“I think this will be my favorite show we’ve ever done,” says Mandy Lee, lead vocalist of NYC alt-poppers MisterWives. I’m speaking to Mandy and MisterWives drummer Etienne Bowler via phone from Etienne’s studio, where they’re putting the finishing touches on the details of The Don’t Look Down Tour, a double-headlining jaunt with British electropop singer/songwriter Bishop Briggs (of whom they’re big fans), which kicks off Friday, September 8th, in Nashville, and will find itself at our very own Fillmore on Saturday, September 16th. Mandy and Etienne tell me that MisterWives’ show is the biggest production the band has ever had, with Mandy admitting, “I even took a dance class yesterday, and I’m wildly sore [laughs].”
During our chat, Mandy and Etienne are taking a quick break from finalizing their setlist, which has apparently been causing a bit of stress. “It’s so hard! I lose sleep over it!” says Mandy, who tells me she filled her house with charts of every single song the group has ever done, in hopes that it would help her envision the perfect setlist: “Our set is only 70 minutes, not an hour and thirty, or whatever a headlining set is… You have to condense all the fan favorites, our favorites, and showcase the new music! What we should do on our next tour is do a residency, where we do one album every night!”
The new music that Mandy’s referring to are the songs of Nosebleeds, MisterWives’ fourth full-length, which dropped July 14th. The album has the band taking a slightly darker and moodier route than on previous releases, inspiring Variety to note, “MisterWives are entering a new era in their nearly decade-long career,” and prompting Rolling Stone to say, “MisterWives is taking the ‘sucker punches’ of the last few years and turning them into their best music yet.” The album’s third, and most recent, single (and final track), “Ultraviolet,” was released in early June. The ballad has Mandy reflecting on the importance of self-care and introspection in the face of struggles and hurdles thrown at you from the outside world. She also took inspiration from a collection by photographer Debora Lombardi that features photographs of flowers under ultraviolet light, which Lee found to be the perfect metaphor for revealing the internal beauty present in individuals, despite even the most troubling circumstances.
Nosebleeds sees MisterWives unafraid to be vulnerable, and willing to address the polarities of the human experience, even amid turmoil. “We gave ourselves permission to go through whatever we were going through, even if we were in the middle of it,” says Mandy, before noting that it is quite different from most of the music the band has put out in the past: “I would say it almost doesn’t compare to anything we’ve done before, other than we just made what we felt. That’s the through line between each album.” However, she tells me that none of this actually made the process itself stressful: “I, somehow, had the most fun making it, compared to any other album.”
While many of the songs of Nosebleeds have MisterWives getting heavier and more sullen than previous work, they tell me they were actually listening to a pretty eclectic mix of sounds while writing and recording it. “As we were going through the album, we were just listening to a wide variety of music,” says Etienne, noting, “I was discovering Remi Wolf’s record and being influenced by the production,” while Mandy namedrops a number of her longtime favorites that were in rotation, such as Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem, and Turnstile… And they both admit that No Doubt’s 2002 single “Hella Good,” off of 2001’s Rock Steady, was a major inspiration.
And the fans are apparently really enjoying MisterWives’ latest sounds. “I never read too much about what’s being written about it, but our fans are very sweet, and there’ve been a lot of hilarious Tweets and memes about the record,” says Mandy, while Etienne admits that maybe his favorite response came from a group of fans-turned-friends for whom he played the new songs about a month before the album dropped, while he was hitching a ride from New York to Queens, who – knowing all of the band’s catalogue, front-to-back – loved the new material. Mandy even tells me, “Some of my favorites have actually been the negative responses,” referring to some people who aren’t a fan of the band’s darker and more confessional side, but also clarifies, “It’s kind of sad that some emotions are deemed negative, and some are deemed positive.” Etienne says he’s actually highly amused by the rage some people can have towards something like a song: “You gotta laugh at it!”
We talk about all the kinds of shows MisterWives have played over the past decade, which, in Philadelphia alone, include several headlining shows at Union Transfer and The Fillmore, numerous Radio 104.5 festivals and a slot at Made in America 2014, and even shows opening the arena for Panic! At the Disco and twenty one pilots. Etienne jokes, “We’ve played pretty much every festival, at some point… There’ve been so many times I told myself after doing something big, that I could die tomorrow and be happy, but then it just keeps happening…” to which Mandy quickly responds, “Don’t die!” and Etienne offers, “I won’t… But if I did, I would die happy [laughs].”
Although, despite all of the live settings in which MisterWives regularly find themselves, Mandy tells me that her approach to performing doesn’t really change: “For me, personally, I always bring absolutely everything I have… Even if we’re opening, and have to win over an audience, I’ll always treat them just as I treat our audience, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or 60 minutes.” However, when I ask about personal highlights of the band over the past decade, Mandy does admit that there has been one venue that was an especially big deal: “Madison Square Garden was a big one, having grown up there and been to so many shows there… Things like that stand out, dreams that you have that will never happen in reality, but then they do.”
Mandy and Etienne tell me that the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection has always been very good to MisterWives. Mandy proclaims, “Philly knows how to throw down! There are a few cities sort of like that, but every time we get ready to play Philly, we’re like, ‘Okay! This is going to be the most memorable one!’ And I’m not just saying that!” Etienne also tells me that the band’s first time at The Fillmore, just after the venue opened, is still something that he frequently thinks about: “We played The Fillmore, and it was sold-out, and it was not only a great venue, but the staff was great, and we had a great time playing ping-pong [laughs].”
They also tell me that the sheer amount of touring they’ve done over the years has rendered their current experience and process of doing it far more enjoyable than anything else. “I think we’ve gotten pretty good, after doing this for a decade,” says Mandy, before explaining, “I do vocal warmups, meditate, listen to podcasts, get outside as much as possible, try to frequent restaurants that we’ve loved for years…” Etienne even admits that touring can bring a sort of peace to the band’s daily lives. “Touring actually produces a certain amount of structure,” he tells me, with Mandy adding, “It comforts.”
I ask what the future holds for MisterWives, after this double-headlining run with Bishop Briggs, which wraps on October 15th in Seattle, and Mandy and Etienne tell me that they really have no idea, but they’re okay with that. “So far, this tour and this album have taken up every single second of every single day, so thinking about the future… I don’t know how to [laughs],” confesses Mandy, with Etienne explaining, “It’s so hard to think eight months in advance. You just want to be in the moment.”
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