Dum Dum Girls started as the bedroom recording project of vocalist and songwriter Dee Dee Penny (a.k.a. Kirsten Gundred). Their debut album I Will Be was a collection of great ‘60s-inspired, frenetic, noise rock-surf pop songs, but it was only with sophomore record Only in Dreams that they really started standing out from the garage bands of the last decade thanks to Dee Dee’s visceral songwriting and the excellent touch of legendary producers Richard Gottehrer (Blondie, The Strangeloves, The Go-Go’s) and The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

After releasing the brilliant End of Daze EP in September 2012, Dum Dum Girls are now back with Too True. Dee Dee was in London for promo and I spent most of the evening with her, talking about the upcoming album, the writing and recording process, her side projects and what really inspires her to make music. She is very friendly, chatty, honest and very willing to share her inner emotions as well as admit her weak points.

Writing songs is something that comes out pretty naturally for her. “I am usually pretty quick at writing” she explains. “I have the main idea which is the hook of the chorus and then I use the verse to expand on that concept”. But it’s also something she needs to do on her own: “Writing is a very personal thing for me and I found that I work best when I isolate myself”.

Dee Dee wrote the new album mainly in New York where she now lives: “Between tours I was in New York by myself as my husband (Brandon Welchez of Crocodiles) was on tour and I just sat down with the intention of writing the record, although I didn’t have any direction or anything specific. I would just wake up, get a lot of coffee, then get stoned, write and record the whole day into the night which is the way I had always done it. So I did that for about eight or nine days”. She then finished it in a rented Hollywood apartment in two separate sessions.

Too True was recorded in Hollywood Pet Sounds at East West Studios. The recording process is a more collaborative effort as Dee Dee has relied on the same production team and engineer (Alonzo Vargas) for almost everything she has done with Dum Dum Girls. “We are quite a family but there is still a lot of room for growth. Everybody brings their own ideas and pushes in different directions. I usually know what I want pretty clearly and they help me to get there in the best way”.

She seems to have a total admiration for the producers of her albums who have contributed to her work a lot but in different ways. Of Richard Gottehrer she says: “I was a huge fan of his work, so getting the opportunity to collaborate with him was very surreal. Not only he has written some classic songs that were my favourites growing up, but he has also produced some of my favourite records. And the more I find out about him, the crazier the fact that he’s a good friend is, as he has really seen the ins and the outs of the music industry since the 60’s. The most inspiring thing about Richard is not at all music related, but it’s that he never becomes jaded. I don’t think I have ever met a person in the music industry that hasn’t been at one point pretty burnt out. He has just had this career that has probably been half luck, half talent and just the right attitude to survive it”. Gottehrer’s production style is pretty light-handed and enthusiastic: “I come in with fairly finished ideas and he would jump on a song all excited, suggesting I should do this or that. He’s very cute and enthusiastic. I am pretty sure it has been his style forever as I read interviews with other bands he worked with, like Blondie or The Go-Go’s, and they all talked the same way about him that I do”.

Sune Rose Wagner came on board a bit later, but has been a precious collaborator since the He Gets Me High EP. “It’s really natural between us,” Penny explains. “I don’t know why, as I am kind of a weirdo and it’s not my comfort zone to work collaboratively but somehow it has worked out. He’s a little more straightforward. Maybe it has to do with him being Danish. For instance I had three songs that I still had to finish for potential B-sides but he didn’t like them, and he was right. Sune is incredibly talented and a multi-instrumentalist”. The Raveonettes’ frontman has contributed to this record more than any other before: “If I have an idea that I can’t execute myself I just can tell him and without much direction he will nail it, which he did probably on this record more than he had ever done before. Too True is more textured and I just couldn’t do that at all, as it’s a conceptual thing, I knew what I wanted the songs to sound like, but I wanted to have an element, like a third guitar, that I wasn’t able to represent. So we talked about it and I just gave him a few references. He is just very in tune with what I like to do, so it’s easy for him to help me”.

Rose Wagner also played on Too True, but not on its predecessor which is the only album to date with the full band participating to the recording. “Only in Dreams was an album that I thought was necessary to do as a band, because I recorded I Will Be by myself in my bedroom and it really sounded as a bedroom album. Then we formed the band, we learnt the songs, we went on tour and there was a discrepancy between the way the album was recorded, sort of lo-fi, versus a live band. And even though as a band we got better over the years, it sounded different than on the record, so I wanted to put out a version of Dum Dum Girls that was representative of what we sounded like as a band. That’s also the template I used for the rest of the records as, though I went back doing them on my own, I want to be a proper band and sound like that on the record and live”.

The relationship with long-time label Sub Pop also seems very important for Dee Dee. For instance for the first single of the new album she let them pick: “They pushed for “Lost Boys and Girls Club” which originally wasn’t my intention. I think it’s a great song, I think there is a lot of attitude, it’s slower than the stuff I usually do and it has this big guitar riff. But I trusted that their choice was appropriate”.

I am intrigued by the meaning of the song. She tells me that “it’s not a motto or anything for my generation, but for me it had to do with a personal revelation, as most of my life I was very straightforward thinking and I had goals, but since I shifted my focus to do music my life got a lot more bohemian and I struggled with that for a while”. But then she laughs: “One day I realised that’s the way I need to be and that’s how I have learnt where my growth comes from, making a lot of mistakes and not knowing necessarily what I am doing, but experiencing lots of enriching moments along the way while being a bit lost. I think that’s probably something a lot of people identify with”.

She also seems pretty pleased with the video of “Lost Boys and Girls Club”, which was directed by Cody Critcheloe, a well known director in the underground scene of New York, the Midwest and California. Of him she says: “He has his own visual style and this video is probably his most ambitious to date but a perfect example of his style, very pop and shiny”. They shot in Kansas City, where Critcheloe is from, because they could stretch the budget so much further than in New York. “And he had these 20 teenagers he recruited that were all fun to be around” she continues.“ I don’t think I have ever been on any video shoot or anything band related that wasn’t overly stressful…everything was mapped out to the minute, which was interesting, as I didn’t have a concept of what the video was going to look like because I only knew the little parts I performed. For the most part I think our fans enjoyed it ”.

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