Over the course of three albums and four EPs, Dum Dum Girls established a potent identity: gothic, dreamy rock music laced with girl-group backing vocals courtesy of four gimlet-eyed gals in laddered black nylons and fire-engine-red lipstick. It became their calling card but also a constriction. When Kristin Welchez — known back then as Dee Dee — started to write what might have become the California group's fourth record (following 2014's Too True ), she realized that her creative desires lay beyond the group's consummately drawn bounds.
What happened next was less reinvention than skin-shedding: she ended the band and reemerged as Kristin Kontrol, a sleeker incarnation that lets her love of '80s and '90s pop color her natural rock inclinations. The album she was writing became the brilliant X-Communicate, whose arpeggiated synths evoke the Human League, Bauhaus, super-early Madonna, and soft Italo disco. Given that Kristin was Dum Dum Girls' sole songwriter, she's not really "going solo" in the traditional sense. Instead, she says, Kristin Kontrol "is just an easy way to reestablish that there is definitely no vagueness about this project."
As MTV News critic Hazel Cills recently wrote about the power of female artists' adopting personae, Kristin's shift in name and presentation feels like a "bold step toward mere recognition of [her] art and all it contains." The opening track on X-Communicate could be a love song, but it could just as easily be the mantra behind the project. "Show me what you're capable of," Kristin sings on "Show Me," before promising, "There's no need to change yourself." We hear her singing freely as Kristin Kontrol about the anxieties of love and aging. I Skyped with Kristin in early April, where she spoke from her bed at home in Spanish Harlem, New York.
Laura Snapes: When artists reinvent themselves, people always focus on the external presentation, but I'm always curious about the impact of those changes on your personal life.
Kristin Kontrol: Rather than feeling like I'm adopting something new, it really just felt like I'd finally gotten to a place where I felt comfortable being myself. Dum Dum Girls and Dee Dee were very much creative and curated things. I'd grow a bit with them, then they'd grow a bit on their own with the momentum of having created a very aesthetic-based band. For me, Kristin Kontrol was less about creating a new character and more about finally letting in the things that had felt very off-limits, not only in the context of Dum Dum Girls as a band, but in this Dee Dee persona I'd worked tirelessly to establish. I was like, It's not all of me, and this is frustrating.
LS: What had felt off-limits? Why?
KK: It wasn't that it always felt like that. With my first couple records I felt I had a lot of room to grow. I'm not the kind of person who sits down and conceptualizes where I'm going. It's much more natural than that. But I think it became apparent to me on my last record that where I was trying to go musically wasn't quite coming off right under the guise of Dum Dum Girls. It started feeling like I'd hit a ceiling, and we'd hit a ceiling as a band. Regardless of the kind of record I put out next, it was still going to wash back through the understanding of us being a very established band. I'm pretty convinced that if I put this exact record out as Dum Dum Girls, it would be received very differently, which is not why I changed it, but that is something I thought about. I wanted to have a vehicle to put out whatever music I was into without a template that preemptively gave people a way to evaluate it.