FROM THE lo-fi, buzzy, pop-punk of the debut album, I Will Be, to five years later, the lush, sophisticated indie-rock/dream pop of their latest album Too True, the evolution of the Dum Dum Girls has been one of contemporary Indie rock’s most rewarding journies.
That development is not lost on singer/guitarist/songwriter Dee Dee Penny (aka Kristin Welchez), who not only formed the band, but who, in many respects, is the band.
“If you just listened to the first one and the new one they would seem like drastically different bands,” Dee Dee tells me, during our Wednesday evening interview, “but to me, it all makes sense. I Will Be was a collection of the first songs I ever wrote, they were of a more straight
forward type. All the records since have been a step along the way. They all seem related.”
Yet, Too True was a record that might never have been made. One of the Dum Dum Girls strongest suits is Dee Dee’s dark, sensual, croon, but a year of heavy touring ruined her voice, leaving her fearful it might never come back as strong.
“I had been struggling with it during the tour before we made Too True, but every night I just pushed it,” says Dee Dee. “When I was writing Too True, it wasn’t a big deal, I was just getting out ideas and would sing it out however, but when it came to recording for real, there was no way I could do it. I was only at 25 per cent at what I should have been. I couldn’t commit this to record, I would have rather put out the demos instead as they had more spirit.
“I went to an ear, nose, and throat doctor, through three months of not singing, and weekly sessions to rebuild the muscles I had got into a bad habit of not using. It was a really slow moving process. There were times I felt I wasn’t making a lot of progress, and that I was still not at 100 per cent. Then we did a series of shows at SXSW in Texas, it was about 13, 14 shows in a few days. That’s when singing started to feel effortless again. That was a big moment for me.”
That refusal to quit in the face of a crisis is something Dee Dee inherited from her mother, whose photograph adorns the Catholicked EP and I Will Be covers, and whom, after her death from cancer, Dee Dee both mourned and celebrated on the 2011 album, Only In Dreams.
“My mother was definitely one of my favourite people,” says Dee Dee. “I feel cheated that, as an adult we didn’t get as close as we should have, as that’s when you start to understand your parents, and there is no longer the parent-child gap of when you were younger.
“She was a very, very strong willed, wild person. She had that Irish/French thing going on. If anything, I take from her the inability to quit. Before I started Dum Dum Girls I was playing music for years and years and failing pretty epically. It’s under my skin now and I feel like I have a purpose.”
‘Are You Okay?’
Sometimes, the best song on an album is the one that almost did not make it (Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ and The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’ are possibly the best known examples). One of the highlights on Too True is ‘Are You Okay?’, which Dee Dee had originally written for Ronnie Spector, best known as leader of The Ronettes, who enjoyed huge hits in the 1960s with such classics as ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby, I Love You’.
“I met Ronnie a few years ago and we talked about potentially doing something,” says Dee Dee. “So I thought ‘I’ll write a song with her in mind’. I had her in mind as the chorus has a lot of that classic ‘Whoo-ooh-ooh’, sort of hiccup thing, with ‘Are you Ohh-K-aye?’.”
Then Dum Dum Girls’ producer Richard Gottehrer, whose CV includes Blondie and Richard Hell, heard it. “He loved the chorus,” says Dee Dee. “The words, ‘Are you OK’ are so mundane, we ask it 100 times a day, but for Richard it is something people can relate to and attach themselves to, and that’s a good sign. He immediately thought it was one of the better songs and wasn’t willing to let anyone else but me record it.”
That song also formed the basis of a short film, of the same title, scripted by Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho. How did he come to be involved?
“He and producer Braxton Pope had worked on the Linsay Lohan film The Canyons and used a song of mine on an unofficial trailer,” says Dee Dee. “When I found out, I had Sub-Pop reach out to them and see if they wanted to use any of my songs in the official film and they ended up using ‘Coming Down’ on the end credits.
“I met them and we started talking and the idea of something less standard than a music video, rather a short film that was a vehicle for a song. It was a really surreal experience to look at it and say ‘I am making a film Brett Easton Ellis wrote. I felt very honoured.”
The film, a dark, psychological drama, starred Dee Dee in the title role. “That was the secondary conviction that fuelled the idea,” she says. “I want to get into acting and this was the most comfortable first step.”
He Gets Me High
No sooner had Dee Dee made Too True, than word emerged that a new album was on the way - Initiation, a collaboration with her husband Brandon Welchez [a member of indie band Crocodiles] under the name Haunted Hearts. It will be released on May 26.
“Brandon and I have been together for a long time,” says Dee Dee. “It was natural to do this album, for no other reason than it’s what we love to do, and that we might be able to do shows together.”
Crocodiles will be supporting Dum Dum Girls on this tour, including the upcoming show at the Róisín Dubh. What is it like being on tour together?
“It’s really nice,” says Dee Dee. “Touring is what makes all this special, arriving in a different city each day, and interacting with strangers who like what you do and it’s often led to really interesting conversations. To share that with somebody is special and your bandmates are essentially family. There is a different approach to touring when Crocodiles are around. I don’t want to say I’m a stick in the mud but I keep things toned down, but when Brandon is around, it gets livelier!”
Dum Dum Girls play the Róisín Dubh on Friday May 9 at 8pm. Tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net, the Ticket Desk at OMG Zhivago, Shop Street, and The Róisín Dubh.