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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Bastille

Q&A: Bastille

You’ve likely found yourself humming along to a Bastille song whether or not you realize it. The “apocalyptic pop” group cemented their place in the music scene with their single “Pompeii”, an earworm that garnered the band over half a million downloads and 36 millions views of the music video.

Lyrically obsessed with destruction, the British foursome—who sounds like the sonic lovechild of Coldplay and Mumford & Sons—emerged in 2012 with “Other People’s Heartache”, a two-part mixtape. The band’s EP “Haunt” brought their tunes stateside a year later, and Bastille’s debut full-length, “Bad Blood”, made them chart-toppers. Dan Smith (songwriting/vocals), Will Farquarson (bass), Kyle Simmons (keyboard), and Chris “Woody” Wood (drums), have been touring at a dizzying pace ever since.

Simmons spoke to in anticipation of the band’s return to the Twin Cities.

Q: How did Bastille originally come together?

A: Dan was doing some solo stuff and then he met Woody and Will. He decided he wanted to change it up a bit and make a band. He wrote a bunch of new songs and got me on board. We have mutual friends and he kept bugging me “Hey come to rehearsal.” I went down and that was when Bastille formed. 2010 I think it was.

Q: In other interviews, one of the band members inevitably says that you guys never meant to be big. Did you really not have high hopes for success when you started?

A: It wasn’t that we didn’t have any faith in what we were doing; it was just that we just never saw it getting to this scale. Our heads hadn’t run away with it. We were living our normal lives. We know how hard it can be in the music industry and we were prepared for that. Within a year or two of playing together, it went a bit crazy and we were all surprised.

Q: Your next album is rumored to be more guitar-based. Why did Bastille want to go in that direction?

A: It’s not “guitar-based” but there is going to be guitar. Most bands have guitar on every song anyway. It’s normal. On the first album, we didn’t have any guitar at all. Now we’ve started using guitars and experimenting with different styles like heavy rock and R&B. I’m actually at the studio now. You caught me mid-album-two.

Q: During your time in the band, what has been a moment or an experience that stands out in your memory?

A: We’re lucky to be in the position that we’ve been able to take part in some amazing stuff, like Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen. I remember the time we had our first 1,000 likes on Facebook. It was amazing. A thousand people is a lot of people. Then we got bigger, but it’s hard to comprehend 50,000 or 60,000 because the number’s so big. It can’t have less meaning, but the difference between 80,000 and 90,000 isn’t that great. The difference between 0 and 1,000 is massive.

Q: What has dealing with the attention from all those fans been like?

A: It’s difficult. It’s nice that people care enough to come out to gigs and want pictures and stuff. We get a lot of presents, which is amazing. It’s weird having a connection with people we haven’t met. They kind of know who we are through our videos and tours. It’s daunting. If I’m on a night out with friends who aren’t in Bastille, and someone comes up to me, like, “Are you in Bastille? Can I get a picture?” it’s super weird. It penetrates my life outside of the band.

Q: Do you still have a private life?

A: I don’t have much of a private life because the band takes up all of my time. I do have some time to just hang out with my friends. This week-and-a-half we’re in the studio recording, it’s in London, so every night we get to go home and see friends and girlfriends and go out and do normal stuff, which is amazing because we haven’t had time for dinner in a while.

Q: You’ve done a lot of interviews with the press. What questions are you tired of answering?

A: We get a lot of questions about Dan’s hair or my mustache. You just kind of get used to interviews and you have to be prepared to answer anything. I guess just Dan’s hair, he gets a lot, like, “How do you make it to stand up like that?” He’s like, “Well, just dry it with a towel and put stuff in it.” It’s crazy.

Originally published on in Oct. 2014.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Erica Rivera Highlights Coffee Shop Meeting Spaces

Erica Rivera compiled a list of local coffee shops that offer meeting space for Minnesota Meetings + Events magazine. Find out where to caffeinate your next get-together in the Fall 2014 issue or online here.