If MisterWives had arrived in San Francisco for Outside Lands as just another pop band, the New York quintet left as something else. Sitting in the grass behind the Lands End stage a couple of hours after their set (where they played to one of their biggest crowds in a brief shared history), the band couldn’t go more than five minutes without an interruption from another performer, label rep or radio production assistant.
Half of the Polo Field was filled for MisterWives’ set at 1 p.m., and they used the opportunity to make a strong impression – that of a happy family and possible second coming of a certain SoCal female-fronted pop-ska quartet.
Perhaps now’s a good time to mention the band, which brings its Scrapbook Tour to the Fillmore on Monday, are huge fans of No Doubt and coincidentally include a dating couple – vocalist Mandy Lee and drummer Etienne Bowler, not unlike a former relationship between Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal.
“We’re going to show Tony Kanal and Gwen that we’re not walking through spider webs, you know?” Lee joked.
Like much of the conversation, Bowler and bassist William Hehir (guitarist Marc Campbell and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Blum sat this one out) followed Lee with zingers of their own.
“There’s no tragic kingdoms coming,” Bowler said. “It’s only going to be a bunch of love.”
In 2012, Lee waitressed at a New York restaurant, where she once actually served Tony Kanal, No Doubt’s bassist – “I made him a latte and by the time I got to him, the whole latte spilled out.”
After high school, the 17-year-old skipped college and moved out on her own to work to be able to afford 2 a.m. recording studio sessions. The middle of the night was the only time she had available or could afford.
At first, she had no money for furniture, but realized her bare apartment was perfectly suited to host a party. Hehir played bass in an ‘80s cover band that performed at the party, and the two hit it off instantly. A month later, he was her roommate.
Bowler, Hehir’s friend, happened to work at another restaurant down the block and soon joined their fledgling trio. They kept their day jobs for another year, which Lee describes – in thick Queens accent as, “A year serving your soy bacon cheeseburgers and then we realized we could play music really well together.” And about that accent? “You should meet my mother.”
The three began playing around the city, usually at the now-closed Canal Room. Just prior to the show that would go on to launch their career, they added Bowler’s friends Blum and Campbell, the Scotland native who is the only member not originally from one of the New York boroughs. The show drew the attention of the people who would become the band’s booking agent, manager and indie record label Photo Finish. They were offered a deal right after walking off stage.
The name “MisterWives” is a gender-flipped play on words of the Mormon practice – Lee is married to the other male members of the band. In a way, she sits at the head of the table. She is the primary driving force both musically and lyrically.
“It’s definitely humbling to be working and sitting with someone who is as talented and just literally puts everything into it,” Hehir said.
Lee writes melody and lyrics on a keyboard, and brings songs to the band already thought out, but she’s uncomfortable taking so much credit for the band’s quick rise.
“Mandy is one of the few remaining songwriters and singers that actually does everything,” Bowler said. “The band just plays parts around it. She is the heart and soul of the music. It is very rare in today’s age to be both.”
MisterWives released an EP, Reflections, in early 2014. The same-named getting-over-a-relationship single quickly became a hit. Then they got to work on a debut, which would become February’s Our Own House.
The album name has dual meanings. The first is the metaphorical belonging the members feel with each other. The second is the tree house in which Lee wrote most of the songs.
Experiencing writer’s block, Lee secluded herself with a notebook and a keyboard in a tree house Bowler built with his mother in high school. She was mostly uninterrupted, other than her boyfriend’s mother stopping by to offer homemade smoothies and snacks. She wrote the album within two weeks.
Since the release of the album, MisterWives has been on the road nearly nonstop. Traveling inspired the band to use their shared passion of food to compile a cookbook of interesting recipes, a concept that started off as a joke but became real somewhere along the line. Lee is vegan, while several other band members are vegetarian. Hehir had to be persuaded to give up meat after moving in with her. The band is also making a tour scrapbook and will raffle it off, with proceeds going to charity Food Not Bombs.
“Music and food are very similar things,” Lee said. “They make you happy, they’re therapeutic (and) good for your soul.”
In the entire time the band has been together, Hehir said, they have not had a single fight – despite never spending more than two days at a time apart. Even with Lee and Bowler, whose relationship was frowned upon by some in the beginning, no major disagreements have emerged.
“As long as she doesn’t break up with me, we’re cool,” Bowler joked.
Hehir (the sneaky one), saw the benefit in a break-up: “It’s actually good for me, though, because then I get two Christmases,” he said. “Now, I can go to dad’s house and mom’s house and it’s going to be awesome.”
His thought was quickly nixed by Lee.
“We’re going to prove everybody wrong; that you can be in a band and have a healthy relationship and love each other forever,” she said.
MisterWives, with WATERS and CRUISR
October 19, 2015