Dee Dee Penny, founder and frontwoman of Dum Dum Girls, is known for her shy disposition. She's probably also tired of hearing about it in the press, but only one second into our phone call, it's obvious how reserved, quiet, and thoughtful she is. The way she speaks is absolutely charming, and it translates well into the shoegaze-y dream-pop band she leads.
Dum Dum Girls' recently released record, Too True, is a slight departure from the band's other two LPs and four EPs, with its darker vibe (think Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Jesus and Mary Chain) and dance-y rhythms.
"An artist like [Madonna] or David Bowie or Primal Scream have shifted what they do drastically from record to record," Penny tells me, citing Madonna's pop influence on her from a young age. "I think, on this record, I was keen to do something more upbeat, danceable, [and with a] pop aesthetic, in as much as that makes sense in the Dum Dum Girls world."
Too True marks the fifth release the Girls employed the talent of producer Richard Gottehrer, noted for his work with Blondie and The Go-Go's and his role in writing "I Want Candy" as a member of The Strangeloves. Penny's working relationship with Gottehrer started when he tweaked her bedroom recordings and oversaw post-production on what later would become the band's debut, I Will Be.
"[It was] a great introduction in working more collaboratively together on future stuff. He just has a really interesting life story and his résumé is work, be it songwriting or producing," Penny says. "We have a lot of the same reference points — except for me, it's that I love these records, and, for him, it's that he worked on them."
Many of the musical themes of Gottehrer's '70s and '80s work have carried over in Dum Dum Girls' sound — retro or vintage or whatever you want to call it — but it's simply delectable. However, Penny contends that carrying the torch of traditional rock 'n' roll is far more about attitude.
"It's sort of a do-whatever-I-want kind of attitude," Penny says. "It's an energy, and it's something that's contagious but also isn't necessarily limited to things that would be considered exclusively in the genre of rock 'n' roll."
Part of that attitude comes out on "Catholicked" (from the band's 2010 Blissed Out compilation), a song about shedding her parents' religion, borrowing the line "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," from Patti Smith. I asked Penny what her mom and pop thought of the song.
"I don't even know that my dad heard it. He's an atheist, so that's not a big deal. My mother was definitely a pretty devout Catholic," Penny says. "I gave my parents a copy just as a courtesy and deliberately removed the back of the record, so she wouldn't see the title. But she saw it on the record itself . . . She was, like, is that meaning what I think it means? That was about the extent of our exchange."
"Rimbaud Eyes," the second single from Too True, borrows from the French poet's piece "The Drunken Boat" but is more about Penny's relationship with her husband, Brandon Welchez, of San Diego's Crocodiles.
"We're all kind of big readers, big fans of poetry in general and [Rimbaud] specifically," Penny says. "He got this T-shirt — a very classic portrait of Rimbaud — and proceeded to wear it for about two years straight. This picture, I've seen it every day forever. Even a screenprinted T-shirt, there's something very, very intense about his eyes . . . People's eyes have always been something that interested me. Probably the first thing I notice or evaluate when I meet someone. I feel like they're very telling."