Dum Dum Girls frontwoman Kristen Gundred is the first to acknowledge that she finds herself in a situation today of her own making. The singer-guitarist known to her fans as Dee Dee Penny is on record as being a private person who’s never been overly comfortable in the spotlight.
How ironic then, that, as she’s been doing press for the Dum Dum Girls’ just-released new album, Only in Dreams, she’s having to constantly revisit one of the most intensely personal and difficult periods of her life. Gundred has been completely open about the fact that a number of the songs on the 10-track release were written about the 2010 death of her mother. That her mom—who lost a year-long battle with cancer—served as the cover girl for both Only in Dreams and the Dum Dum Girls’ 2010 debut, I Will Be, should give you a good idea how much she was revered.
In many ways, Only In Dreams—which was released September 27—finds Gundred attempting to deal with her loss; if you want devastating, look no further than the closing track “Hold Your Hand”, where she sings “I wish it wasn’t true, but there’s nothing I can do but hold your hand until the very end.”
Reached in her adopted home of New York City, the singer notes that she’s only now getting a handle on how much Only in Dreams means to her.
“This will sound stupid, but after reading a couple of reviews and doing some interviews, it’s dawned on me that, wow, this is such an intense thing to throw out into the masses. And into the jaws of, you know, stupid critics. But I have to just divorce myself of everything, because if I was ever hypersensitive about criticism before, here I’ve made the target my heart.”
As emotionally attached as Gundred is to Only In Dreams, she’s also proud of how the Dum Dum Girls have taken a dramatic step forward musically. The record positions the four-piece as a band that’s determined to evolve artistically, the lo-fi stylings of I Will Be giving way to songs here that draw on everything from post-apocalyptic surf (“Always Looking”) to cloud-bursting dream pop (“Bedroom Eyes”). In a marked departure from this past spring’s EP He Gets Me High and earlier singles, Gundred’s vocals are no longer buried underneath six layers of reverb and smothering blankets of distortion, this thanks to the excellent production team of Richard Gottehrer (Blondie, the Go-Go’s) and the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.
“Yesterday I made a playlist of our set on my iPod,” Gundred notes. “I was listening to it to evaluate the flow for our shows. It consisted of a lot of our earliest songs, a lot of songs off I Will Be, songs off He Gets Me High, and then the new record. It was really interesting to hear what a process it’s been, to go from the first song I ever wrote and recorded myself not having any idea what I was doing to songs off this record. It’s shocking in terms of the difference in fidelity.”
The Dum Dum Girls’ spiritual leader adds that if she has a hope for Only In Dreams, it’s that fans will be able to look beyond the individual songs and see the album as a cohesive, fully realized whole work of art. The process didn’t make what she went through any less painful, but it did work as a form of much-needed therapy.
“I didn’t have a choice after my mom died,” Gundred says. “It was either write this record or take a year off. I think I’m going to look back on this record as being pretty essential to dealing with this part of my life and being able to move on.”
Dum Dum Girls play Electric Owl on Saturday (October 8).Follow Mike Usinger on the Tweeter at twitter.com/mikeusinger.