Music Interviews

Interview: The Dandy Warhols

“What does ‘OMH’ mean?” I rack my brain to formulate a semi-coherent explanation on the origins of our site to The Dandy Warhols‘ eccentric frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, but he is unconvinced. His preferred interpretation? The fact that ‘OM’ is the sound of cosmic resonance, and that its purity has long been recognised by great renaissance masters such as Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Over the next 45 minutes I sit on a couch next to Courtney and attempt to ask him the 15 questions I had meticulously prepared. He doesn’t really answer any of them. Instead, he will jump seamlessly from one monologue to the next, interspersing them with humming, vocal percussion, as well as delightfully incisive comments about our surroundings (“Have you seen these lovely Eastern Bloc waitresses who won’t give us any water?”).

After several years away from the spotlight, the veteran rockers from Portland, Oregon are back with their sixth LP, …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… Their first release since departing from EMI, the band’s latest effort is quintessential Dandys with a rollicking twist.

It plays host to tracks like Welcome To The Third World and Mission Control, as well as cover art depicting the band members as astronauts. So I felt it safe to assume that the Dandys had been inspired to record a space-themed concept album. But rather predictably, with impossible interviewee Courtney Taylor-Taylor, nothing is as it seems.

“Actually it’s not a concept album. It’s the sound and the art and the title, but the album is the same thing we always do. It’s just me living with whatever I’m living with, and writing songs and words and melodies. We didn’t have an $11million mixing room, since we did this one in our own studio, so instead what we went for was time. You always have to pick any two out of the three: time, genius, and money. We always have genius, so this time we went with time instead of money.”

Not willing to take this one lying down, I vehemently argue that despite his rejection of the assertion that we had before us a ‘concept album’, Courtney and co. had recorded what was, sonically at least, a more grandiose, “spacey” album.

“That’s because of skill. We’re just better at achieving that coveted sound,” he says, raising an eyebrow and pouting. “I’ll admit that we are a spacey band. The hard part for us is to achieve that spacey sound without sacrificing the organic nature of sounds that we all need to have, unless you’re an electro type musician, which we’re definitely not. We need guitars and things. By the way, isn’t it so fucking nice to be at an actual rock band hotel?”

“You always have to pick any two out of the three: time, genius, and money. We always have genius.” – Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s recording resources writ large

As the new album is released via The Dandy Warhols’ newly minted label, Beat The World, I decide to redirect the conversation towards a topic which would warrant his undivided attention: Why did the band decide to leave EMI?

“It was something we had to do sooner or later,” says Courtney, eyeing the other musician types striding through the lobby of the K West. “Especially when everyone tells you how easy it is to cut out the middle man now that you can pretty much do it all on the internet. I guess the kind of promo which a major label can give you is something I would hate to do as a brand new band, but with us we could afford to leave.”

So why now? “There was a change in the presidency at the label, and in the new guy’s twisted brain everyone was out to undermine him, so he just started doing everything his way. It’s all about a clash of egos, but at the end of the day, we get interviewed and badmouthed, and they don’t. I often wonder what it’s like to be this dude sitting in a corporate office. They don’t mean to be spineless, egomaniacal little bed-wetters, but in real time, their responses are knee-jerk and childlike. They are not born leaders.”

I have not come here to attack The Dandy Warhols. However, Courtney seems almost certain that I have. Continuing to speak in unrehearsed, articulate paragraphs, Courtney launches into a staunch defence of Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars, the band’s critically panned fifth album and their last for EMI.

“The last album was definitely the strongest we’ve ever made, and it got completely slaughtered, except in France where it entered the Top 20. Ugly sounds are far more interesting than pristine sounds, and that’s what the album was all about. Jimi Hendrix and pop music of the ’40s and ’50s is so fucking beautiful because of that low fidelity coarseness. So we deliberately made it sound ugly, like a Robert Altman film. Instead the press made us sound like we’d just been sitting there jacking off for years. How long do they think we’ve been around? Just look at our body of work. We are hugely, anally, fucked-up meticulous at what we do.”

“We deliberately made it sound ugly, like a Robert Altman film…” – Courtney Taylor-Taylor justifies Odditorium

Suddenly, apropos of nothing, Courtney begins beatboxing. I interject with the assertion that surely, it must be more fun to be polarising than to be safe. He eventually puts an end to the vocal gymnastics and agrees, noting that there is nothing average about the average Dandy Warhols fan.

“We don’t want to appeal to everybody. We don’t want just kind of person between Kentucky and Minnesota to love us. That’s why we make music that’s so specifically you. That’s why people who listen to our music are people we want to bullshit and have a coffee with. We’re in a bubble of pretty interesting people. Our crowd consists of people with great hair who maybe didn’t quite get the shoes right. And then there are those with the great shoes, but who don’t give a shit about the hair…”

Part of the reason that the Dandy Warhols’ ‘bubble’ of interesting fans have continued to expand throughout the years stems from the frequent use of the bands’ music in a plethora of television shows. Bohemian Like You was featured prominently in Six Feet Under, while We Used To Be Friends was, like, all over The O.C. Does Courtney agree that the band’s association with mainstream popular culture has assisted in immortalising the music of The Dandy Warhols? Or was I seconds away from another anti-EMI rant?

“I actually think it’s fantastic that our music is all over television. There’s music constantly on TV and eventually you become numb to it. I was always hyperaware of music on TV as a kid, but I was constantly frustrated because everything sucked so bad. That’s why our music, especially the stuff that makes it onto TV, is very reductionist. It’s just the good part over and over again.”

Courtney proceeds to demonstrate exactly what he means by humming the chorus to an obscure yet vaguely recognisable track. Twice. While on the topic of repetition, I decided to query whether his surname was so nice that he had to say it twice. He accuses me of flirting before explaining how his double-barrelled name came to fruition.

“As that band who recently put out a fucking amazing album.” – How Courtney Taylor-Taylor would like you to remember The Dandy Warhols

“I was just tripping on the ‘my parents are still married’ thing. Basically, when my friend Gina Williams started dating my other friend Kevin Williams, they decided to hyphenate their names. So she started calling herself Gina Williams-Williams and then I became Courtney Taylor-Taylor.”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, Courtney begins to tell me about how surnames were intricately linked to the inheritance of property, which reminded him of an unbelievable castle he had come across when he was playing in Cornwall, which made him think of a story about Tommy, a ‘dandy’ whose brother had committed suicide. I seized upon the Cornwall gig and steered the conversation back towards a language I understood: festies.

“We had a really cool agent who would take us to really cool places. We always want to be in the countryside as much as we can, so we played at a castle in Ostrava. And because I’m a super wino we also played at Barbaresco in the fucking forest and like 400 people showed up. It was magical.

“I love the Glastonburys and stuff like that, but the big ones always have a lot of weird rules and a lot of assholes. It’s a lot more fun to headline small festivals, especially when you’re in between albums. Being hustled around at Glastonbury is much less fun than staying behind, getting drunk with other bands and smoking a little grass with the hippies.”

Speaking of other bands, I mention that Brian Jonestown Massacre recently played some shows in London. With a look of genuine concern, Courtney asks me how they were. He then confirms that years removed from DiG!, the documentary which chronicled the love/hate relationship between the two bands, the days of shotgun shells and restraining orders, are now ancient history.

“One of them became a baby, which gave the others an excuse to become even bigger babies.” – Courtney Taylor-Taylor on The Brian Jonestown Massacre

“I think BJM are great. They’re not as dysfunctional as they used to be, but they’re close. They were always so much fun to hang out with, and then one of them became a baby, which gave the others an excuse to become even bigger babies. All energy disburses into space and time, and if you’re standing next to someone who is freaking out, the farther away you get, the less weird it feels around you. I mean we hung out with Anton last year, and he”s still witty as hell and completely cool around us. But maybe they should have older, stronger and tougher babysitters. Yeah – let’s put baby in a corner. Headlocks and hammerlocks and all.”

Courtney seems disturbingly dogmatic about the fact that 15 years after their formation, the Dandy Warhols have still yet to peak. How does he want the band to be thought of another 15 years from now?

“Well, as that band who recently put out a fucking amazing album.”

And with that, Courtney looks at me with unwavering conviction and reassures me that the Dandys have now been completely liberated of any shackles which have compromised their musical vision in the past. He is of the view that the band is much more eloquent when their music is out there and when he’s not doing the talking. However, this realisation does not prevent him from leaving me with a parting gift.

It is a story about how sound stretches in a manner akin to a Keystone Cops comedy, and how everyone knows the brick is going to fall on someone’s head. The tale concludes with women running around the park in slow motion, and a sprinkler system which causes a dog great distress. I am left none the wiser, but more eager than ever to give …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… another spin.

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