The Denver-based indie rock band Dressy Bessy has been coiled up in a stomach cramp for nearly a decade over their new album.
“It’s just burning in my freakin’ gut,” says singer-guitarist Tammy Ealom via phone from a Washington D.C. tour stop. "And sometimes it’s a curse too because sometimes it takes eight years to get it out. And I’m not going to put out a bunch of crap because I want to stay popular. I just want to be pertinent, which means making good albums, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Luckily for the band (and for fans), relief has come with Kingsized
, the band’s sixth full-length album and first since 2008. The band will play the Grog Shop on March 9.
The perfect mix of Dressy Bessy traditionalism and successful experimentation, Kingsized
comes across as an excellent representation of the band. Although often branded as twee or bubblegum pop on account of an early association with the Kindercore record label, Dressy Bessy has matured to embrace rock ’n’ roll attitude. Not infrequently, Ealom evokes the vocal gruffness of the Deal sisters or Kim Shattuck of the Muffs as she sings over fuzzed-out guitars. New tracks like “Pop Phenom,” “Kingsized” and “Make Mine Violet” will invite fans new and old to revisit the band’s previous discography, while “These Modern Guns” marks the band’s first adventure into hard rock riffage and “Cup o’ Bang Bang” has it trying on post punk for size.
Ealom got her start in music by grazing the vast library of her military-man-turned-record-collector dad. Her family spent time living on bases in Germany and Hawaii before her dad’s retirement, at which time he settled in Denver and opened a record store. These early musical ruminations were a bit of an acquired taste for Ealom.
“Yeah, [my dad] would always be bringing records home and shipping them," she says. "Stuff like the Beatles, like ’60s rock ’n’ roll and stuff like that. That was his stuff. And as a kid I was like ‘Oh gosh,’ you know, I would bring my friends over, and he’d be like ‘Hey girls, come in here, look what I got.’ And at 15, you know, we were like, ‘Oh god, dad, stop!’ Of course, later, I’m like ‘Um, can I get those records from you?’ So yeah. I give him credit for that.”
The story of Dressy Bessy begins in the '90s with a vocal audition that landed Ealom a spot in the late-stage version of the dark, brooding alternative band 40th Day. Discovering she had a knack for writing melodies, Ealom quickly learned guitar and assumed a backup role in Sissy Fuzz (exactly as it sounds: lo-fi music for your local Double Dutch league).
She also collaborated with friend Martyn Leaper on the Minders’ first album, Hooray for Tuesday
, before scoping out musicians for an act of her own. She met original drummer Darren Albert through her job as a fashion photographer. He and guitarist-turned-bassist Rob Greene were migrating from New York to California when they got stuck in Denver, and Albert came to Ealom for a headshot session as he looked for work. Upon learning that they were both musicians, the two decided to meet up, and Greene joined them. At the time, Ealom’s boyfriend (now husband) John Hill was often away on tour with his band, the Apples in Stereo. He played an advisory role to the group at first but was quickly sucked into playing guitar.
“I think he wanted to keep an eye on me too and not have some other guy...,” laughs Ealom.
After releasing its first single, “Ultra Vivid Color,” on self-made label Little Dipper Records!, the band caught the attention of indie labels worldwide. Kindercore nabbed their first three full-lengths: 1999’s Pink Hearts Yellow Moons;
2002's Sound Go Round;
and 2003's Dressy Bessy
. After Kindercore went under, the band moved to Transdreamer Records for 2005’s Electrified
and 2008’s Holler and Stomp
. Albert and Greene left the band at points along the way and were replaced by Craig Gilbert on drums and Jeff Fuller on bass. Fuller joined the band after much of Kingsized
was recorded, and the album features a plethora of guest bassists including Eric Allen of the Apples in Stereo and Andy Shernoff of the Dictators.
Ealom used to theorize that the band’s cutesy name might drive away potential listeners by making them think that the music is all pop and no rock.
“We also get a lot of ‘Oh, I’ve heard of your band, but I’ve never heard your music,’” she says. “We attribute it to, and this may be true or not, but we think maybe, you know, our aesthetic as far as our name, Dressy Bessy, and the colors, may turn people off initially, some people. And they may not realize holy crap, this is frickin’ rockin’ music. We’re not little kids who don’t know how to play our instruments; we actually know what we’re doing. But nowadays with Burger Records [home to acts such as Lust-Cats of the Gutters, Diarrhea Planet and Cleaners from Venus], there’s so many crazy band names, I don’t think the name has anything to do with it. I don’t think it could hinder us at all at this point.”
The band has been pleased to find that fans haven’t forgotten it, even though its presence in recent years was limited to a handful of digital singles.
“We’re just excited," says Ealom. "We always have been, but now it’s like ‘Here we go.’ There wasn’t a fear of the unknown, but there was this sort of like ‘OK, we’ll see, people have moved on maybe.’ But it’s looking good.”
Ealom believes that the new album was worth the wait.
“Especially with this album, I think it’s like the best thing I’ve ever done," she says. "I’ve always said that with albums, ‘Ah, this is the best one.’ And that’s what keeps me doing it, because I feel like you just keep getting better and better.”
The visuals complement the music too. Ealom can’t get enough of everything retro or vintage. Like the 1970s doll for which the band is named (Ealom owned one as a child), she mixes rainbow checks and stripes in her vibrant, playful wardrobe, with cherry red hair to top it off.
“I’ve actually quite toned it down a little bit because I’m so sick of carrying two suitcases on tour,” she says. “But I do feel like fashion goes right along with the music, it’s all part, the visual and music goes together.”
is the first album in Dressy Bessy’s history to sport a two-toned black and white cover, but the group’s spunk isn’t lost in the image of Ealom’s tousled locks in a bun.
Unfortunately, the break between albums meant that Ealom’s dad, her source of inspiration and biggest fan, won’t get to hear the new album. He passed away in 2011, but his record store lives on under the care of Ealom’s mother and brother. As a music fanatic, aspiring musician, and '60s mod, Ealom’s dad could not have been more elated to have a rock star daughter.
“Oh, he was so proud," she says. "Oh my god, he really was. He would have been, even now, we keep saying ‘Ah, I wish he was alive to see Yep Roc and stuff.’ They have Paul Weller on their roster, and all these people he’s idolized. Yeah, no, he was always super supportive. He’s a badass. When he died, you just assume, ‘OK, now this is what is going to inspire the album.’ And it didn’t really inspire me to write, but he’s in there, but it's underlying. Just to make him proud."
Dressy Bessy, Cheap Clone, Heavenly Creatures, 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 9, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $8 ADV, $10 DOS, grogshop.gs.
What with the persistent need to create and to get something out of your system, being an artist can be like enduring a constant state of nausea. When the body will decide it’s time to get creative is anyone’s guess.