After Danity Kane’s very dramatic, very public breakup last year, Aubrey O’Day and Shannon Bex quickly bounced back to create their own independent girl group Dumblonde, and it’s nothing like the closely packaged, Diddy-produced Making The Band outfit that blindly danced with an urban-pop market for the sake of charts and street clout. (Looking back, DK’s 2006 music video for “Show Stopper” reads, in today’s social landscape, as more of a satirical depiction of cliché hip-hop culture than anything). Sure, they delivered pounding party bus standards, such as the indisputable “Damaged,” but no one ever looked to DK for authenticity.
Dumblonde is thankfully the antithesis—a genuinely cohesive exploration of all the sonic potential beneath a glistening dance-pop umbrella; it’s experimental without submitting to overly worked EDM maxims, effortless without shying from dense subject-matter and thoughtful lyricism, and polished while still allowing the organic beauty of an independent project to shine through.
Tracks like “Remember Me” and “Waiting On You” bounce with sunny, windows-down finesse, while “White Lightning” and “Love Blind” pound like sweaty, clubby soundtracks, each designed for shameless 3 a.m. sexcapades. The debut album’s brightest star, “Tender Green Life,” is the most promising Dumblonde cut with a guitar-riff wonderfully evocative of Madonna’s “Holiday” and robotic, falsetto vocals that somehow sound silky smooth.
We caught up with the not-so-dumb, (but very blonde) pair to discuss post-DK music making, working with hitmaker Candice Pillay and building an entirely self-funded, self-operated pop empire.
This project is very deeply rooted in pop music. What angle are you giving the genre with Dumblonde?
Aubrey O’Day: “We tried to take the most experimental, alternative approach possible because Shannon and I are naturally pop—we naturally embody the essence of what that is. When we worked with Danity Kane, we got pushed in a more urban direction, but we were still able to transcend many different genres of music, which is what we love about music. We love listening to albums with songs that expand across borders because with any one album, I don’t want to hear the same thing over and over again. That’s the tragedy of albums these days—you don’t have bodies of work like when we all used to listen to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill or Janet Jackson’s ‘The Velvet Rope.’”
Bring me through the production process.
AO: “We wrote everything and produced everything from scratch with R8DIO, Dem Jointz and Candice Pillay. Every day we all put our cellphones in a little box and sat in the studio together, just talking. We talked about painful experiences, stories or journeys we had throughout our days or weeks—we’d all chime in and talk about the way we felt about it. Once we found something we were all passionate about, we’d turn it into a song. I usually like to start by creating the title of a song first—I always picture the music video because that helps me create an arch in my approach. Overall, we tried to do things out of our comfort zone as much as possible.”
What specific experiences informed this album?
AO: “The rise and fall of Danity Kane that we’d just gone through was a chapter that was a very personal and emotional ending, in a physically abusive way, that was also very public. We felt everything from embarrassment to sorrow for the loss of something we that loved—not being able to control circumstances and having things taken out of our hands that we worked hard for, physically and financially. We reflected on the journeys of our relationships—I, at the time, was in a very public relationship on TV and Shannon’s been in a marriage for 12 years and experiences all the highs and lows of that. We always approached it with everything that was in our hearts at the time.”
One of the album standouts is “Tender Green Life,” which sonically and lyrically veers from anything you’ve done in the past. How did you approach creating this track?
AO: “Something we stayed away from with this project was being very literal in regards to the way we wrote. Candice taught us about moving away from always needing to make sense and feeling comfortable to just make up words if we wanted to, and so we did. ‘Tender Green Life’ is about two lovers that were always playing the back-and-forth. He loved the chase and she knew that she had to make sure he loved the chase to keep him interested. We pictured two lovers chasing each other in a forest and the girl runs ahead, takes off her top and you see her shadow beneath the moonlight. She gets in the water and her chases after her—these childhood ideas, like running into the lagoon. From there, we started naming what would be around them. What are the colors? The shapes? It’s tender and green, it’s life, it’s chasing, it’s hiding. Everything that we did with Dumblonde was more abstract.”
How have you grown vocally through this project?
AO: “With Danity Kane, we felt like we needed to deliver vocal performances with adlibs and big belting notes—we always thought that’s what defines you as a singer. We were so used to singing like that and Candice was like, ‘That is impressive, yes, and congratulations you’ve already done it. Move into a new era of singing and being an artist in a more advanced place, which is about understanding pockets, timing and approaching a record, so that when you’re done, it has a vibe.’ You should be able to just say vowels, not even words, and have a track move you. You can have a big loud track with belting vocals that doesn’t move you at all. ‘Tender Green Life’ couldn’t be sung in any other way, but falsetto—you couldn’t belt it and it couldn’t be raspy or else it’d become too sexy. It needed to stay right in an alternative pocket, where the vocals didn’t matter as much as the timing and vibe of it.”
You’re independent artists. What’s been different about this experience in comparison to previous work, which I’d imagine was heavily controlled?
AO: “Nobody is dictating any of our music. In Danity Kane, we were able to have a few opinions later on, but mostly we were just handed a track that somebody was getting handed down from somebody else and it got placed on us. We were already told who would sing what and we had no ability to be real artists, frankly. A lot of times when you have any type of person with power involved in your situation, music is the first thing to suffer With Dumblonde, we don’t deal with any of that. This project is us—there are no more questions about our talent because we’ve done every single aspect. We directed everything, edited everything; we got on Adobe Premiere; we downloaded After Effects and figured out how to edit our videos; we did all of our photography, our branding, our logo.”
Why did you decide to go such a hands-on route?
AO: “It came down to the pressure that Shannon and I felt to really show people that everything they saw from this last round with Danity Kane and were hearing from the negative people we’d been involved with, we’re far beyond that. We tried our best to keep the business of that away from the public eye and also manage internally all of the abuse, while making us money at the same time, but at the end of the day, we were the only two standing that were fighting for something. We were in a horrible situation, so when we came out of it, we wanted to take the attention away from drama and move it toward us being real artists—take it back to showing people our value. When you have to read headline after headline of drama, people forget your true talent and the reason we’re here in the first place. Even we did—we were surrounded by a lot of negativity and a lot of put-downs. We were fighting off all the bad energy continuously.”
After more than a decade of industry experience, what lessons have you brought to Dumblonde?
AO: “You already know the answer to your own questions, so don’t ask them.”
SB: “I was always upset with Puff about how much he put us through the ringer during Making The Band; I always thought he was just doing things for TV, like one time he had us scheduled for three days straight with vocal lessons, rehearsals and studio sessions—he didn’t let us sleep. Now, I completely get it. This is exactly the grind we’re on and that’s what Puff does—he works 24/7. Unfortunately it’s just Aubrey and I working 24/7 and we don’t have Diddy’s crew. I’ve learned that no one’s going to do it for you—no one’s going to see your vision like you do. We know exactly what we want and it may be more work for us, but that makes the project more personal.”