Mr Wrong is our kind of right in every way, super fun in a Devo meets the B-52s kind of way. At the start of this year they released album Create A Place, we spoke to the band to get the bigger picture of where they’ve come from, what inspires them and of the place they’re creating for themselves with their powerful – tackling important subjects like politics, healthcare, oppression and rape culture – spirited punk.
What were you like growing up? How did you first come to music?
URSULA (drums, vox): I was a shy kid, very much in my own world, which music was a vital part of. Both my parents had great/really varied taste, and there was always music playing at home- from Balkan Choirs to Here Come the Warm Jets. Music gave me a context/outlet for the extreme emotional turbulence of adolescence.
MOF (guitar/vox): the term my parents used for me as a kid was, “spacey.” Some of my earliest memories are listening to Gang of Four, Human League, Depeche Mode, The Buzzcocks, DEVO, etc. in my dad’s car and feeling overwhelmed with hope and excitement by the prospect of existing in those worlds someday. I was a sensitive kid that appreciated the emotional strength & honesty of the music my dad introduced me to, it was empowering and validating & I never grew out of loving it.
LEO (bass/vox): I stared at the world through big eyes, fascinated in what was going on around me, but contemplative to the point of hesitancy. My family would sing together, we’d play dulcimers that we made out of long green boxes, and I would strum along as a lil beb in a high-chair belting with them, and not worrying about a thing. I grew up singing, folk songs and songs my grandparents grew up with, and slowly my dad’s rock n roll fascination with far-away music got infused in there too. My cousin taught me about punk rock, my friends and I would drive around immersed in PNW rap, and I fell asleep to Enya every night. I loved it all.
What inspired you to start making tunes?
URSULA: I was always singing along to things. All of my heroes were musicians. My dad played in bands so it seemed like a somewhat accessible world (though it took me a really long time to be in a band- not until my early 20’s). As a kid I dabbled in piano, and guitar.
MOF: I tried to write music a lot as a kid using layering in Garage Band but never had formal training or much confidence. After reading Girls to the Front I decided to finally kick that insecurity to the curb and form a band.
LEO: I always had big feelings, they were overwhelming and confusing, and often stuck inside me. Music became my way to process, to let the feelings out so I could look at them and turn it into something I could understand. I started on piano, quickly moved and got completely obsessed with acoustic guitar, where I started writing sad and freaky songs to myself and never really stopped.
How did you come to playing the instrument that you do in Mr. Wrong?
URSULA: Mof and our friend Colette (who now lives in Berlin) told me they were starting a band. At that point, we were just acquaintances, I had seen them around and thought they were super cool. When they asked me if I wanted to play drums, I jumped at the chance and started teaching myself to play. We jammed a few times in that incarnation, and then Colette moved away and Mof and I continued as a two piece.
MOF: Shortly before staring Mr. Wrong, I found an off-white Squire with a teal pick guard on Craigslist for $50. I loved it (still do) and decided that would be what I tried to learn. I did end up painting the pickguard white with black triangles, however.
LEO: I’m drawn to the low end. Bass is where rhythm meets melody and I’d always dreamed of basking in that magical crossroad. Getting to play with Mof and Urs is a dream come true.
I feel there’s little hints of Devo and B-52’s in your music; are you fans of either?
URSULA: We are giant fans of both- good instincts.
MOF: One of the two covers we’ve learned is 52 Girls by the B-52s and Ursula and I do a radio show with two other friends called Time out Four Fun, named after Devo’s song, “Time Out For Fun”. You could say we’re big fans of both bands!
LEO: (Heart-eyes emoji).
In January you released your LP Create A Place; where did the title come from?
URSULA: It’s a line from the song ‘Isolation Du Plenty’. We had a really hard time coming up with a name. Our first ideas were more apocalyptic in vibe, but we ended up feeling that, although the album deals with a lot of chaos and unrest, our ultimate outlook is still hopeful. Create A Place acknowledges that the spaces we wanna exist in may not be fully formed yet but that we can create them together. And it’s probably gonna be messy, but we have to try.
MOF: The title comes from the song ‘Isolation du Plenty’” which was written in the winter of 2016/2017. Inspired, in part by, Tomata Du Plenty’s world, via The Screamers and his visual art. The lyrics are about creating a place of stability in your mind, even if it’s just a vision of a someday physical space that you hope to occupy, and drawing inspiration through artists you’ll never meet. I feel that the songs on Create A Place are all, in one way or another, critical of institutions that prevent stability for large portions of the population, the hopeful message we aspire to leave with listeners is that we can change that.
LEO: It’s about noticing what we need in the world around us and feeling inspired to create it for ourselves (and anyone who feels connected to it). It can seem scary to take those first steps when no one around you is doing something, but that makes it all the more important to trust your gut and do it.
How long were you working on the album for? Were there any challenges?
URSULA: About two years, I think? We were in a songwriting rut for a minute there- I think we were feeling the pressures-or perceived pressures- that can come with making a sophmore album.
MOF: A famous quote by Mark Twain that I always fall back on is, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so here’s a long one instead.” Create A Place is Mr. Wrong’s short letter, we had a couple songs written when our first album came out in 2017 and let the next 7 evolve over the following two years. We tried a lot of new things on this album and also went through a lot of changes as individuals over those two years, so there were certainly challenges.
LEO: Life is full of unexpected challenges. This album was us learning how to tenaciously push through the chaos of reality together, and learn how to be there for each other and ourselves in uncertain and scary times.
How did you go about writing songs for this record? Was it collaborative?
URSULA: As usual, almost all of it was through jamming out ideas. Super collaborative.
MOF: We write everything collaboratively, aside from some lyrics.
LEO: We talk about everything, and hold space for everyone’s ideas. The music is an extension of our relationship.
What’s your personal favourite track on the LP? What’s it about?
URSULA: I really love them all, but I’m especially proud of how ‘White Male Teacher’ turned out. That songs about all sorts of things- mostly power dynamics and oppression. The title is a reference to a high school teacher I had who wrote a public letter announcing that rape culture does not exist and passed it out to his freshman class.
MOF: ‘Holding for Healthcare’ means a lot to me, It comes from a massive frustration with the inaccessibility & inefficiency of privatized healthcare; the discrepancy of care between poor and wealthy Americans. I remember thinking about how DEVO might broach the subject, with a hint of humour and absurdity, it feels cathartic to play every time.
LEO: ‘Nuclear Generation’ will always hold a dear place in my heart. For me it’s about not giving up, even when there are many daunting forces out of our control, decisions being made in locked rooms by a lot of old white men, that started long before we were born and will continue to really fuck things up. But through acknowledging and learning about the past and the effects on the current systems can rally us together to change our future, to “reinvent it, power down” -bringing the power to the people, turning off our phones and screens and realizing how much beautiful world we still have to fight for.
What’s a song you wished you wrote?
MOF: ‘It’s Obvious’ by the Au Pairs
URSULA: ‘Nervous Tonight’ by Portland’s own, Lotek.
L: ‘Hounds of Love’ by Kate Bush
All of you sing; when did you each discover your voice? Were you ever self-conscious or nervous when you started out singing?
URSULA: Singing in public used to scare the shit out of me. The sense of support and empowerment that I get from my bandmates has gone a long ways towards evaporating that fear. I definitely found my voice in this band.
MOF: I feel I truly discovered my voice when listening to bands like Bratmobile, The Petticoats, Delta 5. My only experience with singing before was as an alto in High School Choir, while I loved the harmonies and comradery of being in a choir, it didn’t feel expressive to me. Hearing a vocal style sang by women that was individualistic, verging on talking or yelling-but not without melodic elements- was an “aha” moment for me. Exploring that with Ursula at the start of MW (we were a 2 piece at first) is when I feel I truly discovered my voice, she was super supportive and encouraging, which really helped me find my way. That supportive dynamic has continued with the addition of Leo, I feel very fortunate to have a safe place be vocally expressive.
LEO: When I got exhausted by the pressure to sound pretty. I like singing at the top of my lungs, or making freaky sounds and seeing where my voice can take me, but it took me SO long to be confident enough to let my voice do it’s thing in the presence of any other living humans. It is still a struggle, and some days it feels way harder than others. But I try to remember how good it feels, and focus on the gratitude that there is a place in my life where I can let go.
Who did the art for Create A Place? What was the thought behind it?
MOF: I was thinking about the future & creating that future amidst isolation, through solidarity with like-minded people, when I drew the cover for Create A Place.
Why is it important to keep creating art in these crazy/uncertain times?
URSULA: Art is a way of processing/ trying to make sense of the human condition (sometimes it cannot be made sense of, and you just need to scream about it). It’s important to know that someone else out there is feeling something you feel, and they turned that into a piece of art that can be experienced and enjoyed. That’s pretty fucking magic.
MOF: There are nuggets of wisdom and catharsis in art from the past, the recent past especially. It’s important for artists to continue creating- not just as an outlet for them personally, which is important- but as a life raft for future generations as well. We need to keep a document of what’s happening so that our collective history isn’t solely written by the ruling class.
LEO: I often don’t even know what I’m feeling until I can express it. Being able to make some kind of art, and look at it from the outside is a window into myself. Art is something to hold on to, to be able to fully fall into when my mind is running away from me or I’m lost inside myself. Focusing and immersing myself something can allow me the space to come back to myself when some time has passed and I can think differently. It is an anchor to keep me here, to recover into, to be able to take a breath, get up and do what I need to do.
Why is community important to you? Where do you feel yours is?
URSULA: Community is important because no one has all the answers. Crowd sourcing is the way of the past, and I think we’re seeing it return in a big way right now. The people I’m lucky enough to call friends make me feel seen, supported, and loved. Art for art’s sake is great- but I think having a community to share it with really takes it to a different level that’s so special.
MOF: Art doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and as Ursula said, having community to share with is what gives art meaning. I guess I could say I feel community most when I feel understood and valued on an emotional level. As that’s what art is to me- an emotional exchange of ideas- I feel I have found a large part of my community through this band and the people we have connected with.
LEO: Feeling in community can be difficult in such an individualistic society. I have started to think of community as family, and it’s clear to me: The nuclear family is not enough. We need to form our own families, with all different kinds of people, with elders and kids and babies and teenagers and neighbours and mentors and friends and plants and people we just met and from places we’ve never been. Community is giving and taking care in so many ways, reinventing old ones and imagining new ones. It is accepting and letting others see the beautiful and ugly mosaic of who we are, so we can confidently be our vivid and dynamic selves together. I always say it takes a village to be a band, because it does. It takes so many people believing and doing to make anything happen. And wow, do we all need to believe in each other and a future right now.