"This album unfolds my journey of finding a superbloom within the barren desert and the needed juxtaposition of the two in order to grow," says MisterWives frontwoman Mandy Lee of the group's latest effort, SUPERBLOOM, out July 24.
The "barren desert" Lee refers to is her eight-year-long relationship with bandmate Etienne Bowler, which publicly ended just a few days prior to MisterWives announcing this LP in May. She co-wrote their entire project then in the throes of a separation — through all the tears and anger and resentment that, of course, ultimately birthed new beginnings.
Lee's attitude is laced throughout the impressive 19-track album, such as with MisterWives' single, "decide to be happy." On it, she sings, "Flowers don't grow without the rain, and goodness don't grow without the pain" — a statement that's difficult to believe when you're in the thick of trauma, though it always somehow ends up being true. Elsewhere on "rock bottom," Lee repeats the lyric, "I fall just to get back up," acknowledging life's inevitable ups and downs.
"I offer up this record to anyone in need of the reminder that you too can come out the other side and superbloom," Lee tells PAPER, speaking to the album's title track — a bouncy, piano-driven pop tune that sees the singer making the declaration, "I deserve congratulations, cause I came out the other side."
Below, Mandy Lee outlines the journey of SUPERBLOOM with a track by track breakdown ahead of its Friday release. Pre-order SUPERBLOOM, here.
We start with the end because it's really the beginning. Acknowledging the long road up ahead and not covering my eyes because although I was — and still am – fearful, I wanted to presently deal with the heart-wrenching closing of one chapter while welcoming the new beginning that came with it. We separate beginnings and endings, but the two really can be synonymous. This album unfolds my journey of finding a superbloom within the barren desert and the needed juxtaposition of the two in order to grow.
Marc wrote this upbeat guitar driven riff, and I wonder if I subconsciously wrote about feeling followed and haunted by a ghost/presence of an absent lover because he's obsessed with paranormal activity. But jokes aside, pulling from the post-chorus, "if I can't have you completely/ I'll have you in-between" is something I'd like to never settle for ever again. Not within myself and not with someone else. I lowered my standards for what a relationship should be at a time when I was grieving the beginning stages of loss for my eight-year relationship. I reconciled with a love that had one foot in the door and one foot out, and stayed in something while watching both of us fade. BOO! Pretty scary stuff, huh?
One of the first songs I wrote for SUPERBLOOM. I was horrified writing this one because at the time nobody knew what I was going through and if I wrote my truth and then sent it to the band/family/friends, it made what I was suppressing very evident and real and I felt too exposed. I've always written from a place of honesty and transparency, but this felt too personal. I'm happy I didn't shy away from my pain and didn't do my experiences a disservice by trying to avoid it. This quote by Yrsa Daley-Ward says it best: "If you're afraid to write it, that's a good sign. I suppose you know you're writing the truth when you're terrified."
This somber instrumental that the guys of Sir Sly wrote really spoke to me and sounded just as I was feeling before there were even any words written to it. This song evolved to an epic arpeggiated synth chorus with a pulsing beat — it really helped me release such enormous and difficult feelings when I felt small and alone.
This song makes me cry every damn time. I guess the first half of this entire album really does. I had never done writing sessions before this record, but I was experiencing such a debilitating break up that I had to shock my system and shake things up. Forcing myself out of bed to get to a session marked in my calendar created structure and helped me push forward. Although it was way out of my comfort zone, these sessions, particularly this one, started to feel more comforting than discomforting. I sought out mostly female writers to work with because a) GIRL POWER — this part of the music "scene" is a complete boys club — from touring, to producing, to writing — and we've got to seek out the incredibly talented women in music who deserve recognition and deserved to be empowered and seen b) It felt more appropriate confiding in a fellow female who could relate more to what I was experiencing c) It led me to the wonderful writer that is Whitney Phillips, who is on another level of talent and beauty inside and out.
"I try to find heaven whenever it's hell, I tried to stay in love and do it without your help" are lyrics that weren't easy to write nor sing, but were needed for me to realize you can't be the only person fighting for a relationship to work. I always felt like my relationship came last — that our love for music and our career was forever in the forefront and we were on the backburner. And for a long time, I thought I deserved that. Dating back to my childhood traumas, up until being a woman in my late twenties, I really felt I was the variable in the equation that caused others to not to love me fully. I'm learning to unlearn that, and this record has been a huge factor in helping me do so.
Oh god, ok now this one hurts the most. It's indulging in the absolute peak (or low, I guess) of sadness and heartbreak. I had to revisit this one a year later when I first began writing it because i was really in the trenches and felt too raw to write this openly. I needed a bit more time to come back a little stronger and be able to revisit this pain rather than writing it while it felt like I was bleeding out. I don't think it gets sadder than officially calling it quits on the one "holiday" revolving around the celebration of love and romance. The writers of my life have a sick sense of humor.
"over the rainbow"
I'd like to think of this song as my "Beyoncé with a baseball bat smashing shit with a smile on her face in 'Hold Up'" moment. I got to a real dark place of anger, which is really just loud sadness, and I realized I couldn't fast forward my way out of it and had to allow these feelings to exist. The album has many nods to the parallels of Wizard of Oz, so this was a spin off the original "Over The Rainbow." But the idea is flipping the meaning of it, and being over "trying to be ok" and putting on a facade that seems like I am staying afloat, when in reality, I felt like i was drowning.
"it's my turn"
Carrying on with the mindset from "Over the Rainbow," "it's my turn" is one I don't think I'd have the courage to sing if it wasn't for working with K.Flay. She pushed me to say things I wanted to say, but was afraid to address head on and encouraged me to not do the dance of hiding it in words crafted to disguise where I was at, which I definitely do often. I felt really guilty and ashamed when I unraveled to a place that felt so unlike myself. "it's my turn" acknowledges that I'm allowed to have my moment of losing myself while trying to fill the void with a lifestyle that I knew wasn't healthy or right for me. Looking back, I could never live how I was living, but I think those ugly moments of wreckage are needed for growth.
"find my way home"
Definitely one of my favorites to play live. Remember live shows? The sense of togetherness and the incomparable high you'd get from singing and dancing it out as one? Please wear your mask so we can get back to that. I'm clinging to that memory just as I clung to the memory of home when I was so lost and was trying to find my way back. We always started this song off with a sound bite from The Wizard Of Oz where Dorothy and co. enter the dark haunted forest and she says, "I don't like this forest, it's dark and creepy," to which the scarecrow replied, "I think it'll get darker before it gets lighter" — which really encompasses the whole theme of the record. (Fun fact: after they make it through the dark forest, the poppy fields (superbloom) and home are discovered on the other side... BIG WINK FACE.)
Back when we could tour, if we weren't on stage, we were playing poker. We were so addicted I would do my vocal warm-ups while playing to not pause the game. A 2-7 off suit is the worst and unluckiest hand to be dealt in poker. "7-2" is taking that concept and making the best of the shit hand you've been dealt. If anything, I've always used hardships as fuel to fight through my struggles even when it feels like all odds are against you.
Last song I wrote for the record with the legends Cal Shapiro and Louis Schoorl, and it felt like I danced my way to the finish line. Back to the sentiment of "valentine's day," I don't think I would have been able to write this song while I was in rock bottom. I was in denial that I had unhinged in such an unhealthy way and needed time to pass for wounds to heal, so I was able to reflect on where I had been and where to go from there.
"coming up for air"
I feel like I was holding my breath the whole album until this turning point. From the denial of such a devastating heartbreak to losing myself and my mind along the way, hitting rock bottom and finally waking up and no longer allowing my pain to hijack my life, this is the moment I started to feel a little bit lighter by coming up for air.
Learning to breathe again, but without the things I thought I needed that really were pulling me under. Another jam written with K.Flay and Dylan Bauld, another session so fun I blinked and it was over.
"running in place"
I tried running from myself, my deeply rooted traumas and everything that snowballed afterwards, and it got me nowhere. Sometimes we try running from our suffering because it's too difficult to deal with, but in turn it gets us nowhere. The more I ran, the bigger and faster it all felt, eventually catching up with me. This song brought such a piece of peace when I needed it most, and helped me with letting go of expectations and pressure I put on from myself and receive from others.
"decide to be happy"
I have had to deal with this notion A LOT since quarantine, when every day is hard to face and it's difficult to see the light in such dark times. Through not being able to lean on our typical ways of living that provide comfort and ease and fulfillment, I've learned happiness is not a destination. It is fleeting, it comes and goes as it pleases rarely arriving organically. We must take action to seek it out. If times are hard, I no longer want to wait for outside circumstances to change in order for me to feel "happy" — and by happy I don't mean smiling ear to ear at all times with sunshine beaming out of my ass, I really mean being kind to my mind and body and finding small life adjustments like meditation or the simple act of going for a walk to change my brain's chemistry and shifting my focus and attention. I am NOOOO expert on the mind, but I do feel that a change, however small, with the incentive of bettering my headspace, makes for big change.
"love me true"
Well, we thought this was a summer jam but summer seems canceled — so maybe next summer! We definitely explored new sounds on this album, but with this one we wanted to take it back to our roots of horns and a funk feel that's impossible not to dance to. Frans Mernick, who produced this one and a few others off the album, definitely elevated and polished the sound that's been part of our band since the beginning.
"3 small words"
I originally made a voice memo of the melody of this song playing the beat with a spatula left on the counter (Etienne and I recreated the beat with yes, a spatula when recording this one his apartment). Months later when the melody wouldn't leave my head I finally put it to song. "And I know I'm going slow, can I dive back into waters that I barely survived?" is all about the fears of falling in love after being so completely destroyed by it. It felt refreshing and exciting being able to write this one the way I used to write, and feeling healthy and happy for the first time in a long time while doing so.
This one is the most fun to sing, stacked with colorful harmonies and playful rhythmic lyrics. It's inviting a new love and lightness back into my life and it feeling brighter than ever. Feeling incredibly jaded by my experience, I'm proud I didn't resort to building up even taller walls than before to not allow myself to experience the joy I deserve. Wouldn't have been able to welcome this new chapter into my life if I didn't learn to love myself first.
Y'all, we made it! If you stuck with me this long YOU DESERVE CONGRATULATIONS and my gratitude for caring and hopefully connecting to this album. The title track came from me visiting the poppy fields a couple years back and being so moved by the resilient yet fragile and vibrant poppies that punched through the desert terrain despite their challenges and grew in unexpected places. I offer up this record to anyone in need of the reminder that you too can come out the other side and superbloom.
Photos courtesy of MisterWives