NEW YORK — As fans waited in line for Nancy Sinatra’s second of two shows at Joe’s Pub here early this month, a young hipster exiting the first show bombarded them with, “Oh my god, I just talked to one of the girls from The Ditty Bops!”
“He probably couldn’t get to Nancy, so he settled for us,” laughs Amanda Barrett, one-half of the spirited Ditty Bops, Sinatra’s opening act.
After all, the Andrews Sisters-esque harmonies and ragtime-bluegrass-Twenties-style ditties of Barrett and Abby DeWald are just a lot of fun.
But the music’s only half the show. Fresh from promoting their self-titled debut album during their October tour with the Dresden Dolls, the Ditty’s onstage wardrobes depend entirely on the theme. “When we’re playing, it’s all about the theme,” DeWald, the band’s acoustic guitarist, explains.
“It’s not always glamorous,” Barrett adds, “and sometimes [the themes] are all about puffy dresses, and sometimes we’re dudes.”
Take, for instance, the red-and-black-spandexed “superheroes” who graced the stage at CB’s Gallery here on Halloween weekend. The girls, both 26, and two of their band members — John Lamdin on violin and Greg Rutledge on piano — bopped out in full sequined glory, the former two in sparkly minidresses and headbands (and Barrett’s flaming red mohawk), and the latter two in stretchy leggings and capes.
While most of their costumes are thrift store finds — such as the Joe’s Pub night’s black corsets and bouncy pink and blue tutus they picked up at The Stella Dallas Look, a vintage apparel store here — DeWald and Barrett hardly are opposed to designer stage getups. In fact, local L.A. designers have begun approaching the duo with offers to create custom-made apparel for Ditty Bops shows, “but as of right now, no one has followed through with that promise,” DeWald sighs, then perks up and laughs: “So anybody wanting to do that, we welcome them to contact us!”
Barrett is no stranger to the designer world. Modeling since she was 15, the L.A. native has seen the world, but gradually has begun to trade in her runway-strutting for more mandolin-strumming time. “That’s why I went red,” she laughs, motioning to her hair. “I always wanted to go red…so when [my agencies] said, ‘We kind of have to put you on the shelf because you’re too busy,’ I said, ‘OK!’”
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It was this modeling connection, however, that grabbed the ear of Petro Zillia designer Nony Tochterman. “We [do] wear a lot of Petro Zillia because Amanda has worked with [Nony] and we love her designs,” says DeWald.
After last season’s show, Barrett dropped off a Ditty Bops flyer, and next thing the band knew, the folks at Petro Zillia were requesting to collaborate with the Dittys for the following runway season.
And so the Petro models sashayed down the runway to “the retro-optimistic and ultrapositive sounds of The Ditty Bops’ music,” Tochterman said when describing the inspiration behind her spring collection during Los Angeles Fashion Week in October.
DeWald’s background in illustration has also worked its way into the Ditty project. Not only does the former farmers’ market worker from Northern California draw the quirky sketches on the band’s Web site, dittybops.com, but she has designed the band’s album jacket, flyers, stickers and even a stage backdrop as well.
“When I got out of school, I wanted to try to get into illustrations for kids’ books,” she explains, “but so far it’s great because…I get to do my art with this project.”
While the girls have been collaborating musically for nearly three years, neither was the proverbial aspiring musician. In fact, they were performing one of their first shows together when Warner Bros. reps showed up and immediately wanted to sign them.
Amid the new album and national tours, however, DeWald and Barrett aren’t too worried if this band thing doesn’t work out: “We’ll just go back to working farmers’ markets or modeling or something,” Barrett laughs.