t know anyone in music,” Mjöll says. “We just knew a bunch of drag queens and art-school kids.” Moving an hour north to London was an easy decision and transition, since they had spent their final year of school commuting there on weekends to play shows and hang out with friends before returning to their sleepy seaside town for classes.
But becoming one of the most-hyped bands in London within months of the move was never explicitly part of the plan.
“We weren’t really thinking about it as a large market or trying to get our foot in,” Mjöll says. “It happened naturally and we didn’t know any better.”
Since then, life has been a bit frantic. Mjöll remembers reveling in the balance between crazy and calm while the trio were still living in Brighton and commuting to London on the weekends. Nowadays, as much as she insists it’s the perfect time for the band to be living in the city, things can get intense.
“It was nice to have those three years to be calm and then go to London on weekends and go crazy and then come back to your calm world,” she says. “Now it’s all crazy.”
Slowly but surely, Dream Wife carved out a niche in London’s massive local music scene and settled down in the southeast and east neighborhoods of the city. They found a practice space in the Peckham district of south London — described by Mjöll as a “stuffy, airless, windowless room” — and spent the summer and fall of 2016 writing and recording new songs for their still-unreleased debut album.
Prior to that, the band had recorded its debut EP in the English countryside at Go’s parents’ home in Somerset. They were fresh off a successful two-month tour around Europe, a somewhat astonishing feat given how they had yet to release an album, let alone an EP. Simultaneously exhausted and sharpened by the rigorous touring schedule, the trio (with help from Go’s father on the drums) pumped out EP01, a youthful, postmodern pop record pushed to a new extreme and pulled together with Mjöll’s biting Icelandic accent.
Consisting of four pop gems, the tracks on the album mesh straightforward ’90s alt-guitar rock, slick Blondie-esque New Wave, and bubblegum hooks. “Hey Heartbreaker” shimmies and snarls with Riot grrrl flair, and the slightly gentler if grungier “Everything” harkens back to The Cranberries and Smashing Pumpkins (only less crotchety). “Kids” is road-trip pop by way of The Strokes, and then the EP ends with “Lolita,” a slinky, sinister disco rock number intent on getting the weirdo kids out onto the dancefloor.
Now, the trio has their sights set on America. Following South by Southwest, they’ll head on a brief West Coast tour in support of The Kills.
Performing in California is a personal triumph for Mjöll, who spent eight years of her childhood living in Santa Clara and San Jose. Naturally, she’s planning on seeing a few familiar faces at the Bay Area show.
“My neighborhood’s other mother — I called her that because she was the one who always gave me sweets since my mother didn’t allow me to have sweets and would talk about girlfriend stuff to me — she’s coming to the show in Oakland,” she says. “It’s like playing a homeland show, but not really. I’m definitely going back to my roots.”
And, who knows? She might just inadvertently revert back to her California accent.
“My accent changes based on whoever I’m speaking to,” she says. “I had a friend from California visit me last weekend. Afterwards my boyfriend was like, ‘What happened? You’ve gone full Valley girl!’ ”
Dream Wife plays with The Kills
at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22 at The Fox. $37.50; thefoxoakland.com