Dog Party: Sister Sister

Sacramento’s Dog Party is growing up on stage

Putting together a punk band, writing songs, recording an album, securing a label and heading out on tour all before turning 20 is difficult enough, but the Giles sisters of Dog Party—17-year-old Lucy and 19-year-old Gwendolyn—are already veterans. This month they are releasing their fourth album—a joint project for Asian Man Records and Burger Records, as they head out on a six-state Western tour.

A band since 2007, Dog Party has their pop-punk sound dialed in, with tight harmonies and sing-along melodies delivered alongside heavy, fuzzy guitar and big, booming drums.

Vol. 4 follows Lost Control, Dog Party’s first for Asian Man, which melded riot grrl attitude and the vibe of Lookout Records bands with catchy vocals from both sisters.

“For this album, we wanted to keep the punk element of Lost Control, not change that too much. But we took the things that we didn’t like about Lost Control and we fixed them,” Gwen says. “We also noticed there are certain types of songs that we like and our audience likes that we tried to include. And Lucy and I both love harmonies, so the more we write with those it makes things fun. Vol. 4 has a lot more harmonies than the previous records for sure.”

The Sacramento duo was raised on music and built their sound from the indie rock and alternative of their parents, bands like White Stripes, with the punk they discovered in fellow California bands.

“We’ve always loved music a ton, our parents have always loved music. It was always playing the house. It was a marvel for us,” Gwen says. “We just kind of morphed everything we listened to into our own sound. When we first started, we hadn’t been playing our instruments very well so we didn’t start playing cover songs because we didn’t know how to. We wrote music and just made our own sound.”

The sisters self-released their first project, a self-titled EP, in 2009. The songs revolved around their concerns at the time, like “U Doubt Me,” written when they were angry their parents wouldn’t let them get a pet rat. But it’s delivered with a defiant chorus of “I chase, chase, chase my dreams” that defied the girls’ age.

Now, the songs have a different focus, particularly relationships, like the fist-pumping first single, “Peanut Butter Dream.”

“There’s a large difference between being eight years old and being 16 in terms of what goes on in our minds. The priorities are different,” Lucy says. “Our songs are better just growing through school and learning to be a bit more clever with writing techniques.”

The sisters started recording Vol. 4 before Gwen left for her first semester of college, shaping the album from songs they’d tested live on their last tour.

“Most of the album was finished before we started touring the summer before. We’d work them out during live shows, try to get them tour tight,” Gwen says.

Dog Party recorded Vol. 4 with producer Chris Woodhouse (Devandra Banhart, FM Knives, A-Frames) at the Dock in Sacramento. Woodhouse and the band also collaborated on Lost Control and the familiarity allowed them to zero in on new goals. Recording to two-inch tape, Dog Party went for a bigger, punchier sound, capitalizing on their growing confidence.

“In the studio we wanted our sound to be bigger, so we added our favorite fuzz pedal and it really thickened up our sound. We were also aiming for a louder drum tone and we achieved that,” Lucy says On stage, Dog Party features Lucy on drums and Gwen on guitar, with both sisters sharing lead vocals.

Leading off Vol. 4 is “Dead Guy,” which combines the frenetic punk of The Buzzcocks with vocals inspired by girl groups like The Ronettes. Next, the aforementioned “Peanut Butter Dream” is an opposites-attract type of relationship song Gwen wrote.

“My boyfriend is completely different from me. He let’s me see things in other ways and the song is about seeing things through new eyes and just being happy,” she says.

A cover of “I Can’t Believe That You’re Real” by fellow Sacramento band Agent Ribbons finds Dog Party amping up a catchy pop tune, holding onto the melodic core while surrounding their vocals in distorted guitar and thumping drums.

“On ‘Sapphires,’ that one is one of the only songs I do more yelling style in part of the song. Usually Lucy sings like that more often, so it was very different for me. It’s weird because I feel like when I’m yelling it captures more emotion than singing,” Gwen says.

The release of Vol. 4 marks the first time since the fall that Dog Party get to play together again on a daily basis.

“We used to just practice when we’re at home, so after I went to school, we had to rely on shows,” Gwen says. “Whenever we’re off we try to hit the road. I tried to get Fridays off to make it easier to do weekend shows. During my spring break, we were able to tour some, but it wasn’t Lucy’s spring break, so we took her out of school for a week.”

Shows like that could get nerve-racking, Lucy says, but being sisters makes it that much easier to communicate on stage.

“We have a really good working relationship with each other. We’ve been doing this for eight, nine years,” she says. “If we were to add someone else it would probably get weird. We just like the two of us and the fact that we’re sisters makes it pretty equal.”

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