All photos by Rebecca Miller
Kristin is a shy girl. You wouldn’t expect her to be—with that plump pout, her inky black hair, and those feline flicks elongating almond shaped eyes. She's confident when she meets my gaze. But first impressions can be misleading. Sure she spent the best part of a decade as Dee Dee, the central force behind the Dum Dum Girls, and she’s been making music for several years more than that, but not all lead singers want the glare of the spotlight to follow them once they walk offstage. In real life, Kristen is lowkey; Kristen Kontrol, on the other hand, is not. When I caught her live a few days prior to our date she hit the stage dipped in silver like a modern Barbarella. She slayed it. Rewind to earlier this year, when the Northern California-born singer emerged—having called time on the Dum Dum Girls—as Kristen Kontrol. As Dee Dee her melancholia was awash with reverbed guitars, gauzy as dawn eking through pale blinds, plus plush girl group harmonies. Even as 2014’s True Blue flirted with new wave and sonics with crisper edges, she felt boxed in. She was pushing at the parameters of her songwriting only to find most couldn’t hear beyond what turned out to be the career-defining blueprint she submitted back in 2010. With X-Communicate, released this past May, Kristen offers up bold, bright collection informed by her love of pop hooks sharp as darts, tunes that wink at the glossy radio smashes of the 80s and early 90s—there are saxophones and there are synths to slide side-to-side to. It’s easy to see why Shirley Manson handpicked Kristin to open for Garbage on their recent summer tour.
I first met Kristin several months back and honestly, within 15 minutes, I had a crush on her. She was easy to curl up on a couch and talk to. We opened up about our relationships—both of us serial monogamists. I was transfixed by the perfect slope of her nose. I wanted to hang out again and meet her cats. She told me about the cheap and cheerful lipstain she buys from Duane Reade for four bucks. We swapped numbers and kept in tenuous touch. We kept inviting each other to stuff but never quite making it happen. Life got busy, but I was excited to hang out with her again. I wore one of my favorite vintage tees. I chose a restaurant where we could get oysters (an aphrodisiac right?!), turns out she doesn’t like them. Kristin was late—torn between cycling up from her spot in Brooklyn to The Heyward in Williamsburg, or getting the train.
Eventually she cruises into the restaurant with her oversized cat eye black shades like a movie bad girl. We slip into a booth. Two glasses of Prosecco please!
Noisey: Have you ever done online/app dating?
Kristin Kontrol: Yes sort of, very briefly. I would say it’s not for me I have enough friends that do the Tinder thing like it’s a part time job. That’s what it seems like to me; I can’t even imagine. My friend group for the longest time was so fenced in by people I played with, people I met while touring, very small extensions of the band… I guess when you’re an adult you meet people at bars? But you probably vetted them on the internet first or matched, either by merits or the swipey how hot are you, it’s superficial right?
I’m curious about it, but I can’t do it.
No, I can’t do it either. I actually watched two episodes of a show called Casual last night and I think the premise is a 40-year-old woman with a teenage daughter going through a divorce, starting to date and really failing at the one night stand online thing. Her brother invented something like a match.com and so the premise is how does he use it, how does she use it… I didn’t get that deep into it, but it seemed really stressful. I get so much anxiety about meeting people I’ve not met in the context of working, like doing an interview, or a photo shoot, or anything, I can’t imagine injecting that anxiety into your social life regularly.
I would never have pegged you for someone who would get anxious about that kind of stuff, especially being a frontperson.
I know quite a few performers who are weird and more introverted than you’d expect. I wouldn’t say it gives you safe space to do it, but [performing] is more conducive to flexing this muscle you know you have but it doesn’t come out all the time.
What do you look for in a romantic partner?
[Laughs.] Maybe a slightly lesser version of the total romantic I became at age 13 listening to The Cure or something. But it’s kind of really what I look for in people I want to be friends with. Because I’m on the shyer side of the spectrum… it’s not that I dislike a lot of people, but I can kind of just tell early on if we’re ever going to get down. I guess I’ve been wrong a couple of times, but it basically comes down to someone who’s clever, smart, funny. The funny thing is a really big thing. When I was younger I didn’t totally get that, and when I got out of relationship and started another one I was hit over the head with the fact that I hadn’t been laughing for years. I was like, oh this is kind of all it really is.
I grew up with two parents who had kind of a bizarre, polar opposite kind of thing going on, but it worked in our little family unit—they were really entertaining and fun and positive and silly. I think because I defaulted into the withdrawn goth archetype at about 12 or 13, I separated myself from that because that’s not my own natural go-to as a person. But then as I’ve gotten older it’s like really, do you really want to miserable all the time? Not at all! I don’t want to be miserable ever! Who does!
The importance of being silly cannot be underestimated.
It’s vital. And it’s even amusing to me to say the word silly out loud, it’s not cool! [Laughs.]
No it’s not. But when I think back to some of my favorite times with The Big Love of my life, it was the moments when were dancing in our living room by ourselves in our underwear. Just being dumb, pretending to be cats dancing, or whatever.
[Laughs.] Yeah! You were having more fun than most people I’m sure! I feel the same way. We all have these larger things that we’re heading towards in our careers and artistic endeavors, but the majority of your life is spent doing normal day-to-day life things and if those things can be fun and enjoyable then you’ve got a head start.
Exactly. How old were you when you first fell in love?
I don’t know because I think I thought I was in love every time and then with every subsequent relationship, I was like, oh, this isn’t love, that was love, oh that wasn’t love either! I think my ex-boyfriend in college was probably my first big one, and it wasn’t great and I remember having a lot of trepidation before dating. Like I actually don’t want to do this, but OK I’m doing it, but those were the strongest feelings I ever had. I had a lot of heartbreak, you know the sadder side of intense emotions regarding love were really a big deal, and that was the first time I really felt like that, so I attribute that to it being some form of love. But it wasn’t, oh my first love! My best love! The one that got away! We definitely learned a lot, stayed together too long and it got lame, it got kind of ugly and that’s the worst. At some point you and the person you’re with really cared for each other, that’s the worst feeling to be angry, hateful, or spiteful. I would never want to feel like I’m wasting time and I’ve never felt that way because it’s always a learning experience.
Yeah I know, but I’m also a serial monogamist to a large degree.
I am too, but there was a relationship that I had for five years in my early 20s that definitely should have ended three years earlier. And that is the worst. I don’t ever want to regret anything but part of me is just like, oh God.
I get that. And I actually experienced the same thing, but for whatever reason it takes me a while to process and get through things and I try to get better with that over time. But I’m not a fatalist, I don’t believe in destiny or soulmates or anything like that, but I also recognize that if things hadn’t happened as they did I don’t know if I’d be where I am now. Maybe I would be, but I kind of don’t think so because it’s how I ended up in a certain city, and then met this person and what we did, and how we ended up in another city.
That’s a way better way of looking at it.
But I mean, my youth is gone. [Laughs] I can go dark if you want!
Ha! I thought we were just as young as the man we feel. Is that not the thing? Although I’m not sure about getting with people who are younger than my little sister! That does feel a bit funny. [Laughs.] There’s no rules! OK there’s a few laws! That’s a thing that I think about often, whenever I realize that someone I’m spending time with, whether it’s a friend or something more, is closer to my brother’s age or younger. I went for years having a good friend who I didn’t realize was three years younger than my little brother without any thought that I was eight years older. But if it works it works. I mean if they behave like a stereotypical young person, I don’t have the patience for that, but if they don’t they probably just look better! [Laughs].
How old is your little brother?
He just turned 29 and he’s having a freak out.
Oh is he? I interviewed Bat for Lashes not that long ago and we were talking about how 29 is a really rough age because of Saturn Returns. But actually I found that around 31 I really fell into a rut. I didn’t know what I was doing, nothing was making me happy, I felt super mediocre at everything and just stuck. I lost my drive.
Yeah I think it me a little bit too. I guess it just depends on where you are at in your life, in the pockets of your life that you define yourself by. Turning 30 wasn’t a meltdown for me, but evaluating where I was at 31 maybe was because—this is a funny little side story, but when I was 23 I got an IUD.
Those things freak me out.
Yeah I have the non-hormonal one so they are approved for ten years in the States and 12 years in Europe, so I made a mental note that in 2015, I have to replace this. When I got the first one I was a child. I also had to tell my doctor it was none of his business why I wanted an IUD. He was like, “Normally these are for women who already have families,” I was like, “Cool.” Literally none of his business! I remember being very annoyed at that. But I was very young but in a longterm relationship at that point and in my head I had no idea where I’d be in ten years, but if I’m thinking about starting a family it’ll probably be about the time that I have this removed. Well that’s perfect. Sure! I think the whole year of 32, in the back of my head I was thinking, well I’ve checked off the boxes: I have a somewhat stable career, am I going to have a kid? No I’m not going to have a kid, so I got a new one. But I remember being like—Ok so I’m already not where little 23-year-old me thought I would be. It was an interesting forced time marker.
Right where you’re like, oh, I have to assess.
Yeah and in no way am I having a child any time soon.
You and me both. I can’t fathom it.
But I did a little research: my best friend in NY I met 13 years ago. She was my boss in California at a Buffalo Exchange and she moved out here 12 years ago and opened the first Buffalo here and ended up having a daughter unexpectedly. She is such a badass mom; she has an eight-year-old. When she split with her boyfriend, I was home, I’d just finished the last of the Too True touring and I took a year to write. That sounds crazy self-indulgent, but it was honestly just because I wrote the worst songs for so long! [Laughs.] It wasn’t out of laziness. I wrote 45 terrible songs! But anyway, we started hanging out more and I had this weird realization where I was like OK, this is my best friend and she’s a mom and I don’t have a relationship with her child and this is not cool. I offered to babysit. It hasn’t been as consistent recently because I’ve had to start to travel for work again, but I started taking her daughter every Saturday. We’d meet at The Wren in the East Village and she’s insane and amazing, and so in a funny way I think that’s sort of part of my reconciliation with the fact that I’m not going to have children—at least not right now. But I love kids and it’s been cool to be around that!
Nice. Also, poor segue: I love that you went on tour with Garbage. How did that happen? Was it just a very boring booking agent thing?
No! We have a really cute backstory! Garbage was my first concert when I was 12 or 13. It was on their first tour and my Dad took me and he was like, I’ll go and you can bring your best friend and I’ll hide. He’s always been real cool. I don’t really remember the show specifically at all other than being really close to the stage, but I have one memory where they did this thing where everybody came up to the line of the stage and she was playing guitar and I remember looking up to this wall of gods and goddesses. I knew I wanted to do that already, it just took me hundreds of years to figure out how to get up there myself. So that was a really crystallized moment for me. I loved there first and second albums, the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack.
Oh my God “Number 1 Crush”!
That was a reject from their first album! I learned that when I went to their 20th anniversary show at King’s Theater. So anyway, I’m in NYC doing press for the first Dum Dum Girls record, maybe the second one, and I was running around with my A&R guy at the time. We’re walking down the street and this woman walks by us, and I just think wow that’s an amazing leopard print coat and she has amazing red hair, I’m just like, that woman is stylin.’ We’re trying to decide whether to take the subway or a cab and Dean, my A&R guy, is like we need to get a cab, we’re going to be late. And as I’m looking at the cab pulling over I realized that this woman and this guy are waiting for a cab and for whatever reason the car stops at us first, even though they had been waiting. As I’m looking back I’m like, that’s fucking Shirley Manson in that coat, kind of swearing at us stealing her cab and I’m mortified! I’m like, Dean! What did you do?! I was like, I’m going to Tweet an apology. For all the reasons social media is obnoxious because of how close you can get to people you shouldn’t be close to, there’s also moments where you can take advantage of it! I was like, I’m so sorry I stole your cab earlier, honest mistake, I’m such a fan, I’m mortified. She has this perfect response of course and then we became internet friends and then Dum Dum Girls ended up playing some shows with them randomly so we met properly them. She’s so cool.
She might be one of the coolest people I’ve ever interviewed.
I think she may be, yeah. And in no way trying to date her, but I had to say to her, you were my first show and you were a big reason why I decided to pursue this. I’m sure she’s heard that a million times but she was very gracious. We stayed in touch! When I started to be uncertain about what my next move was, we emailed a few times and not in a true sense of the word mentor, but she definitely offered a lot of perspective and advice and I was really grateful to hear it from nobody I worked with. And not only somebody who has an objective view of my situation, but 20 years of dealing with it herself and lots of ins and outs of the industry.
I love that we’ve spent half of this date talking about her. She’s the best! But back to love stuff. Do you believe that there’s only one love of your life?
No. I definitely think that because I was such an introverted emotional teen who got so much out of books and music, I did subscribe to the soulmate mentality for while, but once you’ve grown up and collected experiences, that are good and bad, you start seeing the broader picture. It’s pretty naive to think that there’s only one person ever that’s going to…
Right. Frst of all you have to recognize you have to complete yourself, no one is going to make you happy if you’re not happy already and if they do then it’s going to become co-dependent in four years time. And then it can go even farther into monogamy, how real is that, how natural?
Did you ever read Sex at Dawn? It’s a book my friend gave me and it explores that very thing, relationship evolution and monogamy isn’t our natural state and here’s why.
I think that’s more valid. A lot of the concepts of marriage are archaically tied to religion and that isn’t even really present. I got married in a courthouse and I think ultimately with marriage people still think about it as more of a religious thing. Anyway, away from that, I think that is probably much more likely that you go through life and you meet many people that teach you things and are your significant person for a period of time, and it either sustains or it doesn’t. The frequency of the amount of people in unhappy relationships is so high. If we felt it was less of a failure to stop it, we’d probably be a lot healthier. Like our time of being good to each other and good for each other…
Was awesome and now it’s done.
That’s hard because I occasionally think like, Fuck am I going to be alone? Am I afraid of that? Probably? Yeah.
I’m afraid of that.
Even if I try to intellectually try and talk myself out of that because we’re all alone…
That’s what my mom tells me all the time: you came into this world alone and you’re going to die alone. Thanks mom! If you were to take me on a date what would we do?
Well the fact that you disclosed you went on a 30 mile bike mile randomly shows you’re down for adventure… I think I’m buying a car tomorrow so you’d come with me to buy it in Hudson and then we can go to the beach and go surfing.
Do you surf?
I just learned. I’m not good.
I’ve stood up on a board maybe five times.
Me maybe four.
We’re on the same page.
We should take a lesson together.
I’ve never really been that drawn to surfing though…
Well we don’t have to do that!
No we should because I started off 2014 as my Year of Yes, and it’s just kind of extended till now! This is my Year of Yes! [Laughs]
I’m in my third Year of Yes at this point.
That’s your book title right there.
Kim Taylor Bennett is looking forward to her (techinically) third date with Kristin. She’s on Twitter.