There’s Something About
Jenny: campy ‘60s girl group worship, for starters, alongside a healthy love for
ground zero new wave.
BY FRED MILLS
The staff put our heads – and ears – together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents, from Boston.
The band came together a couple of years ago when Jen
D’Angora’s punk/pop combo The Dents broke up and the other band that she sang
and played guitar for, Beantown garage legends the Downbeat 5, started playing
out less frequently. A big fan of girl groups from the ‘60s like the Ronettes,
Crystals and Shangri-Las, she had a batch of songs that dovetailed neatly into
that sound, along with records by classic NYC punk/New Wave combos.
Pretty soon she was recording an album, and the resulting Keeping Time, issued a few months ago on
the Q-Dee label, is like a dream date between Blondie and the Shangri-Las as
produced by Shadow Morton (if Morton worked in the Motown bullpen) – how’s that
for some namedropping? It’s a seriously fine, and fun, album, with highlights
ranging from the kinetic “Keeping Time,” which sounds like it sprung fully
formed from some vintage teensploitation flick’s concert sequence, to the
slinkysexycool “You’re the Best Thing” (pure early Blondie), to the pumping,
pulsing powerpop bliss of “Start It Up or Start It Over” that’ll have you
throwing your arms in the air and singing along at the top of your lungs before
it’s done. And the fact that the record contains a girl-group, piano/sax-powered
reinvention of the Flamin’ Groovies’ timeless anthem “Shake Some Action” should
be reasons to cheer for any self-respecting fan of rock ‘n’ roll.
Incidentally, while this mark’s Dee’s “debut,” so to speak,
at BLURT, it’s not the first time she’s become a staple of our musical diet:
readers with sharp memories who recall our predecessor Harp magazine might recognize the Downbeat 5 name, above, from when
Harp was selecting under-the-radar
artists to keep an eye on as part of our previous alliance with Sonicbids. Nice
to know we’re keeping a tradition alive around here.
She settled in for an interview recently, so we’ll let her
fill you in more fully on matters. Meanwhile, check out the band’s MySpace and
Facebook pages for info, tourdates, song samples, links to the band’s
(numerous) videos, and more. Oh, and on a personal note: God bless ya, Jen, for
that “Shake Some Action” – it is yours truly’s number one favorite song of all
time, and my family has strict instructions to play it loud at my funeral.
Maybe I should tell ‘em to have you be the one to sing it graveside, eh?
BLURT: Tell us about
your personal musical background, such as favorite records growing up, concert
epiphanies, etc., that made you want to make music?
JENNY DEE: I was pretty lucky growing up; both my parents loved music. I got a
lot of Beach Boys/Beatles/Girl Groups from my mom, and stuff like Stones/T
Rex/Johnny Cash/Waylon Jennings and tons of classic rock from my dad. I
remember one day, my mom sat my sisters and I down and played us early Marianne
Faithfull, “As Tears Go By”. She then told us about how Marianne started
hanging out with the Stones, and then played “Broken English” for us. It was
her way of teaching us a lesson about drugs. Mick Jagger made me want to be in
a band when I was a kid. I wanted to be him.
How about the Downbeat 5 and the Dents –
and how did things lead up to The Deelinquents? What itch does the new combo
scratch for you that you don’t get from the DB5?
JJ Rassler and I started The Downbeat 5 ten years ago, and it’s still going
strong. We just played SXSW again in 2010. The Dents broke up two years ago,
and I can’t sit still, so I started thinking about my next side project. The
structure of the songs I write follow the same pop format the girl group songs
of the ‘60s did, so I asked myself, what if I just went all the way with it? I
didn’t want to just form another rock band that did some girl group songs,
because DB5 was already doing that. I wanted to take it over the top, with the
outfits, the dance moves, the whole deal. The campiness of it is what isn’t
scratched in DB5. It’s great to be able to be really girly one night, and then
throw on a guitar the next.
Time arrives at a point when people’s ears might be a bit more attuned to
vintage styles – for example, the success of both Amy Winehouse and Duffy, from
the UK, and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. It suggests you’ve got a
I’d be a big fat liar if I said Amy Winehouse wasn’t an influence. I think
her music rules. I think she and Mark Ronson are responsible for a lot of the
mainstream popularity for vintage music styles in the past few years. I say
“mainstream” because a lot of other cool artists I’m influenced by – Billy
Childish, Blondie, The New York Dolls and tons more – have been doing their own
version of girl group music for years. I also have a love of pure girl group
pop songs, with angst, strings, sound effects, etc., which is a bit different
than the soulful stuff Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones are doing, and a lot of
that shows on the record.
Fave songs on the album? Anecdotes from
the recording sessions?
We have sampled seagulls, as well as strings, on “Love in Ruins,” a song
that pays tribute to Shadow Morton and the Shangri-Las. Before this record I’ve
only dreamt of having strings and other cool sounds on songs I’ve written, so
that was wicked cool. So now when we do “Love in Ruins” live, our part-time sax
Deelinquent, Paul Ahlstrand, makes the seagull sounds, which sounds like a
cross between a crow and a rooster.
I was fascinated how you reworked the
Groovies song, since most bands would’ve simply replicated the original
powerpop arrangement. What was the thinking that went into cutting that tune?
Our producer, Matt Beaudoin [of Eli
“Paperboy” Reed fame], is primarily responsible for the vibe and reworking
of “Shake Some Action.” Ed Valauskas (bass guitar, music director) and I both
love that song, and when it was suggested as a B-side for a Spanish 7″ we were
doing for Lovemonk, we jumped at it. The non-singing Deelinquents (Ed
Valauskas, Phil Aiken, Tony Goddess, Eric Salt and Eric Anderson) all
contributed to the sound of that song in a big way as they do with all of our
songs, but the feel was really Matt.
What’s a JD&TD concert like?
A Jenny Dee show is a lot of dance moves, and me being a
total teen-angst-drama-queen-ham up on stage. The ladies (Samantha Goddess,
Beka Dangora – yes, no apostrophe) and I are up there sweating our asses off in
matching dresses while the guys are cool as cucumbers in their matching suits.
But we are quirky – you will not mistake us for a smooth R&B outfit for
Boston is variously typecast as an incestuous
musical scene and a very tough town to break out of – you’ve been on that scene
long enough to have a perspective. What’s your take on the place?
I think what a lot of people don’t realize is, the music here is really
diverse, and there’s just a ton of
music coming out of this city. And people do break out – I guess there’s just
less of a big deal than there used to be about Boston. Passion Pit is doing really well, for
example. It’s kind of weird, I guess; because we’re not a major city, there’s
less of a chance to be “noticed” by labels, etc. Hopefully with the change in the
industry, that will be less of an issue.
What’s on the horizon for you and the
Today I am meeting LaLa Brooks, the original singer from the Crystals and the voice on “Da Do Ron Ron” and
“Then He Kissed Me” at the train station. She contacted us because she heard
about us and checked out our stuff on MySpace. We’ve been talking, and she’s
coming to do a few songs with us at a show tomorrow night, and she’s going to
check out some songs I’ve written for her. We’d like to write together and do
more shows if all goes well. Shock Records in Australia is planning to put the
record out there very soon. We’re hoping for a second trip to Spain this
year, we’ve got a bunch of shows and festivals lined up through the summer, and
hopefully more recording!
This is actually the
second time we’ve “discovered” a band you’re in – the first, of course, was when
Harp made the Downbeat 5 one of our
Sonicbids picks. I guess that means even if you went country or metal, we
wouldn’t need an excuse to love you…
I am just as “blown
away” by your response to The Downbeat 5 and Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents!
It means a whole lot when someone like yourself listens, and then likes it. I
don’t like to limit myself – I’m singing at a Polka night in May – so I hope
you like whatever comes next.