The latest Westword profile of Dressy Bessy, which arrives in advance of an October 18 CD-release party at the Bluebird Theater, comes ten years after the first article about the band -- a fact singer-songwriter Tammy Ealom talks about in a full-length Q&A accessible here. To get a feel for how things have changed, and how they've stayed the same, check out that piece, penned by former Westword contributor Jeff Stratton. Click "More" to take a trip back in time through Denver music history. -- Michael Roberts
Living Dolls Dressy Bessy makes pop music that doesn't fall far from the Apples' tree. By Jeff Stratton published: July 16, 1998
"I just think we're all pretty positive people," says guitarist John Hill of Denver's Dressy Bessy. "We're upbeat, but we're not trying to be sickeningly happy."
Like Hill, the other members of Dressy Bessy -- singer/guitarist Tamee Ealom, bassist Rob Greene and drummer Darren Albert -- argue that bubble gum and ice cream aren't accessories they need to make their music. But their chirpy brand of summer-friendly pop has a carefree feel that mirrors the participants' typical mental state and musical sweet tooth.
"We all gravitate toward these happy songs," Albert explains. "We don't gravitate toward melancholy things because we all like playing the upbeat music; it makes us all feel good. It's a choice unilaterally in the band that we don't want to play slow, sad songs."
To be sure, there's nothing in the Dressy Bessy repertoire fitting that description. And under the guidance of Ealom, a glum turn seems extremely unlikely. "We've tried to play slow songs," she says. "But we always end up saying, 'Let's speed it up.'"
To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, Dressy Bessy has oodles of charm -- and the players' fondness for the adorable extends beyond their sound. The artwork favored by the group resembles hand-drawn advertisements for Hot Wheels or Easy-Bake Ovens, the band's songs are published by Little Music, and its homegrown label is called Little Dipper Records. But the emphasis on the diminutive belies the substantial rewards of Dressy Bessy's songcraft. The effect is like finding a toy in a box of cereal.
Ealom began singing backup with the now-defunct Denver band 40th Day before she picked up a guitar and began penning her own tunes about three years ago. Shortly thereafter, she started seeking musicians to help her utilize her uncanny pop sensibility, her high, sweetened voice and her knack for knocking out infectious three-chord choruses in seconds flat. In Colorado Springs, where she works as a fashion photographer, she found her first recruits -- Albert and his pal Greene, who'd recently relocated from New York. Neither man owned an instrument at the time, but that quickly changed. Later, Ealom's rudimentary skills were reinforced with assistance from Hill, who's also a guitarist for the Apples, the area's premier pop act.
"We've been dating for three years," Hill says. "When I first met her, she played guitar..."
"Not real well, though," Ealom admits.
"But with a certain flavor."
"I'm not very good," she insists. "I'm still learning. I'm getting a lot better."
"She's made amazing progress," Hill confirms.
"Well, he taught me bar chords."
Armed with this powerful new technique, Ealom began refining a sound that took off on a pop tangent and immediately captivated Hill. Before long, he was lending a hand.
"I just came in to help them record and stuff, and I sort of fell into them," he recalls. "I guess I needed to be there."
Hill's affiliation with the Apples, who are scheduled to appear with Dressy Bessy and the Push Kings at the 15th Street Tavern on July 25, is a connection that the combo has used but not exploited, Hills says. "But it can't hurt," he adds, grinning.
"No, it doesn't," Ealom agrees.
"But we try to avoid doing that," Hill notes. "I've made connections, met hundreds of people, and it has helped. The music business is all about who you know."
Dressy Bessy and the Apples share a harmonic convergence involving pop music and irresistible hooks that's delivered with a captivating sense of innocence and honesty. The first recording by Ealom and company, a seven-inch single from last year whose sleeve includes the proclamation "Listen! And you'll be three times glad" is a case in point. However, "Ultra Vivid Color," a fizzy mouthful of Dressy Bessy's carbonated sparkle, sounds promising but almost primitive compared to the group's more recent output, which tightens up both the playing and the recording quality.
The band has been shopping around a nine-song demo cassette of its latest efforts, and several of the tracks were doled out to various indie labels clamoring for samples of the band's wares. Ealom explains that most of the songs were slated to appear on an English imprint, but two of them were snagged by a tiny Japanese label first. A third tune, "Makeup," ended up appearing on a Candy Floss Records compilation called Pure Spun Sugar alongside contributions by Azalia Snail and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. The tape's best song, "You Stand There," moves with the fast-paced grace of the most precious pop of years gone by, and other numbers the band is currently recording at home are even more relentlessly catchy.
"I like hooks--things that stick in your head," Ealom relates. "I can't help it. The songs are about people I bump into, or if I spend a day with somebody, I'll come up with a line about them. There's a song about everybody in my life."
While it's easy to pick out a Sixties undercurrent in the band's sound (and both she and Hill admit to an affinity for music from that era), Ealom is quick to note that Dressy Bessy is a Nineties band, not a retro throwback. "We are nostalgic," she notes, "and we listen to a lot of that stuff; it inspires us. But we don't try to sound like a Sixties band. Some people say that, and it's sort of an insult. We're not kids -- we're all pushing thirty. A lot of it is pure nostalgia. I've been going back and collecting a lot of toys from my childhood."
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The group's moniker ties into this hobby. Dressy Bessy, for those not well-versed in collectibles, is a doll from the early Seventies designed to help kids learn dexterity skills by buttoning, lacing and the like. (Her masculine counterpart was dubbed Dapper Dan.)
"We thought it was a cute name," Ealom says, and the others don't bat an eye at the term. "Cute" is one handle to put on Dressy Bessy's music, and though that may well make it unpalatable for those with a taste for minor-chord dirges, the quartet has no time to get depressed about such a prospect.
"We'd all rather smile than cry," says Hill. "Just in general."