Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Dum Dum Girls

Q&A: Dum Dum Girls

Dum Dum Girls, founded and fronted by Dee Dee Penny, is known for its goth noir brand of pop-rock. Signed to Sub Pop in 2009, the band released its third album in January. “Too True” is a hazy collection of tunes that lyrically toy with poetry and the bad girl archetype. One of the album’s singles, “Are You Okay”, was incorporated into a short film of the same name written by Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Brewer. Penny also runs a small record label, Zoo Music, with her husband Brandon Welchez.

Q: Sub Pop describes “Too True” as darker, more production-heavy and a departure from the heartache and lo-fi aesthetic of your past. Would you say that’s an accurate depiction of the album?

A: It’s been quite a few years since my first release so the progression happened naturally over time. Sometimes it’s hard for press to shed certain utopian descriptive terms. With this record, I tried to really re-establish the parameters.

Q: You’ve said that the music of Dum Dum Girls has a nighttime aesthetic. Does that affect your performances during the day at outdoor festivals?

A: I don’t think it’s as big a deal as it needs to be. It used to feel pretty wrong but a lot of that had to do with the level of confidence and experience. Before when we weren’t at a club at night, it didn’t work. Now we’re about a four-year-old band and we’re able to transition more fluidly. It’s still my preference to play once the sun has set.

Q: Tell me about the other band members and how they contribute to Dum Dum Girls.

A: At the root of things, it’s still very much a writing and recording project for me. I still tend to do all of that stuff and bring it to a group and translate it to a live set-up. The line-up that we have now has probably been the longest running. The guitarist, Jules, has been with me since the very beginning. I met her randomly through a friend, like a blind-date for a guitar player. She’s a firecracker.

Next came Sandy, the drummer. She’s been with us since the first record came out. I knew her peripherally because I’d seen her drum in her band Midnight Movies and she’s amazing. I basically stalked her on the Internet and she was into it. It was so nice to have a female drummer who could sing the parts to the songs.

Leah is our bassist and she has been with us since the “End of Days” EP. I’d seen her play without realizing it and she happened to share a practice space with our drummer. I did something really “rockstar”: I flew her to New York and we rehearsed. I guess that’s what you do but it seemed so adult. She fit in instantly. She’s a true bassist. The bassist we had before was very good as well, but she was a guitar player. There’s definitely a different approach and energy when you have someone who’s like, “That’s what I do: play bass.”

And then for “Too True” I brought on another guitar player, Andrew. He’s a really old friend of mine. He played in a bunch of bands and took about five years off of music and went back to school. I basically swooped in after he graduated and was like, “Hey, do you want to skip all of the bullshit of starting a band and just join us?” He had played on some Dum Dum Girls recordings at the beginning, so he’s an original member in that sense as well.

Q: You also have your own record label. What qualities do you look for in a band before signing them?

A: It’s definitely more of a labor of love than something that’s financially motivated, so it’s just music that we like that doesn’t have a home or friends that we want to help out. We’ve put out bands that don’t play shows and we’ve put out bands that tour 11 months out of the year. It’s up to us to figure out with them what they want to do and we try to provide the best support for that.

Q: You’ve said before that if you weren’t a musician, you would have studied library science. What is it about literature that fascinates you?

A: I was a big reader as a kid. I thought I was going to be a writer and go into editing. I studied literature and theory in college and it seemed like the next logical step. I come from a long line of readers but I don’t think I have the gene. It felt safer and more enjoyable to buffer myself with books.

Q: Do you ever experience writer’s block when working on songs?

A: It’s never really a thing where I’m sitting down with a blank page, trying to write. I usually have some kind of idea that I’m trying to expand on. I just go for it, and if it feels good, I keep doing it. If it seems like I’m forcing it, I leave it and come back to it later. There’s nothing more helpful than putting some space between you and your work if you need a different perspective.

Q: You did a short film with Bret Easton Ellis featuring your song “Are You Okay.” How did that come together?

A: It was a really long process, so it’s hard to bullet-point it. I had met Bret and the producer Braxton [Pope] in L.A. and they had used a song of mine in a film of theirs. I was blonde and I guess I was aesthetically reminding Bret of an older film called “Dressed to Kill.” I think he had a visual idea of referencing that in an unnamed project in the future. He ended up working with the directors and re-scripted things to be more of an homage. The basis was in this surreal, hazy, sexy ‘80s movie.

Q: How did filming it compare to doing a more traditional music video?

A: In the past, I’ve worked with one director for most of my videos and she works abstractly so we would talk about how I wanted it to look and she would come up with content. I’ve never wanted narrative videos, so it was interesting in that sense because there was a script [with the short film]. It was kind of cool, because I felt more like an actor than like I was running the show. My song was absorbed into this other thing, and not in a bad way.  

Originally published on in Oct. 2014.