Leader of the Pack

Spotlight // June/July 2010
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Leader of the Pack
Leader of the Pack

She calls herself Dee Dee. She wears all black clothes and fire engine red lipstick, riding along on the freeway in LA, recapping her band’s most recent tour. It doesn’t sound a bit like work. It’s more like she got a few girlfriends together to run away for fun and trouble. “We were staying in Camden,” says the Dum Dum Girls front woman of the band’s recent jaunt to London to push their debut album I Will Be. “We roamed around and went to vintage shops, we hung out with our British friends on their turf, and we played shows all over the city: Soho, East London, South London. It was just really, really awesome.”

This is all new for Dee Dee, whose real name, we happen to know, is Kristen Gundred. That’s because we’ve been following her career since long before she masterminded her current identity. Once upon a time—2008, actually—Gundred was the eyelined leader of the promising San Diego garage band Grand Ole Party, a trio with two dudes that once toured with Rilo Kiley. Like a cross between Meg White and Karen O, Dee Dee (then Kristen) slammed drums and spat shrill lyrics into a Britney Spears-style headset mic about nomads, devils and pimps. But, she doesn’t want to talk about any of that today because now she’s on a whole new ride, this time with her lady friends. “I’ve never played with other women,” she says, “but I always enjoyed female bands, the energy of it.”

Originally, Dum Dum Girls was just Dee Dee, a classically trained vocalist, sitting around writing fierce little post-Grand Ole Party rock ditties, recording them at home lo-fi style with gobs of reverb. She named the project after the Vaselines album Dum-Dum and also as an answer to the Iggy Pop song “Dum Dum Boys” and released a few singles and seven-inches on tiny indie labels. YouTube footage of early Dum Dum Girls gigs shows Dee Dee as a witchy, black clad presence, fronting an all-male backing band, including her husband Brandon Welchez of the stellar SoCal lo-fi act Crocodiles. Eventually though, a proper full-length began to take shape. Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and Welchez contributed to the recordings, but once her own vocal harmonies began stacking up, Dee Dee knew what she had to do to make her vision an onstage reality. So, she set out finding a trio of badass females to back her up.

The first signer was Frankie Rose, whose drumming had propped up a string of notable NYC acts, including Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls. “That was the biggest hurdle,” recalls Dee Dee, who had known Rose for some time, “because I couldn’t think of a single other female drummer who can sing besides myself. I was totally excited when she agreed to play some shows.” (For Rose’s part, she couldn’t care less if she were playing with a pack of aliens, so long as they were cool. “I’m gender neutral,” she says. “I like being in bands with kind and interesting people.”) The other two members, Jules, a guitarist from Austin and Bambi, a bassist from San Diego, joined up, and suddenly, Dee Dee had a transcontinental band of lady friends. “Since we all live so far apart, there’s no fighting yet,” she says. “And we have to cram for tours whenever we can. It is pretty remarkable to get to work together.”

In photos and onstage, the band looks like a gang of greasers gone girlie: wild, troubled, sexy. Their uniform is black vintage dresses and patterned tights, á la Dee Dee. “They all shared my aesthetic anyway,” she says. “When I was 12 or 13, I went through a goth stage. I’ve dabbled in color since, but I always go back to black. It’s just so classic and tough.”With dark bangs stuck to their foreheads, this gang sings songs about prison (“Jail La La”), jealousy (“Lines Her Eyes”) and love at first sight (“Oh Mein M”), all distorted and noised up to create the signature “blissed-out buzz saw” sound on I Will Be. Still, there’s a softer side of Dum Dum Girls. A cover of Sonny & Cher’s “Baby Don’t Go” caps off the album: Dee Dee strums and coos softly over what sounds like the background noise at a California beach party. Actually, Dee Dee says, it is waves…of sound. “It’s an extreme form of reverb,” she notes. “A total accident, but it sounded cool.”

I Will Be is out now on Subpop Records.

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Originally published in June/July 2010

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