Sister Wives: “We see our record as protest music”
Inspired by and innately connected to nature, Sister Wives are all on the same epistemological page. Influenced by a topos defined by Welsh landscapes with its ancient rolling hills, the group are bound by a comradeship of ancient Celtic culture, immersing themselves in the animism, sites and memory of witches, women and outcasts of past and present.
‘Crags’ vibrates through the ages, a cacophonous calling which leads into ‘I Fyny Af/Rise’ – a movement of matriarchal power. The overpowering grooves and Welsh chanting bring forth images of agrarian cults, howling at Hecate, dancing amidst circles of stone, raising arms towards trees, basking in eternal moonlight. There is energy, urgency, but most importantly, that bespoke connection to the earth is very real.
How important is Welsh to Sister Wives? Do you think there is a systemic threat to the Welsh language? Do you see Sister Wives as a way to reconnect popular audiences with Welsh language and culture?
Donna: We see Welsh as an integral part of Sister Wives, and when I proposed singing Welsh, it was very liberating. It’s hard to explain how important it is. I feel Wales and the Welsh have such an oppressed culture, there’s been a historic effort to stamp out the language for centuries, so we see our record as protest music. We have been amazed by the amount of support in Sheffield for our vision; our heritage contributes to an extra level of meaning within our music when presenting our culture is an act of defiance.
Liv: Our lyrics tend to follow a call and response pattern. For ‘Crags’, Rose and I sing the English parts, and Donna sings the other parts in Welsh.
Donna: The calls and chants follow a narrative based on old folklore from Creswell Crags, which is situated close to Sheffield. Protective marks were found there likely made by locals to ward off evil spirits and witches. On ‘Rise’, the translation of ‘I Fyny Af’’ from English to Welsh is not exact, but it’s something really unique which means “up I’ll go”.
Lisa: On the subject of witches and language, ‘witch’ is predominantly female and historically used to chastise and condemn women. You don’t tend to have to preface it with the word ‘female’ like when a band is ‘female fronted’. With Crags, we wanted to reclaim the word and the good and positive aspect of witches, of embracing community and looking after and respecting nature.
Sister Wives are visual artists and the garments you wear hold a lot of meaning. Could you elaborate on that?
Rose: Sister Wives as a name was a nod to Mormonism and the polygamy within the LDS Church. The outfits we wear are based on their traditional temple garments they wear to bed. I’ve worked in costume for ten years, so it was natural to have a go at putting our own ‘uniform’ together.
Lisa: The patterns on the clothing are synonymous with witch marks; it was really fun as we all contributed and painted our own costumes. We looked at runes and all sorts of mark making. I even stayed up all night once frantically painting the costumes, falling asleep on the floor.
Donna: We love creating this bubble, something for ourselves, and putting on the clothing is ritualistic and takes us to a different place. We become different people: we’re a group but we’re one, a gang, and there is no lead. Sister Wives is a big social equalizer. We enjoy building up the mythology, and we talk about this kinda stuff all the time; it’s transferable to art and music. Sister Wives is a little bit genre-nonspecific, so we want to create our own sound.
Liv: We want women to be leaving shows empowered; we need to show that women can be on stage making heavy music. It’s still not a common enough occurrence.
Donna: Women don’t take up enough space, but they really need to.
(When chatting about COVID and the impossibility of gigs, the topic of male sound engineers who can’t help but mansplain synthesizers comes up.)
Liv: It still happens a lot! It’s really tiring.
Lisa: I learnt drums late on in life due to a lack of opportunity and encouragement. Sexism in the industry means there’s an extra pressure. The industry is still male-dominated, so if you’re a full female band it’s difficult. We need fundamental change and to be given earlier opportunities.
Donna: I don’t enjoy sound checking at all [rest of the band nod]. We often get catty remarks like “You’re the band?” I had a lot of fear about what it was gonna be like as a pregnant woman or having a young child while in a band on tour, as you very rarely see pregnant women onstage. But I’ve always wanted to play onstage as a mother. There’s the cliché of women being the necessary primary caregiver, which reiterates the cycle of “woman can’t be in bands because they can’t play when they have kids.” We’re taught to apologise for being a woman – Sister Wives refuses.
Crags is out now on Sheffield’s Delicious Clam Records
What’s next for Sister Wives, you might ask? Well, they’ve recently signed for Welsh label Libertino, home to a full roster of exciting Welsh bands, and their plan is to get working on the album as soon as possible. Watch this space.