Thursday, 28 October 2010

A Gang of Four: Dum Dum Girls and the Lo-Fi Invasion

Dum Dum Girls are a four piece garage rock outfit from L.A. Their debut 'I Will Be' is indebted to feral rock bands like Iggy Pop & The Stooges and Jesus & The Mary Chain, but also the classic pop of 60's girl bands like The Ronettes. Blending these together the band create a sound which is much more than mere pastiche. Dee Dee, lead singer and songwriter, spoke to me about writing pop music in the 21st century and the lo-fi scene before their support slot for MGMT at Manchester Apollo.

You get a lot of praise for the mix of scuzzy guitars and strong melody in your songs – as a songwriter do you see yourself as primarilly writing pop songs with an edge, or garage rock songs with a hook?

Pop songs with the darker edge definitely. I write everything with an acoustic guitar and the melody comes first. It was a decision I made when I finally made enough songs to warrant recording them that I was like OK, this could sound like the Mama’s and Papa’s or it could sound like what I want to do now, which was something loud (laughs).

Do you think people are too dismissive of pop nowadays, in terms of the old-fashioned 3 minute pop songs that you grew up listening to? Is there a place in music now for bands trying to recreate those kind of songs?

I think we have a comfortable spot within a small scene that is very appreciative and enthusiastic about what we do. I always go back to the classic songs, like today we were listening to Tom Petty’s greatest hits and his songs are perfect pop songs. So I’m coming from that school of thought in terms of writing. He was hugely successful and massively popular so I think there’s still a big part of music that is based on the principles of a good pop song. But I’m never going to have a pop song that’s as insanely produced as someone like Lady Gaga.

The lo-fi sound is getting a lot of press on the web at the moment, are you wary of the pitfalls that exist for bands who get labeled in with a certain scene? 

I don’t want to be connected to a scene in the sense that it’s a finite sound that’s going to go out of favour, if it hasn’t already. For me I could never turn my back on the kids and the labels that were the first ones to hear me and who put out the 7” and the EPs, which were super noisy- partially intentional and partially because of my limited recording capabilities.

How did your sound change from your early demos to the songs on the album?

My concern when I recorded the first album was that I had all these demos that I’d done myself and I didn’t want to take too big a leap, I mean, switching from Captured Tracks (Brooklyn-based indie label) to Sub-Pop is almost offensive to some people (laughs). So what I decided was appropriate was to bring in a producer for some mixing and post-production help. I recently recorded an EP which is supposed to come out in the spring and that was yet another step forward. I’m hoping that I can carry those original supporters with me; we’ll have to see.

Your synchronized wardrobe echoes bands like The Ramones, giving a kind of gang look, as a band how much do you feel like a gang?

Completely. If anything it works as a self-confidence booster. That was something that I wanted. It’s definitely a weird thing to go up there and share something that I started just as a personal home recording project. So when we took it to this band level I wanted to have a unified look, not only to show to the people watching but to feel like we were a team.

The band name is a Vaselines and Iggy Pop reference, but is it also a statement about how you think women in bands tend to get portrayed in the music media, literally as dumb girls with nothing to say?

The name Dum Dum Girls is in no way serious- it’s sarcastic if anything. These are three of the smartest girls I know. I don’t know if the band name has helped or hurt us, but I’ve played and toured for many years prior to this band and I’ve definitely had the experience of being treated differently than to my male band mates. It is pretty strange to know that there’s a difference- like my sound guy, I have to ask him to ask for things which we need because we won’t get them. It’s most likely unintentional but it’s definitely weird. 

How important is it to you that Dum Dum Girls remain an all-female band?

It was intentional to have the band be all women, because I wanted to experience what it was like playing with women and because I was so extremely inspired by-all female bands. It was strange to learn about a songwriter like Ellie Grenich who was one of only a few female songwriters at a time when there were all these male songwriters and producers that were putting these girl-groups together. So it’s always been an interest of mine to have complete control and have nobody else telling us what to do. It’s really strange because we instantly get pitted against other girl-bands, it’s like “Dude we’re all friends”- you’d never compare MGMT and a band just because they were guys.

You channel a lot of bands from the past, but add your own original slant. How important do you think it is for a band to acknowledge their influences yet still be able to create something fresh and new?

I think it’s silly if bands don’t acknowledge their influences and it’s almost smarter to acknowledge them because people will always draw their own comparisons which won’t necessarily be true. I have no desire to be a retro or a throwback band and so I’m hypersensitive to that criticism. I just want to continue a tradition of rock ‘n’ roll that has been updated since its inception.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Ladycop + Cats & Cats & Cats at Fishtank, Durham 10.10.10

With a guitarist who plays like Johnny Greenwood and a vocalist who sings in a high-pitched wail very close to Thom Yorke’s, NYC’s Ladycop owe a hell of a lot to a certain Oxford five piece. It’s because of this unoriginality in their sound that makes listening to Ladycop at times akin to being in a 90’s alt-rock time-warp. Whether it’s the R.E.M style melodies or the fact many of the songs seem to be trying to recreate Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘1979’, you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve heard it all before.

Granted, they are a decent live band and songs like ‘Julien’ or ‘I Felt Just Like Anybody Else’ are far more aggressive and structurally interesting than most of those on, say, Radiohead’s debut. But Radiohead went on to perfect that sound with ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’, leaving Ladycop not much else to improve on. And even when Ladycop incorporate some electronic bleeps into their atmospheric but emotional alt-rock, like on ‘Idea Maker’, they still end up imitating Radiohead. Except new Radiohead.

Dressed in garments even Noel Edmonds would turn his nose up at and with a lead singer wearing what appears to be a tea cosy, it’s safe to say Cats & Cats & Cats don’t take themselves too seriously. The band begin with bursts of power chords and intense drumming, the kind of noise that makes a band look better than they sound. Generally there’s a section in each song where they show how fast they can play a chord and then stop playing it, which gets tedious. When the lead vocalist shouts “I’m not a singer” in one of the songs, you have to agree with him.

However the obvious folk influence runs through some of their songs adds an interesting slant to their otherwise standard emo-tinged rock. ‘A Boy Called Haunts’ has a grandiose sweeping (albeit pre-recorded) violin with a melody that gives some individuality to the song. But the band tends to rely too much on their, admittedly, sharp sense of rhythm and this isn’t enough to give the songs any sort of lasting impression. These Cats may end up in a pillowcase at the bottom of a canal before not too long.

(P.S Don’t let this put you off going out to see bands in Durham- a lot of people loved the gig and there’s some good bands around here at the moment)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"The thing I like about being in a band is that you get to indulge your silliest whims"

Islet are a four piece from Cardiff who have so far released two mini-albums, ‘Celebrate This Place’ and ‘Wiggy’. They sound like a post-rock version of Stomp conducted by Mark E. Smith, with a spirit of experimentalism and daring about them that is genuinely exciting. I spoke to band members JT and Alex before their gig at Nation Of Shopkeepers, Leeds, about why they aren’t a ‘supergroup’, the boredom of touring and their refusal to get a myspace.

The website two of your fans created for you after finding out you didn’t have a website has expired and is now advertising erectile dysfunction remedies and breast implant surgery- does this mean you’re finally going to get a myspace?

Alex: No way, is it really? Haha,  well we’ve got our own website now,
JT: Presumably their subscription ran out….

Are you gonna give them a bit of dosh to help it out?

Both: No way (laughs)

Have you ever met the guys that set it up?

Alex: We played this show in Swansea and it was really nice, they came up to us after this gig and were like, Oh how do we get in contact with you? And we said, well at the minute we haven’t got many things, we’ve got an email but that’s about it. And they said what, you don’t have a website? So they made one then and there in the venue. Within an hour they showed us and we were like, oh thanks. They asked if we wanted to run it but we were like, if we wanted to do it we’d do it ourselves, kind of thing, if you wanna keep it as a fansite though then that’s cool.

JT: We really appreciated it though.

Do you genuinely think it’s a more effective way of getting yourself heard to not have a myspace? I suppose people probably feel more of a connection to something they’ve come across by chance rather than getting told by someone or reading something.

Alex: Absolutely. The crux of it is that we want to get more of a word of mouth following. Sure you’re more likely to come across a band on myspace, but then again if a friend comes up to and says ‘I saw a band and they were well good’, you’re gonna remember that and maybe think about going to see them. It makes it more of a real experience. We’re trying to keep things in a more real space where people get an actual emotional response. It’s pretty difficult in a live gig not to feel something, whether it’s something negative or positive. It’s a reaction. I think it’s a problem nowadays that we get to react to stuff in our own time. I think it’s good when someone shoves something in your face and says, ‘what are you gonna do?’ If not having a myspace can make a couple of people feel that spark and go to a gig and think, ‘God, I had no idea about this’ then it’s worth it.
JT: With myspace, it’s all the same format.
Alex: It’s so easy to have your own website and your own formats and stuff like that. We can stream the whole of the first record, if we want to.

You get described as a Cardiff supergroup. How do you feel about that?

JT: We stay away from the word ‘supergroup’. We’ve played in loads of bands and stuff…
Alex: It just seems like such an ironic turn of phrase, cos everyone’s played in different bands and stuff. I started in a band when I was 13 but that doesn’t get mentioned.
JT: Jimi Hendrix covers….

Your songs shift between quite a few different styles of music- does everyone in the band have similar music tastes?

Alex: It’s quite eclectic. We all have similar ideas about music and how it should be done, but everyone’s specific takes on music are different.
JT: It’s like a crossover
Alex: It’s good because it makes the creative process a lot more interesting. One of us will come up with something that you’d never even think of.

People seem excited by you because not only are you quite an elusive band but the stuff you are doing seems to be very different to most of the stuff that’s around at the moment.

Alex: The thing I like about being in a band is that you get to indulge your silliest whims. I’ve no idea what we’re doing differently from other bands really.

How are you finding touring? They say the drummer is always the craziest member of any band, and you all seem to be drummers and some point, so is it a crazy tour van?

JT: We’re not particularly crazy (laughs), we’re quite responsible really….
Alex: JT and Mark do all the driving so we’re a kind of self-contained Scooby-Doo outfit.

Is touring actually quite boring then?

JT: (laughs) Well, it’s a really exciting story, you get to a place and the soundchecks at 6… and we’re here at three so you park somewhere for two hours, then you’ve drive round and find somewhere else… You do have to think about it, especially since it’s just the four of us, we’ve all got joint responsibilities.
Alex: Technically it sounds boring…..
JT: It’s loads of fun though