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On Location with Kristin Kontrol

The singer talks backstage about leaving the Dum Dum Girls and taking control

Kristin Welchez has swapped one alter ego for another. The singer first caught the world’s attention in 2008 as Dee Dee Penny, lead singer of indie-rock band Dum Dum Girls. With catchy guitar chords and Kristin’s growly vocals, the band crafted beloved indie hits like “Bedroom Eyes” and “Coming Down.” But artists evolve, and Kristin began to feel as if the music she wanted to make no longer fit the mold that she herself had made for Dum Dum Girls; expectations about the type of music the band made began to feel like more of a constraint than a creative space. “I feel like what I wanted to do and what I was doing was sort of at a pace and direction that Dum Dum Girls couldn’t go in tandem with,” the singer admits. “I expanded Dum Dum Girls about as far as the world would let me.” So she went back to the drawing board and has returned as the solo frontwoman for a new group with a new sound: Kristin Kontrol. This May, she delivered X-Communicate, a solid album of dark synth-pop beats strung through poignant lyrics that explore heartbreaking, longing, and lust. 

Kristin sat down with DuJour before a slamming show at Brooklyn venue Baby’s All Right to talk about leaving the Dum Dum Girls, crafting her new sound, and opening on tour for alternative-rock band Garbage, a childhood dream come true.

Kristin Kontrol and Shirley Manson from Garbage

How does it feel to be performing under a new name, sound and group?

It obviously feels like this huge fracture, and it is to some degree. But the bottom line is, I’m a songwriter and I’m a singer and I need a vehicle to release music and perform as. I knew I was writing a record that would mean a completely different approach. It’s such an electronic project. It just requires different players. And so I was like I’m not going to keep the name and nothing else—that to me is almost offensive. We [Dum Dum Girls] were the kind of band that’s very precious to fans and stuff. I would never want to steal their Dum Dum Girls, you know? It really just felt like the natural thing to do would be to step aside and hop on a faster car or ride, or whatever. 

How was putting together this album different?

I’ve had a really interesting growth experience. With the last DDG record I definitely felt like maybe I’d lost some of the authority. Everything was filtered back through the context of, “Well this isn’t what Dum Dum Girls sounds like.” What the hell? Well it is if I do it! I’m literally Dum Dum Girls. Like, what? So that was obnoxious on some level. So with Kristin Kontrol I wanted to be in control, although I relaxed a lot and sought out producers who bring a lot of their own stuff. And that was really good for me—to see how positive and effective it can be to bring in people and work more collaboratively than I had before.

You seem to experiment with more modern, darker sounds on this album. How did you land on this? 

There’s a song called “Skin Shed” that’s kind of a housey song. Basically, I spent like 8 hours of a day deciding I was going to try to write a house song, which, like…

You’d never done house before? 

Well, no. I’m very much a fan, but where I come from songwriting is very straightforward—the classic rock ‘n roll chord progressions or the classic doo wop chord progressions. All of a sudden I was like, I wonder if there are common progressions in different types of dance music. So I Googled it and I came upon some huge forum or message board, read a bunch of articles, and, yeah, there are very common chord progressions in specific types of house music. I don’t think I used it exactly right, cause it was probably a little beyond my ability to play. With all the writing for this record I was trying to get out of my comfort zone and use different sounds and instruments, but I really had no idea. I was probably using the joke house organ sound or something.

You’re going to be open up for Garbage this summer. How did that come about? 

We have a really obnoxiously adorable backstory. Firstly, Garbage was the first concert I ever went to. My dad took me. Then fast forward to the first time I came to New York to do press for Dum Dum Girls. I was with some Sub Pop people and we were kind of running around between radio stations. We’re walking on the street and this pair walks up and passes us. I didn’t see her face, but she had on an epic leopard print coat, red hair… and I’m like “Damn, she’s cool.” And my A&R person goes into the street to hail a cab and basically steals their cab because he stepped out further. I noticed it because I think she swore. And then I was like, “Oh my god, that’s Shirley Manson. I just stole her cab. She saw it and she saw us, and she’s going to think I’m such a dick.” I was so embarrassed. And I was like you know what? I’m going to do something out of character: I tweeted at Garbage. I was like,  “Hey Shirley, that was me. I stole your cab accidentally today. I’m such a fan. I’m so sorry.” And she responded! Then we ended up playing a couple shows with them. I always go see them when they play in New York. We’re not close by any means, but we’ve emailed a few times and when this transition was a potential thing that was happening she was really supportive and kind of gave me a little mentoring.

Main image: Sean Barrow