INTERVIEW

These days there are four Dum Dum Girls, but their lush, Phil Spector-ish sound originated from one woman

Photography by Pavla Kopecna

Photography by Pavla Kopecna

THESE DAYS THERE ARE FOUR DUM DUM GIRLS, BUT THEIR LUSH, PHIL SPECTOR-ISH SOUND ORIGINATED FROM ONE WOMAN

If you spend your time in the Brick Lane Rough Trade Shop, Barden’s Boudoir in Dalston or ambling between the two, you’ll probably be familiar with Dum Dum Girls, the latest bunch of West Coast guitar freaks to unite Brooklyn, London and anywhere else worth waking up for in one big, fuzzed-out hipstergasm. Now a proper girl band, having been the bedroom project of enigmatically named frontwoman Dee Dee, Dum Dum Girls share a sonic terrain with the likes of Wavves, Blank Dogs, and Vivian Girls. That’s not surprising – they’re all friends. Ex-Crystal Stilt Frankie Rose is on drums and Mike Sniper (aka. Blank Dogs and founder of Captured Tracks) played in her band before the present line up was put together. He was joined by Brendan Welchez, frontman of Loud And Quiet’s favourite reptilian garage types, Crocodiles, and also Dee Dee’s husband (alert! Trashy human-interest angle coming up). All of this makes her a pretty well-connected girl, the Queen du jour of US lo-fi if you like, but her music is a poppier step along from that of her friends; the fuzz box turned down and the craftsmanship turned up. It was a smart step to take as it’s got her signed to grunge behemoth Sub Pop and she could turn out to be the first artist in that scene to bring it some long-overdue crossover appeal.

What’s it like to (kind of) share a label with Nirvana?

“It’s great, it’s surreal,” says Dee Dee. “I don’t really think about it on a day-to-day basis ‘cause it’s very overwhelming. It’s almost like a joke. I talked to [labelmates] No Age about it and they said the same thing. Sub Pop bring you over to Seattle to meet everybody and I remember when I met JP, the owner, he told me he was flattered to be working with me, that he was a fan, and there’s a photo of him with whoever on the wall – I like fainted, it’s totally a trip.”

And they roped in Richard “I Want Candy” Gottehrer to produce your debut album

“Yeah, we were talking about what we could do to make this a slight step up from what I had been doing and we decided we should get someone really good to mix it. He came up as a joke as he’s such a legend but then he ended up being interested in working with me! I sent him all my rough mixes of the songs so he could get a general idea of the sound, you know, Reverb-ed vocals, distorted guitar, snappy drums, but I wanted him to improve it, sonically. He did a much better job, cleaned it up a bit but still retained all of the noise.”

The process turned her home recordings, the low-key feel of which was reflected in her sporadic, well-received 7”s for the likes of Art Fag and Captured Tracks, into sounding like the sun-sheen production epoch of 40 years ago that inspired them.

“It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision on my part” she says “but all my friends share records with each other and we kind of went from like a huge garage kick to being obsessed with the Jesus and Mary Chain and Black Tambourine and that filters its way into the music you make. My favourite has always been girl groups and 60s stuff, that’s what I grew up on as a little kid and for me it’s the gold standard of musicianship and songwriting.”

The attention to songwriting, more developed and less minimal than her grunge forbears, comes across well in her show at the Old Blue Last later, her first in the UK. It’s tailored to suit her vocals – probably the band’s biggest asset – which have been polished-up into a controlled and assured presence by years in choir at high school. Her love of music (evidently genuine when I mention The Stooges/Suicide date in May: “FUCK! OH! AH! FOR ATP? Jesus Christ! Are you going? I have to go! When is it? Jesus Christ that’s crazy, I hadn’t heard about that, I’m a little out of the loop. That’s fucked up!”) and her teenage diversion into records, gigs and bedroom guitar fiddling was a reaction to growing up in the meth-riddled cultural desert of suburban California. It’s pretty much the story we heard from Crocodiles.

“They were talking about a suburb near San Diego that I think at one point was like the Meth capital of the US. I don’t really know how cities and towns and suburbs work-out over here but in California they’re these tiny places that have been developed architecturally all the same. I grew up in a small one in the bay area, about forty-five minutes from San Francisco. Because there’s nothing to do, drug use is pretty rampant. I didn’t know how to be in a band but I definitely wanted to get out of that town, and go do something, so that was why I ended up in San Francisco. I would go to Berkley when I was at High School, there’s this kind of famous venue there called Gillman and so I used to go see a lot of punk shows there. Oh, terrible bands at the time, I think it’s where Rancid and Green Day cut their teeth.”

She’s done well since escaping from small-town hell and has found not only a band and a record deal but a husband too. What’s it like being married to a Crocodile?

“It’s hard but we’re both the kind of people that can’t really do anything else, I mean we can; he’s a teacher and I’ve worked reception and in a library. We both hold down normal jobs but if we can try to do music, we’re going to try. We’ve both just been home for four months, which is really unusual. We’ve been married almost 3 years and I think we’ve probably spent about seven months together over three years. We met as friends, just in the same kind of music scene and somewhere down the line we fell in love in a weekend and got married 5 months later. Definitely a whirlwind. It’s cool, it’s great, he’s a huge music talent but he’s a really good person too.”

What about touring and its paranoia-inducing associations with backstage flirting and tour bus orgies?

“Truthfully, I don’t know how couples where one person is in a band that tours… I don’t know how they do it ‘cause there’s so much shit that goes with it. You have to be really trusting and you have to know that ok, you’re on tour seeing the world but a lot of it is spent being bored, waiting for soundcheck. It’s not like your partying and meeting guys all the time so…” she laughs “we both understand that. It’s definitely rough, it’s a lot harder being the person at home but we’re going to try and tour a lot together this year. We’ll see.”

So, after the tour, what’s next in the journey to alterno stardom?

“I would love to make a comfortable living and be able to buy a house and whatever but it’s not that realistic. The impression I get is that you have to have a song in a fucking movie or something to get any real money. I wish I could get a song in the Twilight series or something, right? Then I’d be set. I love vampires, I don’t have a problem with that.”

By Edgar Smith

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Originally published in issue 15 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2010

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