The price you pay to follow your dreams can be crippling. As you squeeze out every last drop of ambition, you are pushed to your physical and mental limits: and you often must move on from past relationships, familial, friendly and romantic, for better or for worse. “I’m sorry that I’m not around. I’ve been chasing my dreams with my head in the clouds,” electro-pop outfit MisterWives singer Mandy Lee mourns, rather dreamily, on the opening line of “Chasing This.” “Years pass and my friends are all gone. I guess, it seems I got lost in the song.” But they carry that cross with abandon, devoutly owning the sacrifices they’ve made and continue to make.
“Every second of every sacrifice is a bajillion percent worth it. It can definitely be hard to leave behind friends and family when we’re recording or on the road, but we consider ourselves the luckiest bunch in the world and are still kind of convinced that this is all a dream,” bandmate Will Hehir, who plays dirty bass, tells B-Sides & Badlands. “Everyone has been so supportive of us, and there’s no way we’d ever be able to repay them for that.”
Fear also plays an incisive role throughout the band’s second studio album, the thematically-pointed yet optimistic Connect the Dots. “Desires are fed but do we feel full?” Lee examines on “Only Human,” a funky but decidedly anguished experiment into the pressure on one’s psyche. They later spark a “Revolution” with smokey, sinister keys and Lee’s most savage vocal. The images are crudely aware of the constant loop of police brutality and senseless violence polluting news streams and social feeds. Lee cries out into the darkness: “Hiding under sheets with the news on repeat / ‘Cause the screams and cries are hard to delete / While I’m trying to sleep, oh how could I sleep? / Laying in bed, trying to empty my head / All these acts of violence ripping this world to shreds / While I’m trying to sleep, oh how could I sleep?”
Hehir reflects on the fears bred from this album’s process, explaining, “I think there are a lot of things to be afraid of when it comes to your second album, but that’s the beauty of being in a band with your best friends: when one of us gets overwhelmed, there are five other people there to support you. Honestly, Mandy had the hardest job in the world, as far as I’m concerned. The majority of the first album was material that she had written over her lifetime, so when we were working on a follow up, she had to write all new material (I’m getting anxious just thinking about how insurmountable that seems to me). She took it in stride and honestly made it look easy. She has an incredible gift for conveying emotions and ideas, both musically and lyrically. We loved every song she wrote, and I think that really brought out the best in all of us on this album.”
From the tropical jingle of lead single “Machine” (backed by some pretty ghostly chanting) to the chilling “Brother” and “Let the Light In,” the final number in their bid for not only political synergy but that of rebirth of humanity, the record flashes by at a tremendous rate. “If I could take you to a place where all worries would erase, oh, we’d leave this world behind,” Lee encourages on the latter, leading into a dusky blend of clashing drums, scalding guitar solos and a mighty Michael Jackson-jolted melody. If you’re not paying close enough attention, you will miss how imperative Connect the Dots is to the greater pop scene…and to the world, at large.
Hehir and fellow musician Etienne Bowler, on dirty drums, discuss the album’s biggest dots, how hiding away in the woods impacted their story and igniting a revolution. Read below.
You talk about the album title being inspired by those connect the dots pictures. What are the dots or the tentpole themes and emotions of the album?
Hehir: The album draws on all types of emotions and experiences from being in love, feeling grateful for what this band has given all of us, being overwhelmed by what’s going on in the world and inspired by all of the good that shines through the darkness. It touches on our own personal experiences but also draws from observations of everyday life – all of these emotions, reactions and ideas are connected in some way and by putting them all together you see life’s big picture.
Do you find any songs being more important or influential to the journey than any others, in that regard?
Hehir: I think that all of the songs stand on their own and no one in particular has more importance or influence than any of the others. The reason we named the album Connect the Dots is because each emotion or experience isn’t isolated from all the rest, instead they’re interconnected and make us who we are. It’s kind of like each song is an ingredient in a recipe – if you leave out the egg replacer or use too much flour your cake is gonna be ruined and everyone will be upset that they don’t get dessert.
Have you sat down and imagined what life could have been like another way?
Hehir: It definitely doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were all working day jobs that we all desperately wanted to leave so that we could focus on music full-time. We’re so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had and still remember what life was like working those 9 to 5 jobs…it was not fun. Those experiences remind us not to take anything for granted so we definitely push ourselves to constantly, individually and as a band.
What should be the takeaway from this album?
Bowler: Music is a stamp of time, and when you think back to a certain period in your life there’s always a song, album or artist attached to it. In this moment, we hope our record lets the light in for anyone going through dark times.
How did the woods themselves help flush your mind so you could focus on writing and recording this album?
Hehir: We all live in New York and so do our families and friends, so trying to write and record can be hard with so many distractions. Being in the woods really allowed us to immerse ourselves in the process and focus on finishing the album…we did take time off for campfire and poker. I think the fact that the whole band was out there and we were having so much fun can’t really be described, but I think you can hear it on the album. It’s impossible to listen to any of these songs and not immediately be transported to the memories we have attached to them.
How would this album have turned out if you’d recorded, instead, in the city?
Hehir: I think it would have just taken a bit longer, and the songs would be different. Instead of the song “Band Camp,” we’d probably have a song called “New York, you’re claustrophobic”? [laughs] I’m glad “Band Camp” worked out, and I’m glad that I’m not titling the songs.
In the post-election world, this album feels big, incredibly timely and very political. How do you see it now as opposed to when you were actually creating it?
Hehir: I think the message that we have always attempted to convey is one of love, compassion and acceptance. It’s kind of strange and disheartening to think that could even be considered a political agenda and not just the status quo. It’s no secret that we were incredibly upset at the outcome of the election, but we’re certainly not defeated. We just hope this album encourages others to believe that they can positively impact the world and that their voices and actions matter.
Art, and especially music, has long been a vehicle through which change can happen or perceptions are enlightened. They can also start revolutions in our own lives. What albums or artists have done that for you?
Bowler: Definitely Chance the Rapper. Not only was ‘Coloring Book’ one of our favorite records, but he, as a human, is just as inspiring. Watching him pave his own way in the music business is something we’ve never seen before. The music industry constantly makes you second guess yourself and that you can’t make it big unless you fit in confines of the “Play book,” and Chance is living proof that you can be the biggest artist in the world and do it your way.
How did you evolve through the process?
Hehir: Well, Marc [Campbell] evolved into a Charizard. We found out in the woods that he is actually a pyromaniac. Aside from that, creating this album really brought us closer than we ever imagined possible. It’s hard to believe that after touring for years in a fifteen passenger van that you could continue to learn more about one another, but that’s actually what happened. It’s also amazing to see how much you can grow when there are no egos involved and everyone in the band has the same goal…to make the best album possible.
Spin the album below:
Photo credit: Mary Ellen Matthews