Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dressy Bessy crank out album, hit the road

Originally published in Colorado Music Buzz, November 2008

Lounging in his hotel room in Memphis, John Hill remarks that this is the first time Dressy Bessy has played the city. But just because they were lucky enough to get into town early doesn’t mean they’ll be seeing much of it.

“I always say that if you want to see a city on tour, it takes like about half dozen times coming to that city before you actually see that city,” guitarist/vocalist Hill says over the phone, adding: “Yeah, (the show’s) tonight. We have a fairly late load in… I might actually have to leave here in a couple of minutes.”

It might be their first visit to Memphis, but the Denver-based power-pop collective is no rookie when it comes to the national tour. They’ve even developed their own strategic approach to their current tour: drop the album, then hit the road. Stopping by a few unfamiliar spots doesn’t hurt either, as Hill has discovered.

“The last week we’ve been more or less in the south. We’ve never been down there, thought we’d try it,” he says. “We’ve had good turnouts and actually have fans out in these places we’ve never been… It’s definitely worth doing, but it’s kind of hard. You don’t make quite as much money and the shows aren’t quite as big.”

Hill adds that most fans probably haven’t had a chance to pick up their new full-length, Holler and Stomp, which the group dropped last September before kicking off the tour with a show at Monolith.

If anything, most fans might not even know Dressy Bessy was still cranking out new material; it’s been three years of little-to-no activity since the release of their last album. Hill, who also plays guitar with The Apples In Stereo, notes that his work with the Apples (who released a b-sides compilation earlier this year) took up a fair share of his time, but the group never entirely stopped operations.

“It wasn’t like we we’re really taking a break, we just took a little bit of time off really.” Hill says.

Even when they weren’t entirely active, Dressy Bessy learned new lessons.

“We’ve immediately learned that we won’t wait so long in between records anymore,” Hill says. “We are finding that we have to break new ground in some areas, because the music industry changes so much and has been changing so quickly in the past three years.”

The industry might be subject to change over the years, but since Dressy Bessy took shape in 1998, the sound has retained some similar qualities since Hill and lead singer Tammy Ealom founded the band: short boppy pop powered by catchy hooks.

“When Dressy Bessy started, Tam and I were both listening to and fairly well-obsessed with 60’s pop,” Hill says. “A lot of those songs are 2 minutes and 10 seconds, just quick in-and-out, fairly simple, maybe some complexities. That’s kind of where Dressy Bessy started and then, I dunno, it’s changed a little bit over the years as far as our sound. But the basic root of it all, the kind of quick pop song with the quick hook and kind of get-in and get-out… that kind of stuck with us.”

Even then, Hill maintains, there’s more to the music than its sugary surface.

“A lot of times we get lumped into this bubble gum pop, which is fair enough, but if you read more into the songs, most of the songs are about Tammy being pissed off or something,” Hill says. “Everybody ends up thinking ‘Oh, she’s just La-Dee-Da!’ But almost all of them come from some conflict she’s had with somebody or something, it’s just hard to read into it.”

Hill says Ealom took a different approach in creating Holler and Stomp.

“Tammy approached this one in a much different way, where it was more of a beats-first kind of thing, whereas normally she’d approach it in the opposite way,” Hill says. “It is a little bit of a departure from the last two records in that the last two records we went into a studio and just banged it out, and had a deadline, which when you record an album and you don’t really have a deadline, you just work and work and work.”

There’s also the linear notes message from a very special fan: the quirky mop-haired Missourian who claims to have attended at least one show every day for the past commonly known as Beatle Bob.

“We’ve known for him, gosh, like 10 years maybe. He always comes to our shows in St. Louis, and then occasionally we’ll see him at South by Southwest and things like that,” Hill said.

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