Winnipeg’s Mise en Scene dive into their indie rock fever dream ‘Reality Bites,’ an EP that aches with raw passion and electric energy as the duo marry an unapologetic attitude with warm melodies, poetic lyrics, and wondrous, soul-stirring sound.
for fans of HAIM, Alvvays, Anteros, Tennis
Stream: “Reality Bites” – Mise en Scene
We’re overworked, underpaid, bored, and fed up. “Reality Bites” is an unfiltered glimpse behind those rose-coloured glasses we often each adorn just to get through the mundanity of day-to-day.
For a record borne out of disillusionment and distress – billed as a no-holds-barred grappling with life’s pain-points and letdowns – what’s perhaps most surprising about Mise en Scene’s new EP is just how much fun it is. Reality Bites, but they’re not letting that stop them from having a good time. Reality Bites, but they’d rather go down kicking and screaming, smiling and laughing – with a cinematic shout, rather than a hushed, haunted whisper. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s to cherish what we do have and try not to worry about the trivialities.
And yet, it’s hard not to call attention to just how much our world takes from us, often offering little in return. Consider this viewpoint pessimistic if you must, but an observation is just that: An observation – and on their new record, Winnipeg’s Mise en Scene offer plenty of pointed critiques on life as we know it, and the people with whom we’re forced to share our world. A sonically and emotionally charged indie rock fever dream, Reality Bites aches with raw passion and electric energy as the duo marry an unapologetic attitude with warm melodies and wondrous, soul-stirring sound.
I don’t know about my aspirations
It seems like there’s too many temptations
Getting in the way of dreams on stage
Getting in the way of my minimum wage
We don’t know about us anymore
Our worlds collide who are we living for?
We don’t want to give in to each other
And don’t want anymore surprise encounters
So don’t act on your feelings
Just pretend you’re not breathing,
’cause reality bites…
Released June 23, 2023 via Light Organ Records, Reality Bites is a cathartic reckoning and a radiant reverie all in one. Mise en Scene’s Mise en Scene’ first proper multi-track release since Winnipeg, California – their acclaimed third LP, released in October 2020 – sees the Canadian duo of vocalist/guitarist Stefanie Blondal-Johnson and drummer Jodi Dunlop delving deep into themselves, piecing apart heavy emotions and unresolved experiences through a carefully crafted set of songs that balance inner ache with musical acumen, exasperation with enchantment, pain with passion.
“I had the most prolific outpour of songwriting between 2019-2021 where I wrote maybe 100 songs,” Stefanie Blondal-Johnson tells Atwood Magazine. “I literally just couldn’t stop writing. Some of them are on our previous record, Winnipeg, California and some have yet to be recorded. The Reality Bites songs were songs we needed to record, like the songs were calling to us and begging us to record them… We obliged.”
“It’s a record that shows the diversity and trademark sound that is Mise en Scene,” she says of the new record. “Each song has its own personality and point of view and the record explores different genres while still maintaining the consistent vibe that is our musical and lyrical brand. There are no “repeats” on this album; the songs are their own world and they don’t compete with each other.”
What was I looking for
I found you in the liquor store
You were like a little vacation
And we met again at the bus station
All class you swore
I remember what you wore
Early days adoration
Now it’s causing me agitation
Save me from burning out
I feel like I’m slipping away
Save me from burning out
I’d love it if you begged me to stay
Active throughout the past decade and then some, Mise en Scene have maintained their status as indie upstarts, making edgy, dreamy rock-fueled music with a slight pop polish.
They liken it to somewhere between garage rock and grunge pop. For this record, the duo focused on creating songs that felt both unfiltered and authentic: They kept true to the music, while staying as true to their humanity as possible.
“I wanted a human touch, a feminine touch to this record,” Blondal-Johnson explains. “I also wanted to build it carefully and thoughtfully, and I’m proud to say that was achieved through our process. We recorded in a really cool way, maybe a little unconventional compared to traditional ways of recording; we got together for the first round of recording where it was just my guitar and Jodi’s drums and a guide vocal. We sat on those stripped down versions of the songs for a few weeks, then came together the three of us (with our incredible producer John Paul Peters), where we built up the rest of the songs from its original foundation of Jodi and me. All the melody, the tones, harmonies and instrumentation were carefully explored and mined together. It was a magical time.”
Dunlop recalls working with John Paul Peters fondly, describing the process as a collaborative, effortless, fun, and creative experience. She calls the resulting six-track collection “vibrant, real, and fun” – a solid and mature sound compared to the band’s 2017 LP Still Life on Fire, she says, and a more chill and relaxed vibe than that of its immediate predecessor, Winnipeg, California.
“Reality Bites has our hard working all over it,” Blondal-Johnson agrees. “It demonstrates a type of femininity that is strong, capable and confident while still being delicate, soft and mysterious. There is more breathing room on this record compared to the last two, and it is less confrontational and more conversational.”
For Blondal-Johnson, Reality Bites is a fresh, feminine, and charming display of Mise en Scene’s talent at work.
The title, she says, is direct in its intent. “Because it does [bite],” she exclaims. “Especially now that we are on the other side of the pandemic that shall not be named. Don’t get me wrong, life is beautiful, we aren’t misanthropes but sometimes… sometimes life can be a real kick in the dick, and we explore that concept throughout this collection of songs.”
From the spirited and rousing drive of the EP’s opener and title track “Reality Bites,” to the sweet revelry and cinematic celebration of “You Feel Good,” and the tender glow and world-weary twinge of its heartfelt finale, “Stay,” this set of songs burns bright with a fire that won’t soon be extinguished.
Poetic lines litter every song: The record’s cynical first words (“I don’t know about my generation, it seems like there’s too much desperation“) make a lasting impression on the mind, but it’s the raw warmth and wonder of “You Feel Good” (“It’s such an innocent thing when your dreams get caught in the wings of another“) and the bittersweet, tongue-in-cheek candor of “Beautiful People” (“We can’t all be beautiful people. Beautiful losers seems more on point…“) that hit us where it hurts.
“We’ve always been unapologetic lyrically and musically speaking, and Reality Bites is an ode to the spectrum of emotions that we have recently been dealing with,” Blondal-Johnson notes. “These songs are about letting go, grief, budding love, kindness, self-esteem, body image, but most importantly coming to terms with adulthood and some of the sad realities of growing up.”
“These songs are honestly all so special to me,” she says when asked about her favorites. “I’m really proud of the lyrical strength of this record and diversity in storytelling. I’m also so into the harmonies we did on this record. Our producer, John Paul was so amazing at encouraging me and pushing me vocally and I think the harmonies make this record shine. “Stay” has a twin peaks vibe but it’s also one of the saddest songs I’ve ever written and it still makes me cry when I listen to it. It’s a very personal song about losing someone you love.”
“I love the guitar tone at the top of ‘Burn Out,'” Dunlop adds. “It reminds me of a song that would be featured on that old 90’s show Daria.”
Solid choice – both in tv shows, and in songs.
Dunlop’s favorite lyrics, meanwhile, come from the record’s title track: “Getting in the way of dreams on stage, getting in the way of my minimum wage.”
“It perfectly describes the musician’s struggle in a way that’s cheeky and fun,” she exhales. “I could picture a lot of artists relating to that one.”
Blondal-Johnson, who wrote the lyrics, adds a few more lines to that favorites list – words she says she personally loves singing:
“you were like a little vacation, and we met again at the bus station”
“reality bites and it hurts every time”
“It’s such an innocent thing when your dreams get caught in the wings of another, but then you’re in the swing of falling in love and getting under the covers”
“So what I’m a girl interrupted, a little bit disrupted, don’t wanna be corrupted”
Whether you see your glass as half-empty or as half-full, Reality Bites promises to spark plenty of inspiration as Mise en Scene pour their hearts and souls out in song.
Sure, this EP was borne out of disillusionment and distress – who hasn’t felt these strong feelings over the past few years? – and yet, we don’t have to wallow alone in our despair; instead, we can sing along to six seductive, soaring songs full of vigor, vibrance, and visceral emotion. Mise en Scene offer an alternative means of lamentation – one that involves shouting at the top of our lungs and embracing the highs and the lows of life’s long, winding, wonderful journey. Whether you feel good or feel like more of a burnout these days, Reality Bites is a radiant, revitalizing dose of musical and emotional TLC.
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Mise en Scene’s Reality Bites EP with Atwood Magazine as Stefanie Blondal-Johnson and Jodi Dunlop take us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their stunning new release!
Stream: ‘Reality Bites’ – Mise en Scene
:: Inside Reality Bites ::
Jodi Dunlop: We’re overworked, underpaid, bored, and fed up. “Reality Bites” is an unfiltered glimpse behind those rose-coloured glasses we often each adorn just to get through the mundanity of day-to-day.
Stefanie Blondal-Johnson: Are you under 18? If so, prepare yourselves for reality! You can expect a peanut gallery of internal thoughts, monthly bills, and friends and family letting you down as you approach the crossroads of your life that forces you to choose between your dreams and a minimum wage job! Buckle up! Reality bites, and it hurts every time!
You Feel Good
Jodi Dunlop: “You Feel Good” is a sun-soaked homage to being present in your life. On day that you feel riddled with anxiety, put this song on, take your dog out for a walk, and enjoy your neighbours’ beautiful urban landscaping.
Stefanie Blondal-Johnson: Ride a bike, let your hair feel the wind, maybe even take your hands off the handles if you’re that good, and bask in the sunshine of love. Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs, but what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know…… cuz here I go agaiiiiiiin!
Jodi Dunlop: “Burn Out” is a snapshot of millennial life in the early-twenty’s — jam packed dive bars, sticky dance floors, awful haircuts, and lusting after boys in bands who don’t comb their hair or return your sms flip phone texts.
Stefanie Blondal-Johnson: They’re the wrong guy, every time. They will never be the right person and the right time will never happen with them. They are just the practice boyfriends/girlfriends that embarrass your future self.
Jodi Dunlop: “Beautiful People” is a song from the soul — it speaks to a world where we are all so connected yet further apart than ever before.
Stefanie Blondal-Johnson: This song is about social media making you feel stupid, broke and ugly. When are we all going to just come together and say “fuck it let’s go off grid and ditch the phones and just live naked in a forest”? This shit ain’t worth the cost of my mental health!
Jodi Dunlop: When you make something a game, someone always has to lose. “Nicer” demonstrates the power in simply, purely, and poetically asking for what you want, laying it all out there, and being candid with your feelings.
Stefanie Blondal-Johnson: I wonder what our world and daily lives would look like if we just tried a little harder to be nice to each other. People are really acting like it’s ok to be their lowest selves, it’s getting vicious out there and I’m not here for it. What could our lives be like if we had more patience with ourselves and others? “Nicer” is an exploration of those thoughts.
Jodi Dunlop: “Stay” is a bittersweet Velvet Underground-esque lullaby to a loved one—vulnerable, raw & tender; this song means something different to each person who listens to it.
Stefanie Blondal-Johnson: The saddest song in the world. Still gives me the melancholy chills when I hear it. Brings me to a lonely place, but if I’ve learned anything from music, it’s that it doesn’t let you feel alone. If you resonate with this song, that means I resonate with you and together we are not alone, we are together in our sadness and that’s beautiful.
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© Adam Kelly
:: Stream Mise en Scene ::