Californian band the Dum Dum Girls are led by Dee Dee, (real name Kristin Gundred) who describes her music as “blissed out buzzsaw". The band offer fine examples of classic pop music with inspiration from ‘60s girl groups and early punk rockers. Their debut album ‘I Will Be’ was released in March. Currently headlining a short tour, taking in major cities - Leeds, London, Manchester, Lancaster and Glasgow.
Our interview kicks off in the opulent surroundings of The Palace Hotel in Manchester. We meet Joe (Tour Manager) amid a packed reception area, inadvertently caught up in The Manchester University Awards night, with everyone in black suit and ball gowns. Joe introduces us to Dee Dee, we move swiftly to a quieter location upstairs. Dee Dee is a slender, dark haired, chanteuse, wearing a slim nose ring, slash of red lips and her standard black outfit, a modern day Ronnette. She appears quiet and calm, yet self assured and articulate.
MEL: Well I’ll start off by saying that Dick had prepared the questions, as he’d hoped to conduct the interview online, (he sends his love by the way). He’s your biggest fan, he lives in
DEE DEE: Basically it was just a recording project I was doing by myself in my house. For quite a few months, I put out a few seven-inches and an EP and then continued writing and recording songs and magically got signed to Sub Pop, and at that point it was time to make a real band of it. So that once the record came out we could go on tour. At first I hadn’t really wanted to do it as a band, I wanted total control over what I was doing. It was just the fun of recording, but about the same time I got signed it was about the time I thought ‘I am about ready to do a band again’. It just took me a few months to sort out the girls for the band. And I wanted to make sure I really chose them carefully because even if they are amazing musicians the reality of being a touring band is your playing the songs for about 30 minutes a day and your living together for the other 23 hours [laughs]…so!
MEL: And are they friends of yours?
DEE DEE: Yeah, one of them is an old friend of mine, Bambi, the bass player she went to high school with my husband, so I’ve known her forever. The guitar player, Jules was introduced to me by a mutual friend, last August she and I became really close friends, very quickly. We lived near each other, so we could hang out a lot. Now, we actually got a new drummer last week and I met her through some friends as well, she is perfect, and right now we’re really able to be excited, enthusiastic and work really hard together.
MEL: This is one of mine. What prompted the band’s name? I know there was a
DEE DEE: [laughs] Yeah it is, that was a coincidence, I didn’t even know, I wasn’t familiar with that Talk Talk song. So of course that was the assumption when people started hearing the band name, but it’s a bit of a double homage to Iggy Pop and the Vaselines.
MEL: When did you begin playing live?
DEE DEE: I played a couple of shows last summer, but it wasn’t with the full band and they were definitely sort of premature shows. We played our first shows as an all girl band in October for CMJ.
MEL: So you’re still pretty new?
DEE DEE: Yeah, we’re still pretty new; we haven’t done a ton yet. We did about two weeks of touring at that point; we came over to
MEL: How have you found life on the road so far?
DEE DEE: Ya know, it’s really fun on the road; I have a pretty easy time enjoying myself. Like I said I love my girls and we have a really great driver and tour manager with us on this tour. So, it’s really comfortable and easy to hang out.
MEL: And staying in some nice hotels? Well... tonight [laughs].
DEE DEE: Yeah, tonight we are, last night not so much [it was a Travelodge]. The disadvantages obviously are being away from my family, that gets rough but I try to really make up for it when I am home and try to make all that time really special.
MEL: Your debut album, I Will Be is now released. How was the recording process?
DEE DEE: It was interesting, it was pretty Atypical, like I said it was just songs I’d recorded over about eight or nine months of 2009 then once I signed to Sub Pop, and realised “OK, that’s the record I’ll just write a couple more songs.” But I recorded all myself over all that time, so it wasn’t like I sat down and wrote a record in a month, then went to a studio and recorded it like a normal recording thing. So basically all the songs were recorded first, and then I went into the mixing studio with Richard Gottehrer after the fact.
MEL: This fits into my next question – He handled some of the production duties, was he selected on the grounds that much of his past work has elements in common with the band’s sound? How did the group find working with such an experienced producer?
DEE DEE: Definitely, his name was thrown out there almost as a joke. It was like – gosh wouldn’t that be crazy if we could get some legendary pop producer and he has the perfect background, for me at least, because he was a pop songwriter in the 60s, he was writing these hits for girl groups and other bands. Plus his own band and then into the 70s he is working with Richard Hell and Blondie and then later The Go Gos, and recently The Ravonettes, who I feel like we share a lot of the same reference points and so he was pretty ideal because I knew that even though he had this huge pop sensibility he obviously understands where I am coming from and why there needs to be certain elements of rock ‘n’ roll or noise kept in all the songs, not just clean them up.
MEL: So to expand the question - how did you find working with such an experienced producer?
DEE DEE: He was amazing! We didn’t really work that much because as I said it was a post production and a mixing thing, so it was quite a bit via e-mail then I flew to
MEL: There’s seven brand new tracks on the album – were they drawn from your live set, or did any of the newer songs come together in the studio, but you’ve kind of explained that.
DEE DEE: There is one song on the record that did change a bit because I had played it live once and this was for a show that I did way earlier than I should of played and I had Jules the guitarist and I had two boys, that are good friends of mine, who were filling in. We were playing a really short set and I wanted to add the title track ‘I Will Be’ into it and I hadn’t even finished recording it, it was about halfway done. I was like, “Let’s try and figure out how to play it live and so from playing one show with them that was how I kind of figured out how to finish the song and record it live.” That’s about the only one that was aided by having played it live.
MEL: The band do an excellent live cover of GG Allin’s ‘Don’t Talk To Me’ that didn’t make it onto the album – is there any possibility of a studio version of this being recorded?
DEE DEE: Yeah, there is a demo recorded and it is actually probably going to end up as being the b-side of the next single.
MEL: Are there any other cover versions in the live set, that get an airing during rehearsals? Given free range, what covers would the group most like to take a swing at?
DEE DEE: We do tons of covers, it’s so fun, and its something I love to see when I see shows, it always adds so much to kind of, you might not realise some of their influences, then they go and do a cover and you’re like, “Oh, that totally makes sense.” We do the Rolling Stones cover [‘Play With Fire’] live now since it was the b-side on the single and we do ‘Don’t Talk To Me’ and we have quite a few others that we kind of swap about. Every day I have some new idea about a song I want to cover [laughs].
Kate Bush, that’s my next idea. I don’t know which one yet, but something that will be very shocking and hard to do I’m sure.
MEL: What’s your favourite song, or band at the moment, or something you can’t stop playing?
DEE DEE: I fell asleep in our van with one song on repeat for about three hours; it was kind of bizarre I think it really affected my dreams. It’s called ‘Broken Heart’ its by Spiritualized. It’s off their Ladies And Gentlemen record.
MEL: There’s a strong garage influence evident across both the album and the band’s earlier releases – are there any particular Nuggets/Pebbles bands that the group would cite as being relevant in forming the Dum Dum Girls’ sound?
DEE DEE: I mean all sorts, I’m a huge garage fan and I remember when I was about eighteen, and I discovered that Nuggets box set, it really changed my life.
MEL: How old are you now?
DEE DEE: Twenty seven! A song that we are actually gonna cover, and it’s probably gonna be a b-side is the Vagrants song ‘Oh Those Eyes’ and so they are a big deal with me right now. I’m kind of obsessed with that song.
MEL: Songs such as ‘Rest Of Our Lives’ and ‘I Will Be’ feature very striking harmonic interplay between lead and backing vocals – which works particularly well juxtaposed against a miasma of garage fuzz – how has this been developed? Is it intended to develop this motif further?
DEE DEE: Yeah, I mean that’s kind of my main focus in all my songs – the vocals. So, once I’ve written the melody that’s the next thing I do. I work out all the harmonies, so for me that’s my true love. I’ve been singing forever in choirs, grew up doing that my whole life and studied music in College and composition, arranging and stuff so it’s like my favourite thing about writing songs. It’s coming up with the harmonies and I am so happy that I’ve found girls that can do it live, ‘cos it’s kind of a hard thing to nail and so its my favourite part of a show, just when I hear a kind of a complicated chord being made by us it takes me back to being in choir, when I was in eighth grade or something [laughs]. It’s just really powerful.
MEL: You seem to have a long musical history.
DEE DEE: Singing wise, definitely, it’s kind of a family thing.
MEL: Talking of families, I understand that the picture on the sleeve of the ‘Yours Alone’ single was Dee Dee’s mother – who’s that on the cover of I Will Be? Is there a story behind the selection of the cover image?
DEE DEE: Yep, they both actually came out of needing a cover kind of quickly. I had no idea what to use for the cover of the EP and then I found her high school senior graduation picture. I was like, “Oh, that’s great!” So I used it, much to her chagrin, she hates that picture [laughs]. Then when I was going to use a still from an Italian b-movie from the sixties for the record, we couldn’t get permission and then I changed my mind completely. I just happened to be looking through my Mom’s photo albums when I was visiting and that image just jumped out at me. It just seemed so striking it looked like a classic record cover to me.
MEL: So is that your Mum as well? Did you not think about being on the cover yourself, with the group?
DEE DEE: Yeah. No, I’ve never really wanted to have that kind of attention, but at this point it’s pretty hard to avoid. I spent probably the first eight or nine months of doing this project completely faceless and anonymous as much as possible, so I just didn’t want it to be about that. I just wanted it to be about the songs, but I dunno, probably the next record we’ll step away from my Mother [laughs] or people will start thinking I’m weird [laughs].
MEL: Your Mother’s famous anyway now! Who provided the male backing vocal for ‘Blank Girl’?
DEE DEE: My husband Brandon, who sings in a band called the Crocodiles.
MEL: Obviously, you’re on tour now in the UK and have a string of gigs in London, Manchester, Leeds and
DEE DEE: Yeah, we are heading off to Europe, ending at Primavera in
MEL: Any plans to go to Cornwall, Devon, down that way? That’s where Dick lives and he asked me to make sure I asked, cos he is one of your biggest fans. Are there any bands you’d especially enjoy sharing a bill with?
DEE DEE: I have no idea I would have to check [laughs]. There are all sorts, I am really crossing my fingers and hoping we can play with the Vaselines.
MEL: Do you like The Revellions? They have a similar sound.
DEE DEE: I don’t know them, should I? I’ll check them out.
MEL: We just saw Gogol Bordello, last week, is that the sort of band that you like?
DEE DEE: Oh, how was that wild? [laughs]. They’re good – I always try to think of what would make sense as a whole show and I’m not sure we would make sense with them. A lot of my favourites are older bands, I don’t know if they even tour. I think we are gonna open for Belle & Sebastian in a few months. I’m really thrilled about that.
MEL: How would you describe your stage shows, how do you put yourselves across? Do you move around a lot, are you pretty still, pretty cool?
DEE DEE: We’re pretty grounded in what we do. For me, I don’t know if it’ll change over time, it’s half to do with it just being a new thing, and the other half is how it makes sense for us. We’re kind of nonchalant in tone. We’re just trying to really put across a strong vibe and presence. I dance around a bit but I’m mainly just really trying to deliver.
MEL: Quite dramatic?
DEE DEE: It’s a little dramatic [laughs].
MEL: I’m just trying to conjure up what it’ll be like. So after the current tour – what’s next for the Dum Dum Girls?
DEE DEE: We are going back to
MEL: Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
DEE DEE: Well if you get the record I hope you enjoy it!
MEL: Thank you very much and see you later.
DEE DEE: Thank you.
Thanks to Nita & Josh @ Goldstar - www.goldstarpr.com