Dee Dee Penny: Dum Dum Girls

30.01.2015 | Music | BY:

Dee Dee Penny (aka Kristin Gundred), is an artistic statement all on her own – like a visually potent mix of Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Blondie all rolled into one – she’s the hypnotic front woman for all-female guitar four-piece Dum Dum Girls. With their all-black clad femme fatale aesthetic, Dee Dee is the striking founding force behind the band, an inky-haired, red-lipped stage siren who mystically oozes an aura of sexiness and danger, enticing you into her world.

With their heart-wrecking girl group melodies – think the dreamy, guitar-heavy surf-rock of The Bangles and The Go-Go’s, but with a more seductive and polished sensibility – the Dum Dum Girl’s rise to fame is a product of Dee Dee’s visceral songwriting, seamlessly blending into a sonically charged soundscape, laced with echoes of post-punk through a fuzzy-pop filter. From their hyper-real video for the sweetly addictive “Rimbaud Eyes” (inspired by 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud), to the Bret Easton Ellis-written psych-thriller for “Are You Okay” – the Dum Dum Girls continue to expand and colour our musical horizons.

Twin caught up with Dee Dee to talk female icons, poetry and tattoo symbolism.

You first introduced your music as a solo artist via MySpace – how did it then evolve into the band and being signed by indie powerhouse Sub Pop?
I guess contrary to appearances, the project still is at its core a solo one. The writing and recording processes are extremely personal for me, so it’s more a phase one – phase two thing: creating behind closed doors and then bringing it to the band to try on and fill out. Sub Pop signed me after a few songs online, no live show history and no true intentions to tour. They remain my dedicated cheerleaders. It was and continues to be a surreal partnership.

So with that in mind, obviously the music speaks for itself, but as front woman for the band, what do you want people to interpret about you – for example, most people could define Patti Smith or Blondie in one sentence. Who is Dee Dee, and is public acceptance important to you?
You’re right; the Patti’s and Debbie’s are larger than life, iconic. My path to owning my spot has been slower than I’d like. I started the project anonymously and was adamant the music should speak for itself. But with the last record (the third album Too True), and even more so now, I get it. I get that I am a person not just a voice, that fans want someone to look to, that my band needs a leader. I feel ready now. I’ve always given off a stoic vibe, an ice queen sort of thing, but I think that’s melted a bit. Maybe my vulnerability is more potent. I am pretty human.

What about forming an all-girl band – was it easy to find other women with the same vision and energy as you who wanted to be taken seriously as musicians?
My original intention was as much sonically motivated as politically. It was the classic girl group harmony thing I heard in my head – I needed to recreate that. I also had only ever played music with boys and was very much interested in experiencing for myself the female dynamic and energy that had inspired me when I was younger. I’m a few years past that now though; my drive is purely the music. I saw Sleater-Kinney (US rock band) touch on this last week – how it’s a badge you find yourself wanting to reject (have you ever seen an “all-boy band” descriptor?) but also knowing it’s a minority you want to support and promote.

And you play guitars too, so you must get asked all the usual questions about the role of women in rock music vs. feminism. So lets take a different angle – Chrissie Hynde said last year that being a woman in a band was great because guys will carry my guitars and stuff who’s going to say no? Guys always tune my guitars, too.

Please say you tune all your own guitars and carry your own cases?!
Yes to both! Though we do tour with a roadie. I generally carry it on flights, in a soft case. But I’ve stepped away from playing it for the most part. I don’t think I’ll be bringing it on tour for the next run. 

Talking of Chrissie, which other female pioneers and visionaries have inspired you personally?
So many, and so many I know personally. I’ve never been part of any scene but I do feel a general camaraderie that’s very empowering. Musicians like Tamaryn, Zohra Atash (Azar Swan), FKA Twigs, Hether Fortune (Wax Idols), Liza Thorn (Starred), Hollie Cook, Neneh Cherry, my stylist Raquel Medina-Cleghorn, the poet Ariana Reines. The post-drag art collective Chez Deep has maybe been the most singularly inspiring. They are fearless.

Many of those artists are similar to you in making songs which let your mind run wild into this hazy, emotional place, its provocatively poetic – do you read/write a lot of poetry yourself?

Both, though most written stuff ends up in songs. If it can stand alone though, that’s the high bar.

I imagine then that Patti Smiths revolutionary mergence of poetry and rock has inspired some of your creative output too?
Yeah she is the Queen. I go to her for a lot, like Christians might reference the Bible or something! 

And shes a mesmerising force to see live. Youve previously described yourself as a bit of a wallflower,  yet you blossom on stage. How do you reach that transcendent moment when you crossover into a glamour puss and woo the audience?
Oddly enough, I love performing. It’s like a safe place where nothing can touch me. Nothing can interfere. I did the whole last tour sober and that was maybe the most important discovery I’ve made recently. If you can touch that transcendent moment in a chemically unaltered state, well that’s power.

Stylistically on stage, you also fit that ‘Riot-Grrrl mould with your impressive mix of tattoos – can you tell me more about the symbolism behind them?
My tattoos are mostly commemorative in nature; I’ve lost a lot of people and they are tiny ways to keep their spirit alive. My support of other female artists, and more recently my relationship to my body and its incorporation into my music, are the most Riot Grrrl-influenced things about me. 

And what about the bands visual aesthetic, do you deliberately co-ordinate that gothic, femme-fatale-like uniform, or is it just how you all rock out?
It’s a lead-by-example sort of thing.

So you were obviously the perfect fit for fashion label AllSaints Biker Portrait Series – tell me more about that collaboration on the video for Under These Hands?
Their Creative Director is a fan and offered us a video session. It turned into a bigger thing than usual – they normally do live performances and we got to make a live music video while passing through London on our tour. I liked showcasing a live version of a song, abandoning my guitar and pulling in fans. 

Do you make more of a mental note now to think about what you wear in terms of self-expression, because it tells the audience a story about you?
I hope that the independent spirit is contagious.

I think it is! So whats your personal motto in life?
Sing Your Life by Morrissey.

The Dum Dum Girls will be performing live at Liverpool Sound City in the UK on May 24th.

Image one: Dee Dee Penny by James Orlando | Image two: Dum Dum Girls by Lauren Dukoff

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