Peter Holmstrom, guitarist with Portland’s coolest troupe the Dandy Warhols looks physically drained - some would say he could be rock’n’roll’s equivalent for the bloke who spends 60 hours a week slugging away on the nightshift at the local Raleigh factory - except he doesn’t, because he’s a rock’n’roll star, right.
It’s been a tiring, but exceptionally rewarding twelve months for the Dandy Warhols. Having released their fourth album, ‘Welcome To The Monkey House’, to a wealth of positive critical acclaim, they have also spent the last few weeks touring around Europe with the one and only David Bowie.
“We did seven shows in a row with Bowie, then we got a day off, and now we’re doing five shows of our own. It’s not really as tiring as it sounds because the Bowie shows were only 30-45 minute sets without any encores, whereas we’re used to playing three hour sets back home, which take it out of you, so in some ways it’s like a break from our usual routine playing support for someone”, insists the sleepy-eyed guitarist.
“It’s been awesome though. I think one of the reasons why we agreed to do the David Bowie shows was because if there was any artist of that size whose audience may be open to a support band like us then Bowie’s would be, particularly after a lot of the changes he’s put them through over the years. Luckily we were right. The French audiences were particularly fantastic.”
And then of course there’s the difficult part, actually meeting your heroes.
“He was very open and friendly, quite easy to talk to, which was different to what we expected. I tend to choke up around anyone I admire, and then all of a sudden I’m having this full on conversation with David Bowie about books we’ve both read. I think he knows he makes people nervous, which is probably why he goes out of his way to make people feel a little bit more at ease,” continues the awestruck Holmstrom.
Although David Bowie and the Dandy Warhols are generations apart, there are also many similarities between the two acts, most noticeably the chameleon-like way in which both artists are constantly changing their sound. Certainly in the case of the Warhols, they have progressed a long way from their eponymous space/drone rock debut album to the Nick Rhodes-produced ‘…Monkey House’.
“We met Nick through our A & R guy, as they were old friends, and we sent him a song and seemed genuinely excited about working with us. We ended up recording in the room across the hallway from where Duran Duran were rehearsing for their comeback shows, so it gave us a chance for us to watch them in action and we got chatting and the next thing Simon (Le Bon) came over and did some vocals for us on ‘Plan A’.
In fact, the Dandy Warhols / Duran Duran mutual appreciation society reaches back a little further than the ‘…Monkey House’ sessions…
“Both Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon had listed ’13 Tales From Urban Bohemia’ in their top ten albums for the year 2000,” adds a quite proud Peter Holmstrom, “which is another reason why working with them was an easy decision to make.”
Having worked with Duran Duran and David Bowie in the space of twelve months, it seems like their idols are queuing up to work with the Dandy Warhols. Peter Holmstrom philosophically sees the bigger picture on the horizon.
“Oh God, there’s tons of people who we wanna work with and who wanna work with us – we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. Every one of the musicians who’s collaborated with us to date has had something to contribute. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We’re constantly throwing names and ideas around when we’re recording in the studio, y’know like ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had so and so on the next record doing THIS!’ or whatever. Usually it’s when we see somebody’s name on a record we like and then it’s a case of trying to getting that person in to work on our record.”
The Dandy Warhols aren’t averse to letting someone else completely remix and revamp their songs either, something which many artists would outrageously dismiss as sacrilege.
“We met Massive Attack in the summer of 1999 at a party and a month later we ended up at their studio in Bristol doing some recording with them, and then just through this acquaintance the whole remix of ‘Godless’ came about. We do have some input as far as remixes are concerned but if someone’s that interested in your stuff that they want to create something new out of it then we at least give it a listen first. I mean, sometimes we’ll get sent stuff by DJs and producers and put on the CD player and go ‘What the hell is that?’ and it never sees the light of day,” declares the pensive Holmstrom.
In between the Bowie shows, the Dandy Warhols are also playing a series of three-hour shows with no support act that have been billed as “An Evening With The Dandy Warhols”. Despite this type of show being common for the band back home in the States, it has caused the rumour mill to accelerate over here with the most frequent retort being that the band are about to release a ‘Best Of…’ album and split up. Peter Holmstrom sets the record straight.
“I haven’t heard any rumours about us splitting up. We certainly don’t have any plans to. We have talked about putting out a “Greatest Hits” collection, but that may end up as being a live record instead. The main difficulty is actually getting it together, because we’d also want to an accompanying film so then we’d have to plan for a film crew as well as a sound recording crew and…it’s all at the beginning stage at the moment.”
Well at least that bit’s out of the way. Nevertheless, a three-hour set is longer than what most shows featuring three or four acts would run in total, and us Brits aren’t exactly renowned for having widescreen, all-encompassing attention spans.
“Aside from it being something we regularly do in the States, the three hour shows were our way of reminding people that we are not just David Bowie’s support band, and that there’s this other thing going on as well. We didn’t bother with a support band because it’s one thing we couldn’t all agree on…”
So there is some evidence of the band falling out after all! Please continue…
“We’ll have done thirty shows in all with Bowie, so these five shows of our own were where we just wanted to make sure that everybody who comes along to see us gets their money’s worth, maybe gets to hear most of their favourite songs and…we still don’t have time to play everything!”
And what about the set list? How do you manage to decide what goes on the list and what stays off it?
“We don’t have set lists for these type of shows. We just have a bunch of songs that we’ll definitely start and end with and then write down just about every other song we’ve ever recorded and fit as many of those in as we can in the middle. I guess most of our songs our up for grabs as it were, because if we hear people calling out for a certain song the chances are we’ll end up playing it.”
A lot of bands tend to write new stuff on the road, so is there a chance you might use these shows as an opportunity to “test the water”, so to speak?
“There won’t be any new songs because we don’t really finish songs until we’re in the studio recording them. The bit where we learn to play them live tends to come later, which is a very backwards way of doing things I guess, but…” adds the quietly spoken Holmstrom.
The Dandy Warhols’ biggest hit so far has been their ode to the Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Bohemian Like You’, which in the main came about courtesy of a highly publicised mobile phone television commercial. A lot of artists would be quick off the blocks to denounce this type of “success”. Not the Dandy Warhols, it seems.
“Thank God we actually got a hit through that because not only did it pay the rent for a while but it also got us noticed as a band and gave us our first gold disc. A lot more people have heard of the Dandy Warhols since that record, and every band wants to be able to grow,” explains Holmstrom.
I suppose it would be rude if I didn’t ask how the whole “project” (if that’s the right word) came about.
“We were approached by an advertising agency and they actually took several of our songs which have been used on various commercials, but that one really took off. We actually had four separate adverts running consecutively in the US but the phone ad with ‘Bohemian Like You’ was the one everybody noticed. We had a song played on a car ad, another on a beer ad and another used by a rival phone company!”
Is there anything that the Dandy Warhols wouldn’t allow one of their songs to be used to advertise?
“Yeah, Tommy Hilfiger” spits an irate Holmstrom. “They are a fashion label and we’ve got our own image so for us to be associated with another image-themed thing is not appropriate to the band. If we were to ever get approached by a chemical manufacturer such as DuPont or arms manufacturers we’d turn it down, even though some people might consider that to be hypocritical bearing in mind we’re signed to EMI. I don’t know, I guess you are supporting them one way another whether that be directly or indirectly.”
Ahh. The record company. And as Peter Holmstrom just mentioned, not just any old record company, but the daddy of them all, EMI. Obviously for a band like the Dandy Warhols to continue doing their own thing, they must have some degree of control, yet their relationship with EMI isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“In the UK they are very supportive of what we do, but in the States that’s not really the case,” says the wistful guitarist. “Our way of doing things just doesn’t seem to work back home with EMI. It’s very difficult to get music heard on the radio and it’s difficult to tour because it’s so big and expensive, and without the full support of your record label it’s doubly impossible.”
So it’s probably fair to say that the Dandy Warhols have attained wider acclaim throughout Europe than in their homeland, and much of that can be traced back to when their videos were first shown on MTV and even The Chart Show over here.
“You mean the video for ‘Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth’? That was pretty much the concept of David La Chapelle, who directed it. At the time we’d heard it was going to be about a kind of homage to burnt out, Las Vegas partying, but it ended up being something drastically different. We hadn’t bargained for the whole day-glo eighties style effects that filtered through in that video, because it doesn’t have a lot to do with the song, which is basically about one of Courtney’s (Taylor-Taylor) ex-girlfriends who disappeared into junkieland.”
And of course there was the spoof retort from the Brian Jonestown Massacre (‘Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth’), which probably split the scene in two at the time but causes Peter Holmstrom to look back quite fondly on reflection.
“They’re good friends of ours now, have been for years really, but at the time there was this silly little rivalry going on because we got signed before they did. I actually heard that song about six months before they decided to call it that and make it personal. We were all growing up together as part of the same scene and when we got signed and they kept getting rejected this was their little jab at us.”