Shades on, quiet, and curled up in a monstrously big leather chair, Dee Dee was charm itself but maybe bemused at the ridiculously early interview time.
Photo by James Orlando. Creative Direction by Tamaryn.
Incendiary is at the Dum Dum Girls show, upstairs at the Paradiso. Their first in a while. And whilst it’s an okay gig, with the songs off the new LP sounding like they were born to be bashed out live, no-one’s really going all out to cut some rug. The audience, mild mannered and pretty static, nod along happily enough. Plus the lead guitar’s too quiet (the bits when it should provide crashing counterpoints sadly absent) and the third guitarist looks like he’s escaped from a Gabber party. Oh never mind. Eight o clock of a cold December evening in Amsterdam rarely a good gig made. It’s early and people are elsewhere, shopping or just wrapped up at home. And anyway, the rest of the gig can go hang because the Dum Dum Girls play The Sight of You by the Pale Saints.
When you get to “a certain age” all attempts at looking cool or in control go out of the window, even if you are in a town long associated with urban existentialist sneering. The radiant lachrymose grandeur of that song and the fact the band picked it to play is enough. Beer down my kecks, falling into people in an attempt to get to the front and bay along, Incendiary magazine entertains frowns and stares from our fellow concert goers. Balls to them and anything else.
Who’d have thought it? The Pale Saints?
But then the band’s leader, DeeDee, always struck us as being someone who understood that “rock’s” back catalogue is an ever regenerating feast to take succour from. DeeDee is interesting. Earlier in the day, whilst stuff was being set up, we’d been granted twenty minutes to chat and we wish it would have been longer. Shades on, quiet, and curled up in a monstrously big leather chair, Deed Dee was charm itself but maybe bemused at the ridiculously early interview time. Or just frazzled after a drive from the UK that began at 5am.
IN: Thanks for doing this for short notice... When listening to the new LP this last couple of weeks I have to say that it didn't half remind me of The Breakfast Club - even if only in spirit...
DD: (Laughs) Sure! I'll take it.
IN: And those big chiming riffs, on tracks like Under These Hands, the whole thing came over as very late era Bunnymen, and very different to what you've done before, you've moved away from that 1960s Richard Gottehrer sound...
DD: Yeah I hadn't really done much of that as yet, so I suppose... it was time. I mean when I started, I was doing it all myself, all the writing and recording, and whilst my references were still pretty vast, what I was capable of recording was pretty limited by the fact that it (the recording process) was all was new to me. With each new release I've tried to expand on.... not just the song writing itself but the production side of things as well. So for this record… well, I’ve always worked the same I always demo pretty thoroughly. And it’s pretty straightforward; I always figure out the drum sample, bass, rhythm lead, and vocals.
...Now, because I work with Sune (from the Raveonettes) I generally assume that unless the guitar lead is really appropriate, he may come up with something better. But on a lot of this record I was trying to capture something else. So I took more time writing bigger, more deliberate guitar leads and I had him doing more textural stuff, so there’s a third guitar sound now.
Those are the two main progressions on this record. And I just felt the songs lent themselves being produced in the way they were.
IN: I agree, they are very “big” tunes. I was even thinking of mailing the Bunnymen and saying ‘ooh have you heard this, especially Under These Hands, it’s like you!’
DD: (Laughs) Please do! Hahah! Yeah that guitar, and the bass line. I’m not trying to reference that explicitly, but I definitely think you have a point there. (Laughs) I mean it was a lot of fun making this record, a lot of fun to play it and I always write really caffeinated, and really stoned! (Laughs) So it kinda gets away from me a bit too.
IN: Two things always strike me when I listen to the Dum Dum Girls. You have a very melancholy side to you, but you are very direct too; and the two seem to come together in your expressive way of writing lyrics. They are really ‘me and you’ kind of lyrics. They aren’t many metaphors or tangents in there are there?
...I think that’s just sort of the nature of how I write. It’s not something I try or don’t try to do. To take a more objective way on how I write songs lyrically, I usually have the concept or the chorus phrase or something…
IN: So you hum something and then it sticks and then you take it from there?
DD: Yeah, that’s it; it’s like the main concept of what we do. I kinda pick that out of the air, or stumble on that. And I take the verse and expand on my original thought. You know, I’ll take something like Under These Hands, and in the verses I am more explicit.
IN: And that sort of links into another thought I had about you, you’re a band that’s out of time. You could fit in, any time anywhere.
DD: Yeah, I’ll remember that (Laughs)
IN: You don’t really sound like an ‘expression of the zeitgeist.’
DD: Well that’s good then! (Laughs) I mean I’m just… (Silence) When I started it was a ton of…. even if people liked us it was just ‘ah, throwback sixties Ramones music’ A+B =C…. Which I found, not condescending but, oh man (laughs). I mean if anything I try to make it clear that I’m not like a ‘retro-ist’; I mean I love all sorts of music and I definitely reference all sorts of stuff and have definite influences. But that’s not anything new or just something I do but that’s the whole deal! (Laughs) Rock and roll!
IN: Well yeah it’s a strange argument in any case. You could stop western painting at Giotto or something then if the rules were that strict. And yeah I can hear that with your work, the references, and yeah you’ve worked with Richard Gottehrer so I guessed what I would get but it was more about the sound, the songs were so damned direct. And I Will Be had your mum on the cover, which was also quite strange! I mean bloody hell, your mum!*
DD: (Laughs) I mean I like work and I’ll stick myself in my room and… that probably explains a lot of things (laughs). I mean I’m not, you know, seeking any opinions or feedback… and I just do things if I think they’re good ideas. It doesn’t matter to me what anyone thinks I’m doing.
IN: You’re a classic band in that you always seem to be on the road.
DD: Yeah definitely, I mean we took a year out but prior to that we were on the road at least six months or more. But I mean I’m made for touring.
IN: Is that a voyeuristic thing, or do you feel more comfortable being away from a base?
DD: Erm... I do like being home too, but I think it’s…. aside from performing I’m pretty withdrawn, and I keep myself to myself, and I’m comfortable with that too. Whereas my husband gets lonely and down if he’s not on tour and I’m gone… And it’s not that I’m not those things too, but being alone is pretty much my natural state. Yeah I love to travel and I can live out of a suitcase for ever, so I think I’ve picked the right career!
IN: Some people really like this lack of contact. Julian Cope once wrote about loving chains of corporate, bland hotels for the total anonymity of them; you can put your stuff down and that’s it, no-one to bother you.
DD: Yeah, totally, I think some people are totally built for this kind of life. My guitar player Jules, she probably has the most fun, she has an unending amount of energy, whereas I get tired and get insomnia! After a show I’ll hang out for a while and go to bed, and she’ll go no I’m off to explore and I wish I was a bit more like that.
IN: Wait till you hit your middle forties. It releases your inner child.
DD: (Laughs) OK cool I’ll wait.
IN: I always feel this big colourful side to your music and that for me comes through the covers. I mean the covers are garish and they’re not, they’re not ‘tasteful’ in the sense they’re not trying to feel loved. But it really works; this fuzzy colour and brashness.
DD: I mean until this cover there wasn’t any plan, it was all incidental really. With I Will Be I was trying to figure out a cover and I just flipped to that photo in a photo album and I thought wow yeah that’s it. And He Gets Me High was a reference to a Françoise Hardy record. With Only In Dreams I was obsessed with dreams and astral projection and I was reading a lot about that and I was erm… I was trying to recreate an astral projection. And the last EP, oh man; I don’t even know where that was coming from.
IN: Well it really works; this fuzzy colour and brashness.
DD: But this record is somewhat more intentional; in every way, but especially on the aesthetic side of it. Because I had so much more time to work on it I brought in all the creative director named Tamaryn, so I played her the record and said that I felt that I was making a step sonically, and that I’d like to utilise all this time that I had off, so I needed a visual that is appropriate to the progress I made on the record; so the new cover was new ground. We wanted to do something that could be seen as modern pop art. Some neon… you know, and it’s kind of tied into all the press photos we’ve shot and videos we’d been working on. So yeah, this cover was a big statement! (Laughs)
IN: That new cover was the thing that made me think of The Breakfast Club (Laughs) It’s modern to you, of course that’s great but to me it reminded me of being 16 and miserable, hiding in my room!
IN: One last question. You always seem to mention dreams in your songs… or maybe it’s a mental image I have of Dum Dum Girls, a band with songs full of full of dreams. I always wanted to ask you about dreams. I’m still trying to work out what they are.
DD: Yeah! I mean sometimes I have really inane dreams. And that’s always annoying. I guess a lot of times my dreams play out alternate paths could have taken. Specific decisions I took or could have taken; my dreams will flesh those things out a lot. I also have a lot of dreams where I hang out with people who have died. And when I was a kid I used to have two or three recurring dreams; for about fifteen years, that were totally strange….
...The worst one was about flying. I’ve always had an obsession about flying. And I used to dream that I had the ability to fly, not like a superhero but a straightforward ability to fly. But it was something particular for me. I could teach people how to do it with me and then every single night when I had this dream, there would be a moment where I needed to be able to fly to get out of a situation, or to help somebody, but I couldn't. And this is like as a six year old you know? Argh!
It was a very intense feeling of failure or stress, and that was, for a six year old, so fucked up, I'd always get this feeling of 'why am I so little?' And why am I not dreaming of cotton candy or unicorns? Why am I dreaming about failure and not being able to stop someone dying? (Laughs)
IN: I have levitation dreams, one being really strong and memorable. I was at my parents house, and I was there in my old room, and a duck came down the chimney, and it was a magic duck; it took me on a night flight over Accrington. It was like fucking class, it took me everywhere then made sure I got home safe and sound.
DD: Amazing! That's bizarre!
*But of course totally understandable