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Interview Tue Oct 27 2015

Misterwives @ The Vic 10/30: Getting Pumped With Bassist Will Hehir

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Out of the myriad bands in the burgeoning indie pop-rock scene, probably none has risen quite as fast as New York City's Misterwives. The band formed just three years ago, signed to Photo Finish after its first concert, and has spent most of the intervening time riding insanely catchy songs like "Reflections" and "Our Own House" to critical and popular acclaim. I was fortunate enough to see them at a Lollapalooza aftershow at Park West this year, and what stood out to me was the sheer joie de vivre they exuded onstage. Singer Mandy Lee has a special voice--somewhere between Aretha Franklin and Ellie Goulding--but even more impressive is her charisma. If you were the Grinch, she'd be your Cindy Lou Who, melting your heart and pushing you out onto the dance floor. And the rest of the band would be non-singing, male clones of Cindy Lou Who.

Misterwives' Scrapbook Tour, essentially the second time around supporting their debut album Our Own House, will come to The Vic Theatre on Friday night. I caught up with bassist Will Hehir in preparation for that and picked his brain about the source of the band's enthusiasm, their favorite vegetarian restaurant in Chicago, and the band's collective spirit animal, among other things.

You guys were last here for Lollapalooza and then you played a really memorable aftershow at Park West. How was that experience for you, how did you like the city?

Oh man, it was honestly a dream come true. I had gone to Lollapalooza like five years as a spectator with a few of my friends. And so then to get to play Lollapalooza and then get to do an afterparty, that was the coolest thing. One of the coolest things that we've done to date, definitely.

And it's nice to have you guys back so soon afterward. I know you guys are all big fans of vegetarian and vegan food, so what's your favorite veggie spot in the city?

You guys have the Chicago Diner, that place is awesome! We religiously make a trek there whenever we're in Chicago, it's actually one of the highlights of touring. And they have incredible food and everyone there is incredible. We just love going to Chicago--if it wasn't so cold in the winter, I think we'd all move there.

I mean, New York isn't that much warmer, to be fair. And that's where you guys started, when Mandy decided to put together an '80s cover band for her birthday party. And next thing you know you guys are playing your first show at the Canal Room, and you get signed the next day to your record deal. Was that when you realized you had something special going on, or was it before that, when you guys were rehearsing, that you realized this could really go somewhere?

Honestly, I think it was the moment I met Mandy. I definitely knew that there was something obviously very special about the way that she wrote, who she was as a person. But then when we had the first rehearsal and we were getting ready for the Canal Room, that was definitely a particularly special moment. Everything just came together at that point, it wasn't just specifically Mandy, it was working with some of the best musicians that I have to date. Particularly special that first rehearsal, I remember going through the first song and being like "What the hell is going on?" I definitely felt like I won the lottery at that point.

Yeah, you guys definitely did win the musical version of the lottery. To get signed after one show, it's stuff that legends are made of. I feel like a lot of that comes down to--you guys are excellent musically as a band, super tight--Mandy has a really unique voice though. When you first heard her sing, what did you think?

I was blown away. I think the first time I ever heard her, you've got this five-foot-three redhead Aretha Franklin, I was like "What the hell is going on right now?" So I was blown away, but then just to meet everyone else in the band and see how talented they were and who they were as people, it was overwhelming. These are my best friends, and you know, you'll get off of tour and a day later you'll be like, "What are you guys doing, wanna hang out?" It's strange that you could spend so much time with a group of people and not get sick of one another.

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And that's so important, because you guys have been touring almost incessantly in support of Our Own House. Reaction has been great to the album, and you've been playing to progressively bigger and bigger crowds, but I would imagine that after a while it has to get a little bit fatiguing to play the same songs over and over. How do you guys keep that set fresh for not only an audience, but for yourselves?

It's definitely a genuine enthusiasm. I think each of us, especially right before we go on, we think about what we would be doing as an alternative to this. We're just the luckiest people in the world, to get to play music that you love with people that you love. We're just so excited about doing that. And then the outpouring of support, whether it be at a festival or a show, is so incredibly overwhelming, because I think we still have this mentality of "we're playing a show, we've gotta text all of our friends and let them know when we're playing and hopefully we sell a few tickets." To us, to play sold-out shows in cities where we don't really know anyone is incredible. And then to come to festivals like Lollapalooza or ACL or festivals in general, we have no idea what's going on, it's so incredible. It's a general enthusiasm, so it doesn't really seem fatiguing. And it's funny, I was talking to our tour manager the other and he was saying that we had played like 116 shows, and that kinda blew my mind. You know, every day is a new day and we're just excited to be doing it.

One of the things I think is most unique about your guys' stage show is that a lot of times frontpeople take the spotlight and just run with it, but Mandy does an incredible job of incorporating all of you guys into the show. How did you guys develop that live dynamic and how has that evolved over the past year?

It's kind of a natural thing, there's no intentional thought where we all need to be in the spotlight for any time, that's definitely not the case. I think it just happens so organically and we're just so comfortable with one another on stage that that's kind of just what happens. I feel like I'm constantly yelling to either the guitar player or the drummer or Mandy, "This is the best day ever." And it kind of just happens sort of naturally.

What's your favorite song to play live, at least right now?

Well said, my friend.

Yeah, I know it must change all the time.

It really does, because that's the thing--getting back to your question about playing the same songs over and over again, we definitely try to reimagine certain things, be it for a particular tour or just wherever we're playing. Currently I'd say that "Hurricane" is one of my favorite songs to play, because we kind of changed it up from the way it was recorded and it's so much fun to go nuts on that song. But honestly it's one of those questions like who's your favorite child. We have a love for each and every one of the individual songs for particular reasons.

A lot of the songs are Mandy writing the lyrics with a lot of girl power, Spice Girls-esque themes, particularly ones like "Not Your Way" or "Reflections." How do you personally find meaning in the songs she writes, and what do you add to the process?

It's definitely empowering for girls, but I think it's the whole message and the whole idea of the band itself is to be empowering for people individually. It's not necessarily specific to women, I think it's just the idea of not being depicted or portrayed in a certain way. So I think it's more of an empowerment for each individual. Again, going back to "Hurricane," it's not as much about girl power, it's more that we're not gonna do things the way you're told to, or go through the formulaic rigmarole of what it is to be in a band.

I love that word, rigmarole. Is Mandy still doing the pushup shtick onstage for "Not Your Way"?

Yep, well now we have these ego riser things, where she starts doing that on the ego risers. Every time she does them, I'm always like, "Jesus Christ, it's halfway through the set, how is she able to do pushups, I can barely stand right now!" Girl's got energy for days, I don't know how she's able to do it.

Moving on to Our Own House, I know Mandy wrote a lot of that in the treehouse. Did you guys write the music for that up there too? And if so, how did that affect your creative mindset as you wrote your parts for the album?

Mandy always comes in with the melody, the lyrics, and the chord structure, and then we add our own parts to it individually. And then sometimes we'll work it out where we're in the studio and we're demoing in, and then alternatively we'll just get into a room and we'll jam through ideas and stuff. But everything that she's written so far and everything that we've worked on has been really inspiring, and it's almost like the parts more or less write themselves to a certain degree. And we try to incorporate as many genres as possible, but by no means are we ever like, "It should be more folky," or "This should be more punky." It's kind of whatever naturally happens.

Do you guys come from different musical backgrounds?

Everyone actually comes from a different background. Mandy studied music when she was in high school, she went to a performing arts high school. Jesse had gone to college specifically for music and Etienne had also gone to college and studied drums over there. So we all come from different backgrounds. I think that individually, in terms of how we learned our respective instruments, and then consequently what kind of music we listen to. And we kind of vibe off of one another. I've learned so much over the course of the last three years from everybody because everyone comes from very unique musical background but we all have very similar interests so we all sort of coalesce.

It comes together nearly flawlessly. I play bass myself actually, so I'm curious as to who you take your main influences from.

I just take it from all over the place. Obviously Paul McCartney's a great bass player, Sting's a great bass player, Victor Wooten, Jaco Pistorius. I love Primus because it's an insane way to play the bass. But you're constantly learning from different bands that you've toured with. Like, The Royal Concept has an absolutely phenomenal bass player and we had the luxury of touring with them for a few months.

You guys have toured opening for a lot of different great bands. What was the most important lesson you learned from those experiences, and from whom did you learn it?

It would be hard to specifically point to like just because we've learned so much. Things happened relatively quickly with our band, so as soon as we were on tour, we were constantly learning so many different things. You tour with a band like Twenty One Pilots and their fans are just the most incredible people in the world, and then you see them play and it's like, "Holy shit." The energy level that they bring is incredible. So you kinda try and meet that--I mean, I can't do backflips, so we're never gonna be as good as those guys. But you learn so much from them in terms of their high octane approach to playing music and keeping people entertained for the course of an hour and a half. And then you learn so much in terms of musicianship, again, The Royal Concept is an incredible band that we played with, to get to play with The Mowgli's, there's just so many different aspects to learn in terms of music and performance that it's hard to say that there was one tour that specifically taught us more than any other. Even now, we're constantly learning from the band that we're playing with. Waters and CRUISR are both incredible bands, and we're excited to see them every night and see the energy they bring out. We've been very lucky to tour with some great bands.

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I know you guys have your spirit animals depicted on the cover of Our Own House, they're all coming out of the treehouse. I was curious, though: if the entire band fused into one giant spirit animal, what would that spirit animal be and why?

(Laughs) That is a phenomenal question. Holy shit, this is tough...I'd love to think it would be a dinosaur because I love dinosaurs, but it's hard to speak for everybody. Maybe a rainbow, we'll just be a fucking rainbow, that's it. It won't even be an animal.

Okay, an easier question: if there's a single value Misterwives' music represents, what is that value?

I would think that it would just be treat one another with respect, some level of equality or egalitarianism. Just be who you are, and I think that's what everyone should take away from it. When you come to the show and you're listening to music, the whole concept is to kind of escape the BS that everyday life is, and so if we can give someone that motivation to just be confident in who they are and be excited about who they are, that's really all that we wanna get across.

~*~

I've made it my mission to get a definitive, band-wide answer on Misterwives' collective spirit animal. You can catch them live at The Vic on Friday night. Tickets are available on the resale market.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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