If the name DUNES doesn’t sound familiar to you yet.. SING IT WITH ME NOW, It soon will! 🌸🌸
New Zealand’s brand new pop-tastic duo (think Haim mixed with kiwi band Paquin), made up of talented sisters Jamie and Tessa McDell, have recently somersaulted into our ears, onto the NZ Heatseekers Charts and Apple Music’s Best Of The Week Playlist with the catchiest of synth pop hooks in the shape of their debut single, Horses.
While we’ve been busy obsessing over Horses, Jamie & Tessa were kind enough to sit down for a chat and share their story, from one Mangawhai girl to another..
Yay to growing up in Mangawhai! Do you think your upbringing there had any influence on your music?
Jamie: It’s kind of interesting because I feel like we’ve both had quite different upbringings. Obviously, I started off in music quite early and did the whole university thing, so was very Auckland based throughout my teenage and young adult years, whereas Tessa did all of her schooling here and lived that country life!
Tessa: Yeah, I went to 4 different high schools! I wasn’t a naughty kid, I just couldn’t quite settle myself down, so I kept going from one school to another, ranging from Auckland all the way up to Rodney college in Wellsford. Moving from an urban area to a suburban area, right through to the rural schools you can clearly see the different musical trends in each area. So I was definitely exposed to many different types of music, genres and I guess phases, in my teenage years.
Speaking of your childhood, Can you recall your first musical memory?
Jamie: Our parents love singing and playing the guitar and they do a particular duet of a Jimmy Buffet song that they’ve been playing for their friends ever since I can remember, so I definitely think my first memory is looking up to them playing it at a party!
Tessa: I must have been a little toddler, but I clearly remember sitting on the floor looking up at my dad playing Puff The Magic Dragon [laughs]. I just remember him staring straight into my eyes, rather than looking at his guitar.
We’re very excited about the creation of DUNES! Obviously you’re both very musically talented, but can you tell us how this project came about and how long you’ve been creating music together?
Jamie: Because we had different lives growing up, I think we just got to an age where it felt like we were missing out on each other’s lives a bit. We honestly don’t have that much in common other than music, so it was pretty natural for us to combine forces in that way. After I had seen Tess play a few gigs of her own, I figured that she’d kind of taken it more seriously than I had originally thought, so we just organically started writing songs together and went from there.
We actually started off writing and recording a few folky songs [laughs]. Tess is very sweet because she kind of put her trust in me to know what to do in this industry a little bit, but one day she sat me down and said, “Jamie, this is real fun, but I just can’t imagine myself performing this stuff on stage, it’s just not really where I get my excitement from.”
Tessa: I absolutely loved it, but I think when you create music you want to be 150 percent in love with it and you want to dream about yourself performing it and I just wasn’t getting that.. [laughs]
Jamie: That’s where Tom Healy came in and was really helpful, because he sort of just allowed us to try a whole lot of different sounds. We’d spend a lot of time in the studio writing in various different ways to what we were used to, for example creating the beat or guitar riff first and that’s where we felt like we developed a sound that represented us both and eventually got to what we’ve produced now.
Did you purposely want to stray away from ‘The McDell Sisters’ as a name?
Jamie: Once we started getting into the grove of making this music that we really loved, it was so heavily influenced by Tess that we wanted to try stay out of that danger of people saying this is a ‘Jamie McDell project with her little sister,‘ and the McDell Sisters doesn’t sound great! [laughs] It’s funny though because our dad and uncle used to be quite famous for yacht racing, so there are all of these old articles with headlines of them called ‘The McDell Brothers,’ so it was a little tempting to follow that through, but it just didn’t quite fit!
So how would you best describe DUNES sound?
Tessa: It’s sort of synth pop with some guitars. We’ve adopted this kind of ethereal sound, layering lots of vocals that add a hard edge to it, but then having two female vocalists brings an aspect of delicacy to it too.
Being sisters, how does that dynamic work in terms of DUNES creative process..
Tessa: Every song is so different in the sense where it can completely be a 50/50 contribution in terms of lyrics and ideas, whereas some other songs are the brain child of our own hooks, themes, ideas and emotion.
Jamie: Sometimes we’ll definitely hit road bumps where us working in the studio together just becomes a bit too much and we’ll go off and write our own completely different ideas and then come back and combine them.
I know personally, I feel like I have gone through life not knowing a whole lot about Tess, so for both of us this writing period has been a bit of a time for learning what one another has been through over the last few years..
Tessa: Yeah! When we write, so many stories would come up that we probably wouldn’t have talked about otherwise. It was like a therapy session! [laughs]
Congratulations on HORSES making it into the NZ Heatseekers chart by the way.. Can you tell us a little bit about the lyrical inspiration behind the track?
Tessa: Thanks, it’s pretty exciting! Horses is a lot about the ability to express freedom and I guess correlating that with the idea of your spirit animal. You know when you think of a horse, you think of running wild and free through the hills..
Jamie: The other part of trying to come up with DUNES ‘sound’ was figuring out what our language was with one another, and anyone that knows Tessa is very aware of the obsession she’s had with horses, her whole life. So it became very clear that we couldn’t NOT include something about them in this body of work.
We’ve been loving the random horse facts you’ve been sharing on Twitter lately, do you have one you can share with us right now?
Tessa: [laughs] Horses, apparently have the largest eyes of any land mammal, so they even have bigger eyes than elephants!
When it comes to musical influences, who are some of yours?
Jamie: It’s probably quite different for us both. I know, growing up we were definitely into a lot of John Denver and Shania Twain that was fed to us through our parents and I stuck with those influences quite a lot. I didn’t actually branch out until I went to a Tame Impala show and my perspective on how electronic music was made changed as the creativity of my mind was blown!
Tessa: I obviously had those same influences from our parents, but then I went through my rock phase, a queen pop phase of listening to the Spice Girls, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey before moving on to Bullet For My Valentine and Bring Me The Horizon [laughs] so I had a very broad taste as I grew up.
Do you have any particular message you’re hoping to get out there to your fans with your music?
Jamie: The whole reason this body of music was created began with sisters combining forces, supporting each other and trying to do something cool with that, so I suppose it all links back to that idea of girls standing beside each other.
Do you see DUNES as a long term project & can we expect to see any live shows in the near future?
Jamie: We don’t really know! I think we’ll always write songs together, so it’ll just be a matter of how much material comes out! We’d love to play some live shows though and we’ve actually put together this awesome band of chicks. Because as much as being a sister project, a lot of the songs are coming from a place of female empowerment, so we felt like it would be really cool to carry on that trend.
What are your thoughts on networks such as Youtube and Spotify and the difference they’ve made for young artists trying to break into the music scene?
Tessa: I think they’ve definitely made it easier in comparison to years ago when you had to get the full record deal. But then again, because it’s so easy now and there’s such a massive pool of aspiring artists and talented people that have the ability to freely express themselves online, it’s very easy to get lost and drowned out amongst everyone.
On that note, is there anyone that either of you are currently listening to that we should know about?
Tessa: I have a friend called Bobandii who started off rapping in Warkworth and producing music in his bedroom. He’s just released a single called Nazarite and is on the come up at the moment, so definitely be on the look out for him!
Jamie: Keeping it with the kiwi theme, I just discovered this girl October who I find really interesting. It’s a different style of music to what I usually listen to, but I think I got excited about her style, fashion and the fact that she also produces her own stuff. It’s just so cool to see!
Last of all, on the topic of pop music ~ What’s your opinion on Lorde’s new album?
Tessa: I actually love it, I downloaded it the other day and I’m really vibe-ing on it. It’s incredible for someone to have such a long gap between albums like that and just come back so on form, it’s very inspiring!