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Dum Dum Girls Stay 'True'

Dee Dee Penny talks with us about recording the best Dum Dum Girls album yet



    It seems like we’ve said this before, but Dee Dee Penny of Dum Dum Girls just made the best record of her career. The January-released Too True once again teams her with vet producer Richard Gottehrer and Ravonettes’ mastermind Sune Rose Wagner, upping the production value like never before. Today, Noisey released a short film she did with Bret Easton Ellis (watch here), and tomorrow, she kicks off her international tour with a sold-out show at the Casbah. SoundDiego recently spoke with her as she walked around her New York apartment kitchen.

    Scott McDonald: Not counting the EPs, I’m finding it hard to believe that Too True is just the third record.
    Dee Dee Penny: Yeah. But I think the EPs are a pretty significant part in the process. Despite their length, or lack thereof, they’re definitely necessary to have a decent understanding of the band. Typically, I’m a one-record-a-year type of person, but there were a lot of setbacks with the completion of Too True. I had to take a lot of time off that I didn’t anticipate. For the general pace of my brain - and my drive to write and record – I’m a little behind schedule. But at the same time, I think this record needed a little extra. In the end, everything happened as it should have.
    SM: You’re working with Sune and Richard again and the collaboration has been so successful. Have you thought about what it will be like to work without them somewhere down the line?
    DDP: At this point, I feel very much a part of team in that sense. When Richard came on board with the first record, I Will Be, it was finished and I was looking for someone to mix it and do some post-production. I wanted to elevate it beyond the things I had put out just prior that were exclusively me, and therefore, extremely low fidelity. He is just a very encouraging person to work with. And he took a liking to me, and became invested in me, as an artist that he anticipated would grow. And when he brought Sune into the mix, a lot of that was because he thought we were similar in how we work. [laughs] Well, that, and he’s also a multi-instrumentalist prodigy. So having him around to help execute ideas that I have, but I’m maybe not capable of doing myself, has been a big plus. And at this point, I feel like whatever I brought to them - they would help me realize it. But it doesn’t feel constraining or lame like the way you might think working with a production team would because it’s not stylistically tied to anything on their end. It’s collaborative, but I have a pretty defined idea of the album going in, and together, we work to really hone it and articulate the songs. I think working with someone else could be really fun, but it would be if I was looking for something more collaborative than that. It would be me bringing a song to a producer and asking, "What would you do with it?" And that could be exciting. I have worked with another person on some Christmas songs that did not see the light of day this year – but hopefully will next. They do sound pretty different, so that was kind of a fun experiment.
    SM: Could that be as soon as the follow-up to Too True?
    DDP: For me, this record is a big thing. It’s probably my most cohesive, grand vision. There’s a lot going on production and instrumental-wise. So, of course, my knee-jerk reaction to what am I going to do next is, you know, something WAY bare. After a big, lush album this time around, I definitely think I’m going to take a step in a different direction because I’m not quite sure what the next step in this direction would be. For me, Too True sounds like what should naturally happen after End Of Days. But I can’t imagine the same trajectory for the next one. I’m most likely going to throw some kind of curve ball.
    SM: Something as curvy as going back to lo-fi?
    DDP: My whole goal, at this point, is the approach of “how can I serve this song best?” So how I record now is never going to be lo-fi. To me, that’s indicative of self-recording or lack of access to technological advances. The level we’re at production-wise is going to stay the same. How it’s arranged will be the difference. It’s not going to go back to me recording on my laptop, it’s going to go back to not having seven guitar tracks [laughs].
    SM: One thing that isn’t scaled back is the visual component. It seems bigger than ever on this record.
    DDP: Previous to Too True, the aesthetic component was something I obviously addressed, tried to enforce and make apparent. But it really wasn’t as conceptual as it was with this record. And that had to do with the realization of how much time I was going to have with the record due to the delays in its completion. It also had to do with the fact that sonically it really felt like shift and step forward to me. I wanted to take the time to really bring the aesthetic with the music. So I brought in my good friend Tamaryn as a creative director.
    SM: The singer/songwriter that has toured with you?
    DDP: Yes. I had her help devise the visual component for Too True. She helped organize the album art, the press photos, and some of the videos that have come out. She’s an artist in her own right, but it was cool to work with someone that is much more visually geared in that sense. It’s always been important to me. If you look from the beginning, there have been defined aesthetics. But it’s been really cool to work with someone whose visual vocabulary and references are so much denser than mine.
    SM: It’s seemed to elevate the band to a new level.
    DDP: I’m pretty concerned with forward movement. I would never be able to put out anything terribly reminiscent of the last thing because that’s boring to me. Not that I don’t enjoy bands that have an established thing that they do well and often. I love a ton of bands in that category. But the ones that really get me are the ones that haven’t been afraid to change a lot, whether it’s David Bowie or Madonna or Liars or Primal Scream.
    SM: Wow. If you’re using Primal Scream as the barometer, I’m really excited to see what’s next for Dum Dum Girls.
    DDP: [laughs] Yeah. We’re going to put out a really hard, house-based record next. [laughs]
    SM: Hey. I’d buy it. But until then, when are we going to get you and (husband) Brandon [Welchez of Crocodiles] together for more than one song?
    DDP: Actually, in May. He and I finally recorded a full album together as Haunted Hearts. And it will be out in the summer. We did a 7” last year which I loved. It was a lot of fun, but it very much sounds like our bands’ married. With the full-length we tried to avoid that. So it’s a very different sound and that’s exciting to me.
    SM: Thanks again and we’ll see you soon in San Diego.
    DDP: Awesome. Thank you. 

    Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com