Dum Dum Girls Dee Dee Penny: I was a pretentious 15-year-old writing poetry
Dum Dum Girls are often recognized for their distinctive aesthetic, but are seldom lauded enough for the grit and professional resilience of songwriter and frontwoman Dee Dee Penny. Surviving intense personal tragedies as well as potentially career-ending battle with vocal trauma, the group's mastermind has emerged after a two-year break with her best suite of songs yet, entitled Too True.
Gimme Noise caught up with Dee Dee before the start of the Dum Dum's current tour to discuss her work with legendary producer Richard Gottehrer and Sune Rose Wagner of the Ravonettes, as well as her background in poetry and that brand new album.
Gimme Noise: Dum Dum Girls started as a bedroom project for you and eventually blossomed into a full band sound for your last two releases. Why return to that approach for Too True?
Dee Dee: Well, I actually did End of Daze on my own, as well as He Gets Me High. Only in Dreams was actually the atypical approach for me. At the time, I felt like it was really significant for the next output of recorded material to reflect the fact that we had graduated from a bedroom recording project to a pretty serious one, at least in terms of commitment and the amount of work in the actual band, we'd been on tour for more than a year at that point, and I felt like that needed to be represented. I felt like it was appropriate for that selection of songs.
But I've always worked pretty individually. Even with that record I wrote everything, and demoed everything and then we got together and the band learned the songs. I think it's just the way that I started, and the way that I've come to realize that I prefer to work. I don't know if when I started I anticipated keeping it pretty separate but it's how I'm wired, I think, with this band in particular. I have a lot of fully formed ideas so I like to keep the kitchen pretty empty.
That being said, you've stuck with some of your consistent collaborators, namely Sune Rose Wagner and Richard Gottehrer, that have been with you on most, if not all of your releases. Why has that partnership been so fruitful?
With I Will Be, I had literally recorded everything myself and wanted that initial release to be a progression from the 7-inches and EPs that I had put out, so that's why I brought Richard Gottehrer into the picture. He served as...sort of a mentor and did some post production work, helped oversee mixing, raised the fidelity up a bit from where it would have been had I just put out my recording. That was such a comfortable fit for me, again, being so personal and private about what I'm recording, that if I were to work with somebody, that it felt really natural and really comfortable.
He brought Sune into the picture on the next release, which was He Gets Me High and this was not just because he though Sune would have a good input, but [Richard] knew I was a fan and I think he regards us similarly in terms of how we do music. Sune is also a multi-instrumentalist, so anything that I captured at my ability that was capping-out at a certain point, he is capable of helping me make it a little better. So that's been something that we have done every record that he's been on.
I write and demo very thoroughly, and I'll send them the demos. We'll have already begun talking about influences and usually they have suggestions for minor arrangement ideas or comments. Then we go into the studio with the demos and put them into whatever board we're working on, and then work off of them. So we'll listen to the bassline, for instance, and if that's not a good take, we'll overdub it. There's some pieces of all the demos that we keep on the record, just because there's something interesting and special about those more accidental sounds that you couldn't capture if you tried. It's a layering process I would say.
On this record, especially, it sounds like that demo material may have been really vital for you. Too True had to be split into two sessions because of your battle with a severe voice condition, correct?
Yeah, when I went in to record the album in L.A. it was an interesting record, it was basically a high-fidelity instrumental record with low-fidelity demo vocals. Over the next six months as my voice improved, I slowly started overdubbing the vocals in my studio apartment. But I did keep at least one song because there was something about the energy captured on the demo that I knew I was not going to be able to nail, and that was "Rimbaud Eyes."
The only reason I ask is because your voice has been sounding stronger than ever on this record, and you really seem to have made a real push over the last few years to have your voice take the leading role as your main instrument, away from the guitar
Oh definitely, I think it was about time. I've always been heading in that direction and I think these songs just lent themselves to making sure that was the focus. I definitely struggled a lot, the vocal problems came from touring and strain, so by the time I recorded the Too True vocals my voice was in a much better place. I've really made an effort to maintain my vocal health, and hopefully this round of touring I can go back to having a strong and infallible voice like I used to. [laughs]