|Photo by Kevin Abosch|
In a town filled with Eve Harringtons lurking behind every shrub, it’s so rare to come across a musical group that is pure, innocent and unspoiled. That’s why the Ditty Bops — Amanda Barrett (mandolin and dulcimer) and Abby DeWald (guitar) — stand out.
The Bops have been together only a year in this incarnation, but their melding of Western swing, ragtime, early jazz and musical theater has garnered them a rabid following and a Warner Bros. debut with producer Mitchell Froom (Suzanne Vega, Elvis Costello). As we gabbed away at the world-famous piss-elegant restaurant the French Market Place in West Hollywood, you would never have known this was their first major interview.
L.A. WEEKLY: You didn’t think I saw you both pull up on those heavy-duty mountain bikes with Apache fringe tassels. Now, DeManda, you’re the hot barracuda femme top, and Abby is the buttery, precious, butch bottom, in this musical relationship . . .
AMANDA: [Surprised.] DeManda was my nickname growing up! I was a very spoiled child.
ABBY: I’ve known Amanda for six years, but we didn’t start playing music till we moved back to Los Angeles from New York. We tried to work together, but we couldn’t figure out how to meld my jazz guitar with her experimental music.
Where did the name Ditty Bops come from?
AMANDA: We lost our familiar, and we finally found it in the back yard of our neighbor Marty, who used to jam with us. He’d always say, “Some people grow orchids, but I grow Ditty Bops.”
I love it! I knew you two were very Bell, Book and Candle. I find your songs very much like incantations or spells.
AMANDA: I grew up in Topanga playing dulcimer and singing with my mom’s Celtic pagan combo. And I like folk music — Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush . . .
ABBY: I’m from Northern California, Shasta County. I didn’t know who Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell were until I met Amanda. I started taking piano lessons at 5, then I quit. Growing up I only heard classical music around the house. As a teenager I was obsessed with ragtime, and bluesy guitar guys like Johnny Winter.
AMANDA: I listened to Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Marty introduced us to Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks . . .
ABBY: They are my favorite band.
A lot of the songs on your album are very plaintive and heartfelt. That first song, “Walk or Ride” — what a great way to start the record. The second track, “Wishful Thinking,” has a hilarious line: “Why can’t white people sing love blues?”
ABBY: I didn’t want to put “Wishful Thinking” first, because it’s traditional-sounding. It’s actually the first song that I ever wrote. I brought it to Amanda and we rewrote it.
The more traditional songs will stand out more to a young, modern audience — those sounds will strike them as completely new and exciting.
AMANDA: “Sister Kate” is our only cover.
It’s infused with a very original spirit, though.
ABBY: When I was working at a farmers market in New York, one of the bakers taught me how to play that song on ukulele. It’s the song that sparked my interest in that style of music of the 1920s.
You take that old-style music and filter it through your youthful sensibilities, bridging the generations.
AMANDA: We used to be in a band where we did nothing but
’20s covers. So I’ve always wanted to mix the music and performance, costume changes, cabaret and wigs. Different themes
for every show.
Your music conveys a lot of hope. It’s not cynical.
ABBY: I’m glad you hear that. Sometimes when I write a lyric I think it is too preachy, and I want it to be inclusive, not dogmatic.
You have such an authority when you both are singing. It’s beyond star presence, people’s jaws actually drop . . .
AMANDA: The theme of our last stage show was “Gods and Goddesses,” and I invoked the Scandinavian deity Freya. Ever since then I’ve had more fun with the audience, and my
performances have improved.
Ditty Bops play Largo on August 4, 11 and 18.