Dum Dum Girls leader on influences from Kate Bush to The Chameleons…
Kristin Kontrol

Kristin Kontrol is a woman on a mission. After eight years of being the leader of the Dum Dum Girls, the singer is gearing up to release her first solo album, ‘X-Communicate’. The Sub Pop release sees a departure from her previous band’s retro indie sound and witnesses Kristin Kontrol (real name Kristin Welchez) unleash some sonically charged electro-pop bangers.

Created with producers Kurt Feldman and Andrew Miller, the record veers between the euphoric eighties synths of the title track and soothing piano notes on understated ballad ‘What Is Love’, displaying confident and unwavering versatility in the music she makes. Here the former Dum Dum Girls mastermind speaks to Clash about the five albums that have shaped her musically and inspired her latest release.

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Sinéad O’Connor – ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’

One of my favourite records of all time, and probably a lot of people’s, would be the second Sinéad O’Connor record (which has the infamous Prince cover on it), ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’ – which as a motto is smart. It was a big reference not in really micro terms but more in a macro sense for my new record.

The album differs pretty significantly song to song in terms of style or arrangement or production, but her voice is the constant. It’s the anchor and, more so than on my record, it’s treated the same way in each song, it’s just so undeniably her. She could be singing in a bathroom or a broom closet without any effect and it would probably have the same sort of overwhelming, all-encompassing dominance, but I really nerded out about it. I found all these message boards and forums of people trying to find out the exact engineering settings that were used for her, like the very classic reverb that’s on the whole record, which it basically came down to – I can’t remember if it was the producer or the engineer – they were just like obviously her voice is inhuman on its own, she’d do doubles for all the songs and then they locked into this really specific reverb, which I found all the parameters for and tried to recreate in my demo sessions. If you go into my GarageBand I have a setting that says like ‘Sinéad-y Verb’ or whatever. It was where I started and I remember when I talked to the two producers that was something that I pointed out. I wanted there to be freedom in what we did song to song, we didn’t need to be faithful or loyal to anything, but I wanted the voice to be very much the anchor and the focal point. That’s what will unite a record of varying song styles and multiple producers, so we didn’t keep it as static as the Sinéad record, where I think almost the identical setting are used on every song, but that was very much something we kept in mind spiritually.

Obviously the Prince song (‘Nothing Compares 2 U’) is such a good song in its original version, and then her version is that thing that happens once in a blue moon where the reinterpretation, in my opinion and probably most people’s, is so much greater than its original form – and the video is perfect. I remember when I was conceptualising what I wanted from this next wave of what I was doing artistically, and I wanted it to be really devastating, which sounds really emo to say, but that vulnerability and the raw power in her cover is a perfect example of that.

I also really love the song ‘Feels So Different’ which I listened to recently on a shopping trip to a grocery store on repeat. It was really good. I think it’s somewhat related to sobriety or AA if you go through it lyrically, and then obviously ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ is such a jam as well.

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The Weeknd – ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’

I’m a massive Weeknd fan. I love the new record and it’s the first time I’ve understood the idea of frontloading and album, which hopefully that’s not offensive should he ever come across me talking about him, but it’s just five of the most epic songs all in a row. It’s overwhelming then I can get back to doing some sort of other thing and then I check back in like right at the end of the record.

I first became really into him with the ‘House of Balloons’ mixtape because it did exactly what I am so excited is happening in music now, which is a very genre-less time. If there is a snooty devotion in music it’s to the new and to the exploration, it’s not necessarily to a genre. So to have Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie [and the Banshees] and Beach House sampled on his mixtape was perfect. It totally spoke to me because I thought this is exciting and new and where he’s going is really cool musically. He’s got this incredible voice and he is putting it out there that his taste is super varied just as mine is. It probably goes down a little easier for him to reference rock stuff and to try to pull in his favourite R&B, hip hop or techno references into a more standard indie world, but hopefully those barriers are breaking down too. It doesn’t come across like Aerosmith and Run DMC or whatever, it always was a little cheekier in that way but I love that, that release was super good.

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Madonna – ‘Ray Of Light’

I’ve always been a huge Madonna fan. I kind of rotate what I’m listening to exclusively every year or so, and I got way into ‘Ray Of Light’ more than I ever have done in the last couple of years. It’s such a good record and I think it won a Grammy. I feel like the three or four singles that were critical hits and just acknowledged as genius, those are all the great songs on it. There’s some lesser songs in terms of the actual song structures but the production is incredible across the board. ‘Frozen’ and ‘Ray of Light’ are probably my favourites off the record and there definitely were little elements of them that I tried to pull into my record in terms of the dance stuff and touching on acid house.

There’s this incredible mash up of Sex Pistols and Madonna called ‘Ray of Gob’, and it’s basically ‘Ray of Light’, both the video and the vocals, spliced with some footage of Sex Pistols and then a couple of Sex Pistols songs, but it’s just perfect. I remember the first time I heard it I was like, “Oh my god, this is what I want to do.” It’s a hybrid of the classic punk energy and then very melodic and fast with weird dance music over it.

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Kate Bush – ‘Hounds Of Love’

I guess I’ve said recently that ‘Hounds Of Love’ is my favourite record of Kate Bush’s. I don’t know that it is but I’m still so stuck on the song ‘Watching You Without Me’. It has been a favourite song forever. It’s so creepy and simple and minimal and beautiful that it could be the only song I liked on it and that would be enough to vault that record to the top. Obviously the classic ‘Running Up That Hill’ is super good, but with ‘Watching You Without Me’ something really resonated with me, probably because I’ve spent a lot of time on my own. It really captures what a solitary life in the context of not a solitary life feels like where there’s a lot of lacking and missing.

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The Chameleons – ‘Script Of The Bridge’

This is my angry album. It’s how I get through being angry, which has been, for quite a few years now, The Chameleons, ‘Script of the Bridge’. It’s a flawless album from start to finish. I DJ a couple of songs off of it pretty regularly and it’s so annoying because each song that I DJ has this really vital building intro that for DJ purposes I have to crop. It’s just one of those cathartic albums. It’s not that I have to be angry to enjoy it and it’s not that it’s an angry album, but for whatever reason it’s my go to if I’m feeling a little edgy and it just helps me navigate that in a positive way.

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‘X-Communicate’ is out now via Sub Pop Records.

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