Dum Dum Girls front woman Dee Dee (real name: Kristin Gundred) admits she’s shy. It’s not hard to hear in her music—girl-group melodies shrouded in unfathomable noise, static battling a soft voice—but with the release of the band’s full-length debut, I Will Be, Dee Dee intends to take her obfuscated sound to a new place.
Formerly of the band Grand Ole Party, Dee Dee has played music her whole life, but she only began writing and recording songs in the past few years. She started Dum Dum Girls in 2008 as a solo project with little more than a MySpace page and a handful of scrappy demos to her name. (The band’s name is a tribute to both the Vaselines’ album, Dum-Dum and the Iggy Pop song “Dum Dum Boys.”)
“I didn’t really know what I was doing when I first started; it wasn’t a huge concern of mine whether or not the vocals and lyrics were understandable,” Dee Dee says. “Because I was so self-conscious about doing my own thing for the first time, I was literally hiding out a bit.”
Dee Dee’s first few recordings—a CDR followed by a 7-inch and a 12-inch EP—were solo affairs her friends helped with. She didn’t have a band, but those recordings had a din and ecstatic heat that occasionally threatened to overpower Dee Dee’s songs, which were lovelorn, melodic gems that echoed Siouxsie and the Banshees, folk godmothers such as Carole King, and the Jesus and Mary Chain in equal degrees.
So when it came time to make the inevitable full-length, she and her label, Sub Pop, decided to record the album using the same bedroom methods she had used in her previous work (with spots by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, Crocodiles’ Brandon Welchez and Los Angeles musician Andrew Miller), with the addition of a marquee-level punch-up in sound by producer Richard Gottehrer, whose credits include co-founding Sire Records; writing “My Boyfriend’s Back”; and producing credits for Blondie, the Go-Gos and the Raveonettes.
The result is a set that feels muscular and commanding, yet still very much grounded with an underlying vulnerability. Her songs tell of good girls spinning out of control, messing with drugs (“It just opens doors I never knew could be,” she sings in “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout”), rivals (“Lines Her Eyes” calls out a doppelganger, declaring, “My enemy wears her hair just like me, lines her eyes just like me”) and magnetic boys.
For the tour, a full band were employed, with members Jules (guitar), Bambi (bass) and Sandra Vu (drums) joining in 2009. “I am feeling more confident,” Dee Dee says, “and now that this is a real band with an album and tours, I want to get the songs out even farther.”
Her newfound confidence shows. In this year’s South By Southwest showcases, the Dum Dum Girls played flawlessly to packed crowds, nailing every sailing harmony and scaling back the band’s copious noise without sacrificing feeling. Above the roar, you could almost hear the sound of hardened industry vets’ shells cracking.
Onstage, the Dum Dums, gussied-up with black leather and bouffant hair, make you think of cool-girl predecessors like Barbarella, the Shangri-Las and Nancy Sinatra. But it’s also hard not to think of the current stable of noise-rockettes, such as Vivian Girls and Best Coast, who join the boys in such bands as Wavves, No Age and Abe Vigoda to make up indie rock’s lo-fi boom. Dee Dee isn’t interested in being merely associated with that particular scene, though (however much it may or may not exist), and even less interested in being lumped in with the generalizing girl-band tag.
“It’s so common for ‘critics’—I use the term loosely—to judge us in relation to the few other girl bands playing within the same general scene. Like there’s only room for one to be around, and the others are ‘unnecessary.’ Fuck you!” Dee Dee says. “Do bands with boys in them get judged in that context? Not a chance.”
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Dee Dee says she isn’t as concerned with being pigeonholed as a girl band as she is with the idea that an all-female band—her all-female band—is attacking melodic noise rock in a way that hasn’t been widely heard since the days of the Primitives and early PJ Harvey.
“I can only know what it feels like to finally be doing what I’ve wanted to do—and with my best friends at that,” she says. The experience, she adds, is “surreal and amazing.”
Dum Dum Girls perform with Crocodiles and DJ Rob Acosta at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Sat., 9 p.m. $10 in advance; $12 at the door. 21+.
This article appeared in print as "Playing Dum Dum: Dee Dee of the Dum Dum Girls overcomes shyness to deliver melodic noise rock."