The Ditty Bops
'Hmmmm, ..... Bop!'
Purveying an utterly charming sound that borrows from folk, pop, Western swing, and early vocal jazz, Los Angeles' fancifully named Ditty Bops feature the tightly woven harmonies of Amanda Barrett (who also handles mandolin and dulcimer duties) and Abby DeWald (who also plays guitar).
Though Barrett and DeWald met in New York City in the late '90s, they didn't begin playing music until they moved back to California. Barrett spent her childhood in Topanga and learned to play fretted dulcimer when she was six, then moved to Europe to model as a teen before moving to New York in her early twenties.
DeWald, meanwhile, grew up in northern California and took piano lessons as a child; growing up in a house where only classical was played, she nevertheless developed a fascination with ragtime music and electric blues. A stint in a band that played '20s covers in period costumes inspired the duo to make the Ditty Bops just as theatrical, if not as strictly traditional: puppet shows, illustrations, and fancy dresses and wigs give their live shows a hint of cabaret.
The Ditty Bops were discovered by Warner Bros. at one of their shows in the L.A. area; after signing to the label, they released their self-titled, Mitchell Froom-produced debut album.
Chatting recently with the ladies themselves, I first wondered if it was true that they had first met each other at the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ in NY?! ”No, … false,” laughs Abby. ”No, we met in California. It was just a weekend and she [Amanda] was visiting a mutual friend, and I thought I would never see her again. But, she went to New York and I happened to go to New York too, and she then actually sat in front of me at ‘Rocky Horror’!”
Was the debut album always to be untitled …? ”Yeah, but we did try a couple of things,” explains Amanda, ”but I don’t recall what they were. We were really just trying to figure out our band name when we got signed.”
… and where does the bands name originate? ”That was given to us. We started playing together and becoming a band because, well, we were chasing this lost cat into our neighbor’s back yard, and that’s when we met this man Marty Cuffs … who then became this music mentor to us. And he always called us the Ditty Bops and we don’t know why! At the beginning we didn’t like it, and said to ourselves that when we finally had a band and were playing out then we would have something different from the Ditty Bops. As it was just not us! But the we tried a bunch of names, but they all sucked!”
Do you even know where he was headed when he came up with the names the Ditty Bops?! ”Well, I think he grew up in the ‘60s,” recalls Abby, ”And his neighbor Joey and him went to High School together. And they told us that it meant ‘Cool Cats’ or something like that. Something like that from the Fonzie era. Yeah, I guess people used to say Ditty Bops.”
Amanda – is it true that your father is a professional clown? ”Yeah, that’s true!”
OK, so what’s the difference between him and an unprofessional clown?! ”That’s a good point,” she giggles. ”He’s professional in the fact that he has no other job. Which would make it his profession, in this case. He’s been doing it for 35 years. He eats fire, he walks on stilts, he juggles, he mimes, all of that. He also travels and did something recently with Barnum & Bailey in Florida, but mostly it’s birthday parties and not circus. My parents ran a circus before I was born, but it was a small, hippy circus.”
Abby – As you have great self-belief, what do you believe in the strongest? ”I guess instincts. Being in touch with your inner self. I’m trying to trust my gut instincts more and more. I kinda did before, but there’s always opportunities and challenges that come up every day – very small ones or very large ones – that you should be true to yourself over, trust your gut, and try and believe in yourself.”
Performance art, visual art, and storytelling ensure a fun time for the audiences at your shows, but what’s your own take on what you provide every night? ”I think people will be disappointed if they expected a Vaudeville show when we’re on the road,” admits Amanda. ”Sometimes, when we have 25 minutes as an opening slot, we pretty much just go up there and play our songs. We always add a little, some props and such, but it’s mainly music.”
”But, in Los Angeles,” Abby continues, ”We like to have our friends or people who are in the theater come and be in our shows. So, when we’re in Los Angeles we like to do something different every night for the people, but on the road we’re definitely not doing a Vaudeville show.”
Are there ever occasions when things go wrong on stage back in LA? ”Oh yeah,” Amanda quickly admits. ”We had this Cruise Ship-themed show where we were supposed to be on this cruse. So there were these bathing beauties that came out and sat down on the stage on these deck chairs, and when one of them sat down in the lounge chair in her bikini, the power went off. But, it was a small club so we just kept playing the song when it happened. So, it was her that cause it, but it was our fault for setting up the chair right over the pile of wires!”
Abby – where does your inspiration come from for all the cover art that you come up with? ”I’ve always visual art since I was a little kid so I’m definitely hoping to do the album art for the next album. And my friend Olivia and I have a backdrop that we painted that’s up tonight on stage. We just like to use lots of different facets of our lives in this project.”
Who comes with the recipes on your web site?! ’We all do,” Amanda laughs. ”We have recipes from all the band members, and we have some that we make ourselves, and some that are our favorites of other peoples, but unfortunately the bulk of them are not up there yet … soon, though. Soon!”
What cheesy '80s song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! ”What’s that Bananarama song,” Amanda asks Abby, before breaking into one of its verses! ”Cruel Summer,” Abby answers back. ”Yeah, I would do ‘Cruel Summer’,” Amanda continues. ”Because it would be pretty funny to Ditty Bop-atize something that’s really not gonna work! To harmonize on that would be really disgusting and funny!”
If there were just 3 words that described the Ditty Bops’ music, what would they be? ”Bitty Bop, Bop,” Amanda sings, smiling throughout!
OK girls, what normally runs through you heads more often than not when you're up on stage?! ”Shit, I hope I remember the words,” Abby immediately sings back to me, also smiling.”Oh God, I just played the wrong chord. I hope nobody notices,” she continues melodically.
Finally, if you were asked to record a single for charity, and had to choose 3 other musicians to aid you in the project, who would they be, what instruments would they play, and what would the name of the NEW song be?! ”I would have Jesca Hoop out of Los Angeles singing," Amanda confirms. "I would have Mitchell Froom, the producer of our record, play an array of his crazy keyboards, and then I would have our friend Adam Greenberg play harp … and the name of the song would be ‘Razzmatazz’s Golden Afternoon’.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Photo: Jaques Brautbar
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