Good Influences: The Dum Dum Girls

dumdumgirlsAlthough they’re currently based in New York, the Dum Dum Girls make perfectly Californian pop with a punk edge. Comprised of members Dee Dee, Jules, Sandy, and Malia, the ladies have two albums and two EPs under their belts and a growing fan base. The fuzzed-out, lo-fi sound of their debut might have been traded in favor of more straightforward garage rock, but the strong tunes remain intact. Lead singer and songwriter Dee Dee Penny started the band as a bedroom solo project, then recruited other band members along the way. Hearkening back to the golden days of rock while retaining a fresh lyrical perspective, the Dum Dum Girls wear their influences on their sleeves.

With the lo-fi sound on their first album, the Dum Dum Girls were heavily influenced by indie artists like Talulah Gosh. Formed in England in 1988, Talulah Gosh ushered in the golden era of K Records and twee pop. The hazy sound and high energy of the genre won over fans like Kurt Cobain, while influencing many bands to come. After their breakup, the members of Talulah Gosh regrouped as Heavenly, and then once more as Tender Trap. The influence of each of these bands can be heard in the music of the Dum Dum Girls.

One of the most loved bands of the 1980s, The Pretenders were mainly a rotating group of backing musicians for lead singer and rock icon Chrissie Hynde. With her smoky voice and edgy look, Ohio-born Chrissie formed the Pretenders in England in 1978. A string of hit records followed, and the band remained at the top of the charts for more than 15 years. They continue to perform today. Dee Dee’s voice bears more than a passing resemblance to Chrissie’s, and the jangly guitar sound employed by the Pretenders has surfaced in many Dum Dum Girls songs.

Blending Hollywood Noir with British punk and a dash of Americana, X were one of the premier west coast bands in the 1980s. Exene Cervanka shared lead vocal duties with John Doe, and caused quite a stir with her multi-colored hair and ripped clothes. The Dum Dum Girls have mined similar west coast punk and surf styles to emerge with a sound similar to X’s.

Like every all-girl band, the Dum Dum Girls owe a debt of gratitude to the girl bands of the 1960s who paved the way for female musicians of the future. One such band was East Los Angeles’ The Girls, four sisters who had been playing music together all their lives. Rosemary, Diane, Sylvia and Margaret Sandoval recorded two singles (“My Baby” and “Chico’s Girl”), performed for troops in Vietnam, and earned a sponsorship from Fender guitars and amps. They also played at Bob Dylan’s birthday party in 1966. They still perform together as Not Your Average All Girl Band.


Good Influences: Florence + The Machine

floBy turns commanding and vulnerable, Florence Welch has become one of the most compelling musical figures of the past decade. As primary songwriter for Florence + The Machine, she crafts anthems that necessitate sing-alongs, as well as introspective hymns that would guide anyone through a dark night of the soul. Her powerful voice and idiosyncratic style have brought Flo piles of accolades, and landed her spots on soundtracks like this summer’s The Great Gatsby, where her song “Over the Love” provides a moving contrast to the glitz of the other tracks. While Florence + The Machine have conquered the world with their original sound, they still call upon a vast array of influences to blend an assortment of styles into their own:

British superstar Kate Bush has had a long and storied career, refusing to tour and releasing albums sporadically. Her distinctive vocals and ever-evolving musical style have kept fans on their toes, while providing Kate with a dozen hit songs. Beginning with 1978’s “Wuthering Heights”, Kate has shown a flair for the dramatic, something that Florence has evidently taken to heart. In her most popular Hounds of Love-era incarnation, Kate pioneered the use of heavy percussion in pop songs—an element Florence + The Machine use extensively in their own work. With its innovative use of background vocals and strings, Kate’s “Hounds of Love” single provided a template for Flo to follow.

Florence + The Machine draw heavily from late 80’s and early 90’s pop music, with an emphasis on the big and the dramatic. Annie Lennox, formerly of the Eurythmics, released her album Diva in 1992. Her strong and soulful voice was a perfect fit for the larger-than-life songs on the album, and it was one of the year’s biggest hits. The ornate “Walking on Broken Glass”, with its video that seemingly inspired Flo’s clip for “Shake It Out”, is just the sort of pop song that influenced “Rabbit Heart” and “Hurricane Drunk”.

Flo’s mystical style, with flowing dresses and magical props, calls back to the style of Stevie Nicks. Flo has gleaned some melodic inspiration from Fleetwood Mac, particularly their unusual Tusk-era songs, but her on-stage persona recalls Stevie, especially. The natural elements that populate Stevie’s songs pop up in Flo’s (“What the Water Gave Me”), along with elements of the supernatural (“Breaking Down”, “Leave My Body”). Flo’s aesthetic can be summarized with the video for Stevie’s Fleetwood Mac song, “Gypsy”.

Born and raised in the suburbs, Siouxsie Sioux eventually joined forces with the Banshees in 1976. The band originally played punk music, which slowly morphed into an early example of goth pop. Siouxsie eventually became known as the Queen of Goth, to Robert Smith’s King. Flo’s darker songs, including “Seven Devils” and “Howl”, owe a debt to Siouxsie and her moody, atmospheric albums.

Flo’s self-professed “hero” is Jefferson Airplane frontwoman, Grace Slick. A former model, Grace stalked the stage like it was a catwalk, and her emphatic vocals drove hits like “Somebody to Love”, “White Rabbit”, and “Crown of Creation”. Flo admires Grace for her stage presence and her ability to work the crowd, but they share something else: the ability to inspire adoration.

Good Influences: Lana Del Rey

Photographer:  Nicole NodlandControversial singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey covers the dark side of the American dream on her debut album, Born to Die, and follow-up EP, Paradise. Initially proclaiming herself a “Lolita lost in the ‘hood”, Lana has since dropped the slight hip-hop influence present in her earliest work to focus on orchestral pop vignettes that have been termed “Hollywood sadcore”. With her song “Young and Beautiful” on the Great Gatsby soundtrack, she has earned critical acclaim and commercial success. With a sound that is both forward-looking and nostalgic, Lana’s influences are understandably diverse.

When she gave her first interviews, Lana described herself as a “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Although her sound has evolved somewhat, Nancy’s influence on Lana can still be felt. The daughter of mega-star Frank Sinatra, Nancy became a pop icon in 1966 with her song “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”. She cultivated a tough-girl image with edgy songs like “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, “Lightning’s Girl”, and “How Does That Grab You, Darlin’?” Lana would eventually cover Nancy’s “Summer Wine”, and songs like “Summertime Sadness” and “Ride” bear her mark.

Lana’s voice, in its darkest, smokiest moments, recalls Fiona Apple. Fiona’s first album, Tidal, was released in 1996 when she was just 19 years old. The sensual hit video for her single “Criminal” made her a 90’s icon, but Fiona refused to be boxed in and changed her sound for each of her subsequent albums, typically taking more than five years between each one. Lana borrows some of her sulky sultriness, along with her vocal mannerisms, on songs like “Million Dollar Man” and “Video Games”.

Lana is beloved by her fans for her distinctive style, for which she owes a debt to Marianne Faithfull. In her life as a “Swinging London” pop star in the 1960s, Marianne was prone to wearing flowers in her hair. She also performed sitting down, frozen, due to her crippling stage fright. Her sweet image, in songs like “As Tears Go By” and “Summer Nights”, belied her secret addiction to heroin. After breaking up with her longtime boyfriend Mick Jagger, Marianne lived on the streets of London. She eventually kicked the habit and made a comeback in 1979 with the punk-influenced album Broken English. Her story of the devastating effects of fame is right in Lana’s line, as are her vintage look and sound.

With her languid vocals, Lana has often been compared to Mazzy Star lead singer Hope Sandoval. Releasing their debut album in 1990, Mazzy Star were known for their hazy, dreamlike sound and Hope’s enigmatic lyrics. They scored their biggest hit in 1994 with “Fade Into You”, a song that showcased the best they had to offer. The band released several albums before calling it quits in 1997. They are currently in the midst of recording a reunion album.

With their slow beats and indolent vocals, English trip-hop band Portishead provided a template for Lana’s songs. Originating in Bristol in the early 90’s, the band was a staple of that decade, and continue to perform and record today. Their influence can be felt on songs like “Cola” and “Body Electric”.

Good Influences: She & Him

shehimAs She & Him, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have delighted fans with a Christmas album and two volumes of pure pop bliss. As they gear up for the release of Volume 3, let’s explore some of the influences that have impacted their vintage-inspired work.

As the primary songwriter for She & Him, Zooey Deschanel has proven herself adept at several different styles. One of her specialties is the classic country ballad, with a pop twist. In the 60’s and 70’s, Linda Ronstadt typified this country-by-way-of-Southern-California sound. One of the biggest stars of the era, Linda began as a Laurel Canyon folkie, and made the transition to what would now be called alt country before going pop. She & Him songs like “Change is Hard”, “Take It Back”, and “I’m Gonna Make It Better” bear her influence. She is seen here performing her hit “Long Long Time” on the Johnny Cash Show in 1969.

Zooey has made no secret of her love for another Southern California band, the Beach Boys. Known for their genius leader and songwriter, Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ lush harmonies made them one of the biggest bands of all time. She & Him utilized some of their vocal techniques on songs like “Sentimental Heart”, “If You Can’t Sleep”, and “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here”, and followed the template of the Beach Boys’ Christmas album closely when making their own holiday record. They’ve also been known to cover Beach Boys songs “I Can Hear Music” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”.

The girl group sound, exemplified by Phil Spector-produced groups like The Ronettes, has also made its mark on the music of She & Him. Lead singer Ronnie Bennett sang passionately over exuberant strings and pounding drums, much like the She & Him songs “Thieves”, “Sweet Darlin'”, and “I Was Made For You”.

A British Invasion band, The Zombies scored hits with songs like “Time of The Season” and “She’s Not There”. Their innovative sound, driven by keyboards and airy harmonies, crops up in the She & Him songs “Don’t Look Back” and “I Thought I Saw Your Face Today.” Pop music at its purest and finest, they have more fans today than they did in the 60’s, with new audiences discovering their underrated, melodic gems.

A lynchpin of Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip in the late 1960s, the Neil Young and Stephen Stills-led Buffalo Springfield scored a top ten hit with “For What It’s Worth”. Fusing rock with country and folk long before The Eagles, the band broke up after just eighteen months but remains legendary. In particular, their distinctive guitar sound (coming from the highly skilled Young and Stills) has been a prime She & Him influence, and their Laurel Canyon breeziness impacted songs like “This is Not a Test” and “Sing”.