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Dum Dum Girls - Dee Dee on The New Album and Living an Introspective Life

New Beginnings

Apr 02, 2014 Web Exclusive
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Dum Dum Girls’ third full-length album, Too True, represents a new chapter in the musical life of frontwoman Dee Dee (who used to go by Dee Dee Penny, but now prefers no surname). After the tragic death of her mother, which informed 2011’s Only In Dreams, Dee Dee slowly started to exorcise her pain and hurt. The band’s subsequent End of Daze EP found her starting to turn the corner, and Too True finds her in a new space, both emotionally and, to some degree, musically as well. With Too True, Dee Dee further explores the atmospheric, ethereal textures that often filled End of Daze, and in this way the album is something of an antithesis to the punky girl-group bliss of the band’s earlier work. Dee Dee spoke to Under the Radar about the genesis of Too True and the process of moving on.

Frank Valish (Under the Radar): I love the new album. It has a very atmospheric quality to it, more so than your other albums. Was that inspired by anything specific?

Dee Dee: The first record was pretty straightforward. I recorded it myself. It’s drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. That’s where I was, not just as a songwriter, but skill-wise in terms of recording myself. The next record was when I started working with Sune [Rose Wagner] from The Raveonettes and Richard [Gottehrer] a little more seriously, instead of recording into a 4-track or my GarageBand. With End of Daze, that was when I started bringing in the more textural guitar stuff. Aside from maybe the faster songs, “I Got Nothing” and “Season in Hell,” that record is pretty ethereal in terms of the guitar style. On this record, I wanted to expand on that, put it back into a bigger rock-and-roll/pop structure, less ethereal in song style but still maintaining a lot of that textural guitar. Because that’s a relatively new thing to put into my songs, and that was very intentional on this record. I wanted to have a third guitar providing that sound.

You had to abandon the first sessions for this album in L.A. How long did you try to make it work before you decided your voice had had it?

That’s not totally accurate. Let’s see if I can try and explain it better. Despite having vocal difficulties, I demoed everything in my house in New York, vocals included, took that to L.A. a few months later, and worked off of those demos to rerecord the songs instrumentally. I put off singing vocals so that it wasn’t going to be a completely stressful week, so that we could have the fun and the motivation that comes when you start on a new project. I just basically ignored the fact that they were going to be difficult to do. And then when the day came, where we had already recorded everything and it was time to do the vocals, I picked what I thought was the easiest song to sing and I sang three notes and was just like, I can’t do this. This is not going to work. So that sucked. When I left, without the finished record, what I had was an instrumental finished studio record and demo vocals. So I gave my voice a few months’ break and then started rehabilitating it, and I very slowly started to rerecord certain bits of songs over the couple months. I removed the stress of being in a studio and having someone interjecting and suggesting things, and I got it set up in my apartment so I could do it myself. Because it was a really frustrating and depressing and stressful scenario, I wanted to make it as pleasant as possible, despite it being shitty. So it wasn’t that I abandoned those recordings, but that I had to abandon the idea of doing vocals in the studio at the time the music was recorded. And then later, over probably five to six months, I slowly rerecorded some vocals and then also for a couple of songs, maybe just one song, I decided that there was something about the spirit that the demo captured that was worth keeping because there was no way I was ever going to nail it in the same wayeven if I sang it better on a technical level, it wouldn’t have had the same energy. So I left one song as the demo.

Which song?

“Rimbaud Eyes.”

I had the impression from reading the bio that the songs changed.

A few of them did, specifically the first single [“Lost Boys and Girls Club”]. When I wrote that song, it was almost like amusing to me, how it turned out. There’s kind of a swagger to it. The guitar line is pretty big and forefront and dictates the vocal melody. And basically when I was writing the words that went along with it, I decided I totally missed the mark and the topic of the song, I decided, was bullshit, and I didn’t like what I was singing about at all. I felt like the song was on one page and lyrically it was on a much worse page. In that sense, having to take all that time between doing the instrumentals and doing the vocals was a blessing, because I had the time to reevaluate it and completely scrap what I had done and rewrite it and come up with something that I thought was appropriate for the song. I wasn’t intending to write something anthemic, not that I think I have, but it’s kind of an intriguing concept that people seem to have enjoyed or at least told me through social media that they would like to join a lost boys and girls club.

So you kept the song and changed the lyrics?

I also changed the melodies. The original version was just undeveloped lyrically and vocally. The guitar riff dictated the vocal melody, which it still does in the chorus of the song, but originally the verse melody was fairly similar and so was the pre-chorus melody, and I thought I needed to differentiate between those parts, because the riff is so big, if it’s the only melody that happens in the song, I think it’s going to get old.

How did the lyrical theme change?

It changed completely. I don’t want to say it was filler, but I must have been pissed off at somebody, because I think the chorus was like, “This song is about you.” It wasn’t anything that I thought was worth putting on a record. I generally don’t like to be super-negative, especially if it’s not well articulated, and that’s kind of what it was. At some point, I thought of that phrase [“lost boys and girls club”], and kind of just went off that. I think at that time I had gone back and looked over a lot of the songs and seen, maybe, or gotten a general vibe, that maybe I wasn’t totally conscious of when I was writing it. A lot of times I subconsciously write songs that are related and I’m not thinking about how they tie into a larger thing until after the fact when I go back and have a more objective view, so I think it was helpful to me to identify with what I thought the record was kind of about, which I won’t tell you. But yeah, I was just very lucky that I had that extra time to put into that song.

Did you keep the lion’s share of the instrumentation that was done in L.A.?

Yeah. The instrumentation of the record was done completely in L.A.

Can you tell me a bit about your writing of “Season in Hell?” It seems to me that that song was a turning point for you from what you were going through at the time of Only in Dreams, with your mother’s passing, to what we have with this new album.

Definitely. That’s where I lifted the title from the record End of Daze. And that’s exactly what that was. It was sort of the sonic end point of a very strange part of my life. And I think that, with this record, when I started writing, I finally didn’t feel overwhelmed by that part of my life. I didn’t have to write songs about that any more. End of Daze was literally the end of one chapter and I was able to start with a fresh slate.

Was that something that came naturally with time passing since your mother’s death or was it something you had to force yourself to do?

I think a little of both. Definitely the passage of time played a role in being able to move on. But there was a lot of having to consciously decide to do so as well. You can get stuck in a funk pretty easily and you have to sort of force yourself out of it. I had to reevaluate what had happened, the fallout of what can happen when you’re that upset and consumed by something, and you have to decide to move forward. It doesn’t really just happen naturally, completely, I don’t think.

So you decided to write differently as well, in those beginning stages?

I don’t think I decided to, no. I think End of Daze really captures that. It just kind of worked itself out through the songs, and by the time that record was done and we had toured that record, I think it had worked itself out in my head as well.

Was it a difficult record to tour?

Definitely, but at the same time there’s also an element of performance that for me is a bit objective. It’s a weird thing. It’s not that I’m in some sort of character role but there’s something about just performing for other people that even if what I’m performing is incredibly personal and I’m very much present in the moment, there’s just a different twist to it, because there’s this element of performance. So it’s sort of a protection, a little bit, I think.

You say in the new bio that you’ve always led an introspective life. How does this coexist with what seems like perhaps the most extroverted of professions? How do you reconcile the two? Does it make the promotional machine (interviews, touring, etc.) difficult or trying?

It does to some degree. I think I’ve gotten better at it. I guess at some point I realized the value of explaining yourself versus somebody explaining you incorrectly, so I guess that would be why I don’t completely write off having to talk about what I’m doing when I’d rather have it just speak for itself. I’ve always wanted to do this, despite the fact that I was incredibly shy and had such terrible stage fright as a teenager and when I started playing music that physically it would affect how I was able to sing. But at some point it just kind of flipped, and the anxiety started being a positive thing, or at least I was able to turn it into something, to channel it into something. And there’s something to be said for being totally different when you get onstage. I get to be that other side of me that doesn’t really exist anywhere else.

Are you excited at prospect of touring this record under different circumstances?

I’m super-excited. If anything, it’s been really bizarre to be forced to take off so much time. I don’t think I’ve ever taken that much time off from anything I’ve ever done in my life. So that was a pretty weird, difficult transition. Not just for me but for my bandmates. This is our livelihood and all of a sudden it was like, “Well, I’ll see you in a year when I’m all better.” But I’m really excited. The new stuff is always the most fun to play and it’s also the scariest to play but there’s something rewarding about that. Having a challenge like that is what makes it interesting. Playing the same set over and over can get monotonous, even it it’s with the best intentions.

[Pick up Under the Radar’s February/March 2014 print and digital issue for a separate article on Dum Dum Girls’ new album. This is the full transcript of that interview.]



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I love it whenever people come together and share opinions.
Great blog, continue the good work!