I first saw Dee Dee Penny in the Mohawk’s greenroom after she had finished her set. It was August of last year and I, myself, had just finished college earlier that day. I don't remember much from that evening other than my friend Christian reenacting the story of Sleeping Beauty via interpretive body movements, and, of course, The Dum Dum Girls.
They’re just visually very striking. Elegant punks. They look straight out of a glam editorial: sheer striped black stockings, dangerous heels, pale skin, and expensively shiny hair. And black. Most everything is black, save for some brightly colored lipstick, but even that, too, could arbitrarily turn black. Black, black, black, black, black. And one redhead.
Then you hear their music, and then you’re like, “Daaang,” because you like their music. They absolutely hold their own in a genre where possessing natural talent is the only way to really make a name for yourself. But the best thing about The Dum Dum Girls is that they unabashedly go above and beyond to deliver the total package, because, well, you go to their shows with your eyes open. As Dee Dee agrees, the visual aspect is a huge part of rock and roll -- and there’s nothing wrong with embracing it.
I definitely didn’t not want to know more about them. So, I flew to New York and literally stalked their publicist (Hi, Frank!) to set up an interview. I wasn’t expecting her to show up in, like, Tory Burch capris or anything like that, but damn did Dee Dee come correct.
Case in point. Also: black, black, black, black, bleach blonde.
She ordered a juice and told me that her mom wouldn’t let her read Sassy when she was younger, so she’d go to her friend’s house to have her brain corrupted by the Jane Pratt. Then I was all, “Oh shit, I’m going to start recording this because you’re already saying cool stuff.” And so, basically, this is the interview.
For accuracy’s sake, pepper in a good eight or nine more “likes” throughout my questions. This was my first “real” interview, so I had butterflies in my stomach and my mushy brain worms were moving a mile a minute. I don’t know why, but I got super nervous! Plus, I just talk stupid in general, so there’s actually no real excuse.
Annie: You guys have a very specific look; you’re really glamorous all the time. So what are your thoughts on, like, developing this look while still being taken seriously for how great your music is?
Dee Dee: The first thing to clarify is that we’re not trying to look beautiful or hot. We’re trying to look like the style that we feel we are on the inside and I think it’s really just about figuring out what you feel comfortable with aesthetically and then just executing it, basically.
It’s sort of a tricky area because if you appear to put weight on your appearance, it can be taken as a superficial thing, but historically the aesthetic component to music has always been pretty massive. And a lot of bands and artists over the years have had a larger-than-life visual, and that’s a vital part of what made them who they are.
I think, too, that for me personally, really tapping into the aesthetic while I’m performing sort of helps me get into -- not a character per se, it’s not like I’m acting up there -- but it’s definitely a mindset and a zone that I enter when I play that’s very different from, say, sitting here or being at home with my cat or something. The ritual of getting ready is sort of part of that as well.
Annie: **High-pitched giggles** (Ugh. I am not acting normal. Act normal, you fucking weirdo!) Yeah, I get it, that makes sense. I think a lot of women can identify with that. Like, even just shifting moods to going out at night -- there is a ritual to that.
Dee Dee: And there’s nothing wrong with having personal style. That can range -- there’s a huge spectrum of what that means. It’s really just figuring out your visual voice.
Annie: **High-pitched giggles** (BE COOL, ASSHOLE!) So when you’re on the road in these disgusting venues how do you look so glamorous? How do you get ready? Any funny/gross stories?
Dee Dee: There’s a Courtney Love photo that I saw recently that’s of her getting ready in some shitty bathroom over a mirror. (I know which picture she's talking about because I Googled it. It would have cost $49 to include according to Getty Images. Bummer.) So, it ranges from stuff like that to having a vanity set in a backstage room. It doesn’t really matter, though, at this point. We’re sort of on autopilot; we can get ready in any capacity.
But I think the basics really to looking good probably have a lot to do with feeling good. Like, if you see me with sunglasses on, it’s probably just because I’m really tired. But we, probably more than any other band that I’ve encountered that isn’t like “famous,” put a lot of time and effort into making sure we eat well and get exercise, and sleep well, and drink water, etcetera.
Annie: Was it always that way?
Dee Dee: Um, no. I mean I’ve done this for almost 10 years now and I think, too, the fact that we’re an older band -- even though I’m sure we look very, very young -- we’re all much older than a lot of bands out there that tour as much as we do. You just kind of reach this point, at like 26 or 27, when your body’s like, “You can’t abuse me regularly without paying for it.” So, yeah, I think that probably after like, eyeliner, water is probably the best beauty secret.
Annie: Well, myself and my readers, I think would really like any product suggestions. So, I know it’s cheesy, but... the red lipstick. Do you have a favorite?
Dee Dee: I do, we all have our favorite color that we use. I think we all use a MAC color. I might be wrong on Sandy, but I use the same one, I found out, as Shirley Manson of Garbage. And it’s called Lady Danger. It’s a pain in the ass to find.
Annie: Is it, like, a limited edition?
Dee Dee: I don’t know that it’s limited, but it’s not carried in any counter -- it’s only carried in actual MAC stores. So you can never find it at airports, you can never find it inside of Barneys or whatever. But, to me, it’s the closest I found to recreate my favorite lipstick ever. This sort of is morbid, but when my grandmother passed away, I helped kind of clean up and go through all of her things and she had an AMAZING collection of vintage perfume and bottles and cosmetics. And she had this amazing vanity, everything pink, so cute. From the fifties. So I kept some of her lipsticks and they are this unbelievable, popping, sort of on the orange side, super matte reds. It’s just like that red lip from the forties, you know? Dita Von Teese probably wears it now. It’s sort of hard to find one like that, and then I finally did.
Annie: Yeah, so many today are frosted and glittery, it’s hard to find just a simple matte red like that. But I feel like we’re definitely moving more and more toward that forties look.
Dee Dee: There’s been a ton of especially that orange-toned lipsticks in the past five or six months that I’ve seen. Which is cool.
Annie: (This is where my mind totally goes blank. You can hear the air swishing through my skull as I opened my mouth.) So… uhh, that’s cool, you’re doing the MAC now. Did you always wear MAC?
Dee Dee: Yeah, I wore Ruby Woo before that. I think Jules and Sandy have a purple or a burgundy. Jules has a black. Malia oscillates from a nude lip to red. I think it’s called Scarlet something? It’s another MAC red.
Annie: Have you, like, stepped up your product game since you began?
Dee Dee: Definitely. And not really because I wanted to, but more just the reality of what we do is we perform with a lot of energy under hot lights while people are taking photos, so it’s a nightmare. You’re like, “Really? You wanna... Ugh, oh okay.” I think we’ve all sort of switched over to really high quality, the high-def stuff. I use Make Up Forever powder and foundation before shows. Because I move around so much, I trash my makeup and it just falls off. I don’t really wear makeup during the day other than cat-eye liner I’ve worn since I was 16. I can’t even look at my eyes unless I have it on or I feel like they would be misshapen.
Annie: Yeah, or sunglasses. (I awkwardly put mine on halfway through the interview. Partly because the sun was in my eyes. Partly because I could see my haggard reflection in Dee Dee’s glasses. Mostly because I wanted to be cool and wear sunglasses inside like Dee Dee. OKAY WHATEVER.)
Dee Dee: And I have THE best eyeliner. I would love to--
Annie: WHAT IS IT? You have it with you? (Dee Dee digs through her bag. This is when I felt like Ryan Seacrest on a glittery Armenian family, excitedly ordering a camera in her face. “Oh look she’s getting out her makeup bag. Frankie, can you get this? ARE YOU FUCKING GETTING THIS FRANKIE?”)
Interestingly enough, not black.
Dee Dee: So this is my makeup bag. My issue is that I would run every liquid black eyeliner. It didn’t matter if it said it was waterproof, sweat proof, oil proof, water-free, whatever. None of it ever worked. Hm, I can’t even read what this says anymore, but it’s Milani.
Annie: Oh, shut up! **GASPS** That’s the really cheap stuff.
Dee Dee: I got it at Target. And it’s their waterproof liquid liner in Everlast and it is SO effective that I can’t actually remove it. You have to use really intense eye makeup remover or it will not come off. It doesn’t come off with any kind of face wash, whether it says it will remove it or not. You have to use coconut oil or something really intense. And it stays black, and it’s really messy, but once you master it...
Annie: So that’s your makeup bag. Is it clear because it’s easier to travel with? (This is obviously when I started really asking the real hard-hitting questions.)
Dee Dee: This is something funny that you will probably appreciate. (Wait, are you saying that we’re best friends?) I have a really small suitcase. It’s really cute, leopard print. And I travel with almost nothing. I take a pair of pants, a blouse, a dress, and maybe a pair of tights for like a week or a month, or whatever. But, my toiletries bag is so big. Because I have to have special blonde shampoo, now that I’m blonde, and conditioner and all this shit. And it’s like three times the size of what I have clothes-wise.
Annie: I like that you enjoy beauty so much, that’s refreshing to hear. I feel like some women are apprehensive to admit that.
Dee Dee: Again, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with wanting to look your best. Or just, be healthy! It’s fine.
Annie: Yep, as you sip on your beet juice. When did you go blonde?
Dee Dee: I went blonde about four months ago.
Annie: Do you like it?
Dee Dee: It’s a lot of work. And because I travel so much I always have really epic roots and I only have a small number of people who I would trust to do it and they’re not here. They’re never where I am. (Ugh, I have THE SAME problem, best friend.) But it’s fun. I’d been thinking of it for quite a while and -- I just turned 30. And I was like, “I should totally do this before I turn 30.” Just as a symbolic thing, the last fling of youth: going blonde. It’s really fun. For being such a superficial change, it’s interesting to see how people react to you. It’s sort of gross actually.
Annie: Really? From guys or what?
Dee Dee: Yeah. I’m pretty oblivious to anything like that anyway, but I remember the day that I went blonde I got hit on, like, 10 times more than usual. I look mean when I walk, too, so I can only attribute it to my hair being different.
Annie: Good to know.
Insta some Dum Dum Girls eye candy @wearedumdumgirls. Check their tour dates and see the real thing.
Thanks, Frankie, for documenting this.