Stepping out from behind the Dum Dum Girls drum kit to assume frontwoman duties in SISU sounds like it might have been a pretty natural process for Sandra Vu. “Self-assured” and “impressively accomplished” are both good starting descriptions of the Los Angeles–based band and its excellent debut album, Blood Tears. Forget the doomy surf-pop of the Dum Dums: Vu has unleashed a more experimental side of herself in the album’s 10 synth-heavy tracks, which suggest a love of everything from glitch-techno (“Shotgun Running”) to neon-lipstick-smeared new wave (“Return the Favor”).
Blood Tears is strong enough to make one wonder why the drummer was initially reluctant to drop her sticks and start singing. Reached via cell on a highway heading back to her hometown of Los Angeles, she has a theory as to what was holding her back.
“As an artist, one of the biggest things that I struggle with is feeling superconfident about this,” she says of SISU. “I’m sort of anti-being-a-frontperson for many reasons. I think a big one is that, growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me being a frontperson. I don’t know if it’s my personality, or some social aspect, but I never could see myself up there singing.”
Pushing her to do just that was an old friend who is now her bandmate and main sounding board in SISU. Vu and guitarist-keyboardist Ryan Wood first played together in a late-2000s L.A. psych-pop band called Midnight Movies. While that project eventually sputtered out, the friendship between the two didn’t, and Wood became one of Vu’s biggest boosters.
“Initially, I had to get coached to do this, for sure,” she reveals. “My bandmate Ryan Wood, who coproduced the record, was pretty much responsible for pushing me out there and getting me to pursue this. He and I were the rhythm section in Midnight Movies, and we had a real bond. I respect him a tremendous amount musically, to where he was one of the first people that I ever sent my songs to.”
That step wasn’t easy for Vu.
“I was extremely shy about sharing my music with people—it took me a long time to get comfortable doing that,” she says. “I sent him everything I did because we’re so close musically. He has a real knowledge of engineering and mixing, so I’d send him rough tracks, and then he’d make them sound really good. That made me think, ‘Hey, there really is something here.’ ”
Vu was certainly right about that, with Blood Tears being enough of a revelation to make you ask why the hell she’s spending months at a time sitting behind the kit for the admittedly great Dum Dum Girls. The record is one of the year’s best, whether the newly minted singer is unleashing her inner dirty-boots guitar rocker in the discordant “Let Go” or flirting with Major Tom art-pop on the title track.
Based on the response that Blood Tears has received, whatever fears Vu had about reinventing herself with SISU were probably unfounded. The best sign that she’s convinced herself that she’s on to something is that she’s easing into her new role, even if it scares her on some level.
“I feel like I’ll always be learning how to do this, because there’s always room for improvement,” Vu says of fronting SISU. “But at this point I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been. Being on tour has helped a lot, but it’s still small, incremental improvements every time we play.”