Talking Festivals, Politics, & New Music with Dressy Bessy's Tammy Ealom

By: Claire Woodcock

Dressy Bessy was one of the first bands remnant of the Riot Grrrl movement in the early 90s based in Denver, CO. Lead vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Tammy Ealom instituted the indie band, associated with the prolific Elephant Six Collective Recording Company, with guitarist John Hill (who also plays with the E6 band The Apples in Stereo), bassist Rob Greene, and drummer Darren Albert in 1996. After the band released four albums, Craig Gilbert superseded Albert on drums in 2005, and DB released 'Electrified' that same year on a new label, Transdreamer Records.

Dressy Bessy.

Dressy Bessy.

In 2008, when Dressy Bessy released their second record with Transdreamer, the stock market crashed, and the band learned the consequences of trying to tour through an economic recession. Then the country didn’t hear much from Dressy Bessy. In 2015, bassist Greene left, and the end of the Obama era was in sight. As a result, Ealom, Hill, and Gilbert started recording again, this time in their home studio. The product of this recording was 'Kingsized,' which Dressy Bessy released a year ago. Since then, the band has toured the country on the frontlines of a new wave of protest music.

Recently, Ealom spoke with me about upcoming shows and plans for a new record. Read on:

So I heard you went to D.C. recently for the Women's March on Washington.

I did, I did.

What did you think?

It was completely overwhelming and beautiful, and I'm glad I did it. It was beautiful to see so many like minded people come together to protest. I'm still in shock with all of these politics just like everybody else. I had never been in a crowd that big before and it was emotional. But you actually did feel a camaraderie and to feel in camaraderie with that many people at once can be overwhelming. It was incredible, and I'm glad I did it, and it doesn't stop there obviously.

What was your takeaway from being in D.C. that day?

I learned that we not in this alone; there are a lot of people who are freaked out and not standing for the way our government and our world is going with this new Trump administration. I think I'm suffering from some sort of post traumatic stress syndrome just over this entire year. Our album came out almost a year ago and we toured the country a couple of times all the way around, the whole time just sort of reaching out to people and just trying to get across how important it is and was that we're paying attention. I was a true proponent of Obama and I felt really comfortable with him as our president. He is an intelligent, calm person [who was] in charge of our country and it made me comfortable. I didn't obsess about politics everyday. Now I do. I wake up in the middle of the night and I reach over and I grab my phone just to check to see and make sure we don't have to put on gas masks, you know what I mean? Like this is such a crazy time.

Tammy Ealom.

Tammy Ealom.

Dressy Bessy dropped 'Kingsized' about a year ago-

February 5th last year.

So coming up on exactly a year after taking a considerable amount of time off, what has it been like to jump back into the world of album releases and tours during an election year?

It’s been amazing. The record came around about the same time civil unrest was starting, so it was amazing because I was able to go and let it out. I live for this shit. I've been doing it for 20 years and we're continuing on. We're planning a new album hopefully next year. I'm halfway there with new songs, and they just keep coming, so I'm going to take advantage of it and get it out there.

Any ideas on what Dressy Bessy’s next album’s going to be like?

That's a tough question because I don't question where my songs come from, I just let them develop like, ‘Okay, cool cool’ and a lot of times I'm not exactly sure where they came from. I don't sit down like, ‘Oh, I'm going to write a song today.’ Sometimes I just get this feeling as I lay there like ‘Oh God;’ it's like a ball of [noise] and I just let it out through song.

Rock, you just rock.

Rock and roll, that's all it is. It's all rhythm and blues.

Dressy Bessy got its start in Denver over two decades ago. How do you see the topics and songs you guys write about and play evolving over time?

Well, the internet was a big game changer. When our last album came out, Myspace was the place to promote your music. So I think [the internet’s] opened up a world where people can get their music out there. One thing, around 2008 before Obama came in, it wasn't feasible for a lot of bands to tour because gas was so expensive and people didn't have the money to go to shows. So that was kind of part of the reason we stepped back for a second too, because that was the way we went out and made a little bit of money to pay our rent. Now there's like a thriving DIY scene that's happening that more people hear about because of the internet. You kind of just take it day by day or month by month, it's like, ‘Okay let's go out and see what's happening.’

That's such a great point you make about the internet being a promotional tool for musicians. A lot of times I feel that my generation, millennials, myself included, take the access that the internet provides for music exploration for granted.

I mean, it used to be you'd have to send flyers out to street teams and you'd contact them through snail mail and then get their address and send packets of flyers. Now it's just as quick as Facebook. People are paying attention and they see [music] that way.

That makes me wonder how the internet has affected both your pre-existing fan base, as well as your new beginning. Because the people who were listening to 'Pink Hearts Yellow Moons' and were turning out for Dressy Bessy shows are a little older now...

We kind of knew that we'd have to rebuild our fan base, which is what we're doing right now and what we have done this year. It's just what we do, but we are finding our fans range from ages 4 to 70, which is pretty incredible. There are literally all ages at our shows, which is amazing. And a lot of our old friends who aren't paying attention every day are finding out. It happens every time we leave a city; the next day we get a load of messages: ‘Oh my God you guys are still going!’ And this happens every day: ‘Oh my God you have a new album! See you next time!’ And then they see us the next time.

I feel like 'Kingsized' definitely lends itself to a new generation of listeners that are looking for or to hear some sort of sanity in music, you know?

I appreciate that. It's a crazy world [laughs] it's just a crazy world. But yeah the struggle is always there and if it weren’t there, I don't think I'd appreciate what I do as much. It makes it real.

So speaking of the internet, your website teases more shows this year. Any idea when and where they'll be?

In March we're doing the Treefort Music Fest, which is a festival in Boise, Idaho. So we're planning to do some Northwest shows around that. The festival invites are coming in and we're sort of just using those as anchor shows to tour sections of the country at a time. Going out and covering the country all at once can be exhausting and physically, mentally taxing. We used to do six to eight week tours and just go do the whole thing and then come back just like [exhausted] you know? We've discovered that [for us] to keep our sanity, it's best that we go out max two weeks at a time, and just do regions of the country, and then come back for two weeks and go out and tour another section of the country. In March, we'll start doing some stuff. And we'll have Colorado shows within there too. We love Fort Collins and Grand Junction.

Awesome, right on.

Yeah it's coming. We're just trying to get a handle on it.

That's great that you're planning Colorado shows.

Oh of course. Denver is great, you know? There's a reason I've lived here for 23 plus years. I've always loved Denver. Whenever I travel, I'm excited to get home you know?

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It seems like everything went really well for Dressy Bessy since 'Kingsized' came out. I know you were sort of going into it without any real expectations, you were just kind of seeing what would happen, right?

Right. Just going in and doing what we do. I mean, if you put a record out and you expect the world to embrace you, you're bound to be let down. We do it because we have to, we don't do it because we strive to be rockstars or to be rich. We have to do this, so whether lots of people like it or not, we're still going to do it. It's a life calling for us. It's satisfying to go out for 300 people or 30 people or three people; it doesn't matter. If [the crowd’s] all into it, for us it’s completely satisfying. It’s like I always say, I just keep doing it, I keep doing it, I keep doing it, and after I'm done I'll have a legacy. It'll all be there for other generations to pick up on and perhaps be influenced by and it's much bigger than me. My music will live long after I'm dead and that's awesome. I'll take that. If the planet's still here, oh my God.

That's very forward thinking of you. So you see Dressy Bessy as a necessary voice in the industry right now.

I always have. My lyrics are always up for interpretation but I'm of the girl power generation, you know what I mean? Just speak your voice and don't take any shit. And a lot of my songs come about when there’s some sort of conflict, whether it be in my personal life or the world around us... it's sort of my way to just get it out. It could be protesting a relationship I have with a friend, or whatever. Writing songs is my way of getting any negative energy that I have towards a situation or a person or the world in general, just getting it out through song, if that makes sense.

Dressy Bessy is one of several Colorado bands who will perform at the Treefort Music Fest March 22nd-26th. CPR’s Open Air reported that local bands Trout Steak Revival, The Still Tide, Bud Bronson & The Good Timers, Dragondeer and Brent Cowles have also made the list. For the full lineup, which includes Angel Olsen, Mac DeMarco, The Growlers and plenty of other big names, go here.

-Claire

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.