Category: Dum Dum Girls

The emotional toughness of the Dum Dum Girls' 'Only in Dreams'

The Dum Dum Girls in 2011

When locals the Dum Dum Girls first announced that a new album would be revealed in 2011, it wasn’t teased so much as forebodingly promised. “It would be pretty impossible to not write songs about death and darkness and sadness,” lead Dum Dum Girl Dee Dee said in an interview in February. 

Four months earlier her mother had succumbed to brain cancer, the diagnosis of which had put a shroud over the Dum Dum Girls’ first year as a touring unit for Seattle indie label Sub Pop. Yet “Only in Dreams,” the so-called “dark” record promised by Dee Dee and released Tuesday (Sept. 27), is far more a statement of confidence than it is one of rock ’n’ roll wallowing. 

Even “Coming Down,” a six-and-a-half-minute ballad about a search for clarity, is a showcase for the group’s growth. Compared with the cloudy, reverb-soaked sound of last year’s “I Will Be,” every guitar strike, lyrical strut and hand-clap-bolstered harmony is heard loud and pristine. No longer are Dee Dee’s icy vocals hesitant, detached and buried in a fuzzy mix of scrappy guitar riffs. She’s front and center throughout “Only in Dreams,” and never more so than on “Coming Down,” which sees the no-nonsense rocker graduating into an emotionally nuanced vocalist. 

“I’m ready to be a singer,” said Dee Dee, whose band headlines the Troubadour on Monday. “I’m not as self-conscious as I was before. I don’t want to be a pop star by any means, but I do want to put out records where the vocals and lyrics are more discernible than they have been in the past. That’s what I spend all my energy on.”

The Dum Dum Girls last year were often mentioned hand in hand with Best Coast as one of L.A.’s most-promising acts, as both had a foot firmly planted in rock traditions. The Dum Dum Girls toughened up girl group classicism and had a look ripped from Marlon Brando’s “Wild One,” but family tragedy slowed the band’s touring ambitions and momentum. 

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Dum Dum Girls deliver 'death and darkness and sadness' with grace

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A year and a half after bowing with the Sub Pop debut "I Will Be," the L.A.-centered Dum Dum Girls will return this fall with a far moodier turn. "Coming Down," the first single off the Sept. 27 effort "Only in Dreams," down-shifts the band's reverb-laden guitars into more heartbreak territory.

The whole album isn't draped in this sort of gloom, but "Coming Down" is all about giving vocalist-songwriter Dee Dee space to breathe. When it comes to commanding a ballad, she does so with the decorum of a Chrissie Hynde, and maintains composure even as her bandmates scatter. The lyrics provide a snapshot of the artist's mind-set when she began writing "Only in Dreams." During a rhythm-only bridge, Dee Dee sings, "If you ever had a real heart, I don't think you'd know where to start."

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Dum Dum Girls set release date for 'Only in Dreams,' with Sunset Junction and Troubadour dates

Dum Dum Dum Girls' "He Gets Me High," an EP released in March, was a flinty little thing, rife with guitar noise and vintage pop sugar and an unexpected streak of bleak wistfulness. Turns out it came just before a deep personal tragedy for the L.A. quartet's singer Dee Dee -- she had lost her mother to brain cancer. After her death, lyrics such as "I would watch as you were sleeping / To make sure you were still breathing" became even more retroactively poignant.

The band is set to release the album "Only in Dreams," its first new music since "High," on Sept. 27 on Sub Pop. In a Spring feature, Dee Dee (née Kristin Gundred) promised the album was "definitely a dark record," but also represents a step up in both fidelity and heft -- unlike the EP, Dee Dee recorded "Only in Dreams" with contributions from all three of her bandmates. They'll play from it on an upcoming tour around the U.S. and Europe, plus two L.A. dates: an Aug. 8 set at the Sunset Junction Street Fair and Oct. 3 at the Troubadour.

RELATED:

Dum Dum Girls work through tragedy, move beyond lo-fi

Melvins, Belle Brigade, Art Brut among initial round of Sunset Junction artists

Faces to watch 2010: Dum Dum Girls

-- August Brown

Photo, left to right: Drummer Sandy,  guitarist Jules,  ringleader Dee Dee and bassist Bambi. Credit: Tyson Wirtzfield.

'I've never experienced death that closely': Dum Dum Girls work through tragedy, move beyond lo-fi

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If all had gone according to plan, the Dum Dum Girls would have been gearing up to release album No. 2 right about now and not a four-song EP. Yet what should have been a celebratory 2010 for the vintage-cool California rock quartet was instead one marked by extreme highs and lows.

On March 1, Sub Pop will release "He Gets Me High," one cover and three songs written by lead Dum Dum Girl Dee Dee as she was on the brink of knowingly entering one of the more difficult periods of her life. 

"I was on the verge of really hectic tours, and my home life was getting really, really [screwed] up," said Dee Dee. "These songs just kind of fell out of me. They were pretty untouched by everything I knew was about to happen, so I was really into latching onto them."

Heading into 2010, the Dum Dum Girls, who will perform a free show Thursday  at the Mondrian Hotel's Skybar, were often mentioned hand-in-hand with Best Coast as one of L.A.'s most promising talents. With a retro, girl group-inspired home-recorded sound,the Dum Dum Girls struck a sleek, rebel-without-a-cause vibe, and a deal with Seattle's vaunted indie Sub Pop was a chance Dee Dee (real name: Kristin Gundred) couldn't pass up.

Yet it came with a level of guilt that only a few could understand, as Dee Dee's mother had just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She passed away in October. "It was completely out of nowhere," Dee Dee said. "It was really hard to figure out how to balance the opportunity of having a record out on Sub Pop and wanting to tour, and then feeling really awful for not staying home and just quitting music for the year. Our next record, as much as I really love the songs, is definitely a dark record."

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Reunited Vaselines look to the past with hate

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When the Vaselines visited Los Angeles on a reunion tour last spring, guitarist-singer Eugene Kelly promised it wasn't a nostalgic trip. Nor was the cult low-fi band, beloved by critics and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, simply out for an overdue pat on the back after releasing just one album in 1989. 

After all, in the years since Kelly's romantic relationship with his musical partner Frances McKee dissolved, a new crop of indie artists has  kept the Vaselines' scrappy and sometimes sloppy take on '60s garage rock alive. Our city's own Dum Dum Girls, for instance, sport a name that nods to either Iggy Pop or the Vaselines' one and only album, "Dum-Dum," depending upon your generational reference point. 

Sarcastic, and almost childishly obsessed with sex, the Vaselines fashioned beautifully simple melodies out of a mess of guitar and rudimentary electronics. Even when the band got serious, as it did on “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," a rewrite of a well-known Christian hymn, the band was looking ahead to adult life with skepticism. 

Revisiting the Vaselines with last year's Sub Pop compilation "Enter the Vaselines," it's not just music of a time and place, but of an age. But any doubts that Kelly and McKee could make relevant music more than 20 years on were somewhat put to rest today, when the band unleashed the free download "I Hate the '80s," the first single of its upcoming Sup Pop comeback effort "Sex With an X," due in September.  

Good news: The smart-aleck kids are now gleefully bitter adults, spitting on anyone with a sentimental yearning for days gone by with three-plus minutes of sunny, Velvet Underground-inspired jangly pop. There's perhaps some borderline tasteless lines, but the past is skewered with such a celebratory sweetness that the cold hearts of cynics everywhere will no doubt be warmed. 

Get it for free over here.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Claire Stewart

Dum Dum Girls go all 'Wild One' for 'Jail La La'


The music of the Dum Dum Girls has always seemed built for black and white. Guitars are laced with a vinyl hiss, and vocals go down with an-on-the-rocks stiffness. The band's first single, "Jail La La," has been around a while, but it's never sounded -- or looked -- as good as it does in their video debut. 

With their black leather and black tights, the Dum Dum Girls carry an old-school look of rebellion, and they cop some "Wild Bunch" swagger as they cruise down what is presumably the West Coast in the clip. The song feels a bit on the verge of going out of control, with the verse hitting a sudden down-shift before skidding into what becomes a chorus that's equally vulnerable and unsentimental. "Someone tell my baby," sings Dee Dee (Kristin Gundred), "or else he won't know I need saving." But the song is off and running before anyone is catching up to her.

The band's Sub Pop debut, "I Will Be," will be in stores Tuesday. 

-- Todd Martens

SXSW Day 4: Dum Dum Girls are ready for their close up, No Age gets bigger and Sleigh Bells hits hard

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The likes of Perez Hilton and Rachael Ray threw in-demand parties on the fourth and -- for all intents and purposes -- final day of the South by Southwest music conference and festival in Austin, Texas. With just under 2,000 bands, many of them on the hunt for next-big-thing status, plotting a show-going schedule can be an arduous task, and it's easy to see why designer quesadillas and flavored drinks can be a welcome distraction.  

Yet after the guest lists have been tossed and the music industry has retreated from the Texas capital, it won't be the VIP parties that made a lasting impression. It will be the artists. 

Los Angeles has a worthy contender in the Dum Dum Girls, the '60s-tinged fuzzed-out rockers who take old-fashioned melodies and make them streetwise tough. All sporting different variations of black, the Dum Dum Girls have a look that could be ripped from a vintage film noir poster, and a sound that mirrors that femme fatale image. 

Though based in L.A., the Dum Dum Girls have felt a bit like outsiders. The band's rapid ascent began last fall in New York at the CMJ Music Marathon, and their hometown shows have been few and far between. The band's first SXSW comes near the eve of the March 30 release of the act's Sub Pop debut, "I Will Be," and in Austin, the band was more assured, confident and simply downright cool than it had been at its smattering of L.A. gigs.  

Opening with a slowed down and droned-out version of the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire," the Dum Dum Girls offered the song as if it was a dare. The band stood largely in place, with a glare affixed out above the audience, lending a detached, effortless and old-fashioned rebellious rock 'n' roll attitude to its songs. Girl group harmonies grace the racing "Bhang, Bhang, I'm a Burnout," and drummer Frankie Rose, ex-Vivian Girls (a more 21st century reference point for the group), brought a defiant kick to the more moderately paced "Rest of Our Lives." 

Time will tell if such vintage trappings have a life outside of SXSW. Yet even if the Dum Dum Girls tap a rock 'n' roll sound that may live outside the mainstream, it's one that never really goes out of style. And speaking of style, it probably won't have hurt that the Dum Dum Girls have it in spades. 

Other notes from Day 4 of SXSW:

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Faces to watch 2010: Dum Dum Girls

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Dum Dum Girls offer plenty of warnings to any would-be listeners, at least if one is to judge by the songs available on the act’s MySpace page. The band's choice of covers -- the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire" and GG Allin's "Don't Talk to Me" -- aren't the most open-armed of songs, and the group cements its don't-mess-with-us strut with an original titled "Jail La La."

Led by Kristin Gundred (a.k.a. Dee Dee), the L.A.-based band taps an old-fashioned sort of rebellion, one where a leather jacket and black tights are enough to signal outsider status. Sleazy, scruffy and fast, Dum Dum Girls will release its debut, "I Will Be," on March 30 via Seattle's Sub Pop.

Containing 11 songs and running just under 30 minutes, the album was produced by Richard Gottehrer, who shares a songwriting credit on the '60s hit "My Boyfriend's Back." That's no coincidence.

With a name that references songs from Iggy Pop and underground heroes the Vaselines, Dum Dum Girls has a sound that falls somewhere in between the early punk of the former and the slacker haze of the latter. Melodies take shape out of a gloomy guitar drone, as if they just sort of accidentally happen, and Gundred's vocals stay behind the beat and buried under the riffs.

It's a matter-of-fact, deadpan delivery, and when the backing harmonies kick in, Gundren sounds as if she's channeling the ghosts of girl groups past.

-- Todd Martens 

More Faces:

Faces to Watch in 2010: Architecture

Faces to Watch in 2010: Theater

Faces to watch in 2010: Classical

Faces to watch 2010: Scott Amendola

Faces to watch 2010: The Living Sisters

Faces to watch 2010: Ke$ha

Faces to watch 2010: The Soft Pack

Faces of 2010: Entertainment (film, music, TV, new media)

Photo: Lauren Dukoff

The holiday weekend's top shows: Japandroids, Dum Dum Girls

Although Thanksgiving isn't traditionally a rock 'n' roll holiday -- Beyonce's ABC television special notwithstanding -- there are a couple of strong music options over the next few days, at least for those who can escape the family duties.

Japandroids at the Echo. "Let's get to France," the duo of Brian King and David Prowse holler in "Wet Hair," kicking up a racket of guitar-and-drum noise. The pounding rhythms and distortion-drenched riffs may hint at a garage-punk anthem about escaping their Vancouver, Canada, homes for Europe, but it's really just youthful longing that permeates the songs of the Japandroids. What's in France? "French girls." Loud and fast, the Japandroids at times recall the early '90s with their low-fi, scuzzy-sounding anthems, but once one adjusts to the rush, there's brisk hooks and sharp one-liners to be found beneath the thundering notes. On "Heart Sweats," for instance, King yowls, "You're such a mess," through gritted teeth, all while the song threatens to devolve into one. But his put-downs are researched. "I should know; I used to date a stylist." The Echo, 1822 W. Sunset Blvd. Tickets are $10. 

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Giving L.A. another reason to drink beer this weekend: The Dum Dum Girls

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Our highfalutin artsy friends at Culture Monster will be spending Saturday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art to take in Lady Gaga, and while we're down with her performance art put-ons, drinking fancy colorful drinks loaded with vodka just doesn't seem right when there's a whole festival dedicated to craft beer happening in Hollywood.

Add in the Dum Dum Girls, and the Hollywood Brew Fest at the Blue Palms Brewhouse/Henry Fonda Theater seems far and away the best bet for the evening. There isn't too much known about the Dum Dum Girls; the recent Sub Pop signees have maintained an aura of mystery thus far. Essentially the project of  Kristin Gundred, who's going by the name Dee Dee in this outfit, the Dum Dum Girls will release their debut album at some point in 2010, although Sub Pop doesn't have a release date yet.

Yet if it's anything like the roughly shot Internet videos rolling around, expect some slightly sleezy, heavily distorted, fast and scruffy melodies. Hooks are buried in shots of hazy guitar tones, and there's a sinister streak that reveals itself via Gundred's sweetly deadpan delivery. Frankie Rose, former Vivian Girl, has been manning the drums for the group. That act is the most recent reference point for the Dum Dum Girls, while the Vaselines are perhaps the most obvious and the subtle hints of girl group malice would be the starting point. 

Watch a clip of the band performing at New York's recent CMJ conference below:

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