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.

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