Q&A with Dum Dum Girls' leader Dee Dee Penny
Dum Dum Girls' leader Dee Dee Penny reflects on death, fashion and Beyonce – and the ongoing challenges of being a female frontwoman in a male dominated industry.
Hello Dee Dee. Where are you at?
I'm in New York. I moved here almost three years ago. Prior to this record I didn't think location influenced me as a songwriter. I've started to change my mind. You build up cities and their legends in your head. I feel inspired by New York. There are a lot of people doing good stuff. It is competitive in a positive way. Coming from LA there is definitely something about New York that I have tried to put into my work. I feel an energy here. For sure, it's an influence.
Your new album is very glossy – dare I say catchy. It's almost as if you're open to the idea of selling a decent amount of albums. Purists will be horrified.
I don't think in those terms. Those aren't the conversations I have with myself. Music is a personal thing. Of course, it is great to have fans – and to imagine you might reach more fans. The facts are, with every recording I have tried to move forward, not just song-wise but also in terms of how the records sound. This is probably my most ambitious collection.
Your previous album was recorded in the shadow of your mother's death. This time around, did it feel as if a weight had lifted?
I had finally moved on from that subject, which was quite a relief, I can tell you. I felt very free. It was exciting. I had these ideas which I had wanted to explore for a while and suddenly I was in a position where I could do that. On the other hand, I experienced technical difficulties with my voice. For several years I have been having vocal problems. In the middle of the new LP, it got really bad.
From what I've read, your voice simply gave in after years of wear and tear.
The problem had reached a head. I was recording in LA and was not able to finish. I had to recuperate. So there was a delay I had not anticipated. I needed to build my voice back and try to finish the project. It was frustrating. Through my life I've always counted on my ability to sing. It's sort of how I define myself. Not to get too dark about it, but, I found it a very strange time.
When you finally did complete the recording, it was decided to debut the first single on the website of – do we have this right? – fast-fashion chain H&M. Any cries of 'sell-out' from Dum Dum diehards?
Associating with big brands is not something that appeals to me. But it does give me the freedom to do my music. It was a no-strings attached thing, apart from the obvious link-up. It helped me make videos – instead of making one video I was able to do three or four. The industry has changed a great deal.
Here's where I ask the inevitable question about women in rock. Unless you're bored to death of the topic by now ...
To me, it is still relevant because, actually, women in bands are not that common. We are not a political group per se. However, I do feel it is important that, as a woman in a band, you provide an example – it is still not very prevalent. What inspired me to get started was the fact that all the bands I loved a kid were guys. Where were the females? Then I began to get into female dominated groups and I thought 'hey I can do this too.' It's stupid to imagine that gender is not relevant. Granted, we don't talk about guys in bands. Well, it's not the same – there are lots of guys in bands.
Beyonce tours with an all-female band ...
That's such a different world from the one I operate in. I have no idea what her motivations are. Sometimes these things are aesthetic, sometimes political. With her, I would imagine it is a perfect combination of both. Beyonce has a massive audience. She can reach a much wider segment of the public than I can. If she is able to provide a positive example, I'm all for it.
I hope this doesn't sound creepy, but what are you wearing? In your photo-shoots you are always turned out in head to toe black.
Aesthetics matter but I wouldn't overstate the case. The way we dress on stage is pretty close to how we all dress in the real world.
- Dum Dum Girls' new album Too True is released today.