For the last eight years, Kristin Welchez has dominated the garage rock scene as Dee Dee with her band the Dum Dum Girls. From their first cassette, Blissed Out, to 2014's Too True, Dee Dee's voice has rung sincere over fuzzy, shoegaze-y guitar riffs -- all while wearing the Dum Dum uniform of black leather jackets and bright red lipstick. However, in January, Welchez announced the end of the Dum Dum Girls and the birth of a new solo project, aptly dubbed Kristin Kontrol. And with her debut album, X-Communicate, out May 27th, Kristin returns to her roots, dropping the monochrome look and "Dee Dee" persona, and transforming her sound into a modern take on '80's pop. As such, we sat down with Kristin to talk about the new record, being inspired by everyone from Sinead O'Connor to Neu!, and finally feeling like herself.
You've spent the last eight or so years as Dee Dee, the brains behind Dum Dum Girls -- why did you make the transition to Kristin Kontrol?
I just finally got the point where I was ready to be myself. Musically, I started feeling like Dum Dum Girls was a little too much of an archetype. I felt like I'd hit a ceiling with where I could go with Dum Dum Girls and that tied into no longer needing the Dee Dee persona. Initially, it was helpful to have this alter ego that bolstered my self-confidence and let me play a character. But that was my early twenties, and now I'm in my early thirties.
You previously wrote and demoed all of your songs yourself, but this isn't really a guitar record. How did your process change writing X-Communicate?
On the production side, I wanted to open it up to all the things I love and not make it such a focused guitar album. There was a lot more freedom in terms of playing around with different genres and sounds. It's not crazy different, and it's not like I abandoned all of the things that I referenced before, it's just I added a bunch of other stuff.
I can still hear some of The Cure, definitely.
For sure. But because I was trying to do something really different and almost make up for lost time, I decided I had to change how I do things. Which for me meant I was going to approach songwriting differently and bring in new producers. I went a little overboard. I was writing on a keyboard and having a lot of fun experimenting, but ultimately I just wasn't writing good songs because I'm not super capable at the piano. I think I wrote over forty songs that Richard Gottehrer -- my longtime producer who manages me -- told me just weren't good enough. At a certain point, it became overwhelmingly depressing, and I reached that moment where I was like 'Fuck. I don't know how to do this anymore.'
How did you get past that?
I kind of realized I didn't need to be so extreme. I could still write on guitar, but choose to produce it differently. So I started writing on guitar again, and I picked two producers (Kurt Feldman and Andrew Miller) who are very good at things I don't know anything about, like synth stuff and drum programming.
You wanted to make a pop record. Did that mean your songwriting style had to change?
If anything, I just tried to get out of the default rock 'n roll thing. I wanted to write vocal melodies that were very different from what I've done before. Take advantage of my whole range. Show that I'm [also] obsessed with Kate Bush, and not just Joan Jett.
Most of your work with Dum Dum Girls fell into the lo-fi girl group category, but what always separated you from any other garage rock band was your voice. On X-Communicate, you definitely show more of a range -- the focus is more on your vocals, which are louder in the mix.
I really wanted the voice to be the thing that anchored everything. I used Sinead O'Connor as a good example, because on her second record, you can go song to song and they really do jump around stylistically, but her voice is so dominant that everything else is just there to support it in whatever way is most appropriate.
You've talked about some of the references you pulled for this album. What songs or artists were you listening to when you conceived of X-Communicate?
I wanted to make a dance record that was really fun and entertaining to listen to. So I was listening to a lot of freestyle, a lot of acid house, a lot of pop reggae, Swedish 90s and 2000s stuff -- just all of the good pop, basically. Also, I'm the biggest krautrock and reggae fan. I was obsessed with the Robyn song "Show Me Love," which is just a perfect mid-tempo freestyle that made me think of the TLC songs I loved when I was a kid. And I can't neglect Siouxsie [frontwoman of '80s rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees] in this, my affinity for her is lifelong. I'm also a big Cyndi Lauper fan.
Lyrically, how does X-Communicate differ from your previous work?
I don't think I've ever written a record as specific. All the songs are about love -- even the 40 songs that didn't make the album. All different kinds of love: Romantic, platonic, familial, heartbreak, happiness, acceptance, rejection... I think that's probably the driving force for a lot of people -- connection. It's just about connection.
Your personal style was always a huge element in Dum Dum Girls. Did your style evolve with the music for X-Communicate, or did you make conscious aesthetic decisions the same way you did for Dum Dum Girls?
I don't really have a set aesthetic for Kristin Kontrol other than "nothing like Dum Dum Girls." I've grown up a lot, and it's fun to start fresh. I think I'm gonna do a lot of bold colors and rep the glammy, androgynous thing. I just want to be like Thin White Duke-era Bowie. Something a bit put together. And fun, bring more pomp into it.
What are you most excited to explore now that you're not so attached to one rigid aesthetic?
I think I'm gonna try to dance around a bit. I feel like with Dum Dum Girls, I was always aware of something, whether it was stress or being cognizant of what I was doing and how people were looking at me. I'm just looking forward to getting lost in it, whether I'm slightly choreographed or if I just am freaking out like a crazy person because that's what feels right.
What was the hardest or scariest part of transitioning away from the Dee Dee persona to Kristin Kontrol?
It was [actually] all really liberating. I legitimately had a huge sigh of relief. I remember I woke up really early on the day we announced it, and I just sat up on Twitter responding to everything. I'm not normally that interactive, and I was being all sassy, and I was like 'Oh my god, I'm getting to be myself!' Like I'm kind of a jackass, and I'm silly, and yeah I'm quiet and shy, and maybe I can be mean, but there is a really different side of me that's never been able to flex itself because it didn't fit. It feels so much better. I feel like I'm home.