“Bedroom Eyes” By Dum Dum Girls.
For somebody brought up in a house filled with the music of Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Phil Spector, the Brill Building sound, The Ronettes and The Supremes, and who then went on to discover Blondie, The Ramones, Lush, The Jesus And Mary Chain and The Raveonettes, Dum Dum Girls are a veritable gift from the musical gods!
Their debut album “I Will Be” was a raw, adrenaline fuelled white knuckle ride through heartbreak and B-movie cool combining Ronettes style harmonies with discordant Mary Chain guitars and garage punk. But whereas ‘I Will Be’ was essentially the one woman project of songwriter and front lady Dee Dee Penny (real name Kristen Gundred) ‘Only In Dreams’ sees Dum Dum Girls flourish into a formidable, fully formed, holistic musical entity. At the risk of being accused of indulging in hyperbole it’s my opinion that in any right thinking society this album should be regarded as a genuine slice of pop genius and as such ought to be mentioned in the same breath as canonised classics such as ‘Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes,’ Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines’ or The Ramones ‘Leave Home.’ With Richard Gottehrer and Raveonette, Sune Rose Wagner on production duties, the album demonstrates just what an amazingly gifted songwriter Dee Dee is. This is not empty vacuous, throw away pop, for the twist is that beneath the often blissful melodies you’ll discover dark lyrics full of poetic candour imbued with genuine emotional depth and intelligence that is both profoundly beautiful and extremely moving.
Dee Dee also comes into her own as a singer of some substance. This time around her vocals are not buried deep under a tsunami of reverb as she sings every note with a seemingly new found confidence and passion that is often reminiscent of a modern day Debbie Harry or Chrissie Hynde. Lyrically deep and melodically uplifting ‘Only In Dreams’ is a triumph for Dee Dee and her Dum Dum Girls and builds on the huge potential demonstrated on ‘I Will Be’. Essentially the album revisits the theme of separation from loved ones on a number of occasions, whether by circumstance, geography, or ultimately, death. It is an album that bears the stain of genuine sadness and packs a huge emotional punch, written as it was at a time when Dee Dee’s mother was terminally ill with cancer. Yet whilst the elegiac lyrics address these difficult issues with a graceful and touching eloquence, the melodies are joyous and life affirming. In essence this is music for life and for living, about dying and death.
There’s not a single track on ‘Only In Dreams’ that comes close to being labelled ‘filler fodder.’ From the sublime foot on accelerator adrenaline rush of opener ‘Always Looking’, the prefect melody of “Bedroom Eyes” the poetic rattling girl group fuzz pop genius of “Wasted Away” right through to the heartbreakingly gorgeous incredibly poignant album closer “Hold Your Hand,” each and every song is beautifully crafted, sincerly delivered and lovingly polished. And for an album that is lyrically centred on the brevity of life, loneliness, loss and separation it never wallows in self pity. Of course if you aren’t the sort to take meaning from music then I guess it can also be enjoyed as a straight up, cool as fuck, rollicking rock n’ roll pop monster too!
Although the album is a different musical beast to Sarabeth Tucek’s wonderful album ‘Get Well Soon’ (which also dealt with the death of a parent) ‘Only In Dreams’ also manages to transform the pain of loss into something life affirmingly beautiful that resonates with honesty, tenderness, heartbreak, frustration and love. It also showcases that Dum Dum Girls are a force to be reckoned with and that Dee Dee is a songwriter of honesty, integrity and depth. Quite simply a flawless album shot through with 24 carat pop gold. Buy it. Cherish it. Love it.
Rating a perfect- 10/10
We had a chat to Dee Dee about the emotions involved in writing the album, taking Dad on tour and the logistical planning that goes into balancing a rock n’roll lifestyle with domestic bliss.
VP: Firstly, Congratulations on the new album! It really did blow me away, definitely one of the best albums of this year, or indeed any year.
DEE DEE : Why thank you very much!
VP: Was it a difficult album to write, in terms of your personal life, what was going on with your Mum. Was it a cathartic kind of process?
DEE DEE : Yeah definitely, really it was the only therapeutic outlet I had. I really don’t think I could have written about anything else, it was either that or nothing; I just had to kind of run with it. It’s a weird thing really, but I didn’t feel I had much of a choice.
VP: In terms of the overall sound on the album, the ‘He Gets Me High’ Ep earlier in the year is an obvious sonic stepping stone between ‘I Will Be’ and ‘Only In Dreams.’. The album is also the first time you’ve recorded as a full band; did you find it difficult to relinquish control after doing almost everything yourself on the first album?
DEE DEE: Not really, I mean the EP was a necessary step forward and I want every release to reflect some kind of progress, I really felt it was the most appropriate time to do a full band record. Also because I feel so comfortable working with Richard (Gottehrer) and our engineer Alonso it was more of a relief to concentrate on the things I do best. For example I’m terrible at recording [laughs] and I don’t know a thing about mixing even though I find them really interesting and tried to do them on my first 7”’s and first record. But I’d much rather leave it to people for whom it’s their deal, so I get to do what I do. I think I also felt because we had been touring to such extremes and that we had become such a tight group that it was a natural step to take.
I guess the last thing I was holding on to, not in any sort of protective way or worrying it would go wrong, was the singing as I used to do everything. One of the first things we did when recording the album was record backup vocals on a song called ‘In My Head’ and the minute after Jules sang her bit and I heard it unmastered and unmixed I was like “Oh Wow! I obviously should have let this go earlier.” It added another dimension and different tones to the overall sound and if anything that’s who we are live and I wanted to capture that on the record.
VP: I’ve seen you live a couple of times now and each time there’s been a huge leap forward. Actually at the Deaf Institute in Manchester I was chatting to your Dad who you took on tour and promised a Dum Dum Girls leather jacket. He seemed to be having a great time; did he enjoy the whole tour?
DEE DEE : [Laughing] Yeah ! He totally loved it. It’s such a bizarre lifestyle and to hear about it is one thing but to see it first hand, especially for an older fellow is another. But truthfully he was probably in better shape than we were [laughs]. It was only maybe the last week when we had a couple of really long drives that he started getting like “Oh my God, this is awful,” but in general he really took advantage of the whole experience. It was fun and didn’t impede us in any way you might expect. And yes he got a leather jacket!
VP : On the first album you said Richard Gottehrer added some ‘gentle finessing’ to the overall sound, he produced the new album, alongside Sune Rose Wagner from the Ravonettes. How did Sune become involved?
DEE DEE : Well Sune did the earlier EP this year, kind of like testing the waters and we are both managed by Richard and Scott Cohen so we had met socially first. I’d also been a massive fan of Sunes for years. I remember when I was in school in Germany around 2002 and The Raveonettes first EP was out and I just fell in love with it! I hadn’t heard anybody do that sort of thing in quite a while and it was right up my alley, a nostalgic homage to beat America and I absolutely loved it ! So with the album I had a pretty defined idea of what I wanted in my head and Richard’s pretty much the same, but maybe in a more poppier way? So I thought it was important to have Sune on the other side, I like to refer to him as my expert in noise! He knows how to keep things dirty and dark, kinda evil and tough y’know ? I thought if I could toe the line somewhere in the middle we’d come up with an album that was beautiful in some parts and nasty in others, I felt like that kind of would be the perfect form.
VP : So since you started out has the way you approach song writing changed ? Do you sit down at a predetermined time or does intense touring mean you kind of write ‘on the go’ ?
DEE DEE : It’s not really changed that much, I mean maybe I’ll be out walking and I’ll get an idea for a chorus, you know, a phrase that sounds like it has potential. It may be something I’ve been thinking about for a while, unless it’s totally random like maybe a painting I’ve seen or been inspired by a book I’ve been reading. If it’s not something I’m able to work on at the time due to touring or other things I’ll make a note or a recording on my phone and then when I have more time I’ll take these snippets and flesh them out.
VP : On ‘Only In Dreams’ , knowing the background to writing it, the listener can understand where you’re coming from on certain songs, but one song, which is great but stood out for me as being a little different was ‘Just A Creep’ . What’s that song all about, or cant you say? 😉
DEE DEE : [Laughing] Aha! The wild card on the album! Yes, really it’s an example of coming up with a phrase which may have potential . . . and I’ve certainly known some creeps! I remember coming up with the song really clearly. At the time I was visiting my Dad one weekend and listening to my ‘Girls In The Garage’ compilations and a lot of Nancy Sinatra. I was on a kind of kitschy pop vibe and I wrote the bass line for ‘Creep.’ If anything, at that point in my life I was a little bit touchy maybe? I definitely wasn’t quite myself, [laughs] so I found myself over reacting to things, without really acting out on them. I think something relatively minor had happened and I felt irritated toward a person and that was kind of in my mind when I wrote the song, I suppose after the fact it was a kind of an absurd reaction. I guess you have to have a thick skin to do what we do and I don’t really have thick enough skin. If anything the song kind of acts as a reminder to me to disregard a lot of the hatred out there [laughs.] It has no substance and is not worth worrying about!
VP: You’ve also mentioned that you initially suffered from stage fright when you started out, has that gotten any easier?
DEE DEE : Yeah it’s totally manageable, in fact with this band I don’t even realise I have it. I’ve played solo shows recently which are much more terrifying! I mean I’m nervous before a show, but it’s more like nervous energy rather than anything debilitating. This is something I’ve always wanted to do but never thought I could as I was always so shy and self conscious. It literally took doing it just once and knowing what it felt like – y’know, the reward of being able to perform, even though at the time I was in a terrible Jefferson Airplane rip-off band [laughs]. I had to get really drunk to do it, but once I’d seen the other side, and experienced the potential for putting on a good show, well that kind of dwarfed anything else. And playing in this band now we feed off and support each other.
VP: Without prying, is it difficult balancing your band life and personal life with both you and your husband [Dee Dee is married to Crocodiles singer Brandon Welchez] touring your bands all over the world?
DEE DEE : Well it does take a lot of work, we are both aware of the fact that it’s not quite as simple as saying “ we should spend more time together.” In reality it means forcing our managers to have lunch [laughs] and figuring out when our records are coming out , when we’ll tour etc. It can take a lot of co-ordination, but it is do-able. This year he’s been in Berlin recording, I’ve been over here [in the UK] but we are touring together in October and he’s joining us in November. Then December will be our first real time together in our apartment in New York! The year is finishing better than it started!
We have friends who don’t do what we do they have wives /husbands/ boyfriends/ girlfriends and arrive home from work together. They aren’t really privy to what goes on when you’re in a band, I mean it’s not actually as glamorous as you might imagine. There is a lot of time spent bored and uncomfortable in a van ! [ laughs]
VP : Well Dee Dee, lovely to talk to you, I’m sure the album will do amazingly well and look forward to seeing you again soon on tour!
DEE DEE : You too, we’ll see you in Manchester soon !
Order the album here
- The VPME on BBC 6 Music. Take 2 with Dum Dum Girls (vonpipmusicalexpress.wordpress.com)
- The Jesus And Mary Chain Reissues Special Editions
- Song of the Day: Dum Dum Girls – Coming Down (kexp.org)
- Songs To Learn and Sing – Veronica Falls, Howling Bells, Zola Jesus and Dirtblonde (vonpipmusicalexpress.wordpress.com)
- Songs To Learn And Sing – Dum Dum Girls, The Big I Am, The Jezabels and Bombay Bicycle Club. (vonpipmusicalexpress.wordpress.com)
- mp3: Dum Dum Girls – “Coming Down” (gorillavsbear.net)
- Listen: Debut Single From Dum Dum Girls/Tamaryn Side Project Les Demoniaques (pitchfork.com)