Sandra Vu of SISU and Dum Dum Girls Talks 'Blood Tears'

Posted by Billy Gil, October 9, 2013 02:33pm | Post a Comment

Sandra Vu has been the cool presence behind the drum kit in a number of bands, both on record and live. She's helped propel such bands as Dirty Beaches, The Raveonettes, Midnight Movies, Boredoms and, most often, as the drummer for Dum Dum Girls.

Now she has her own project named SISU. Judging by her resume, SISU's debut album is somehow both comfortingly familiar, drawing from influences such as girl groups and noise pop, and something entirely new. The strange tones that strike across the skies of songs like "Counting Stars" and pulsating beats under songs like "Harpoons" draw more from krautrock, industrial and experimental music than contemporary shoegaze, while Vu's vocals range from disaffected and alien to front-and-center pop vocals. Blood Tears is a delight throughout, atmospheric and cool, yet catchy and immediately memorable.

I took a minute to speak with Vu about her new project and how she came into making music on her own.



Me: I hear SISU is the Finnish word for “extreme perseverance.” Why did you choose that name?

Vu: Originally, "SISU" stems from my name, but we later found out that it was a Finnish word. I like the meaning though so we've adopted it, respectfully.

Me: You've played with some really great bands. How did that affect the way you went about making your own music?

Vu drums with Dum Dum Girls at Amoeba Hollywood in 2011

Vu: I pay attention to the way other bands write and work, but the way that I started writing and continue to the write is very instinctual. I like to stay a bit naive and not worry about how things are "supposed" to be done. The most I've taken away from other bands is the focus of creating an experience for people who come to see you. It's not something I necessarily considered before, writing songs in private in my bedroom.

Me: Had you always been making music on your own?

Vu: As soon as I learned how to record multi tracks on a computer, I started overdubbing and learning to write on my own. This was before Garageband existed! I can play all the instruments, so overdubbing is a big part of the way I write. I have collaborated in the past, but I prefer to write this way.

Me: Do you still plan to play with Dum Gum Girls or any other bands alongside SISU?

Vu: There is only enough time to play in SISU and Dum Dum Girls! I like doing session work here and there, especially for my friends, but there's no way I could play in another band now with my schedule.

Me: "Harpoons" has a lot of really interesting sounds bouncing around in it. Can you talk about that song in particular and what went into piecing it together?

Vu: The influence for that song was a synth sound that sounded like a submarine and a very simple single note guitar progression with backwards delay. Verses are meant to sound like the inside of a submarine, from what I imagine it to be like—red blinking lights, dampness, claustrophobia. In the fashion of loud-quiet-loud, the choruses would open up in a wash of sound. Mixing was difficult because I definitely wanted a full wall-of-sound effect with nothing really at the forefront—it's hard to get that across without losing definition.

Me: I hear a lot of krautock and industrial influence in Blood Tears. What were you listening to at the time and/or what did you draw inspiration from?

Vu: It's cool that you pick up on that because I didn't think it would really come across. I was introduced to kraut rock via Stereolab, which is a huge influence for me. One of my favorite groups is Can. When it comes to industrial, I'm drawn more towards earlier minimal stuff like Suicide and Silver Apples, but I also like DAF. My bandmate Ryan Wood, who co-produced the record, is heavy into krautrock—Neu!, Cluster, Faust—then we both love Eno, Moroder, Kraftwerk. I consider most our references to be pretty vague, if not entirely subconscious. Other areas of interest: Cocteau Twins, Young Marble Giants, Linda Perhacs, Broadcast. We drew from a general bag of stuff we like and avoided one singular sound.

Me: I think there's a tendency for critics to assume female artists are influenced by "girl groups," regardless if they really sound anything like girl groups. Was the sort of Supremes/Go-Go's lineage of so-called girl groups something you tried to shy away from with SISU's sound?

Vu: I didn't start out with a list of "no-nos" because I find that limiting. If I hear some sort of drum beat that I like, I'll make a note of it and try to write something with it, but I'll try to combine it with something that is less expected. I could never sound like the Supremes, even if I wanted to, but I would never rule out "borrowing" a sound or element from either group. I am kind of a production nerd. SISU isn't a girl-band though, so I think we skirted those comparisons.
Me: I was really impressed by how loud and rocking the sound was live, whereas the record has some quieter and more pop-oriented moments. Is it important to you to keep things on the loud side?
Vu: We have different live configurations. I think you saw the five-piece version (at L.A.'s La Cita for a Part Time Punks special show Aug. 30). We had reconstructed song arrangements and sounds for the live show. After playing these songs out live, they slowly developed in little ways. There was no guitar in the album version of "Electronic," so I made up new parts. I like it loud though, and a bit more reckless in comparison to the record. I like when bands sound different from the record live, so that it's different experience.
Me: I was also impressed with your stage presence. Was it difficult at first to go from behind the drum kit to the mic?
Vu: That's a great compliment! Stage presence is mystifying to me. I think it happens when you can detach from all your fears and reservations, which was a challenge for me in the beginning. I'm so comfortable behind the drums, I don't think about anything. The less I think, the better the response.
Me: Can you give me a list of five of your favorite records?

Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Silver Apples - S/T
The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
Ryan: Wire - Pink Flag







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Krautrock (12), The Raveonettes (7), Dirty Beaches (8), Dum Dum Girls (15), Sisu (6), Sandra Vu (1), Shoegaze (36), Interviews (31)