Dum Dum Girls - Interviews - Soundblab

Dum Dum Girls

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Soundblab can't help but feel a little bit guilty when we greet Dum Dum head Girl Dee Dee in the bar area of Manchester 's Sound Control. The poor lass is stuffing down a salad as fast as she can, while feedback shrieks and monotone "1,2,1,2"s echo down the venue's stairs, a sure indicator that a sound check is in progress. No mistaking, Dee Dee is one busy lady right now. Her group's debut album - fuzz pop, love-struck opus I Will Be - is on all the right cool lists in the UK and Europe, hence this tour, which will be followed next month by another one with MGMT. Yet, despite her busy schedule (and a potential case of indigestion, Soundblab suspects) Dee Dee is one of the most professional, attentive and downright likeable interviewees we've ever encountered. So let's chat about the genius of 60s pop, what it's like being on eternally hip label Sub Pop and why it's important to look like a rock n' roll star.

How's the tour going so far?

It's going well. We arrived in Norway for our first show and fried all of our pedals, so it's been kinda' a rough, rocky first couple of shows but we finally have everything sorted, so we're okay now.

Did you just have to get them fixed?

We kinda just reordered how we do things. We haven't really had time to get anything fixed. We might get some things repaired in London tomorrow but we've kind of re-done our set up to deal with it.

Has the reception been good so far?

Yeah, it's been really good. I mean it's always more comfortable for me to play shows like this or the shows we've been playing in the UK versus playing festivals, where you kinda just show up and get thrown on stage. I don't even know if people in Norway know who we are! But it's definitely really cool to have the opportunity to play some of these smaller festivals which is pretty much the theme of this tour, y'know, it's very few, regular shows.

Your album, to me, underneath the fuzz , seems to have this very 60s, classic pop vibe to it. Is that something that you've been passionate about for a long time?

Yeah, I mean, that's the music I grew up with from a very small age. So in my head that has been kind of the holy grail of songwriting. And I really feel like in the 60s there was this huge push to write pop songs. You had the different companies that had teams of songwriters and they kind of got it down to a science. I'm not that technical about it but looking back I still know all of those songs I heard when I was a kid by heart, they just get stuck in your head, you know? So that's always been something that I try to emulate when I'm writing a song, it's just making each part necessary and as good as it can be. Sometimes simpler is better. So just being aware of the idea of songwriting as a craft has always been my main deal.

So when you started recording the album did you have that kind of concept, that aesthetic in your head? Did you know that you wanted it to sound that way?

Kind of, I mean the album, yes. The first few releases I put out, you know, these were songs I'd been writing on an acoustic guitar 'cos that's just how I do it. So I had these songs that I played on acoustic guitar and I didn't know how I was going to arrange them. It could've gone in a variety of directions, and I don't want to be a folk singer, so I obviously need to be electric. And then it was really just like, well why don't I just take all of the favourite sounds I have from all my favourite kinds of music, which was these big reverb vocals from the vocal groups of the 60s that really highlight all the harmonies, so that was one element. And then on top of that I'm a sucker for like the fuzz bass of garage, so I stuck that in there.

And then on top of that, the guitar parts and the drum parts are relatively simple and a lot of that comes from having my opinion of music changed when I heard bands like The Ramones that played music I knew I could play. It was like, oh you don't have to be a total flash guitar player, you can still write great songs and get better over time, and so that's why the guitars sound pretty simplistic, because that's how good I was! (Laughs) And so with the record I already had established the sound with previous releases, and it was more just an issue of fine tuning the fidelity, y'know, as much as I was capable of. Because I still recorded it and I still used the same sort of technique. I was better then. If you listen to the first seven inch that came out, it was like, in the red, it's all crrsshhh (makes white noise sound).

So with the record I was hoping to do it as well as I could on my own and then take it to somebody else, and be like 'Can you just make this even better?', basically. But all those elements were still there, like the vocal style that I wanted. I wanted it improved for the record which is why using somebody like Richard Gottehrer was so amazing, because he basically has the exact combined background that I was looking for. He was a Brill Building songwriter, he worked with girl groups and he also produced, like, Richard Hell, and The Go-Go's and a lot of these bands that were coming up in the 70s, so it was kind of that exact blend of ultra-pop vocal music and punk rock instrumentation.

That fuzzy, warm, intimate sound of the album, is that something that you think Dum Dum Girls will stick to as an aesthetic, or could you ever see yourself capturing a kind of shiny, commercial sound?

I don't know, I mean I feel like over time the songs will lend themselves to trying out different things but I mean I've known since I was five that I wanted to be in a rock n' roll band. I didn't necessarily want to be like a Kylie Minogue type figure, although I love her, so I'd say we'll probably always rest somewhere in between that (laughs).

So how did you go about putting the band together?

It took a while. I played a few shows with friends who were doing me favours, boys. I found Jules our guitar player, she was a mutual friend of the bass player in my husband's band, so he knew I was looking for another girl to play guitar that could sing. She'd never been in a band before which is so funny because she's like born for it. So she was a stranger as recently as last July, we met last summer. The bass player Bambi I've known for about five years, she actually went to high school with my husband so she's kinda been in our lives for a while. She lives in Texas. She's just such a cool person and totally capable. She's a really good guitar player and so she's kind of doing that classic favour of like [begrudgingly] "Okay, I'll play the bass" (laughs), which she's so great at.

And then our drummer is the most recent addition. We had another drummer for a while, kind of before we started touring as a proper band, so she joined us just before our May tour over here. She's from LA. And basically it came down to what girl drummers are there, anywhere? And she was the only one I could think of. I'd seen her in a band, she'd played in a band called Midnight Movies, they were in California, I don't know like five or six years ago. I didn't really follow them, they haven't existed for a long time, but I just had seen her once and obviously I noted like, "oh, she's so fucking good". It's kind of a funny story - it took me a minute to remember what band she was in. I Googled the band, found out her name and then found her on Facebook, and we had one mutual friend. So I wrote him, he's a drummer too in LA, and I was like, "Do you know Sandra? What is she doing, do you think she might wanna be in a band?" So I just randomly wrote her, and surprisingly enough she was into it and she just completed us. We're all like best friends so it's really great.

So did you specifically think "I want to have an all-girl band"?

Oh yeah. And that's why it was kind of hard to put it together. I mean the reality is there just aren't that many women playing music and what we have working against us is we're also not 18. We're all older, so it's even harder to find somebody who's at the same level as you are in terms of how you spend your time and just your general perspective. It's gonna be a lot harder for someone like me, I'm 27, if I had to hire a 19 year old drummer, like we're on completely different levels, like, I'm married, they just got out of high school, so it's not gonna be easy. And because touring is so intense, it's really important to have personality types that mesh well, so that's why it took kind of a while. And that's why at a certain point, I was like, okay, they don't even need to live in LA, because I can't find anybody, so that's why I asked Andy who was in Texas, and for a while our drummer was in New York. And it was just like the only way I could make it work because the people were more important than where they were from.

In pictures you have that Ramones thing where you've got that gang look. Is that something that just happened?

No. I mean actually, it probably wouldn't look that far off if we hadn't orchestrated it because we all have a pretty similar style anyway. But that was definitely something in my head that I wanted because, exactly that, it's a gang, it's an identifiable, cohesive look that is basically a counterpart to the music and I wanted how we sounded and how we looked to be totally memorable. And for me it's bands like The Ramones or The Supremes, or even just solo people like Elvis or David Bowie that just have a look that you remember. And it's not necessarily as important as the music - y'know, I've always said I'd rather a good song than someone look cool (laughs). But there is that element of presentation and performance that I'm not opposed to carrying on. It's the tradition of being in a band. And when I go see bands and they have something special that I can identify on stage that differentiates them, you know, I feel like I'm there to see something special, and that was something that I was interested in cultivating for us too.

What's it like being on Sub Pop?

They're great; they really feel like a family with a pretty small office, which I've visited many times, I've met everybody that works there, and they're really supportive. It's cool, they kind of have the best of both worlds because they still operate entirely as an independent label; they have total creative control. But because a chunk of them is Warner they have the resources of a major. So it's really amazing because nothing that's bad that's typical with big labels has seeped into how they do things, yet they can benefit from having better distribution. They're super supportive, and every time we play Seattle we all hang out and it's cool.

So are there any bands that you'd recommend to Soundblab readers to chase up?

Well, I have to say my husband's band, obviously, Crocodiles - they'll be over here in a while. Other than that I have a lot of friends' bands who seem to be doing well on their own. But maybe some of the others who haven't been over here yet - Woven Bones, out of Austin, Texas, very good friends of mine. Reading Rainbow out of Philadelphia. I run a really tiny label called Zoo Music, so I would totally endorse every band that's on that label. There's a boy from Montreal who goes by the name Dirty Beaches, and he's pretty amazing, it's kind of a Suicide meets Roy Orbison kind of electronic crooning project, and it's really beautiful. I would say Girls at Dawn out of Brooklyn are a lot of fun. Other than that, they used to be called Pearl Harbour and now they're called Puro Instinct out of LA - two sisters, really amazing. The singer is maybe 23 and her little sister is like 14 or 15 and she plays guitar, she sounds like Johnny Marr - it's crazy, it's really cool (laughs).

So what's next for you guys after tonight?

Once we leave, we play London tomorrow and then we're back into smaller, European festivals, so we do that for another two weeks. And then we go home, have a week and a half off and then we are opening for Vampire Weekend and Beach House in the north-west, mid-west and north-east. And then we're coming over here and supporting MGMT, which should be awesome. It's actually really exciting because it's such a bizarre tour, in that they're playing multiple nights in each city, so we're actually gonna have a chance to go out and see every city for more than an hour! So we're really excited about that, and I think we're playing Manchester with them, so it should be awesome. And then we have one last tour of the year with The Vaselines, which is so cool; we actually met Eugene last night, he came to our show in Edinburgh, which was cool.

The name Dum Dum Girls is from a Vaselines album isn't it?

Yeah, I mean it's kind of a half Vaselines, half Iggy Pop reference. It was pretty crazy, we played Glasgow on our last tour, and Frances came to that show and we got to meet her, so crazy. So I'm really excited to be doing that tour. It's a pretty short tour, it starts in San Francisco and then just goes up and over and ends in Montreal, but it's gonna be awesome. And then we're gonna sleep for two months.

Fair enough!

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