If you are Mandy Lee (vox), Etienne Bowler (drums), William Hehir (bass), Marc Campbell (guitar), Jesse Blum (keys, trumpet, accordion) and Mike Murphy (saxophone) aka MisterWives, how do you follow up your wildly successful 2015 debut album, Our Own House?
You connect the dots.
Produced by Bowler and Butch Walker (Weezer, Taylor Swift, P!nk), Connect The Dots (released on May 19th via Photo Finish/Republic Records) is that follow up and an exercise in the New York City band painting their exuberant disco-flavored indie pop with bigger, broader, and even bolder emotional colors that feels like a natural forward progression. Because of their fantastic emotive vibrancy, I spoke to Bowler about Connect The Dots and wanted to know about six songs, in particular…
High Voltage: So we have a new album, Connect The Dots: easy question first of why that title? I’m also wondering how long this one took to record compared to Our Own House, and if the art of recording this album was any easier or difficult, especially being the dreaded “sophomore” record.
Etienne Bowler: Yes, definitely dreaded, especially for Mandy because she had the first 23 years of her life to write Our Own House and only one year to write Connect The Dots. But honestly, this album unfolded organically and was incredibly liberating to make. We pushed ourselves sonically and lyrically and got to build the songs from the ground up in an environment where we had all the creative freedom to run wild. Connect The Dots was such a fun concept to us visually, but also metaphorically. Our existence is made up of so many different variables that we are constantly trying to piece together and make sense of. At times it might just look like a jumbled disjointed mess of numbers and dots but, in actuality, each piece is crucial to completing the picture. There’s also a lot of layers to Mandy’s writing, and each song comes from such a different place of inspiration and emotion that each one of the spirit animal’s colors represent. Hopefully, people can connect with the music and enjoy it just as much as we enjoyed making it.
High Voltage: I suspect that MisterWives fans will be pleased. Now let’s talk about a few of these songs…
HV: What a fantastically boisterous accompaniment to “Hurricane”…which – I admit – was the Our Own House song that I sang most in the shower, so thanks for that. It’s been two years since Our Own House and, as a band, you’re still fiercely asserting your musical independence and defiance against some of the music industry norms like 13 folks needed to write one song. When it comes time to write/record, as a band, are there any steadfast ground rules and – if so – why are they so important to you?
Etienne: No rules except not allowing those 13 folks to write any of our songs! We are the old school version of what a band is, in our minds: Mandy comes in with the songs written on keys and we just jam on it until everyone has carved out their parts and then we record in my makeshift studio and sometimes have the legend Butch Walker take it to the next level. There’s no need for any of that to change and if someone comes in and tries to change it, we will reply with songs like “Machine.”
HV: I think we can just file this under: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
HV: This song struck me because it’s so plainspoken about a very real reality of an artist’s life. Once success really begins to kick in, so many things often lost in the shuffle: relationships with family, friends, acquaintances…moments, even hobbies that you had in your spare time, it can be damned difficult to maintain them when you’re out there chasing your life and dreams. But then there’s that bit of lovely in the song about butterflies and “friends in disguise.” How long had that song or its subject been in your head and why did you finally let it out?
Etienne: This is really for Mandy, but I can try to answer on her behalf cause she lets me in on all her secrets…
Being in a band and touring is pretty crazy and life consuming. You really need to be a certain type of person to allow yourself to be so vulnerable making music, as well as being able to tour. Mandy and I constantly say to each other that we wouldn’t be able to this is if it weren’t for each other. But we miss our families and friends, and it’s been really hard to keep in touch with everyone because you never have the luxury of time to make definite plans. We’ve all made sacrifices and missed out on big life moments because we’re out touring extensively, but wouldn’t have it any other way and are so lucky we get to do what we do. I think the song has a lot to do with the dream of music coming true, but also how it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, the butterflies are a tense, nervous feeling that make you feel terrified and insecure to get up on that stage, but on the other end when you use that intensified feeling to your advantage and turn it into fuel to allow yourself to fly, that’s when the magic happens.
HV: During your set in Los Angeles, you were very pointed and specific about the inclusive nature of a MisterWives show and how music serves as common ground for us; that was gorgeous, as is the fact that you’re comfortable using your music as a platform to say something. On “Revolution” there’s a very thoughtful and concerned tone about where we are today. I was listening to the new Cold War Kids album, LA Divine, and the last words in the song “Free To Breathe” are “World is changing, can you feel the tension / If you’re not angry, you must not be listening.” It’s safe to say that you’re listening very closely, but why are you so moved to actually say something…because not every artist is comfortable going there.
Etienne: We are moved to speak out against all the hate and bigotry that’s happening in our world and not turn the other cheek because it is our moral obligation to help spread hope, love and equality. There is no better way to bring people together than through the power of music and we hope the message of this song helps do exactly that.
“Coloring Outside The Lines”
HV: Now this song is so endearingly sweet and playful and in the second verse there’s such a clear mental picture that in my head I can actually “see” that exchange of Mandy turning to you for a little reassurance happening: has that actually happened?
Etienne: Without fail, after the first song, Mandy will always turn to me and ask if she’s sounding OK in a panicked sign language way. It can be frightening being up on stage and – for a split second – she takes her poker face off and shows me that she’s shitting herself and I just laugh, smile, and hope she hasn’t…
HV: We’ll just file that under: Adorable.
HV: Gonna throw you off with pure simplicity: What is the story behind this song?
Etienne: Learning from your mistakes, relieving yourself from the guilt that comes with those mistakes and forgiveness.
HV: Considering that you write such perfectly juicy pop songs, my goodness, who let the headbangers in the room for “Oh Love”? The slightly darker fierceness of it is delicious.
Etienne: Too kind of you to say! You can thank the election for that one. Mandy wrote that in about 20 minutes the morning after while furiously cleaning the house. The house has never been cleaner.
HV: That’s a little amazing.
HV: So you were running around the country with Panic! At The Disco, who is a band who really knows how to put on a show. Have you done anything or learned anything to, perhaps step up your game performance-wise, particularly for the larger venues?
Etienne: Absolutely. Panic! is amazing live and their production is so huge we feel quite small up there, haha! It’s our first time playing arenas so we’ve been learning how to engage with people we can’t see, but also making everyone feel like it’s an intimate show that carries that contagious energy. Hopefully we’ve made some new fans and friends out there, too! The tour has been so incredible and super easy, though. Everyone on their team is so nice – we actually set up two grills and tables the other night and ran a big BBQ for the whole tour. Everyone came out and it was an amazing way of saying thank you to everyone for being so awesome on this tour.
HV: You guys making new fans and friends is an absolute guarantee! Now because we know folks care about these things: can they look forward to a MisterWives headlining tour sometime this year?
Etienne: Well, we have the Band Camp Tour going on this summer, where we will be playing all the songs off the new record for the first time!!! Yippee!!! But yes, when the record drops, we will definitely be doing an official tour following it up. Hopefully you can make it to one of the shows!
HV: Already have your Los Angeles show on my calendar! Last but not least: questions, comments, concerns…or whatever you’d like to say to end this conversation…
Etienne: We’re so excited to get to Connect The Dots with those who helped build Our Own House and, for those who are new to the party, welcome!
P.S. Thanks to you for taking the time to talk to us and asking such fun and thoughtful questions!
HV: More like thank you, Etienne!
MisterWives’ Band Camp Tour is just around the corner: it kicks off June 14th in St. Louis, MO and runs through July followed by the Connect The Dots Tour. Check out all of their tour dates HERE and connect with MisterWives.