The Dandy Warhols celebrate their twentieth anniversary this year, having formed in 1994. Founder members Courtney Taylor-Taylor (guitars/vocals) and Peter Holmstrom (guitars) started the band in their native Portland during the latter part of that year, with keyboard player Zia McCabe joining soon after. Current drummer Brent DeBoer became a Dandy Warhol shortly after the release of second album ...Come Down in 1998, and that's how the band has lined up ever since.
Now, eight albums down the line culminating in 2012's This Machine, the band are currently embarking on their first major UK tour in over a decade. Bearing this in mind, DiS thought it would be an ideal opportunity to catch up with Courtney Taylor-Taylor over a slice of chocolate cake prior to their show at Nottingham's Rescue Rooms earlier this month.
An hour or so later, it's fair to say the amiable frontman has just given one of his most candid interviews in recent years. Take it away...
DiS: You've been touring on and off since April. How have the shows been so far?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Really awesome.
DiS: What about here in the UK? Do you find British audiences more receptive to your music?
Courtney Taylor_Taylor: I guess it depends which city we're playing. We have a very good booking agent now. We can do a show in Manchester and sell one thousand tickets on Glastonbury weekend. I think a lot of that is down to having a good agent who gets us good promoters. Because it is a business. It's actually really hard drumming up the numbers and knowing where to advertise so that people who are into this band know we're in town. Especially since we haven't toured the UK in years and years. Last time we came over to England we did the Forum in London and that was about the same as two nights at the Bowery Ballroom so London never seems to change for us. Approximately 2000 tickets or so.
DiS: Did you always believe The Dandy Warhols would achieve and maintain this level of global recognition when the band first started out?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Yeah we did. You wouldn't really keep going if you didn't expect it. We have something very unique and amazing to offer. And it was only going to be a matter of time before everybody went, "Wow!" What we had going for us is that I'm a studiohead. And I've been recording since I was a teenager. And so we could make our records way better than anyone else. Now, everyone starts recording when they're teenagers so we're just about as good as anyone else. Bands are a lot better than they were in the nineties.
DiS: That's an interesting point. When I hear records like your second album ...Come Down which was released in 1997 yet sounded like nothing else around at the time. It's stood the test of time compared to most records from the same era. Other bands have come along who've been clearly influenced by it.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Listen to the band Temples. That kid recorded their album in his basement and that's what we did with Come Down. Most of it was recorded at my house, and then we got Tchad Blake who's an amazing mixer to finish it off. And that's what Temples did too. Record it in the dude's house to get the sound they wanted, and he's probably been recording at home since he was fourteen-years-old or younger as well. So yeah, bands are getting better at recording and mixing because they have access to better equipment and understand the nuances of it a lot earlier in their lives. You can have access to everything now. For example, if you want to incorporate part of the Stooges sound into yours it's possible whereas beforehand you'd have to search hard to find it. Whereas music just blew in the nineties. There was so much awful shit about. Big shorts and shaved heads. Rap rock, hate metal, metal pop. Just so dumb. It was almost cool to be dumb and mean. We were just outraged! We couldn't believe it.
DiS: I remember the first time I saw your band at Sheffield University in 1998. It was part of an NME sponsored tour along with Campag Velocet and The Young Offenders. It was during the back end of Britpop and The Dandy Warhols seemed to get a divided response if I remember rightly?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Britpop was over by '96 or '97. We were American so didn't really care that Britpop was gone. That whole thing had gone away. By then it was boy bands and girl bands. Nu metal and all that shit. I remember that night in Sheffield though. That was the first song I heard the song 'Sexy Boy' by Air. It was a horrible gig. Just awful. Most of our gigs were pretty bad back then.
DiS: In what way? From my point of view I really enjoyed the show.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Beforehand when we were hanging around during the day, no one was fun, no one was sexy. The place smelt of vomit and beer and piss and cigarette butts. It just smelt like pouring a beer into a well used ashtray. Everything smelt like that. No one was fun to talk to. Everyone was fucking mean. The gigs themselves were great. It was great just to be in a band that could go to England and play. Nowadays, the venues are cleaner, the food is nicer, everything's better. It's great.
DiS: Most overseas bands tend to comment on the hospitality in the UK from venues and promoters not being as good as it is in the rest of Europe. Would you agree with that?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: It's slightly worse, yeah. France is the best. Wherever we've played over there they always provide the best backstage riders. To be fair, England has improved a lot. Basically, you guys went from being in last place to first for culinary hospitality to first in the space of ten years. The gastro pub revolution just happened in the early 2000s and it was quite amazing. Up until then, we'd never had a vegetable in this country that had any texture to it. In all the years we'd been coming here. There'd be this old lady sweating into the pot behind the counter. "That'll be 2 quid please!". They'd be cooked to death and mushed beyond all recognition.
DiS: There are still some promoters who believe a band should be grateful for receiving a four-pack of Carlsberg and six bags of crisps when playing a show.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: That's how it used to be for sure. Now it's much better. But we're also on the ball. We've been doing this for so long that we make sure we have yogurt and cereal. We want an assortment of cheeses. We want Camembert, we want brie. All the things that are nice in the world. Organic fruits and vegetables, nice crackers or whatever. And we get it. You negotiate that stuff ahead of the shows. How much money are we going to allot to the rider? Zia (McCabe) is pretty all over that. Making sure everything shows up. And she can be a terror to piss off, particularly about food!
DiS: I suppose when you're on the road for long stints like you are at the minute - you have shows booked through to October - it's important to maintain a decent standard of living.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: We never tour continuously for more than three weeks at a time. Our last show on this stint is on the 19th July. We do three weeks and then we usually go home. I'm not going home this time I'm staying in Amsterdam then moving onto Greece. We have one show afterwards in Brussels in August so I have around twelve days of vacation in Europe. Then we go home for a while, two weeks touring Australia, back home again then three weeks playing shows around America. So yeah, we never tour more than three weeks at once. It just becomes a grind. It should be like a vacation where you actually get to play. When I'm on vacation I want to play gigs too.
DiS: Do you find touring more of a bind than when you first started out? I guess it must be difficult for new bands starting out now that have to play live as much as possible to generate any kind of income.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Yeah, totally. The internet is like this thick grey fog of shit. The earth where you can't scream into it loud enough so you have to wind up the dog and pony show and hit the road with it. We're just lucky we got very big 10-12 years ago so that if we do get good promoters in the cities we go to people show up. They work hard for us. But to be a new band now it must be an absolute nightmare. There are far too many bands now and you can't give them that cushy major label thing any more because that only exists for R'n'B or pop or hip hop. The dumb masses' music. The dumb multitudes. What is cool is that the internet has made people smarter. But they don't all like the same bands. There's as many bands as there are people now.
DiS: It's a minefield. It's great that people can go out and find new bands for themselves but separating the great from the average really is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: A needle in a needle stack! There's tons. There are just so many frickin' bands. And everyone can have whatever they want. They can have their three bands that aren't anything like that guy's three bands. They've nothing in common with them. They might sound alike but they don't know each other, may never meet each other, and will probably never hear each other. When people say to me, "Have you heard of this band?" or "Have you heard of that band?" my immediate response is how could I possibly have heard of all these bands? There's just no fucking way.
DiS: Do you think music has become little more than just a disposable commodity?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Absolutely. Look at us. We were the only good band on a major label in 1997. There was nobody else. It was amazing. We had free reign to do whatever we wanted because we knew we were cool. We knew what the fuck we were doing and nobody else did. It was so weird. Who else was there? Foo Fighters? There were a million bands you'll never hear of because they weren't good yet somehow got signed to a major label.
DiS: A lot of awful bands did get signed in the 1990s off the back of the grunge and Britpop scenes. That was probably the last time serious money was thrown at bands by major labels.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Which is why when we first came over here - I think it was '95 or '96? - it was very weird because that whole Britpop phenomenon was over. No one cared about the bands we loved. No one cared about The Charlatans or Blur or any of that stuff any more. to them that was three years ago. But to us it was new and fresh and amazing and heavily influential. We expected Spiritualized to be huge over here. They're such a big deal to us yet no one cared. We'd play with four bands at every show when we first came over here and I cannot remember the name of a single one.
DiS: The last time you did a full UK tour at the back end of 2003, you were playing three hour sets with no support. Was that something you'd been gearing yourselves towards for a while?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: We'd always wanted to do things because they're in our minds. That was definitely something we'd intended to do for a while. You hear about Bruce Springsteen playing for three hours or The Cure. So we did that for a whole year. We played three hour sets for an entire year. And people didn't really leave which was bizarre! We'd just played in this place in Boulder, Colorado and we hadn't played there in about ten years. And I got on the stage for soundcheck and thought, "Ah, this is where we played our last three hour show!" I asked Zia if she remembered watching four people sneak out the door that night. We noticed it because when the door opened the light came in and we saw these people leave. That was the first time it had happened during those three hour sets. So we never played a three hour set again. They probably had kids so had to check on the babysitter or something, but we just though we'd bored them so we stopped playing those shows straight after.
DiS: What can we expect from this tour? You're scheduled to play for ninety minutes this evening. Will the set include material from every album?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Yeah. We've made eight albums so we'll probably play a couple from each of those then maybe three from both ...Come Down and Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia.
DiS: Every album to date has been different from its predecessor. You have a very distinctive sound but at the same time it's not a predictable one. Like when Welcome To The Monkey House came out it was completely opposite to what people were expecting even though it was clearly a Dandy Warhols record. Has it always been your intention to change direction with every album?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Welcome To The Monkey House was radically different. It was the first new wave record. There was no Killers, There was no Bravery. That didn't exist. It was Jack White and The Vines and Jet. There were so many great guitar bands at the time that came after Thirteen Tales.... Thirteen Tales... got big and it sort of sent a message that nose rings and vintage guitars and retro clothes were not a niche. They're not just for weirdos any more. This was the fucking mainstream. This type of person. There were a lot of them all of a sudden. All those bands did a great job. The Strokes and The White Stripes for instance. They're two of the best bands to ever pick guitars up. So it was cool that we were part of a scene all of a sudden. And these were dudes in bands who'd come to our shows about three years earlier and given us cassettes. I think Peter (Holmstrom) still has a White Stripes demo at home. So there were enough guitars. And I remember sitting in a bar next to the Metro in Chicago and 'Smooth Operator' by Sade came on. It made me want to make a record like that. So I walked over to the jukebox and saw stuff like Gary Numan on there. 'Planet Earth' by Duran Duran. So I played all those songs which at that time seemed so completely radically new. For 2002 it sounded so fucking fresh. It was amazing so from then on I just set about doing that. We'd originally laid down that record using nothing but guitars and then I just removed them. I'd just chop the basslines up and put a delay over the top to give it some depth and motion. It was an experiment in minimalism and synthetic. I don't think there's any time on that record where a guitar is playing more than one note at a time. There's no chords going on at all. Of course when it came out we got mocked.
DiS: You are a band who seem to continually confuse critics so by not giving them what they expect your reviews have suffered at times. Do you pay much attention to what people are saying or writing about your band?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: I don't think I've ever read an article about my band. Ever. Brent (DeBoer) reads them and he'll tell me about it but I don't really want to know. And there are so many of them. You never know whose hands your records might fall into. I mean, just the dumbest motherfuckers in the world. Don't forget, rock writers aren't just failed musicians, they're also failed writers! So you're in bad hands. Back then it was all commercial. At least now there's blogs and websites like Drowned In Sound who are doing it for the right reasons. But around the time ...Monkey House came out most of the writers were careerist. They were saying things like, "Linkin Park: The greatest rock band in the world." Gross. No, it wasn't actually. It was a boy band and I can't remember which one it was. It was on the cover of Rolling Stone. So what do you think that guy was going to say about ...Come Down? If the guy who wrote that article got handed anything of ours he wouldn't know what the fuck is going on. "Where's the (sings) wooh-ooh-baby?" If it doesn't sound like dumb people fucking then your band sucks.
DiS: Music did reach a nadir in between the releases of ...Come Down and Thirteen Tales.... Aside from dumbed down pop, nu metal and Britpop there was also the growing New Acoustic Movement which spawned the likes of Coldplay and Travis.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Oh God, yeah. Even Richard Ashcroft - whose music I generally love - made a fucking dadrock record after The Man Who by Travis sold five million albums. Precious. Fucking precious. Everyone got real fucking precious. We were drunk the other night and started making a commercial for the greatest dadrock hits of the nineties. I was trying to think of them all. There was Travis, Coldplay, Embrace... it was just so fucking precious. A really awful time for music.
DiS: Your most recent album This Machine seemed to strike a similar nerve with some critics who clearly weren't expecting your most stripped back record to date.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: I think everyone expected synthesizers. Which for us was probably the last thing we wanted. The previous album The Dandy Warhols Are Sound had been this big, slick record. No one was doing slick at the time so we thought why the hell not. I guess we're quite contrary by nature. And then we're also reactionary to ourselves. Whatever we did the last time we don't want to do it again. It's done.
DiS: The album features a cover of Merle Travis' '16 Tons'. Are you a fan of his music? What made you put that on the record?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: The lyrics are so truly bad ass! I could never write lyrics like that but I want to sing something really tough. It's so fucking heavy. I can't write lyrics like that. "I was born one morning when the sun didn't shine, I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine." That is so fucking heavy. That is amazing.
DiS: You've covered artists in the past - AC/DC's 'Hells Bells' is another that springs to mind - you wouldn't normally associate your band with.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: They are all songs from my childhood. That's really it. And I don't think I can listen to them either. I cover them from memory so I often get lots of lyrics wrong, chords wrong, and make it more of what I remember it being. I don't wanna cover it, I just wanna reproduce what it felt like for me when I was nine or seven or twelve or whatever.
DiS: Are there any plans for a follow-up to This Machine? Do you have any new songs ready?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: We own a studio, and it's probably regarded as one of coolest studios in the world. So we're always working on new music when we aren't touring or playing live. What I'm really liking now is that sound from 1988 to 1991 where you had rave mixed with spacerock guitars. And also early Britpop where you could use synthesizers too. These days, synthesizers and keyboards seem to only have become EDM. No one seems to be able to get the two to work together since that era. We were doing a lot of "E" and the world seemed really promising back then. I've just been thinking about that a lot and re-feeling all those feelings. So that's what we've been into. We're hoping to put out an EP that we'll try to get mixed this fall. I don't think I'm ever going to take twelve or thirteen songs and put them together again all in one lump. It's such a singles driven market so I think an EP is probably the most songs I'd group together. We should have worked 'Seti vs The Wow! Signal' off This Machine as a single. We should have worked 'Enjoy Yourself' as a single. 'Enjoy Yourself' showed up on a lot of iPod playlists and people's collections. We wanted to put it out as a single but the label never got around to it. So we should have just released four songs at a time rather than eleven on one record. Then five months later the next four come out then the next four and so on. I think that's what I want to do. Just release a song at a time. And also, I want to have a lot of different remixes done for that one song. Go into the studio and replace every instrument with keyboards. I was looking into that guitar player (James Calvin Wilsey) on Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game'. That amazing guitar riff only came in on the fifth or sixth version of the song. By the time they'd done it was the eighth version. They'd been to so many different producers and finally got it right. That's a great way to go. Each song is very special. Don't stop until it's perfect. Maybe we'll just do that? I've a song called 'All The Girls In London' with my friend James Endecott which we're just working over right now. We have another song called 'Some Things You've Got To Get Over' which probably went through ten different mixes and versions and masterings. We sent that out to various radio outlets in America and the three coolest stations started playing it. So that looks good, but it's taken us so long and it's also quite dark that we've decided to pull the song back in and release it next fall when summer's over and people are feeling sad. Relationships haven't quite worked out and you're back in college. You're not Palm Springs any more, you're home and back at work.
DiS: Do you think more and more bands will start to make electronic music using songs that were written and initially designed to be played on traditional instruments?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: I don't know about that. Whatever it takes to write a song, it's just basically somebody singing over a root note that changes. It doesn't really matter how you do it. Even if we make a totally electronic record we'd still play those songs live using guitars. We're not going to drag round a bunch of midi equipment and plug it in every night. Fuck that, we're a rock band! But at the same time we're also studioheads so we can get in the studio and do whatever we want. We're playing 'We Used To Be Friends' and 'You Were The Last High' in the set on this tour totally on guitars. They don't sound anything like they do on record. But nobody notices, nobody says a damn thing about it. If it's a song they love and it rocks then so be it.
DiS: You headlined Austin Psych Fest in May and were joined on stage by The Brian Jonestown Massacre for a version of their 'Oh Lord'. Was that something you'd been planning with them for a while? Will there be any further collaborations in the future?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: We always try to get together when we're on tour. We keep missing them on this tour. It's always fun to see those guys. We've been through so much shit together.
DiS: With all of the band members including yourself being involved in other projects has that impacted on The Dandy Warhols output in recent years? For example you wrote a book ('One Model Nation') a few years ago. Is that something you'd like to do more of in the future?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: No, I'll never write another book.
DiS: How did the idea for a novel about a fictional 1970s krautrock band come about?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Sort of one step at a time I guess. It just seemed like a good idea for a movie. So I wrote the screenplay with my friend Donovan, more as a fun thing to do and hang out. By the time he had a child three years later we'd finished it and it was really bad! So I just started over again and actually wrote a very serious piece of work. And then I had Mike Allred read it. He's a graphic novel writer and straight away he said I should make it into a book. He hooked me up with the guys who do 'The Walking Dead' so that came out on Image Comics. Then the guys from Titan over here in London got hold of it, liked what they saw and wanted to do a big, slicker version of it. By this time, Donovan had got a divorce so he was a free guy, so he and two of my other musician friends that I'd had drawn as the lead characters - I wanted to make them as close to people I actually knew as possible - went up to my country house and started knocking out a few soundtrack ideas in the basement. Basically we were making electronic music while just banging old pots and pans and bicycle frames. So that became the record Totalwerks Vol. 1 (1969-1977). So now we're going to Pledgemusic to raise money to make the film and I've got Jonas Akerlund to direct it. We'll try to make this movie in the next few years.
DiS: Have you set yourselves a timescale?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: No. Just whenever we make enough money.
DiS: What about the original screenplay? Will that see the light of day? Will the four of you be touring the soundtrack even?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: No we're just concentrating on the movie now. As for touring, it's hard enough with four people who've been working together for twenty years. So no, that definitely won't be happening.
DiS: What is it that's kept The Dandy Warhols together for so long?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: I think we were just successful enough to have a reason to stay together. It's still financially feasible for us to go out on tour and make some money, so that will keep a band together. We didn't find each other by looking for musicians. Brent's my cousin, while Peter and I have known each other since we were fifteen or something. And then Zia got in the band specifically because she didn't play any instruments. I wanted somebody without a bunch of bad habits. Somebody that comes in with taste, sense, learns how to play this instrument and starts to learn other instruments so we all learn together. We're certainly a much better band now than we were ever in our entire career.
DiS: Has the creative process changed over time? The way you approach songwriting for instance?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: I don't write as much, Brent writes about a third of our output and Zia will hopefully write a couple for our next batch of songs. It hasn't really changed that much although I guess the creative process changes for every song. At least a little bit if not a whole hell of a lot.
DiS: Have you learned a lot from bands you've played with or producers you've worked with down the years?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Definitely. I learned how to sing from touring with Ian McCulloch. That was when I learned how to sing. That was our first real tour and I remember watching him every night just be absolutely awesome and thinking to myself, "OK, I can do that."
DiS: What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: I don't know. I don't understand the world the way it is now. It's just this amorphous weird thing. Make electronic dance music and learn to love it because that's where the money is! Learn to DJ and be fucking huge. Make cool music for yourself, but if you wanna make money learn how to make electronic dance music. Look at Skrillex. He was in a number of guitar bands and then he'd go off by himself and create this super tweaky music on his keyboard. Then he put four songs on Beatport or whatever and they blew the fuck up. That shows you where it's at right there. Electronic music is the new dumb dumb-metal. And learn how to play Facebook and Twitter too. Those are the most important members of your band. And don't do things you can always do at home. I mean, you want to go out, meet chicks and get laid and stuff. But only do that if they're taking you to their country houses in Barbaresco or somewhere.
DiS: Finally, I know you've already mentioned Temples but are there any other new artists you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers check out?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: The guys who are opening for us on this tour Dark Horses are fantastic. They're friends of Peter and he asked us to check them out so we looked at their videos on You Tube. Unbelievable. Brilliant both live and in the studio.
For more information on The Dandy Warhols visit their official website.