In a return to self, Dee Dee Penny’s latest record under the Dum Dum Girls moniker, Too True (Sub Pop), is saturated in her own personal aesthetic; a change that has ears perked in keen anticipation.
Penny‘s methods for the band’s sophomore album take a nostalgic tone, more closely resembling that of the her first release, I Will Be (Sub Pop), which she created on her own, without any official band in place. After this initial 2010 release, Penny assembled a touring band to venture across the U.S. in support of the album. And, upon their return, the freshly convened group recorded an EP, leading up to the collective recording and releasing the Dum Dum Girls second LP, Only in Dreams (Sub Pop).
“At the time, we had been a band and been touring forever together, and for me it just felt like it was time to put out a record that reflected the sound we had live…to capture the sound we had developed as a band,” says the musician of the collaboration.
But, as evident from her most recent record, Dum Dum Girls is at its core a solo endeavour. As Penny shares during our interview, the process of writing and recording Too True allowed her to re-establish creative control over the project and the band’s sound. “In terms of recording, what I really like to do is a much more solitary thing,” she explains. “I like to [be] in my apartment, super caffeinated, super stoned and just do my thing for hours and hours. And when I take that into the studio with my producers — who I’ve now worked with for years — it’s like the auditory equivalent of finishing each others sentences…we know what comes next in the songs.”
With only a few days till the album’s launch, fans of the band have been tiding themselves over with the dreamy calm of the album’s first single, “Lost Boys and Girls Club,” released in partnership with H&M Life, an initiative that works to fund music videos for upcoming bands. Boasting the must-watch music video, the track flaunts a measured splash of fashion and glitz, intermingled with the Dum Dum Girls quintessential gothic romance.
Counting down to the album’s January 28th release date, we satiate our anticipation by chatting to Penny about her decision to return to her old methods of creating and recording for the Dum Dum Girls, her collaboration with H&M and the inspiration behind some of the album’s most honest moments.
You must be excited about the release of your new album coming up, as well as getting back to touring.
Yeah, I’m ready. We’ve taken almost a year at this point. Just dealing with my voice, and then finishing this record, so we’ve had a lot of time to regroup. I’m very excited to get back on the road.
Totally. I really wanted to start by talking about the recording of your last album Only in Dreams in comparison to this new one. I know it was recorded in bits and pieces over a long period of time, and I was wondering how the process of Too True was different or similar?
They are very different. The main difference would be Only In Dreams was a record I did with my live band, so that’s the kind of record you make when you’re doing more of a live recording thing, whereas pretty much everything else I’ve ever done including this upcoming record is something where I’ve demoed it pretty thoroughly on my own, and taken it into the studio and worked with my producers.
How does that process change the final sound?
There’s a lot more layers involved when I work like that, which like I said is how I like to work. [For this] record, I wrote the whole thing in about a week, demoed it, went to L.A. and recorded it in about a week, but wasn’t able to do the vocals because my voice had been damaged, so then I just had to wait for my voice to get better. And then I spent about 6 months after recording, finishing the vocals and mixing the record. It’s probably my longest process to date because I had the massive hiccup with the ability to record the vocals.
What do you like about working alone?
Well, when I started this project, it was just a recording project and it was really so I could do it exactly how I wanted, having complete control creatively, which was very different from my experiences in bands beforehand. And so that really shaped what I wanted to. For me, that’s really my natural state and preference for recording. And now we can duplicate recordings live where for a while there was a discrepancy where either the record was not as full as the band or the band wasn’t totally able to replicate the record. With this record I brought on a 3rd guitar, so I think our bases are covered (laughing).
I always find that element interesting, especially today with the types of layering and stuff that’s possible in the studio and how people reconcile that.
Well, I mean for me, I’m most motivated by serving the song. I don’t necessarily think about how I’m going to do it live, but also it’s not like there’s 25 parts on guitar on the songs (laughing), there’s three instead of two, so my parameters aren’t too extreme there. Definitely translates easily to the stage because I love the writing, I love recording, and I really love the performance aspect of it, so I do keep it in mind.
Switching gears, there’s a lot of really incredible strong female artists that are garnering a lot of attention right now, and I know you’ve worked with Tamaryn and a lot of other cool female artists. I’m wondering, who you are digging or who do you could recommend for women who want to listen to other awesome women make music?
Well…Tamaryn is like my best friend, but I was a fan first, so I’m not really bias. I’ve actually been collaborating with her on this record for the visuals, so that has been really fun to work with her in a real capacity, not just a little 7-inch project we have or just hanging out or whatever.
She’s a great artist.
I love her last record called Tender New Signs, it’s gorgeous. My drummer Sandy, her band SISU that the guitarist Jewels also plays in live, they had a record out this year that is very good. Let’s see here… I guess depending on what you are into…. but it is also people I know and love, you know? There’s one of my best friends Hollie Cook, she is a pop-reggae singer from London, she used to be in The Smiths. Other than that, at this point, I’m not so gender specific.
Good list! Another thing I wanted to chat about was the fact that you premiered your song “Lost Boys and Girls Club” with H&M. Have you ever worked with a brand or anything like that in the past? And do you dig H&M clothing…how did it all come about?
I’m actually standing outside of one right now (laughing). I think, like every person, I’ve shopped at H&M, but that was just a really random unsolicited inquiry on their part. They started a new program or department in their company called H&M Life where their purpose literally is just to fund music videos of small bands. So, it was completely no strings attached, it was not like, “oh and now you all have to wear H&M.” It was literally just a generous budget for an indie band, do whatever you want and premiere it. It was cool to work with the director, Cody, who has done a lot of non-mainstream videos, especially for his own projects.
It sounds like a good experience.
It was very hands off, I would recommend other bands do it. It is literally just them supporting the arts.
I wouldn’t imagine it would be that way, that’s really cool
Yeah, I’m usually sceptical they want something.
In terms of other tracks on the new album, I really like the sentiment in the song “Too True to be Good.” It’s a really interesting turn of phrase that you’ve made happen. What’s the origin story there?
Well, I think that a lot of this record for me — a lot for what I was writing about — which is never really preconceived too much, it’s not like it’s a concept album and the themes are these and have a stand on them, a lot of times it’s a process where I’m writing something and after the fact I’ll sort of re-evaluate everything and pick up on things that run through the whole record.
Sort of piecing things together as you go, and allowing the themes to pop up as they may.
I think the word “true” is on the record like 20 times, so obviously that was something I was thinking about subconsciously. I guess the sentiment of that phrase which is slightly tongue and cheek is just that I don’t know… I typically in the past have made things black and white: this is right this is wrong. And I think in the past few years, I have come to not respect the giant mistakes I’ve made in my life, but understand the lessons that have come out of them and accept that you are human and you will fuck up, and you can really learn a lot from yourself, and that you should also be comfortable with the kind of person you are. I think that phrase is sort of recognition that something is maybe bad for you on paper, but it is still something that is a big part of you.Published January 21, 2014