Posing for press photos with a mask or a vinyl LP shielding her face, Gundred's alter ego simultaneously piqued interest and helped her cope with an inherent shyness.
Shortly after being posted on MySpace, the songs attracted the attention of Dean Hudson from Seattle indie label Sub Pop, which is releasing the Dum Dum's debut, "I Will Be," in March.
"Within a month of recording and posting songs on their MySpace, someone might be discovered -- in Dee Dee's case, she had perfect, well-written pop songs and an awesome voice. Everyone at Sub Pop agreed," Hudson said of his label, which footed the bill for Dee Dee to work with producer Richard Gottehrer, the songwriter behind "My Boyfriend's Back" and a former producer of Blondie and the Go-Go's.
Recruiting three close friends, including Frankie Rose, the former drummer for the Vivian Girls and the Crystal Stilts, to flesh out her raw, lo-fi demos, Dee Dee put together an all-female backing band consistent with her girl-group inspirations.
"We had an instant camaraderie and chemistry," Dee Dee said. "I don't want to exist solely in the context of being a woman writing music, but it's so unbelievable the treatment you get for being a female musician. You're not supposed to be too attractive, or unattractive, or dress a certain way. But this is exactly what I want to be doing right now."
It's an El Niño year, and clots of kidney-colored rain clouds are deluging Los Angeles. A thunderclap sends Ramona Gonzalez's cat scurrying underneath a nearby table inside the Mt. Washington aerie she shares with her husband and collaborator, Cole M. Greif-Neill. The city might have inspired a spate of warm weather-influenced art of late, but Gonzalez's music -- released under the Nite Jewel name -- stands starkly apart.
Nite Jewel's alchemy of swirling noirish vocals, refulgent analog synthesizers and funky drum samples is best heard after-hours. Often labeled disco, partly because of her association with the dance-oriented Italians Do It Better imprint, Gonzalez's moody meditative songs bear lingering traces of Roxy Music, freestyle legends Lisa Lisa and Debbie Deb, '90s R&B performers such as Jade and SWV and hip-hop.
The East Bay-bred Gonzalez moved to Los Angeles several years ago to study philosophy at Occidental College, having loved the discipline ever since a Berkeley High teacher bestowed on her a copy of Friedrich Nietzsche's "On the Genealogy of Morals." Intrigued by underground icons Tom Recchion (the co-creator of the Los Angeles Free Music Society) and lo-fi visionary Ariel Pink, Gonzalez had long dabbled in visual arts and music. But when she was given a portable eight-track recording device as a present, she began booking her own shows and recording what became her excellent debut, "Good Evening."
"I booked my first show as Nite Jewel at the Smell, and it was literally four songs played to three people with a broken pedal," Gonzalez, 26, reminisced from her home, which is stuffed with vintage recording equipment, vinyl records and copies of National Geographic. "I played dozens of shows after that, mostly to practice in front of friends. There were times when my cables weren't working or songs would cut out, but no one cares. Other L.A. venues believe in blog hype and want you to sell tickets. [Smell owner] Jim Smith supports people trying to make something of themselves."
Two of the three people at her initial show were Julia Holter and Jason Grier, who arranged to release her songs on their Human Ear imprint, which led to national media attention and fans in unlikely quarters. Hip-hop mogul Damon Dash invited Gonzalez to play a show in his New York DIY venue. Another advocate and eventual collaborator under the Nite Funk alias was Stones Throw-signed rapper Dam-Funk.
"Nite Jewel represents the future of L.A. She makes beautiful music and is willing to try new things and take risks that some musicians don't take themselves seriously enough to try," Dam-Funk said. "She's one of my favorite artists recording today."
It all started with a temp job at Disney, a crate full of records and a loosely monitored FedEx account. A few weeks prior, Piper Kaplan had contacted her hero, R. Stevie Moore, the godfather of home recording, to ask if she could DJ his show in New York City. He consented, but Kaplan couldn't afford to ship the vinyl cross-country. The only logical solution was to mail it on Uncle Walt's dime.
After traveling back East for the performance, Kaplan was asked by Moore to sing some lyrics that he'd composed. Though she'd been amassing stacks of vinyl since she started going to the Smell and getting into the Germs and the Adolescents at age 14, Kaplan had never created music before.
"It was a casual awakening," the towheaded 22-year-old said. "I knew that I needed to go home and form a band with my sister."
Although her sister Skylar was only 13 at that time, she already was a nascent guitar talent who quickly improved. Pearl Harbor's breakout Mexican Summer-released EP, last year's "Something About the Chaparrals," displayed a fully formed aesthetic. The EP was produced by Greif-Neil, an old friend from the Smell, and the songs amalgamated the Kaplans' love of glossy '70s pop acts such as Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, cavalier cult heroes such as Merrell Fankhauser and New Wave from the former Soviet bloc. They even enlisted Clavin, Mika Miko's former bassist, to play guitar.
"It's hard to predict whether success will be fleeting in the Pitchfork / blog era, but songs like Best Coast's 'When I'm With You,' Nite Jewel's 'What Did He Say,' Dum Dum Girls' 'Rest of Our Lives' and Pearl Harbor's 'Luv Goon' are timeless pop songs, regardless of Internet trends or whatever recording techniques are considered in vogue," said Chris Cantalini, whose popular music blog Gorilla vs. Bear has steadily championed the L.A. acts. "Pearl Harbor captures a classic Beach Boys / Fleetwood Mac-inspired California pop that's blissed out and dreamy but also distant and sad."
"We're striving for decadence on a budget, the nicest dinner $6 can buy," Piper Kaplan said. "L.A. is a treasure trove of insanity, inspiration, insidiousness and a million other highs and lows. It's an enervation chamber disguised as a party. It's flooded with ideas and situations; it's a ripe place for writing songs."