The Weekly interview: Dum Dum Girls singer Dee Dee Penny

Girls just wanna have fun: Penny and her bandmates are headed to Backstage Bar & Billiards.
James Orlando

In the new music video for the Dum Dum Girls’ single “Lost Boys and Girls Club,” two iron gates open, revealing a dimly lit party from a parallel universe where everything’s an eerie blue and where white smoke swirls around the screen like a trendy liquid nitrogen-infused cocktail. Common household appliances have an all-new purpose—a dishwasher stores slick, black Wayfarers instead of plates, and a girl opens a microwave to reveal a large bottle of hair spray.

It’s a campy-yet-cool homage to everything ’80s: from the women weighed down by layers of leather and liquid-black eyeliner to singer Dee Dee Penny’s stealthy, catlike walk and calm-and-collected close-ups. It bleeds Siouxie and the Banshees.

On January album Too True, the Dum Dum Girls’ sound delves even deeper into sleek, dancey post-punk, abandoning the noise-pop jangle of I Will Be and Only in Dreams. “Do you hear Suede? Siouxie? Cold-wave Patti? Madonna? Cure?” Penny asks on their Sub Pop Records web page. “…Cuz I did.”

Penny called us from her New York apartment a few weeks before tour to talk about Too True, traveling as a self-proclaimed introvert and her classic take on romance (she’s married to Crocodiles’ singer Brandon Welchez). The Dum Dum Girls play March 8 at Backstage Bar & Billiards.

The previous Dum Dum Girls albums lean toward garage-pop. Why did you opt for a heavier eighties sound on Too True? It’s not like I sat down and said, “I’m going to make an ’80s record,” just like I’ve never sat down and said “I’m going to make a ’60s record.” It’s not how my brain works. I would hope to never be considered a revivalist. It’s much more related to What kind of sounds do I love that I know from other music?

It’s about serving the songs. I may write a song on an acoustic guitar or electric guitar or bass, and I may make sure it passes what I call the “acoustic guitar test,” which is that you can just play it on a guitar and it sounds like a good song. But the more and more that I record, the more access I have to other sounds or production technique. I just felt like these songs were more urgent-sounding—bigger, darker, had more going on. I’d say End of Days had a lot of the same references, but it was a short EP and much more ethereal and dreamy than rock ’n’ roll. I wanted to take that progression and do something bigger and full on for this record.

I read that when you wrote this album, you kind of stowed away at a certain point and did a lot of the writing and demoing in private. Why? That’s the process I always use, so why fix it if it’s not broken? When I started, I recorded everything myself, I mixed everything myself. That was how I finally got into doing my own thing—writing my own songs—it was because I removed everything else. I quit all the bands I was in. I was super burnt on playing music in the specific environments I had been in, where it’s just compromise after compromise—I didn’t want to have do that anymore. I wanted to do exactly what I wanted when I wanted, and that was why I started writing and recording as Dum Dum Girls. That hasn’t really ever changed.

You have a song on the new album called “The Cult of Love.” Is there something specific you’re referring to? The song was sort of indirectly inspired by an exhibit I saw in San Francisco called The Cult of Beauty. It was sort of a retrospective of a lot of very aesthetic-oriented art and literature—that was the dominant, directing thought that was inspiring this particular artist and writer. I just kind of took that idea of the non-religious cult and thought about the things that, in my life, have been very much the dominating forces—the driving forces behind what I do and the things that I think about the most. I definitely am a romantic, and I was trying to capture what that feels like to be very, very love-dominated and -oriented, in a song.

What about “Rimbaud Eyes?” Did you write it about the poet, Arthur Rimbaud? I didn’t actually write a song about him. The premise behind that song is fairly amusing to me as well. Arthur Rimbaud is one of my husband’s favorite poets. The last time he was on a tour, where he was in France, he made a point to take a day off and go to Rimbaud’s hometown. He brought back a T-shirt that had Rimbaud’s portrait on it—a very commonly used picture where he has very striking eyes. There’s something very, very piercing about the look that he’s giving.

I saw this shirt every day for, like, two years. I’ve always been really taken with eyes, that’s one of my favorite things about people. I don’t want to say I can read a person or anything, but I always feel linked to them through their eyes. So that was where the idea came from.

Every artist has a different perspective on touring. What’s your favorite part about it? The whole thing. I am, I think, very well-suited for the road, for traveling. I’m a pretty introverted person, I do well on my own, so for me to have the opportunity to travel somewhere different every single night and play for a new audience, it’s just a very encouraging environment for me to be in. I really enjoy it.

Some people hate touring. [For] some people in my band, it’s a necessary evil. I think a few of us really do enjoy it and kind of don’t know what to do when we’re not on tour. This last year, [we had] been off-tour because of my vocal problems and waiting for the record to come out. It was very strange to try to figure out how to get back to feeling like I had a normal life. Obviously I started doing a bunch of projects and got really into the gym and stuff (laughs), but all sort of with bated breath waiting for this to pick up again.

You’re married to the singer of Crocodiles. Would you guys ever go on tour together? Definitely. We’ve done two tours together; quite a while ago … we did an almost-full U.S. tour when Only in Dreams came out. It’s a lot of fun.

My band [is] pretty insular. When we go out on tour, not everyone in the band is out there meeting new people and soaking up the town. I tend to keep to myself and my bandmates, and if we have a band on tour, it’s a place where those friendships can grow. So touring with actual best friends and boyfriends is a lot of fun. Our bands are very, very different—how we tour is different—so it’s just kind of a funny thing to see our bands get married as well. I wish it were easier to do stuff like that, but the money side of things and the schedule coordination really makes it a problem.

Is there anything that you plan to see or do when you come to Vegas? I don’t know, I was just there recently with Crocodiles—I met them for the last leg of the tour that started in Vegas. It was fun. I don’t gamble, but I definitely grew up on all those old movies that have a bit of a romantic attitude toward Vegas the same way I regard old Hollywood. But I don’t know … I’ll probably drink a piña colada at four in the afternoon.

Dum Dum Girls With Blouse, Creep Magnet. March 8, 8 p.m., $15-$18. Backstage Bar & Billiards, 382-2227.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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