Dum Dum Girls’ drummer, Sandra “Sandy Beaches” Vu, has stepped out from behind the drums and shed the noise-pop band’s persona, as well as their signature ripped nylon and black leather look. Now fronting her own band, SISU, the musician described this transition as “a feeling of utter nakedness” as she stood before a crowd with only her voice and guitar.
“For SISU, I consider it more of a personal project and it’s very honest,” she explained. “I don’t have a set uniform, or a kind of look that Dum Dum Girls has where it’s a set aesthetic. SISU’s aesthetic is more loose and more me – exposed.”
SISU’s sound hovers in limbo over many genres like synth, shoegaze, electronic and dream without treading too deeply into any one. The band’s sound is “able to exist in that space [between subgenres] and have both exist at the same time.” A strong bass melody supports each diverse song, while a mix of light synth, guitar, and Vu’s dream-like voice work to build the shoegaze sound the frontwoman described as being “a wall of sound: maximum sound.”
The shoegaze subgenre can be heard in bands like My Bloody Valentine which acted as an influence on SISU’s sound. Others include Silver Apples, Vashti Bunyan, Serge Gainsbourg and DJ Shadow.
Before starting SISU and joining the Dum Dum Girls, which launched Vu into a whole other adventure, the songwriter found herself at a dead end when her former band Midnight Movies broke up.
“It was like not really knowing what was going on with my life in general. Just imagine putting all your eggs in one basket, that’s kind of what I did at the time. I was having an identity crisis but I just took the time to myself. I started writing, not even with the goal of starting a band, I just wrote for myself. Having decided to really pursue it as a band, it really did take a lot of work to get to where I am now,” she said.
The workload continues to follow Vu as she highlights her struggle to perform as the vocalist for SISU, then rush to do a quick costume change and to resume her role as the noise/dream pop group’s feisty drummer.
“Playing drums, you’re usually in the back but I definitely don’t undervalue playing drums. SISU is more responsibility in the front, scarier because I’m not hiding behind anything or sitting down. It’s more difficult, but it’s more rewarding because it’s difficult. There’s way more responsibility, which can be more fun,” she said.
Nevertheless, being in both bands isn’t all work. Vu recounted a moment backstage at a European music festival, where “we were waiting for the Stone Roses to go on. We were all dorking-out’ and listening to them do their warm up with our ears to the wall.”
As for their name, the band had originally thought they’d come up with the word SISU but after a quick Google search, the word was discovered to have a very strong meaning associated with it. SISU is a Finnish term and means bravery, empowerment, and the ability to face head-on and overcome. The significance of the word worked so appropriately in the context of Vu’s moments of uneasiness between bands and her drive to step out from behind the comfortable cage of the drum-set to the front of the stage.
“Harpoons,” the first single off their debut album Blood Tears, which will be released on Sept. 17, kickstarts the album with its catchy rock/pop tune, heavy bass drum and fleeting synth melodies. Vu explains how the song is about sometimes “having to kind of kill part of yourself in order to move on and in order to grow.”
She continues to write songs in the tour van when she’s not feeling too queasy and plays two very different roles.
“From guitar to drums, I can just switch personalities,” she says. And with just a costume change in between.
SISU plays Société des Arts Technologiques with Dirty Beaches Wednesday Sept. 4.