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By Emerald O'Brien
The band's psychedelic cyberspace home, at dressybessy.com, vividly illustrates this point. Vocalist/songwriter Tammy Ealom, guitarist John Hill, drummer Darren Albert and bassist Rob Greene are all depicted as kaleidoscope-colored cartoon characters who stare back at the viewer through larger-than-life anime-style eyes, summoning the onlooker into their candy-coated world. But carefully constructing a surreal existence isn't child's play -- and Dressy Bessy has worked hard to perfect the game. Over the past year, in particular, the band has distinguished itself as a powerful pop force -- a musical entity separate from the Apples (in Stereo) and the Elephant 6 contingent with which it has often been lumped in the past.
Yet despite the band's very grown-up commitment to success -- and the fact that its roots are in artsy, punk-leaning and indie pop outfits -- the members of Dressy Bessy see no shame in entertaining the playground set. Just like Raffi or Mr. Rogers -- or Danny Elfman and Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh. Last year the band's song "Bubbles" was included on Heroes & Villains, the soundtrack to The Powerpuff Girls cartoon TV series, alongside tracks from the Apples, Frank Black and Shonen Knife. "We are definitely fans of the show," explains the band's lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Tammy Ealom. "Of course. Who isn't a fan? How could you not love them?"
The album -- which chronicles in song the kind of good-versus-evil battles that are so quizzically rampant in animated environments -- was as much of a hit with adult fans of good, quirky pop as with pre-adolescent Girl groupies. However, it was Dressy Bessy's inclusion in the soundtrack to another film, But I'm a Cheerleader, that illustrated the duality of its sweet sounds. While Heroes & Villains proved the bandmembers could act like kids and play to kids, Cheerleader placed Dressy's music in a darkly humored, ironic and very adult context: The film features Ru Paul (sans drag) as a campy camp counselor who is part of a twisted right-wing gender gestapo whose mission is to set sexually confused teenagers straight. Two tracks culled from Dressy's 1999 Lucky Charms-inspired full-length debut, pink hearts, yellow moons, fit into the film's twisted premise like snug puzzle pieces. Despite the movie's strong underlying message, however, Ealom says that in true Dressy Bessy fashion, the band's motivation for contributing was pure fun.
"I don't know if content really had that much to do with it," she says. "One of the guys who worked on the movie was playing our CD around the set. The director heard it, loved it, and called to ask if they could use a couple of songs. [To us], just the fact that Ru Paul was connected was a cool idea. They were looking at it as sort of a spoof. We thought that was really funny."
Though Dressy Bessy's music often deals with grown-up romantic themes such as love and love lost (albeit to a perpetually poppy, sing-along beat), it's the band's sunny presentation that has garnered the most attention during the past year. Wherever Dressy Bessy goes, descriptors like "bouncy," "pixie-like" and "carefree" seem to follow, a phenomenon that is encouraged by the band's own promotional efforts: The group has a serious lust for retro and cutesy kitsch, and it permeates everything from its CD covers and T-shirts to that surreal (and vaguely disturbing) Web site.
Sometimes the air of cotton-candy delight that swirls around the band starts to look a little more like delusion. After all, escapism has a grand tradition in the world of pop music. But Ealom insists that adulthood is not something she is trying to avoid.
"I don't feel like I'm revisiting anything. Life's getting better. I've found something that I like to do, and I do it," she says. "As far as going back to our childhood, it really isn't about that. I think we all had good childhoods, so maybe we're just extending it and making it last as long as we possibly can. I am a happy person; it makes me happy to do this. I can't help that."
Considering the kind of year Ealom and her bandmates have had, there should be plenty to be happy about. Through heavy touring and promotion, the band has emerged as one of the stars of the pop-centric Kindercore imprint, a Georgia-based label that also claims Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, and the Essex Green on its roster. Dressy Bessy has spent the bulk of its time on the road, touring both the states and internationally and reaching appreciative audiences in such far-flung locales as Japan. "They've embraced us for whatever reason," says Ealom. "We had such a great time [there]. It's just an amazing place. My father was in the military growing up, and I spent three years in Hawaii, so I kind of felt a little like I was in Hawaii, actually. It didn't seem strange at all."