Girls just wanna have fun

Dee Dee from Dum Dum Girls tells Sinéad Glee­son how her mu­si­cal jour­ney has led her to a noisy, fuzzy, stomp­ing brand of catchy post-punk pop

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

RE­GRET­TED THE first show I ever played; I should have played with a bag over my head.”

Dee Dee from Dum Dum Girls is fran­ti­cally hunt­ing through her lug­gage for her charger be­fore a dead phone puts paid to our in­ter­view. Along with thou­sands of other mu­si­cians, she is holed up in Austin, Texas, for the mu­sic fes­ti­val South by South­west, where her band (bag­less, we’re happy to re­port) are about to play six gigs in four days. When Dee Dee was here last year, Dum Dum Girls was “more of a solo record­ing project”.

Tak­ing the de­ci­sion to re­cruit band mem­bers was largely due to get­ting signed to Sub Pop and need­ing to tour. Would she have pre­ferred to stay solo? “It's a lot of fun with three other girls in the band. We’re all good friends. I wasn’t re­luc­tant about that as­pect of it. I would pre­fer to be a lit­tle more be­hind the scenes, but you can’t do that if you want to play shows.”

There is some­thing vaguely mys­te­ri­ous about Dee Dee, not least that her real name is Kristin Gun­dred and her tongue-in-cheek band moniker is about mul­ti­ple homages. Take your pick of mu­si­cal and lit­eral nods to Iggy Pop, The Ra­mones, The Ronettes, The Vase­lines, The Rain­coats and a Talk Talk song, but Gun­dred ad­mits that the lat­ter was a happy ac­ci­dent. Th­ese pithy songs are spliced with a broad spec­trum of in­flu­ences that stretch back to her child­hood. Af­ter plun­der­ing her mother’s Bea­tles records, it was her fa­ther’s al­bums that seem to have made a life­long dent.

“My dad sounds like Frank Si­na­tra when he sings in the shower. He was a teenager in the 1950s, so his record col­lec­tion was full of vo­cal singers and do-wop groups and surf in­stru­men­tal groups. When I was 12 or 13, I bought al­bums by bands like Green Day or Hole, but it was when I was 18 or 19 when I start­ing con­nect­ing it all to­gether. So, though I had liked The Cure at 14, I didn’t know about Siouxsie and the Ban­shees; and I didn’t lis­ten to the Sex Pis­tols, but I liked The Ra­mones.”

Th­ese overtly noise-ori­en­tated land­marks are dot­ted through the de­but al­bum, I Will Be, but they’re just one com­po­nent. The over­all out­put blends melodic 1960s girl groupery with dark fuzz-pop and has been turn­ing heads. “I wrote the songs over eight or nine months and used the same pal­ette of sounds for ev­ery song. I’m a fan of heav­ily re­verbed vo­cals, fuzz and that Mo­town drum sound, so I tried to make ev­ery song as catchy and as ‘sin­gle-like’ as pos­si­ble.”

And they are catchy as hell, but the glue hold­ing it all to­gether is her voice. On the phone, she sounds like a 10-year-old girl. On the al­bum, she sounds eerily like Tracy Tracy of The Prim­i­tives, chorally an­gelic with a brit­tle point to make (sin­gle Jail La La refers to a cell­mate as “cov­ered in shit”).

“I’ve al­ways been a singer. As a kid, I sang in choirs and school mu­si­cals and I stud­ied voice in col­lege, but I didn’t re­ally get how to start a band; I didn’t re­alise that you could just do it. It took me a while to get started. I fi­nally learnt the gui­tar a few years ago and started writ­ing songs, but this project was the first time I re­alised that I didn’t need to de­pend on any­body else to make mu­sic.”

This idea of mu­si­cal de­pen­dence is some­thing we keep re­turn­ing to. Af­ter all, Dum Dum Girls started out as a one-woman project that has mor­phed into a band. The obli­ga­tion to tour, and the ad­vice of her la­bel, were prob­a­bly as­tute enough rea­sons to re­cruit band mem­bers, but there is a risk that it lessens an artist’s au­ton­omy when thay have the artis­tic ideas of three other peo­ple to con­sider. Acts such as Tune­yards and St Vin­cent have re­sorted to in­ven­tive re-jig­ging when play­ing mul­ti­ple in­stru­ments solo. Did she think about try­ing to do some­thing sim­i­lar in terms of play­ing live on her own?

“I toyed with that idea ini­tially, where it was me and a drum ma­chine and one other per­son play­ing gui­tar, but I wasn’t re­ally able to recre­ate the songs in the way I liked. So I thought, well if I’m go­ing to play them live, I want them to sound the way they’re sup­posed to sound.”

As well as Jules (on gui­tar and vo­cals), Frankie Rose (on drums) and Bambi (on bass), Gun­dred en­listed oth­ers for the al­bum. Yeah Yeah Yeahs gui­tarist Nick Zin­ner plays on Yours Alone and Bran­don Welchez from Crocodiles duets on the song Blank Girl. Welchez also hap­pens to be her hus­band (“he’s a lot cooler than I am”) and the song was recorded at home in their liv­ing room. It’s a ten­der ef­fort, in­dica­tive of the amount of per­sonal ma­te­rial on the al­bum.

Gun­dred is aware that peo­ple lis­ten­ing to the songs will hear the up­beat melody but may miss what’s be­ing said in be­tween. It con­stantly flits from light to dark, sound­ing breezy, but with a grainy edge. “I try to im­part some­thing of mean­ing into ev­ery­thing. Even a song that might seem su­per­fi­cial makes sense to me as an hon­est state­ment. I love mu­sic that’s – as you say – both light and dark, but it’s very much about strik­ing a bal­ance, I couldn’t make mu­sic that was all about one or the other.”

What is very spe­cific about how the songs sound is the rolling hiss that op­er­ates just be­low the sur­face. Gui­tars roar, drums sound like bis­cuit tins be­ing bashed and the over­all af­fect is lo-fi and un­glossy. Gun­dred recorded the songs her­self but had very spe­cific ideas in mind for mix­ing. Step for­ward, Richard Got­tehrer, writer of I Want Candy and pro­ducer of The Go-Gos, Blondie and The Raveonettes. Be­cause Gun­dred ini­tially recorded the songs her­self, she ad­mits that the nois­i­ness is ac­ci­den­tal, but it was a sound she was keen to main­tain. It was also the sound that in­ter­ested Sub Pop. “It took me a while to fig­ure out the sound I was looking for, and Sub Pop en­cour­aged me not to change it.”

Sign­ing to a la­bel that gives you that much artis­tic free­dom and sup­port is com­pounded for Dee Dee by the fact that its acts were the ones she grew up lis­ten­ing to. “It’s been one of my revered record la­bels since I was a teenager. A lot of their early re­leases made it so leg­endary to me. I was a big Nir­vana fan and be­ing on the same la­bel as The Vase­lines is a re­ally big deal for me.”

Pre-Sub Pop, hype around Dum Dum Girls was based on a cou­ple of sin­gles and was huge. Gun­dred seems slightly ner­vous about the ex­pec­ta­tion, but is aware of how lucky she is, sound­ing both grounded and grate­ful. “It’s very weird. Without that kind of hype I don’t think we’d be here [at SXSX] this year.”

And racing through six shows in four days doesn’t bother her? “Not at all, but if I had to be ‘out’ 100 per cent of the time, I’d get pretty tired by it. I like per­form­ing, but for two out of ev­ery three shows we play, I just go straight home af­ter­wards.”

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