Her name is Kristin Welchez, but you probably know her as Dee Dee Penny, the stage name she’s had for nearly a decade as frontwoman of the cult rock band, Dum Dum Girls—that is, until now.
With three acclaimed full length studio albums and an impressive anthology of singles and EPs recorded under her moniker, the 33-year-old California native, who currently resides in New York, felt like it might be time to step out from behind her Dum Dum Girl guise and make her next project, something of an origins story. And so was born, Kristin Kontrol.
For Welchez to assume her real name—the first half of it, at least—only seemed logically given that this new project be a solo venture inspired by her personal musical journey; a journey that begins in the land of pop, back when scruchies and slap bracelets were trends.
“I wanted to be a pop star in kindergarten,” declares the singer, who counts ‘80s pop and ‘90s R&B artists, such as Debbie Gibson, Madonna and TLC, among influences. “There’s a ton of other influential stuff that came later on in life, but I felt it important to point out my non-rock ‘n’ roll idols. I wanted to point out the significance this era had on young me.”
When listening to the flitting tempo of “X-Communicate”—the first single and title track off Kristin Kontrol’s debut album—the impact of bubblegum teen anthems à la Tiffany and smooth R&B harmonies in the style of SWV, peep through wafting dance break beats. It’s clear: The pop force is strong with this one.
While the sound behind Welchez’s solo debut may be a departure from the guitar-rock sensibility of Dum Dum Girls, Kristin Kontrol is more a distant cousin, than a stranger to the former. Listen closely and you can hear Kristin Kontrol hatching from within the evolution of the Dum Dum Girls and their progression from the garage rock grit of their first album, I Will Be (released in 2010) to the polished guitar riffs of the band’s most recent record from January of 2014, Too True. “Older Dum Dum Girls fans have probably seen this coming,” suggests Welchez.
As for what exactly her new sound is… let’s just say, it’s about genre hopping; and in that way, it mirrors the singer/songwriter’s personal “fandom,” which encompasses everything in between Joan Jett and Janet Jackson. “One of my producers put it nicely in saying, this record more uses genres versus adhering to them,” she explains.
Fans of Dum Dum Girls anxious about a complete departure from the past, may find comfort in knowing that Welchez will be sticking with Sub Pop, the label that released the band’s first album 6 years ago, on top of entrusting Andrew Miller (one-time guitar player for Dum Dum Girls) to produce X-Communicate, along with New York indie-pop innovator, Kurt Feldman, of Ice Choir and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. “I don’t think it’s too far a stretch…if they aren’t sick of me yet,” Welchez says, when asked how she predicts Dum Dum Girls fans will feel about her solo debut. “But, I do hope to reach a less niche audience.”
Creating music on a larger scale seems almost inevitable given the addictive pop overtones of X-Communicate. We’re betting tracks off the debut album have as strong a chance of landing an Apple Music commercial, as finding their way onto an episode of HBO’s Girls.
So basically, you’re going to hear a tinge of Siouxsie in Welchez‘s hushed and haunting vocals, and detect a New Wave mood to a song or two, reminiscent of bands like The Cure, but you’re also going to recognize—and identify with (particularly should you be an ‘80s baby)—the unabashed pop elements forming the album, even amidst a little reverb.
The countdown for the May 27th release of X-Communicate has begun, and as the big day approaches, curiosity around Kristin Kontrol continues to swell, with only a single and a DJ gig at SxSW back in March to quell inquiring minds. So, for those listeners as eager as us to learn more about Welchez’s mysterious new musical endeavor, we caught up with the singer to get inside her new project and find out what the world can expect from Kristin Kontrol.
To start off, tell me a bit about what led to you deciding to go solo? Was it something that you’d been thinking about for a while, as a chance to do something different sound-wise from the Dum Dum Girls?
It wasn’t so much wanting to go solo, as just wanting to make unlimited music. Dum Dum Girls has such a defined aesthetic that at a certain point, it started working against me.
Aside from the obvious difference of working on the album solo, how was the process of working on X-Communicate, unlike your past recording experience? I imagine you got to tap into something a little different creatively, then when focusing on rock ‘n’ roll.
I actually recorded eight out of nine Dum Dum Girls records solo in collaboration with my producers (Only In Dreams featured the band), so it wasn’t too different in that sense. But, I did break with longstanding producers Sune Rose Wagner and Richard Gottehrer, and hire two new producers—Kurt Feldman and Andrew Miller—in my attempt to really get outside myself and my previous work.
When talking about a musician’s or band’s sound, it’s tempting to make comparisons as a way to explain “what it is.” We know who the critics are comparing your sound to, but which musicians/bands would you, personally, compare your sound to?
This record more honestly reflects my wide spectrum of fandom: Sinead O’Connor, Kate Bush, Harmonia, Ace of Base, Amanda Lear, Fever Ray, Missing Persons, Janet Jackson, The Creatures…
On that note, would you say all music is sort of a throwback to some degree and that new music is almost always an evolution of past sounds?
In my world, yes.
While the sound on X-Communicate might side more with pop, would you say that lyrically, the songs have a somber edge to them?
I tried to write really honestly and directly, lots of stuff makes me sad, and a few lines make me laugh out loud… a good synopsis of my life.
That leads to my next question, how would you describe the mood on this album, and was this a reflection of your headspace during the time you were writing and recording the record?
I just wrote without pretense or intention, and at some point it became clear to me, the whole thing is a strange journey in and out of love.
Do you have a favourite song off the album, one that sort of represents exactly what you were hoping to create via your solo album?
I didn’t know what would come out of the record beforehand. “(Don’t) Wannabe” is my favorite for both its production (thanks Kurt) and its level of songwriting. “Smoke Rings” is my second favorite … the cinematic drama Andrew added, took it somewhere I didn’t anticipate.
Let’s talk a bit about fashion. How would you describe your personal style?
Minimal and fitted with the occasional high shine/sparkle for events.
What’s your level of interest in fashion?
I’ve been a vintage collector since I was a preteen, and at this point in my life, I tend to wear a very basic uniform. If it’s not simple—ultra tight, high waisted, black pants and a white T-shirt or black blouse—[then] it’s some weird glammy ‘70s piece, [like a] mini dress, nylons, and platforms. I’m about to open a vintage store with my best friend and former resale boss called Sentient. It’s going to be so fun to shop for it while touring!
That’s exciting news! What do you think links fashion and music so closely? Is part of it the way clothing can be used as a costume on stage?
Yeah, it’s all connected. I love the uniform element, whether it’s Bowie madness or Ramones simplicity. There’s power in the visual that informs your performance.
Last question: has it sunk in yet, this whole solo venture thing?
Yes, I feel like I’m sitting on a growing orb of positive momentum… I’m really excited to show the world a fuller picture of me.