"Do You Whisper" from the album Holler and Stomp
"Left to the Right" from the album Holler and Stomp
After 10 years of jiving and twisting their joyous style of vintage-meets-modern pop-rock, underground veteran band Dressy Bessy is currently at a critical turning point in its career. Led by singer/guitarist Tammy Ealom, the Bessys can't be bothered by financial, commercial, or logistical distractions. They don't worry about album sales or becoming chart-topping sensations. They remain focused on enjoying what they do best — plugging in, playing hard on stage, and creating a tight, cool groove that's quirky and inviting.
"It's a rock 'n' roll band, heavy on the roll," says Ealom, speaking last week by phone from Cleveland.
She and her bandmates — guitarist John Hill (also of Apples in Stereo), drummer James Barone, bassist Rob Greene, and multi-instrumentalist Paul Garcia — are already into the second week of a six-week U.S. tour in support of their new album Holler and Stomp, released last month on New York's Transdreamer Records.
"I tell people it's like the Kinks jamming with New Edition," she says of the new 13-song collection.
It's their first album since 2005's critically acclaimed Electrified, and it rocks with a noticeably different edge that's still upbeat, but in the band's typical garage-pop way. In previous efforts, like their 1999 debut Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons and 2002's Sound Go Round, Dressy Bessy's garage-pop/indie-rock sound evolved from a blend of influences — late-'60s British Invasion/Mod rock and the poppier, melodic side of late '70s and early '80s punk. Things are a bit more sophisticated on this new collection.
"After touring behind Electrified, I was sick of the road and pretty much sick of everybody in the band," Ealom laughs. "I just needed to sit down and start writing. When I began demoing songs, I started with beats and built the songs up from there. This album was the first time I laid down all the drum tracks first. I have a drum kit, so I went in and laid down all of the kick drum beats, then the snare, then the cymbals, and so on.
"I'm not a drummer, but I definitely had some ideas about rhythmic patterns," she adds. "Communicating drum beats to drummers can be a challenge — and it's more difficult when you're a woman and thinking you don't know what you're talking about."
The string of home studio sessions for Holler and Stomp was really the first time Ealom and the band did the majority of the basic tracks and overdubs without a clock ticking on the wall of an expensive recording studio. They had elbow room and time to brainstorm and experiment.
"Eighty percent of the album was recorded at home by me in my basement," Ealom says. "It was the first time I could sit down and try to write songs without a deadline looming. I could try things and sing about what I wanted with no pressure or drama. Every album we've recorded came out the way we wanted, though. And we've always tried to do better the next time. We always went in and banged the songs out live. This time, we did a little more stylizing, I guess."
The styles certainly swirl in various directions. While the hand-clappy "bap-bap" rhythm of "Do You Whisper" drives the tune through major and minor-key twists and turns, the super-stiff power-chord and mechanical vocal delivery of lead-off track "Automatic," the dynamic "Left to the Right," and the disc's first college radio single "Simple Girlz" resemble the New Wave herky-jerk of Devo's first album more than anything The Kinks or The Beatles delivered. The familiar Motown beat of "Dressed the Part" leads the way through even more vintage-meets-modern mischief. The album seems simultaneously traditional and modern.
Recently-enlisted drummer Craig Gilbert performed on the Electrified and Holler and Stomp sessions, but he has to stay off the road to tend to his family. Denver-based timekeeper James Barone is sitting in on drums during the big tours this year. Newcomer Paul Garcia signed on for this tour as well.
'We kind of got a great package," says Ealom. "James is a good friend and an amazing drummer, and Paul plays third guitar, extra vocals, percussion, and keys as kind of the extra fill-in guy. We're all friends and run into each other all the time. It's not difficult. As a five-piece, it's fuller on stage — a sound with a little extra something than before. I don't think I've ever been so comfortable on stage as I am with this lineup.
"It's just something we have to do," she says confidently of the band's heavy touring schedules. "What else are we going to do? It's just always the next step. After completing and releasing an album, you have to go out and play the heck out of the songs. It's something we look forward to doing. After a year or so of it, you look forward to getting off the road and recording a new album."