Interview with Dum Dum Girls
Meet Dum Dum Girls, your new favourite band. The quartet originally began as a solo project for Kristin Gundred, a.k.a. Dee Dee – but she realised over the past few years that engaging the services of other musicians would simply make for a more well-rounded sound. The result? One of the coolest acts out of California in recent memory. And the music's not half bad, either – their debut album 'I Will Be' is a short, sharp burst of fuzzy '60s garage rock, with a generous helping of classic girl group soul-pop on top. I spoke to Dee Dee recently, via a terrible phone reception from Washington D.C., to get the lowdown on the album's recording, working with legendary songwriter and producer Richard Gottehrer, and how she first became interested in music.
The album is great. You can really hear the influences you've taken from bands - early Blondie and The Ramones - but you've put your own distinct twist on it, too. You must be really happy with the finished product.
Yeah, we're pretty excited about it. It's an unbelievable feeling to have what you never anticipated really leaving your bedroom, kind of take off.
How long has it been in the works?
It's been a culmination of songs from around the first 8 or 9 months of 2009. That's what I had been working on without really an end goal in mind. When I was talking with Sub Pop about putting it out, it made sense that I'd just gather up the few songs that I'd been working on, the songs that I already had, even though they weren't finished. And between all of them, I felt good about all of them working together as an album.
You mostly produced and recorded it yourself – why was that?
Well, that's what I'd been doing, on my own, up until this record, really. It was something I was really comfortable with, and it was something I discussed with Sub Pop, and we decided that it wasn't really the time to do something completely different – like if we'd gone into a studio to record. It was probably just not gonna be possible to have any tie to what I’d been doing, because how I got my sound was so specific, in that sense, that we didn't wanna change it. We wanted to still maintain the sound that I had received some attention for. So our solution was to continue to have me self-record, but to bring someone on board to do a really fantastic mixing job, because that was the area that I was awful at (laughs). If you listen to any of the early 7 inches or EPs, they're mixed terribly, because that wasn't something I'd phoned into yet, I was just trying to record. So when we had the opportunity to work with Richard Gottehrer, I leapt at the chance to utilise his talent as much as I could. So it became more than just a mixing job. I sent him the tracks I had recorded, rough mixes of my versions – and I said, y'know, 'Use these as you will, but please re-effect and re-amp things in an improved manner.' He had the tools and the skills to do so. So he still tried to maintain the sound that was still me, just the grown-up versions of them.
I suppose if you're gonna relinquish control to anyone, rather it be someone like Richard Gottehrer… was working with someone who wrote such classic songs like My Boyfriend's Back a big deal for you?
Yeah, exactly. He's written a lot of my favourite songs – I Want Candy, Sorrow, My Boyfriend's Back, Night Time… it was unbelievable to even think about being in the same room as him. But he was a total joy to work with – so pleasant and friendly. Probably the biggest thing that struck me was that he didn’t make me feel like I was this novice latching on to somebody for their skills. It felt really natural, like we had a normal kind of give-and-take relationship. It was just a few days of mixing that I was actually present for, but it was kind of validating, in a sense, because I felt like I was there doing something real.
You're the kind of band that would probably have been described as a CBGBs band back in the '60s or '70s. Is that the sort of music you grew up with, or did you discover it yourself as a teenager?
I definitely was into vocal music and vocal stuff at a much younger age. My parents were both very big lovers of '50s and '60s music, and in addition to that, I was kind of a late bloomer in terms of discovering all of those CBGB bands. I was more 17, 18, 19 or 20, even, when I found those. At the time, that was around the second time I was so impressed by a certain type of music. The '60s would have been my first love, but I remember when I heard The Ramones for the first time – I just thought 'Wow, that's a girl group song, but with terrible guitar'. I'm a huge choir nerd too, and I love writing harmonies and really focusing on the vocals. So for me, having more of a rudimentary base almost highlights being able to have more complicated vocals going on. So to pair the two kind of happened really naturally, because a) I'm a singer and b) I'm a terrible guitar player (laughs).
The harmonies are one of the most striking things about the album – they definitely give the songs an extra lift.
Yeah, I kind of feel like vocals are the main thing I have to offer.
When did you first start writing, singing and playing guitar?
I always sang and always wrote songs, but it wasn't until I learned the guitar… I played other instruments. I played the drums for a long time, but y'know, you can't write a song as a drummer very easily (laughs). So it really wasn't until I picked up the guitar and finally committed to learning it that it became easier. Because I'd failed at learning the guitar for over ten years. I'm playing the same guitar that my dad gave me when I was 13, and now I'm 27 – so it wasn't until I was about 24 that I got serious about it. It's kind of just a hump you have to get over, I think. And once you can play 5 chords, well, that's a song.
One of the best things about the album, for me, was that it's so short and compact. Was that deliberate?
Umm… yes, on one hand, but that's not necessarily the only thing I have to offer, but it's more just an issue of where I was in terms of songwriting at the time. Especially because I don't have the chops for doing a lot of lead guitar work to share the burden. I'm not leaving a lot of room in songs for anything other than the voice.
There are some rambunctious, rocky tunes on the album, but they're balanced out by songs like the more mellow Baby Don't Go. Was that one placed in there to kind of prove that it's not just the 'scuzzy garage' thing that you're capable of?
Yeah, definitely. It was almost something I didn't realise until I listened to the record as a whole that that song was an anomaly. But that song, I actually didn't intend to have on the record. It was a song that Richard heard, I think, and that kind of piqued his interest and he really pushed to have it on the actual record. I was going to leave it as the b-side to a single, but he really wanted it on the record. And I take his advice pretty seriously! (laughs)
Is there a story behind the photo on the cover? (pictured)
Yes. That's a snapshot of my mom when she was in college. She was getting ready to go have her portrait taken, and she'd put on false eyelashes, but she'd never worn them before – and that's why she's making such a weird face in it.
Is it tough to be away from home and your family so much? You're touring a lot over the next few months. Do you enjoy being on the road?
I do enjoy it. I know not everybody does, but for me it's so exciting to see all these amazing places.
Finally, what can Irish audiences expect of their first live Dum Dum Girls experience when you play Whelan's in May?
Well, I think it's a lot of fun, a lot of sounds, it'll hopefully be a good time. We'll hopefully be in good spirits. I'm really excited, because it's my first time there. I love Ireland – I'm half-Irish – and I've never been there, so I'm looking forward to it.
'I Will Be' is out on Sub Pop now. Dum Dum Girls play Whelan's on May 18th. See www.myspace.com/dumdumgirls for more info.
- Lauren Murphy
Story by Lauren | 09:00 | Monday 29th March 2010 | Music
No comments have been posted for this article yet. Be the first!
Log in to leave a comment
The opinions expressed here are those of the viewer and do not reflect those of Entertainment.ie. Entertainment.ie accepts no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for their accuracy of content. Please contact us to report abusive content