Interview: Dum Dum Girls on How a 19th-Century French Poet Inspired Their Latest Single
By Shannon Carlin
Despite “Rimbaud Eyes” being a very literary song, Dum Dum Girls leader Dee Dee Penny says the idea for the track off her latest album, Too True, came from a somewhat less intellectual place.
Dee Dee told Radio.com backstage at Coachella that the song, which shouts out 19th-century French poet, Arthur Rimbaud (the second song to do so in 2014), was inspired by a t-shirt her husband and Haunted Hearts bandmate Brandon Welchez bought while he was on tour in France with his other band, the Crocodiles.
“He brought back a t-shirt with just this classic portrait of [Rimbaud], very young…and he just wore it every day for two years,” she explained. “And in the picture Rimbaud has very, very striking eyes. I think just conceptually I started thinking about what it means to have this piercing glance and it was jokingly referred to as ‘Rimbaud Eyes’ in my head.”
Dee Dee started working on the track and found her chorus pretty quickly, but felt like she couldn’t find the right words to make up the bulk of the song. That’s when the singer–whose back-up plan if music didn’t pan out was to become a librarian–decided to go to the source material.
“I just thought, ‘What if I set a poem of his to music?’ So I just ran through my Collected Works Of and found one that I felt translated and made sense as a Dum Dum Girls song,” she explained. “I picked three of about 20 stanzas and went through many, many different translations…I kind of reworded a few things to make it appropriate but being that it’s already poetic it was a very easy thing.”
This idea of transposing lines from Rimbaud’s poems into her song made Dee Dee feel like she was covering his work in the same way she covers her favorite artists like The Smiths, whose song “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” she recorded in 2011.
“When I sing my own songs I’m obviously very emotionally attached to them, but there’s something about taking a song and interpreting it and feeling like it’s really, really personal for you,” she said. “That somehow is more powerful for me.”
During her set, Dee Dee admitted that she feels the most intense while playing the covers because they’re songs that have resonated with her for years. Now “Rimbaud Eyes” fills that same space. “Even though it’s not a cover, in essence I’m interpreting someone else’s words that have affected me very deeply,” she explained. “For me that’s a powerful experience.”
Dee Dee says she probably has a finished covers album on her computer somewhere and does have plans to releases it. Perhaps, sooner rather than later.
“I usually do a record, EP, record,” she explained. “It might be the next thing I do.”
Watch the interview above to see Dee Dee talk about her song “Are You Okay,” why she wants to work with Ronnie Spector and the song she always ends her karaoke nights with.