Interview with Dog Party

Photo by Jessica Mona (@jessicamonaphoto on Instagram)

We got on Zoom with dynamic duo Lucy Giles and Gwendolyn Giles, the sisters that make up Sacramento-based indie rock project Dog Party. Dog Party harnesses a blend of rock and roll, punk, pop, and even country to create a uniquely West Coast sound that calls back to bands such as The White Stripes, The Ramones, and The Runaways. In this interview, we discuss the ebb and flow of our local scenes, favorite members of The Beatles, and the importance of camps like Girls Rock.

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What’s your go-to gas station order?

Lucy: One of the things I really love is Flaming Hot Funyuns. They’re delicious. Pretty much any Flaming Hot things. I really love Chester’s Flaming Hot fries. I also love the Cheetos with lime. Delicious. I love sparkling water, it’s good to stay hydrated. I try to stay away from soda, even though I really like soda.

Gwennie: I like Chex Mix, and I like the little Bel-Vita crackers, they’re good for the morning. I’ll look for huge water bottles generally, like Smart Water has pretty good bundles if you buy three.

You guys have been a band since 2007, which is really impressive! If you could share one tidbit of knowledge that you’ve learned along the way, what would it be?

Lucy: Definitely for me, taking your passion and making it into a business. You should always have a business lens to what you’re doing. It’s kind of frowned upon by some people, some people say you should never make careers out of your passions because then it won’t be “fun” anymore, but if you’re truly passionate about something that is not true. One thing that really helped my sister and I, and our band, is that we have always viewed it as something that we really love and have so much fun doing, but we also have to look at it as a business.

Gwennie: So we have professionalism going into that. Something that I think is really important is to be professional and friendly.

Lucy: Those are really important. You always want to make the best impression on people, venues, the people that work at venues, because those are really important connections.

Gwennie: If you’re mean to them, then they’re not gonna want you to come back.

Lucy: You should always put your best foot forward.

Gwennie: If you’re having a bad day, it doesn’t mean you can be mean to people.

How have you seen your local scene (and beyond) change over the time you’ve been doing music?

Lucy: Definitely the thing that’s most shocking change-wise is when venues that you love close down. There was a period of time where Sacramento, which is where we’re from, had a really thriving all-ages scene that we were able to grow in. And then suddenly, all the all-ages venues basically had to shut down. And it was just sad.

Gwennie: But then just knowing that it’s more of an ebb and flow, like there’s gonna be a rise of all-ages venues again and it’s not a permanent thing. But on a larger scale, I think that there’s been more all-ages spaces the more we’ve been it. There were some cities, and states too, I think with state laws, it kind of prevents obstacles for cool all-ages spaces. Especially in the Pacific Northwest. But there’s been, slowly and surely, some cool all-ages spaces to come out of those areas.

What does your songwriting process look like as a sibling duo? Musically, what’s something you admire about each other?

Lucy: When we were young, we used to write together. She would have the guitar, she would be playing, and I would just start singing. That was super fun and awesome.

Gwennie: We would stay up super late, just hanging out in my room with the guitar and writing songs together. But then, it’s been quite a number of years now where we haven’t been under the same roof. Because I went to college two years before her, and then she went off to college, and I graduated, but she was in college. Now we’re both finally graduated.

Lucy: But we don’t live together.

Gwennie: That changes the dynamic of the songwriting, when you’re not together. It’s more independent, but we still have ways to contribute to each other’s work.

Lucy: Sometimes when I write a song, I’ll purposefully leave it a bit short to try and get her to come in with a bridge or another verse, or just help with the lyrics. Like I wrote my perspective, and I left a space for her to interject her perspective on the matter.

Gwennie: Something I really admire about Lucy’s songwriting is because she’s a drummer, and only recently learned guitar, so her approach to melodies and when she writes a song, she doesn’t follow any set rules. When I’m trying to figure out what she wrote, it’s always really unique and weird. I wouldn’t have done it personally, but it actually works and I like it!

Lucy: Something I admire about her songwriting is that she’ll just have a line in a song that is so amazing, where I’m like “Yo! That is so cool, I would have never thought of that!”. Always just a crazy surprise. She did some music theory, and she knows a lot more about technical music stuff. Sometimes she’ll come out with some really beautiful chords, some like Beatles-y chords. I can’t play that on the guitar [Laughs].

Listening to you more recent projects like “Hit & Run” and   your covers on “Today I Started Loving You Again,” it appears that both rock and country music has made an impact on you. Does moving beyond a singular genre mean something to you, and what do both of these styles of music mean to you?

Lucy: When we first started playing, we were so young. We didn’t have that many outside influences that were really influencing our style and how we wrote, because we weren’t very experienced playing. So the songs that we wrote were very stripped down and basically like, all we could play.

Gwennie: But since we’ve started, there’s been so many albums that we’ve listened to, artists that we’ve discovered, music videos that we’ve watched, and it’s all really, we’ve learned a lot from those experiences. Lucy especially really dives in and is passionate about learning more about music, from a historical context.

Lucy: I love music history, and I’m just kind of obsessed with writing and recording. Going back and listening to all of these recordings, and the production, and the lyrics. I was actually just thinking this morning, because I was listening to country music. I went through this little break where I was pretty much exclusively only listening to The Strokes. It was over a month, only listening to The Voidz and The Strokes. Then I just turned on country music the other day. And it was so nice, because I just sat there listening to the lyrics and the performance of the artist. I was like, dang. This is why I really love this music, because passion is there. You can hear it in their voices. The writing is so good and so relatable. It’s just great.

Gwennie: The singing is emotive.

Lucy: That’s one of the things that I really love about music from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. Because of the recording techniques, you had to be good and sing it pretty much all in one take. Maybe you could do a couple at most. Now you can do it a hundred and five times, literally take a syllable from each of those takes and splice it all together. And sure, you have a song, all the notes are right, you hit all the notes and you did everything correctly.

Gwennie: But it’s more washed out.

Lucy: Is the performance there? Is the emotion there? The answer is no, because it completely takes the performance out.

Gwennie: There still are some people that do that really well in today’s time. Shannon Shaw from Shannon and the Clams.

Lucy: Great emotive singer.

Gwennie: Super talented.

Lucy: Basically, I live for playing music. It is my number one passion. As a musician and as an artist, I like to do the things that I like to do. Therefore, playing music that I love, like rock and roll music and country music is what I want to do. I never feel like I am fenced in with genres. I think people that get judgmental and snarky over people trying to jump genres is just like, people do it a lot, and I don’t know why bro. Just calm down, let me do what I want. I’m just having fun here.

Photo by Jessica Mona (@jessicamonaphoto on Instagram)

In 2019, you released a few Beatles covers. Who’s your favorite Beatle, and why?

Lucy: My favorite Beatle is definitely Paul. He’s wonderful. I love his writing, I love his voice. Just great. I do really like George too, because all George songs, I like to think of them as little candies that you just find somewhere and you’re like, “Oh! Look at this little treat that I just stumbled upon!”. That’s how I feel when a George song comes on. I like John too. And I do like Ringo. Ringo really loved country music, well they all did, but Ringo did pick Buck Owens “Act Naturally” to sing, which is awesome. It was awesome for The Beatles, and it was awesome for Buck Owens because his career pretty much took off after that. And he was already madly successful. But with the help of The Beatles, it really pushed him. And country music as well, really pushed it more into the mainstream.

Gwennie: I guess I like Paul. I don’t have as much reasoning as Lucy does.

Lucy: He’s also really cute. His eyelashes. I decorated my dorm room in college with pictures of Paul.

If you could do a total reimagining of his song or a Beatles song, which one would you do?

Lucy: We did “I Feel Fine.” We definitely really changed up how that one was. The real one kind of has a Spanish drumbeat, and it’s really upbeat and spastic. We totally mellowed it out, and made it more yearning-feeling. The harmonies are more hypnotizing, I feel. The other B-side to that, we stayed pretty much in line to how they recorded it. And I think that’s fun. But when you cover a song you’re covering it for a reason, you’re not covering the song to mirror it exactly. Like you’re supposed to put your own soul and feeling in it too.

Last month you worked with Girls Rock Reno, who support self-identified girls, trans, and non-binary youth. How can we, as a music community, better support young musicians and make safe spaces for them? 

Lucy: I definitely think that the Girls Rock Reno camps are fantastic because locally, in Sacramento, there are some camps that are really similar that are for boys and girls and anyone. But I feel like the boys always kind of take over, and they’re more controlling, and the girls are more an afterthought and a side note.

Gwennie: Like an accessory.

Lucy: Yeah. And just growing up seeing that, is kind of, you know… There are Girls Rock camps all over the United States, and there is one in Sacramento.

Gwennie: We’ve also had the opportunity to go to the one in Omaha, for a guest lunchtime performance, that was really fun. It’s something we want to look more into, like in our tour routings if there’s a day off, we’ll be like, “Oh, if there’s a Girls Rock camp nearby, maybe we can pop in for a visit.”

Lucy: It’s important for girls in music to have that space. Where it’s centralized on them. So it’s not like a guy hoarding all the attention and making all the decisions in the band.

Gwennie: When you look at the statistics of the industry, it definitely is still very male-dominated in pretty much every area.

Lucy: The camp is super great to have, it’s important to start the kids so young and giving them that really important time where they can feel seen and heard and have a position in the band.

Gwennie: It gives all the people who are like a minority in music, it gives them a voice and a space.

Gwennie: Another important thing is independent venues all across the US. They provide those safe spaces. Just keeping those places alive and still standing after the pandemic is important, and there’s some really great organizations to keep those spaces alive, like Save Our Stages.

What are some of your non-musical influences?

Lucy: That’s a really good question.

Gwennie: You’ve written songs about books.

Lucy: I have written songs about books, but most of the literature I consume is about music, like music history and stuff like that, because I’m really interested in that. I really do love the book Brave New World, I did write a song about it. I also really like J.D. Salinger. I’m a big fan of poetry. I do spend most of my time consuming music, or documentaries about music, anything music related. I need to read more.

Gwennie: That was definitely on my list of New Year’s Resolutions, to read more.

Lucy: I don’t watch much television, or film. My favorite movie is actually a long movie broken up into different episodes. It’s the Ken Burns country music documentary. Reading books is definitely really interesting because it puts you in a different world.

Gwennie: You get sucked in hard.

Lucy: I’m also an artist and illustrator and painter, so whenever I’m doing non-music related stuff I’m drawing. Which, you can’t read and draw at the same time, but you have ears and you can listen to audiobooks. But I just listen to music most of the time. Mark Maggiori is my favorite painter. He paints these crazy Western landscapes with old school cowboys, and it’s just phenomenal work.

It seems like you guys have a great sense of style! What’s your favorite accessory and why?

Lucy: I definitely love earrings, I pretty much am always wearing a cool pair of earrings. And I like rings too. I love silver jewelry, and I love turquoise. You gotta have a good belt, with a nice buckle. Always important. And I really love bolo ties, which I do make. It’s just fun. And eyelashes, you will never see me without eyelashes on practically.

Gwennie: While Lucy likes silver, I prefer gold jewelry. I’m trying to think of accessories. My smile.

Lucy: Her staple is her black boot, she always wears these black boots with a bit of a heel. She’s always in them.

Gwennie: They keep getting worn down, and I’ll get the heels replaced and the toes polished down. But I don’t know how much longer they have in them, because I’ve been wearing them a lot. It’s like my go-to tour shoe. And I was thinking for the next tour, how many shoes I’m gonna bring, if I’m gonna diversify it. I did get this other pair of shoes that I really love, but they’re not worn in. Like I can’t wear them for very long. So I’ll have to bring alternates.

Lucy: I don’t wear shoes when I play the drums, so normally I try, I try to have cool shirts. I collect Western shirts with embroidery on them. Those are always fun. I wear boots otherwise, when I’m offstage.

Given that now that the pandemic is winding down, what are some of your upcoming plans?

Gwennie: At the end of May there will be a tour announced, that we’re on. We’re one of the bands on the tour. We just can’t say who we’re touring with. But it is over a month of touring, so that’s gonna be really exciting. And then where the tour ends is just about as far as we could be from our next festival destination.

Lucy: Which is announced, so we can say. It’s Fest in Florida.

Gwennie: And so we’ll have a connecting tour there, as well as back to California. So I hope that most of the US is gonna be covered. The tour is going to be September-October-November. Not a whole lot of East Coast dates, but pretty much everything else.

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