Just before starting their ‘Don’t Look Down’ Tour with Bishop Briggs, Etienne Bowler and Mandy Lee of MisterWives talked with QRO. In the conversation, the pair discussed the upcoming tour, making new record Nosebleeds (QRO review) and the support of their label, having to put out last album SUPERBLOOM (QRO review) during COVID, playing from the nosebleeds, accidentally moving to L.A., muscle memory on old songs, music videos from DIY to professional, the loofah, Fear Factor, and much more…
QRO: How have you been, these last few crazy years?
Etienne Bowler: Amazing!…
Mandy Lee: “Crazy” is a good way to describe it… [laughs]
EB: It’s all been a big opportunity to learn & grow.
ML: Yeah, there’s been a lot of growth.
It’s been a rollercoaster, but I think where we’re at now is a real exciting place to be. Have the record out, and going on the tour. Just excited to finally have it out in the real world, and connect with people on it.
QRO: Were you able to see much of each other during the COVID lockdowns?
ML: Us? Yeah.
EB: We were both in California, so we were hanging out, making music, and trying to do stuff.
ML: We made the album during COVID. We were close, where we could still work together when things got, you know, safer.
Can’t get rid of me… [laughs] Not even with a pandemic!
QRO: Are you in Los Angeles?
But we are born & raised in New York, and actually here by accident, because of COVID… [laughs]
QRO: Oh, did you go to L.A. for a weekend, and then it became a year?…
ML: Literally that…
I was shooting a music video for our song “Rock Bottom” (QRO review), off the last record. And then I got stuck here, and lived here for a year with one suitcase, in my boyfriend’s studio basement apartment…
It just started to make sense, because all the music was here, and starting the record. All the resources. Everyone’s moved here, because the weather’s much nicer than New York.
I got stuck here [in L.A.], and lived here for a year with one suitcase, in my boyfriend’s studio basement apartment…
QRO: So, you wrote and recorded Nosebleeds during COVID lockdown?
ML: Yeah, started it. And then, obviously, it took a couple years to finish it.
The title track is actually one of the first songs I wrote for the album. It was a demo; I only had a verse chorus & post chorus, and I was so in thick of how hard everything was that I didn’t realize how amazing the song was. I remember coming out of every session, feeling like, ‘I’m too in the trenches to have any perspective.’
I was just so emotional. I remember recording the vocals and trying not to cry. We actually kept that take in, cause it was more vulnerable. I tried to recut it, and was like, ‘No, there’s just something really special about me being super-raw on it.’
Of course, a year later, having written so many songs, that song became the crux of everything, the through line of what the whole concept was.
QRO: You were doing this all out in Los Angeles, out of your one suitcase?…
ML: [laughs] Started that way, but now I have a nice home, and a dresser where my clothes are, and a closet, and not a suitcase…
EB: I also built the studio that we’re in now, kind of at the end of the pandemic. We were able to really crack down for six months, towards the end of the record, really fine-tune things.
And one of the songs we even did in New York, in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. A little bit of mix & matching…
ML: But mostly all done here. Outside of the outside collaborators we were lucky to work with, this room is where we completely lost our minds.
EB: And haven’t found them… [laughs]
QRO: So, you’re rehearsing for the next tour in the studio where you recorded?
ML: So, it’s two parts.
We’ve been doing all the pre-production, mapping out the set list, getting all the tracks & everything together, and building out the show.
And then we’re going to Nashville, rehearsal, and then production rehearsal, and just doing it all there.
But me & Etienne have been in this room for weeks on end now… [laughs]
EB: Trying to program the show, trying to come up with new things, and how to reinvent songs, what we’re gonna play and all that.
ML: It’s been a fun challenge.
Usually, people hire an M.D. for this, but me & Nate…
EB: We hired ourselves…
ML: We hired ourselves, unfortunately… [laughs]
EB: And we can’t fire ourselves!…
I remember recording the vocals [for “Nosebleeds”] and trying not to cry.
QRO: Is it easier making records at this point, now that you’re four full-lengths deep into your career?
ML: I would say actually that the process is a lot more fluid and fun.
I think when we started out, there was the concept of, ‘Big time producer, and the whole budget goes to the producer, and you’re in a fancy studio,’ and all that stuff.
Those things are still prevalent, but I think because of technology, it’s just made it so much easier for us to have creative freedom, to do production & writing ourselves. We’ve just gotten to have more of a sense of self in creating.
I think when you’re just first starting out, I used to be told by labels, like, “If you don’t have a co-write, the album can’t be put out.” Or, “You need to have a big, flashy producer, or you can’t put it out.”
To have the autonomy and the confidence, being like, ‘We’ve done this long enough, and we have the most fun creating it ourselves.’
We do love working with outside producers – we’ve gotten to work with amazing people, I’m not knocking that.
But I think just stepping into our own sense of, ‘Oh, we can do this.’ Rather than letting other people take what we have to do, has been really freeing. And we’ve grown a lot.
EB: It feels like we’ve found a good formula.
Obviously, the production and all that stems from the song, and when it comes to songwriting, if Mandy’s writing these amazing songs, and pumping them out, that makes the process incredibly easy. And this record felt kinda like that.
There was no writer’s block. We didn’t ever struggle with like, ‘Oh, how do we get these songs?’ We were super-proud of every song that was coming out. For whatever reasons, this record just kind of had that energy to it.
ML: And it’s been cool to see Etienne grow as a producer. When we first starting out, you were just–
EB: Yeah, I sucked… [laughs]
ML: You did not suck – you were incredible!
But it’s just been really fun to watch each other, I don’t know, grow up and get better at what we’re doing, and support each other in that way?
Also, I definitely had writer’s block!… [laughs]
EB: You couldn’t tell…
ML: I struggled… [laughs]
I wrote about a whole other album before I wrote “Nosebleeds”.
EB: You can hear the b-sides.
ML: B-sides were good, just very different.
EB: We might have to release the b-sides…
I used to be told by labels, like, “If you don’t have a co-write, the album can’t be put out.” Or, “You need to have a big, flashy producer, or you can’t put it out.”
QRO: You mention how labels wanting to bring in an outside producer, maybe that’s more when you’re doing your first record, you didn’t know how to do these things, and now that’s it’s your fourth, you don’t necessarily need those people?
EB: Earned the trust.
ML: Still loved those resources, don’t get me wrong. We worked with phenomenal producers on the last two records, all the records actually.
EB: Great producers.
ML: I think it was more the being told that you have to.
And now we’ve earned trust with the label, Photo Finish, that we signed with, have been so supportive, ‘What’s your creative vision, and how do we support it?’ Versus telling us what we need to do in order for them to back it. It’s been cool to get to that point. It’s a genuine team.
I feel like there’s always this dynamic with labels, where you feel like, ‘You signed us for us, and then you tried to make it something else, and it doesn’t feel like you’re on our team.’ So, it’s been really refreshing to have that baseline, throughout the record.
EB: They’re an amazing label.
QRO: And at least this record is not coming out during COVID lockdown, like your prior full-length, SUPERBLOOM…
ML: Yes… [laughs] That was tough. We tried our best to give that album all the love we could, and be creative as to how we could connect with people through the screen.
But very relieved the pandemic didn’t happen right before we put out Nosebleeds…
We’ve earned trust with the label, Photo Finish, that we signed with, have been so supportive, ‘What’s your creative vision, and how do we support it?’
QRO: Was it frustrating to not be able to tour a record after releasing it?
ML: Oh, for sure!
We were so excited to tour that album. We were going to the U.K., we had an amazing tour lined up with Half Alive – everything was going super-well, and then of course everything happened.
The whole part of a record, while it’s incredibly cathartic for yourself, the next best thing is getting to connect with people, the music elevates. So, not having that was hard.
However, we did come up with a livestream. We called it ‘The Livedream’, where it took you through the whole album. It had dancers, it had poetry – made it a theatrical experience, when it was like peak COVID. So, we still got to have a fun way to connect with people. We had a party with everyone who joined.
EB: It was a long process. It was maybe a month, total, from beginning to end. That’s almost like a small tour…
ML: We really loved what we made. For me, that was really fun & creative.
You’re kind of limited to what you can do on tour, with production. To have like dancers and all that stuff, we’re not at that place where we can afford that, so it was fun to have that for this show.
QRO: Was last year’s tour sort of the delayed tour for SUPERBLOOM?
ML: ‘The Resilient Little Tour’ was the delayed one. The one we did with Lawrence was a co-headline, that was so past SUPERBLOOM at that point? Still, we played a lot of songs off that, but SUPERBLOOM wasn’t as much the focus as Resilient Little Tour. [For that,] we brought a million flowers. It was very much in that world, that aesthetic. It was fun that we got to do that.
QRO: Are you looking forward to your upcoming ‘Don’t Look Down’ tour?
ML: So excited! I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited for a tour.
We’ve really pushed ourselves to make the best show we can. We have a phenomenal crew, Bishop Briggs is amazing, all the openers are incredible… It just feels really seamless.
I’m happy we’ve had a good amount of time from the album being put out, to the tour. So, hopefully everybody comes and knows the songs. I hope – including myself… [laughs]
QRO: I always wonder about that, whether it’s better to tour right after the album is out, but then maybe people don’t know the songs, or to wait, but then people are like, ‘That was three months ago…’
I think we’re just in the sweet spot where Nosebleeds came out in July, and the tour starts in September.
We’ve played tours before where we’ve put out the album the day the tour starts. It’s fun, but people don’t know the material yet. I’m happy that hopefully people will have lived with it, and know it more than they would if we’d just put it out.
QRO: Are these some of the biggest venues that you’ve headlined?
ML: Well, it’s a co-headline, but it is definitely the biggest venues we have done.
EB: Pier 17 in New York (QRO venue review)…
QRO: I’m going there tonight to see Local Natives…
EB: We love Local Natives!
ML: Oh my god! They’re one of my favorite bands – that’s gonna be a fun show!
That is such a dream to play the Pier. I was actually down there recently with my boyfriend, and it was so trippy all the advertisements for the show down there.
QRO: When you’re on tour, are you gonna keep an eye out for the fans in the way back in the “Nosebleeds”?…
ML: Our rooms are big enough for nosebleeds yet… [laughs]
I’m trying to figure out how to start the song up wherever, where there’s a balcony, or if there is some version of nosebleeds. That’s what I’m trying to figure out how to do.
EB: That would be cool.
ML: The rooms are so different, but I think there will be a few where that concept will work out well.
[For Pier 17,] I’ll be out on the Brooklyn Bridge. The view is insane – I’ll probably cry the whole time…
I hope to take all of that in, and not blackout. Sometimes, hometown shows are so overwhelming, and emotional, and you aren’t in your body. I’m hoping I’m present for that one.
QRO: And you’ve got all your friends & family – and everyone’s hitting you up for free tickets…
ML: [laughs] Our friends & family are so nice about that. My mom buys tickets – I’m like, “What are you doing? I can put you on the guest list…”
EB: They’ve learned by now. My mom knows she has to get ten tickets – she’s gonna get asked, and I’m not gonna have space…
ML: They’re very supportive.
And then I don’t have enough friends to ask. All my friends are on tour with us… [laughs]
EB: You don’t have enough friends…
ML: I’m kidding, I’m kidding…
My mom buys tickets – I’m like, “What are you doing? I can put you on the guest list…”
QRO: Do you know what the set lists are gonna look like? I figure focused on Nosebleeds, but are you having to cut old songs at this point?
ML: It’s so hard, because the catalogue is so vast now. That has honestly best what has been keeping us up at night, and why we’re working so long on the set… [laughs]
I think there are some oldies that we’ve gotta play. The main focus is the new album, however, we do have some older singles from most of the records we’ve put out previously. To try to satiate everyone’s appetite. But it’s hard.
EB: And a couple of things that have been reimagined, too, which will be fun. New versions of songs, to keep it interesting.
ML: And medleys.
We have such an amazing fanbase, and they are loyal, and have been with us forever. So, you don’t want them to get the same show, and for it to be stale. So, we’ve been trying to reinvent some moments to be exciting, or unexpected, than what we’ve done prior.
EB: We have like almost sixty songs now in our catalogue to choose from. And that’s not even including covers…
ML: And covers, and singles.
I actually wrote down every single song that we’ve put out, and the key that they were in. Trying to how to match songs, or put medleys together.
I have about fifty drafts of set lists, and look like an insane person these last couple weeks, trying to narrow it down, because they’re just so many.
And I think we’re gonna have a spot in the set where it will rotate every night. So, there is a thing where a fan is like, “Can you play this tonight?”, we have that flexibility and freedom.
QRO: Are you at the point now where someone will request some old song, and you’re like, “We haven’t played that years, don’t remember it…”?
ML: Surprisingly, muscle memory is wild. I have felt that way. We’re pretty good, if someone asks for something, people have asked to propose during songs, trying to make those happen. And you think, ‘Wow, I don’t know how to do this anymore’ – and then you start playing, and it kind of all comes back. Lyrics, the parts, chords. It is crazy how the brain stores, when it’s embedded in your memory. When you’ve done it long enough, it lives in there, hibernating.
QRO: And how did you hook up with Bishop Briggs?
ML: Bishop Briggs, we have been friends with her for years, and huge fans.
We have the same booking agent, and I was just like, ‘I think this would be incredible. Not sure what her plans are…’ And thankfully, she was also looking to tour, and it was just a very serendipitous moment of getting to do this run together.
Tour can always be like, ‘You don’t know the artist…’ It’s nice that we already have a familial vibe. It’s gonna feel like summer camp. We’re very excited.
MisterWives’ video for “Ultraviolet”:
QRO: How was making the video for “Ultraviolet”?
ML: I remember hearing from the label, “We need a video for ‘Ultraviolet’” – we only had a few days to deliver it, and no budget. So, it was a very scrappy video, where me & my boyfriend [Matty Vogel], who helped film everything, creative direct on this album. Had the visual concept of what the album was, and tried to translate that into the video, with zero time & zero dollars… [laughs] So, it was definitely a challenge.
But very emotional. I think that song is so vulnerable. Those performances were so intense for me. I was also doing them in some wild locations, like the top of that building. Those arrows in my back, all of that stuff is real, not CGI or anything.
It was raining, intense – it helps me kind of tap into the emotion of the song. Tying arrows up on my back while you’re on the ledge of a building is little terrifying…
We had an idea for the song that we didn’t get to do, because the weather didn’t permit it. We wanted it at the end, that you’re at peace with the difficult times and the painful parts. We couldn’t do what we initially wanted to, so I was last minute like, ‘Let’s shoot this in the pool, it was really cold. The song was super-sped up, so that it could be in slo-mo, and I was just freezing, trying to sing this song at lightning speed…
[laughs] It always turns into Fear Factor! It just becomes like nothing is comfortable, you’re freezing, or drowning, or gonna fall of the edge of a building. It’s a fun challenge…
QRO: As long as Joe Rogan doesn’t show up…
ML: We actually did Fear Factor, and Ludacris was the host when we did it, which was incredible.
QRO: You did Fear Factor?!?
ML: We did, yeah. I think eight years ago.
EB: Don’t look it up.
ML: I won. Me & Will won. That’s my biggest claim to fame – is that I won Fear Factor… [laughs]
QRO: I’m sorry – I did not know that…
ML: [laughs] I don’t expect you to know that…
EB: We hope nobody knows that…
ML: Did that come out? I was making a complete joke! I hope you have never seen it, ever…
MisterWives’ video for “Nosebleeds”:
QRO: How was making the “Nosebleeds” video?
ML: “Nosebleeds” video was incredible. We had been sitting on these concepts for a while, and sent ideas to our friend Jax Anderson, who’s a phenomenal artist & director.
She directed this video that was really cathartic and powerful to do, because the whole concept is having my younger self get in touch with me, to bring me back to who I am, and who I was, before the world told you how to be, and you experience all the trials & tribulations.
[The child me actor] had that fire that we had when we were kids. She just walked through the room with all confidence and assurance in herself, that I was like, ‘Damn, I once had that.’ And that’s what the whole concept was about, was getting back to that. It was a beautiful full-circle moment.
QRO: What goes into casting a child actor to play a ‘child version’ of yourself?
ML: It wasn’t a DIY music video like we always do. Jax had an incredible production team, who casted all these kids, and did that for us. Which was very helpful, because usually we’re doing everything so guerrilla style, with no budget, no time.
Like [the video for “Dagger”] that we’re about to put out – you’d be surprised how we get the shots and do the things we do. It’s a challenge, is all I can say… [laughs]
EB: We had a lot of fun, shooting the “Dagger” video.
QRO: And do you still have the poofy dress from the “Rock Bottom” video?
EB: The loofah!
ML: [laughs] Yes, ‘the loofah’ is what fans refer to those dresses as, the tulle dresses. I have all of it. I have a stage closet that is SO overwhelming – you open it, and it’s just tulle, and glitter, and sequins, every fabric & color that you can imagine.
It’s in what I call ‘Mandyland’, my music room.
MisterWives’ video for “Rock Bottom”: