When the Dum Dum Girls’ debut full-length, I Will Be, comes out next week on Sub Pop (and a limited vinyl run on Hozac), it will have been less than two years since Dee Dee (the innocuous sobriquet behind the then one–Dum Dum band) began innocently posting songs to her Myspace page. At the time, her intention was merely to share the recordings with her husband, Crocodiles’ Brandon Welchez, while he was away on tour. But before too long, Hozac’s Todd Novak and Blank Dogs’ Mike Sniper had caught wind of her beguiling mix of lo-fi fuzz and girl-group shimmer. Novak released her debut single, “Longhair,” while Sniper made a self-titled four-song EP the first release on his Captured Tracks label. (Sniper and Dee Dee have also since collaborated as the Mayfair Set, who recorded an EP together piecemeal over the internet.) The rest, as they say, is history, with the Dum Dum Girls signing to Sub Pop last summer.
Though some rudimentary Googling reveals that Dee Dee (nee Kristin Gundred) isn’t exactly a novice when it comes to making music—she previously sang and played drums in Grand Ole Party, a San Diego trio that, between 2006 and 2008, toured with Rilo Kiley and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, played Coachella, and released a full-length album—she barely acknowledges her past work. (When I mentioned her former band while interviewing her, she told me “I don’t like to talk about that.”)
Not that it matters. I Will Be is the kind of album that wipes the slate clean, even as it reprises several songs from previous records. As Dee Dee explains below, Richard Gotteher, a man whose credentials include writing “My Boyfriend’s Back,” cofounding Sire Records with Seymour Stein and producing records for Blondie and the Go-Gos, was brought on to work on the album, bathing her compositions in velvety reverb and echo. The result is the perfect combination of vintage fidelity and 21st century aesthetics.
I caught up with Dee Dee a few weeks ago while she and the band she assembled last fall—drummer Frankie Rose, guitarist Jules and bassist Bambi—were at JFK Airport to catch a flight to Europe.
The first thing I wanted to ask you about is working with Richard Gotteher. When I first heard that you were working with him, I envisioned you going into some sort of ’60s-style fancy studio, but I guess that wasn’t the case.
Dee Dee: Not for this record, no. I’m hoping for that on the next record. But this one was an atypical recording experience because everything that I had done up until the record had been self-recorded and obviously on the lower fidelity side of things. I intentionally wasn’t as noisy as some of the earlier stuff—the first 7-inch is so gnarly, though that was more incidental because of the equipment I was using. I definitely wanted to improve the sound quality for the record. I basically self-recorded everything over about eight months, and then I was trying to clean it up myself, though not extremely clean because I didn’t want to take a huge leap from what I had done which people were familiar with and liked to something completely different. Once I’d accumulated enough songs for the record, the label and I decided what we needed was somebody that could do a really great mixing job. So we fell onto Richard’s name almost jokingly and cold-called him, and he was interested. What we ended up doing was I’d send him my mixes of the songs that used my limited resources in terms of effects to use as guidelines, like the general sound with reverbed trebly guitars, kind of fuzzy bass, Motown reverby drums—everything that’s pretty obvious. I wanted an improvement, specifically with the vocals. I didn’t want them to be so muddy. I wanted them to still be very reverbed, but in a more audible and more palatable way so maybe my dad could understand the words. I gave my dad a copy of the EP, and he thought the needle on his record player was broken. So Richard ended up doing a post-production. I stripped each track of all effects and he redid everything using his effects and then mixed it with his assistant. If you were to listen to the “Yours Alone” mix on the 12-inch EP versus the “Yours Alone” mix on the record, it’s pretty strikingly different, although it’s still a small world.
On those songs that you repeated, did you do new recordings or did you send him the old ones?
DD: I did actually do a new recording of that song, and for the other songs, say if I had recorded something in February 2009, around August, I went back and fine-tuned everything and made sure there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be improved.
Do you think having Richard work on the record and make improvements to the sound will help the record be considered more legitimate?
DD: I don’t know, that wasn’t the intention on my part. It wasn’t like we got this guy involved because it would equal success. It was just an unbelievable opportunity to work with somebody who has such a respected past and is a legend in my world and a lot of other people’s worlds. I feel like he really did exactly what I needed him to do, which was focus a lot on the vocals...
I just meant in the sense that some people are dismissive of things when they’re not recorded properly, or what they consider properly.
DD: I think it will be a happy accident if it changes peoples’ minds.
I got the impression that you already had a full-length in the works with Hozac, so were you already planning on doing a full-length album this year or was that instigated by Sub Pop?
DD: It was not a very concrete thing. Hozac put out the first 7-inch in 2008, and posed the vague question like, “We might start doing full-lengths and it would be cool if we did one down the road.” And I was totally into that, because they were the first people to be supportive. Time passed and Sub Pop became interested and I was nowhere near done with any kind of record. I wasn’t working towards a deadline at that point. It didn’t seem like an option to put out a record with Hozac and then do another one—I wasn’t working that fast. So I connected the two together and said, “How about doing some kind of a joint release?” I didn’t want to leave Hozac in the lurch. but I also obviously had to take advantage of the craziness of Sub Pop. I’m really happy that it worked out.
Did you always envision the Dum Dum Girls becoming a band?
DD: No, no it was a rad name that came up in my house that I may or may not have stolen from my husband and reserved on Myspace. I get ideas for band names every so often, and they’re always so hard to think of that I probably reserved five names on Myspace for potential bands. It was really just a vehicle for me to record the songs I had been writing. Then somehow the Hozac people found it, and then Mike Sniper found it, and everything bloomed from there. When given the opportunity to put out a record, I really wanted to tour and finding a band became the obvious next step.
It seems like you attempted to maintain some kind of anonymity at the beginning. Was there any particular reason for that?
DD: I’m not very good at talking about myself or the music, but I’m definitely willing to try to talk about the music and not as willing to talk about myself. That’s always been the case, it’s just no one wanted to talk to me at the beginning. Maybe it seemed like I was shrouding myself in anonymity then, but it’s been pretty consistent.
Did it take you awhile to find the right people or did you already have people in mind?
DD: I had talked to Frankie Rose over the internet. I was a fan of hers when she was in Vivian Girls, and I knew she had started playing in Crystal Stilts. I think Mike Sniper gave her some music of mine and she wrote me and was like, “I think this is awesome!” I sent her a CD, and we became pen pals At some point I said, “If I do this, maybe you can play drums,” which she seemed to be into. Once it was decided that the drummer lives in Brooklyn and we were clearly not going to be a normal band, I asked my good friend (Bambi) who lives in Austin to play bass. Then I met Jules, the guitar player, through a mutual friend, and she lives in Southern California. She’s my newest friend in the group, but we totally hit it off and we hang out more regularly as we live on the same side of the country. It really came down to wanting women who are talented and who I can trust to work hard and be professional. But I also can’t be in a band with people I don’t like. Maintaining a positive, fun working relationship was really vital, so I was fine with the extra organization it takes to be a tri-coastal band.
Were there other reasons besides it making sense in terms of the name being Dum Dum Girls that you wanted it to be all women?
DD: I have always been inspired by female musicians and I’ve always been very aware of there being a different vibe when you see an all-female band. Whether it’s something other people notice or like or dislike, it’s always been something that I’ve been really attracted to and wanted to experience for myself but had never found enough people that could do it. It was definitely intentional and it’s really awesome. We’re like a girl gang. It’s a lot of fun and it’s also the easiest way for me to get the full sound that I want involving three- and four-part, female harmonies.
Dum Dum Girls started out as a solo endeavor, but there’s a duet on the album and you did the Mayfair Set record with Mike. Do you see it evolving it into a more collaborative thing and would you prefer that?
DD: I’m not sure. I really found the process of doing everything myself to be refreshing, and it was something I was really ready for at the time. I don’t know if I’ll feel the same by the time the next record rolls around, but definitely with this record I was happy to have it be my deal. I enlisted help from other people, namely Andrew Miller. He played a lot of lead guitar on the record. I’m not a great guitar player, and I wanted the record to sound more interesting than on the early releases with just rhythm guitar and extremely simple leads. I wanted to have more interesting guitar on this record, and I’m definitely aware that I need help in that area. I don’t know about the next record—we’ll see. I’ve already written a lot of songs that will at least be considered for the record. I do anticipate having a proper recording experience in a studio, and doing it all myself in a studio seems like it would make the whole thing take so long. I’m not sure, but I’m not opposed to anything.