After being dropped by Fueled by Ramen last summer and successfully releasing music independently, New York-based indie-pop band MisterWives are entering a new era in their nearly decade-long career. In a homecoming of sorts, the five-person group is re-teaming with indie label Photo Finish to launch their own imprint, aptly named Resilient Little Records.
MisterWives — consisting of lead singer Mandy Lee, percussionist Etienne Bowler, bassist William Hehir, guitarist Marc Campbell and saxophonist Mike Murphy — first signed to Photo Finish, now distributed by Virgin, in 2013. It was the home of breakout EP, “Reflections,” as well as the band’s first two studio albums, “Our Own House” and “Connect the Dots.” But MisterWives and Photo Finish diverged in 2017 as the label exited its deal with then-distributor Universal.
“When we parted ways it was very much against our wishes,” Hehir tells Variety. “It was probably the first and only time I cried, when we found out about it… So the reason that we’re going back to them, in so many ways, is the reason we wanted to work with them from the get-go. It’s a small team, they’re all incredibly driven, they’re all incredibly talented and they just want to work together. They have this never-ending work ethic, which I think we missed so much with all the other labels that we’ve gone to because, in one way or another, we were kind of falling through the cracks.”
MisterWives, whose sunny, synth-heavy grooves and endlessly entertaining live shows have made them a staple of the indie-rock scene for years, signed to Fueled by Ramen in 2019 and released third album “Superbloom” in 2020. But when they were told in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that the label wouldn’t be looking for another album, MisterWives faced a hefty decision: give up or go independent. The band decided on the latter, turning social media into their own marketing department and shooting music videos on a $900 budget.
“It was really fuel for us. It gave us so much more motivation and determination,” Lee says, looking back on the experience. “I feel like the band was the most excited about creating the music we were creating and feeling like, well, we’ve already been doing it ourselves basically this whole time, so let’s actually double down and put this out independently.”
Lee also started posting on MisterWives’ TikTok account more frequently, using it as a tool to be transparent about what they were going through. In October 2021, Lee announced that they had been dropped from the label while applying clown makeup with the caption “naming your tour Resilient Little Tour before your label dropped you,” leading to hundreds of comments from supportive fans. Despite the setback, MisterWives kept writing and recording during this time, releasing their first independent single, “Stepped on a Bee” in December 2021. To their surprise, the single not only received immense support from fans, but also from streaming services in the form of playlist placement.
“We got more support being independent from all of these outlets than we ever had before,” Bowler says. “I think they also had this feeling of, let’s not forget about MisterWives, we want to support independent artists just as much as the people on the major labels.”
Lee also credits her transparency on TikTok as part of their success releasing music independently, as being open with fans about their experience has caused them to rally around the band.
“I didn’t wanna hide our story and what we were going through and just put on a smile like everything’s okay,” Lee says. “I think when you let people into your experience, it resonates more and they see that you’re fighting too and that we all have similar struggles. That transcends beyond the music and invites people into this community where they feel apart of Resilient Little Records and apart of us keeping going — which was hard for me, because for someone who writes music, I’m not the most open about things that are actually going on in my life.”
But now MisterWives get the best of both worlds with their Photo Finish deal, which will allow the band the bigger budget and label services with the freedom of being independent.
“It just feels really kismet that almost a decade later we get to come back to the people who have cared the most about this band and believed in us in the way that we believe in this project,” Lee says.
MisterWives are kicking off this new era today by releasing a double single, consisting of the anthemic “Easy” and psychedelic bop “Where Do We Go From Here.” With the former song’s comforting chorus repeating “It’s not easy/ But it gets easier,” Lee says the tune was directly influenced by MisterWives’ experience as an independent band.
“That was one of the first songs that I wrote coming from our bandmate leaving and getting dropped all within a couple of weeks at peak pandemic,” Lee says. “That was a cathartic way for me to push through and to zoom out and realize as much as this feels like the sky is falling, I’ve been through way worse and I’ve come out the other side… That was a really special song to write, and having a silver lining and feeling positive rather than just sobbing everyday.”
On the other hand, “Where Do We Go From Here” is all about expanding the confines of what the band has done musically, and putting its newfound creative freedom to the ultimate test.
“We were just riding the high of feeling really good independently and being like, ‘Okay, let’s push the envelope. How far can we go? How different can we take the sound? How much can we feel more exposed and more vulnerable?’” Lee says. “That song touches on things that I’ve never really felt comfortable or confident expressing, so I feel really proud of that song because it allowed us to explore what being independent really means.”
Although they plan to focus just on MisterWives for now, eventually the group hopes to sign other artists to Resilient Little Records in hopes of getting them out of unfavorable situations in the music industry.
“I think for artists who are up-and-coming or making music in their bedrooms, if you sign to a major record label, they’re going to tell you: be on TikTok,” Hehir says. “Like, that’s it! That’s the strategy. And take everything from you. So we could save you a lot of time and legal costs.”
And although TikTok has helped them out too, MisterWives are looking forward to returning to their most natural state: performing. Their Summer of Sounds co-headlining tour with Lawrence starts on May 29 in Portland, and includes a set at Central Park SummerStage in New York City.
“This is an exceptionally cool tour because now, having been independent, these are the biggest size venues we’re playing as a co-headliner,” Lee says. “I feel really proud of that, and having SummerStage on there for someone who grew up busking in Central Park… That’s a pretty crazy, wild dream come true. We got here at a time when we didn’t have the support of a major label, and that’s gotta speak for something.”
If anything, MisterWives’ journey to this new chapter has reminded them of their own dedication to the craft, and what’s most important — making music that you’re proud of.
“There are no riches in the music business anymore. We’re all working independent jobs as well to keep doing this,” Campbell says. “We’re all doing it purely because we love doing it, so don’t get caught up if you’re in your bedroom writing music — you’re successful by releasing it, regardless of monetary value.”