Dum Dum Girls shift toward a noisy time warp

Pop retrograde
By REYAN ALI  |  September 7, 2010

HALLOWED SOUND: “There is nothing more amazing than singing in a choir in a church and hearing that natural hanging reverb,” says Kristin Gundred (second from right).

It takes Kristin Gundred about a minute to remember when she created Dum Dum Girls. It was 2008, she determines, but her sound rarely draws comparisons to anything originating within the past decade — or the one before that. Even rummaging through the '80s isn't too fruitful. Instead, her powdered-sugar pop salutes the '50s and '60s — days when girl groups and their harmonized melodic sparkle dotted the charts. I Will Be (Sub Pop), Dum Dum Girls' first full-length, champions all those antiquated girl-group tropes: vocal harmonies, breezy instrumentation, and cooing phrases of endearment like "baby" and "girl." Moving with a fleeting sweetness, the record attempts to recapture a zeitgeist that's long been history.

Dum Dum Girls originated in a California bedroom as a MySpace project. At first, Gundred penned folk songs on an acoustic, but she decided to save that angle for later in life. "I needed to go electric. It took a couple of tries to realize, 'Well, why don't I just incorporate all of my favorite sounds into what I'm doing?' " The drums would bear what she calls "classic Motown production." Distorted, fuzzy guitars appeared because "I'm kind of a rock-and-roll person at heart"; vocals were cribbed from the girl-group era because of how "æthereal and angelic" they felt. Ample amounts of vocal reverb were added too — "There is nothing more amazing than singing in a choir in a church and hearing that natural hanging reverb."

But Gundred's adoration of the old-fashioned stretches beyond simple sonic quality. It begins with the name, which pays tribute to the Vaselines' 1989 album Dum-Dum, or Iggy Pop's "Dum Dum Boys," or Talk Talk's "Dum Dum Girls." Maybe all three. Gundred intended the cover of I Will Be to repurpose a still from exploitation director Jesus Franco's 1969 women-in-prison flick Island of Despair (a/k/a 99 Women). When that idea didn't work out, she went through her mother's photo albums, landing on an awkward candid of her mom going through a closet while wearing fake eyelashes. The cover for I Will Be is straight out of 1972.

Since Dum Dum Girls are now a flesh-and-blood band (they come to Bank of America Pavilion this Sunday), the on-stage fashion also pays homage: four women don black leather, leggings, and heels. "I wanted to carry on that tradition of entertainer," says Gundred, citing a handful of striking looks that qualify as "the classics": "the Supremes with matching dresses and coiffed hair, or the Ramones with their leather jackets, or even as simple as Elvis having this highly stylized look." The final matter of importance is the Dum Dum Girls' names. Gundred is known as Dee Dee, and if bandmates Jules, Bambi, and Sandy are somehow not using aliases, their given names are absurdly perfect.

Despite the many nods to the past, Gundred feels her work is more than a simple throwback because her primary tools — "nasty electric guitars, reverb vocals, fuzz bass, driving drum beats" — exist as "timeless styles." Dum Dum Girls' lo-fi, home-recording-bred approach will evolve: her upcoming solo EP uses an actual bass rather than a re-amped guitar, substitutes a drum machine for real drums, and has "expensive mics instead of a computer."

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