by Ziggy Merritt
Alter egos allow us to adopt something foreign and exciting into what we otherwise might perceive as a mundane character. But like many the many superheroes we associate with the term, this persona is only a disguise. Kristin Welchez, the artist who for years led the charge behind the jangly vibes of Dum Dum Girls as “Dee Dee”, has undergone a transformation of her own. Debuting as the eponymous Kristin Kontrol earlier this year, she’s stripped away the sound that defined much of her previous work to focus in on something new and unexpected. These efforts have resulted in the synth-laden X-Communicate as well as a tour opening for Garbage which I was recently able to witness in their stop here at one of Philadelphia’s newer venues, The Fillmore. Fortunately prior to that stop I was able to share a few words with Kristin on her new direction, one that is not simply a costume change but something much more freeing.
“I started writing in January 2015, after returning from the last tour supporting Too True,” she began, referencing her third studio album under Dum Dum Girls released back in 2014. “Kristin Kontrol didn’t exist conceptually yet, but I knew it was time to shed any limitations. It took months for me to find the direction and inspiration that became X-Communicate.”
In the process of finding that direction, 42 songs were rejected before settling on the 10 that make up her debut. And refreshingly in the transition to leather-clad New Wave songstress, none of Kristin’s much touted songwriting chops have dulled. Those same 10 songs represent everything that gave her previous band the edge the separated them from the many like-minded lo-fi acts that cropped up around the time of their inception. The only difference here is the lens in which she expresses the overarching themes of heartbreak and frustration.
“Progress and evolution have guided my work since I first started releasing music as Dum Dum Girls. I hit a ceiling though and knew I’d outgrown that band,” she admitted, further expressing the interwoven connections between the two separate projects. “I haven’t traded in all the things that informed DDG, I’ve just opened the door to all that things that didn’t make it in before.”
With the layer of electronics that gives X-Communicate its unique sound, it’s an unfortunate second nature to try and define it further by restricting it to one genre or the other. But for this album and for the artist herself there were no preconceived notions of what genre this would ultimately fall into. “I wasn’t trying to make a post-punk or synthpop album — it’s wider than that. The main shift is to electronic-based stuff,” Kristin explained. “The producers, Kurt Feldman and Andrew Miller, aimed for modern production to stay out of kitsch territory. I like to think genres were used more so than adhered to.”
Likewise the tracks that make up X-Communicate are not so easily broken down into either synthpop or post-punk. Definite highlights from both this album and Kristin’s own performance took shape in the title track from the album as well as her set’s closer, “Skin Shed.” Though admittedly strained by a recent cold, both tracks opened her up to a more than appreciative audience as she displayed the fruits of her past year’s labor. The visualization of her recent work dissipated the notion that Kristin Kontrol is merely an alter ego, but instead the same exacting musician she’s been praised as for quite some time.
This most recent tour alongside Garbage has given her further agency to express that, the opportunity of which came about from a friendship with Garbage’s own Shirley Manson. “Shirley and I struck up an internet friendship a few years ago,” Kristin explained. “She even offered a bit of mentoring when I was trying to figure out my move. I sent her X-Communicate before it came out as a bribe. It’s been a perfect pairing. I feel blessed to share the stage with the first woman I saw perform live (at my first ever show). That in no small way planted the seed for my future.”
After Kristin’s set Garbage naturally did their part in lighting up the room, performing past favorites such as “I Think I’m Paranoid” and “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” as well as tracks from their recently released album Strange Little Birds, namely “Empty” and “Blackout.” The near hour and a half long set gave them ample time to showcase the breadth of their impressive career, one that has inspired artists such as Kristin herself to crystallize their intentions and forge ahead with something bold, beautiful, and raw.