March 5 2014 04:34 PM

Dee Dee Penny finds inspiration in personal space


“I had felt this drive building up in me over a few months,” says Dee Dee Penny, frontwoman and songwriter for New York City-based indie-rock outfit Dum Dum Girls, describing the intense, concentrated period spent writing the band’s new album Too True.

Between several rounds of tour dates supporting the then-new EP End of Daze, Dee Dee found herself harboring a growing creative energy in need of an outlet. So, she holed herself up in her apartment for eight days with nothing but her guitar and “a gallon of coffee” and worked non-stop, cranking out music at a pace of about a song a day. By the end of the week, she’d nearly finished writing what eventually became her new album.

The bolt of inspiration is a far cry from the more piecemeal approach that led up to the creation of 2011’s Only in Dreams. As Dee Dee explained in a 2011 interview with Self-Titled magazine, that record came about two or three songs at a time between tours, sometimes resulting in unanticipated stylistic gaps between the songs. To complicate matters, Dee Dee’s mother had been growing increasingly ill during the year between the release of Dum Dum Girls’ debut, I Will Be, and Only in Dreams, eventually succumbing to cancer in late 2010. For more than a year, Dee Dee’s bereavement colored the tone of the music she released.

Dee Dee—a pseudonym for one-time San Diegan Kristin Gundred—tells CityBeat that the most important thing for her, creatively, was to be able to overcome that grief.

“The last two things I did, they were very specifically influenced by one thing: a traumatic personal experience that I could not get out of,” she says. “I could not unwrap my head from that. And, finally in the last year, I got out of that. And I felt like I had arrived at a clean slate.

“It kinda felt like a new beginning, in that sense.”

Too True, released on Sub Pop Records in January, still carries an air of darkness, but not in the same way that Only in Dreams or End of Daze did. It’s more of an aesthetic or dramatic darkness, rather than melancholy. And there’s a much bigger, dreamier sound to it, which often recalls the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees or The Cure.

Dee Dee, along with producers Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes and Richard Gottehrer (Blondie, Richard Hell), creates a more immersive sensory experience on Too True, from the reverb-laden post punk of “Rimbaud Eyes” to the über-catchy, dream-pop hooks of “Too True to Be Good.” It’s an album that nods to a lot of British bands from the 1980s, yet Dee Dee says that one of the most prominent, if subliminal, influences on the album is her current home.

“New York City kind of feels like, to me, a more urgent, bigger, darker version of anywhere I’ve lived before,” she says. “When I started [Dum Dum Girls], I was in a studio apartment on Robinson Avenue in San Diego, but it could have been a bedroom anywhere. The way that I feel now, when I’m outside walking, looking around and surrounded by so much stuff, is how I’m feeling right now when I’m writing these songs.

“It’s not that [New York is] my muse or anything,” she continues. “But I feel like I tap into that environment, whether it’s in my head or it’s not.”

In addition to writing all of the material on Too True, Dee Dee performed almost all of it, too, with Wagner adding a little bit of extra instrumentation in a few places. When Dum Dum Girls released Only in Dreams in 2011, Dee Dee enlisted her live band to flesh out the songs, which gave the album more physical immediacy. Too True doesn’t at all sound like the work of just one or two musicians—it’s a very full, alive-sounding record. But the recording of the album, much like the process of writing it, was done with minimal contact or input from anyone on the outside.

While Dum Dum Girls— who’ll play at The Casbah on Friday, March 7—remains a live band, making music is still something Dee Dee’s most comfortable doing on her own.

“The writing and recording process is really entangled for me, and really a personal thing,” she says. “I get total tunnel vision, and I’m obsessed by it, and I can’t let go of certain things. I’m comfortable bringing my relatively complete vision to my producers in the studio and getting their ideas, and they help me kind of articulate things in the best way, but it’s just too much a personal thing for me at this point to really expand into any kind of typical band dynamic—at least in the writing and recording process. I didn’t anticipate that it would still be like that, but it is.

“The way that I work—at least with Dum Dum Girls—is a really private thing for me.”

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