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Photo by James Orlando

Photo by James Orlando

The latest Dum Dum Girls album came from what frontwoman Dee Dee Penny calls “an inspired haze.”

The writing, recording and touring cycle for 2011’s “Only In Dreams” and the follow up EP “End of Daze” was intense for Penny, and in the swirling emotions as she dealt with her mother’s death, that entire time frame was “confused, difficult, disastrous, and at times, redemptive.”

Putting that period behind her, Penny took stock of the songs she’d written for a follow-up album and found they simply didn’t cut it.

“I realized that they just could not constitute the album, that there needed to be a fully cohesive, written-in-one-go type of album. That was the necessary next step,” she says.

Being at such a distinctive endpoint creatively, Penny was ready—and needed—to jump fully into something new. So she shut out the world and spent a week inside her New York apartment, and in a creative fervor, came up with the basic shapes of the 10 new songs that would form the core of “Too True,” songs that put her struggles finally in the past.

“Someone asked me if I’d come out stronger from the experience and all I could really answer was that I came out of it different. But topically, ‘Too True’ represented my moving past all that dominating stuff and finally being able to write about anything else,” she says. “I think I realized I could forgive myself for a lot of stuff I’d been policed by.”

Seeking to capture the momentum of that songwriting burst, Penny went into East West Studios in Los Angeles in November 2012 to capture that darker, more urgent sound and spirit of her new demos. But the heavy touring that year had left her voice in tatters and she had to put the songs back on the shelf while taking the time to heal.

“I had to confront the reality that my voice was destroyed. It was devastating. But it gave me a little extra time to finish some admittedly underdeveloped ideas that were a detriment to the collection of songs. It was, as they say, a blessing in depressing disguise,” she says. “I wrote the bulk of the songs in an inspired haze, and only later started picking them apart and picking out the constants. I dove into a lot of surrealism to better hone some of the songs, as prompted by a very personal new level of self-awareness.”

Taking that pause allowed Penny to realize the songs weren’t as done as she’d thought and in the time she poured over them, he reading list grew to include Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire, Rainer Maria Rilke, Anaïs Nin and Sylvia Plath. Connecting strongly with those writers, Penny says they “felt like artistic collaborators.” One actually was.

That surrealist influence on “Too True” shows up most obviously on “Rimbaud Eyes,” a song that fuses some of the poet’s own lines in with Penny’s lyrics. The result, she says, felt similar to a cover song, like the Dum Dum Girls’ version of The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.”

Another change for Penny (who tends to write and record Dum Dum Girls records solo, with studio production from Richard Gottehrer and The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner) was to take her songs in a different sonic direction, spurred in part by a new Eventide guitar pedal.

By her own description, “Too True” sounds like a host of influential bands: Suede, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Stone Roses and the Velvet Underground. She calls it “chasing pop into the dark.”

“Guitars became even more crucial and I brought in some newer sounds. Emotionally, the whole thing had a new urgency to it that needed to be interpreted,” she says.

Released in January on Sub Pop, “Too True” drew significant critical praise, keeping the band out on tour for the bulk of this year. Not bad for that week of “inspired haze.”

Published Nov. 6, 2014 in the Tucson Weekly. 

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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