Will Hehir is getting goosebumps. It’s an involuntary physical reaction the bassist of New York band MisterWives is experiencing as he recounts a recent fan interaction.
“There was one girl who sent us an email that said she was in an abusive relationship. Then she heard [MisterWives song] ‘Not Your Way’ and was able to get out of it,” he recalls. “It’s the most humbling thing in the world, and I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. I’m not an emotional person, but it definitely brings a tear to your eye.”
These types of unexpected, often life-changing fan encounters are becoming a more common occurrence for MisterWives, a gang of six friends whose strong anthemic-pop debut, Our Own House, quickly shot them from the Canal Room to the stages of Lollapalooza and Terminal 5, where the group will play a sold-out homecoming show on November 6.
Not a bad trajectory for some locals who started out wanting to form an Eighties cover band. “[Lead singer/songwriter Mandy Lee] was having an eighteenth birthday party and wanted an Eighties cover band, so we just started jamming together and got along super well,” Hehir says of Lee, who he met through a mutual friend.
Lee knew drummer Etienne Bowler from working at neighboring vegan restaurants, and once the three connected, Hehir says, they went “full throttle” with forming a band, which is rounded out by Marc Campbell (guitar), Jesse Blum (keys/trumpet/accordion), and Mike Murphy (saxophone).
As luck would have it, MisterWives’ future managers, label, and booking agent were all in attendance at the band’s first show, where they previewed the group’s unique brand of powerful, genre-bending pop songs, all of which were written by Lee.
“Two days after that show we sat down with one of our managers, and he was like, ‘I think we have a record deal on board.’ He said it so matter-of-factly. We were like, ‘What is going on?!’ ” Hehir says. “We were all working at the time and would jump out of our jobs to try to figure out what we were doing. I’m sure all our bosses were pretty pissed. In retrospect, we definitely made the right move.”
Photo Finish Records issued the EP Reflections in January of last year, and the subsequent full-length Our Own House was released in February 2015. Hehir says there was a pretty strict deadline in place for completing the debut, which forced Lee to adjust how she wrote the music. “She would lay something down, and we would work at the studio while she was at home writing music,” he says of the process, noting that while it was hectic, they skirted any clashing over ideas. “[Lee] would have an idea for a song, and we’d hear it and be like, ‘This is awesome.’ We were always excited to lay down our parts,” he says. “We work very well together. Nobody’s really got an ego.”
The album name and title track came from a specific bit of writer’s block Lee experienced. “We decided to lock her in a treehouse that Etienne had built in high school,” he says. “She was just there with a keyboard, and that’s how Our Own House came out. She wrote it in the treehouse in Etienne’s backyard.”
The resulting twelve songs draw heavily from MisterWives’ collective influences: namely, the ska-inflected power-pop of No Doubt and the indie-tinged accessibility of Foster the People.
Sing-along anthems like “Reflections” and the folk-leaning melodies of “Vagabond” sit alongside Eighties dance tunes and the bouncy breeze of “Oceans,” a song Hehir says Lee actually wrote when she was sixteen (“or maybe she was thirteen”).
The sunny vibe of “Not Your Way” in particular resonates with fans because of its message of acceptance. “I wouldn’t call it a feminist anthem; it’s more about equality and everyone getting along,” Hehir says. “[That type of work] didn’t exist with us until that song came along.”
The impact of MisterWives’ music has been far-reaching — far more so than Hehir could have imagined. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a demographic that exists for us,” he says, noting that he’s connected with everyone from small children with their parents to “a guy who looked like he just left a Slayer concert” at shows.
Playing New York is itself a personal triumph for the band, whose members grew up going to the Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, and Music Hall of Williamsburg regularly. “I’m still in a mindset of ‘Oh, we’re playing a show. I gotta call up my friends and hope they show up,’ ” Hehir says. “To sell out Terminal 5 and some of these other venues — it’s overwhelming.”
What’s not overwhelming, surprisingly, are the challenges that come with a touring band of six people. “When I get to play music with my five best friends, even loading in and out or getting from one city to the next is so much fun,” Hehir says. “In a very sickening way, we almost never get sick of each other. It’s almost been too easy. I feel like I’ve won the ovarian lottery.”
MisterWives play Terminal 5 on November 6. The show has sold out, but check secondary markets for tickets.
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