Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s scene is one of management. The Dandy Warhol’s co-founder and singer-songwriter explains: “You know, managing intense indulgence and decadence is our scene”.
When Taylor-Taylor formed THE DANDY WARHOLS in 1994 with Peter Holmström and later joined by Zia McCabe and Eric Hedford (then replaced in 1998 by Brent DeBoer), there was not much support. Here was a group of friends who ’needed music to drink to’ and combined detached garage rock with lively pop melodies, creating a sound that has been described as Portland’s answer to Brit-Pop/Madchester, and yet in America they were received with “fear and loathing”.
[pullquote]Art bands showed up showed up on the cool kids’ weirdo show. It was nice. At least we got to feel very elitist that we were there.[/pullquote]Taylor-Taylor explains, using the difference between the USA and Australia to emphasise his point. “Australia has always has always had been open and ready for vintage guitars and vocal harmonies and like you know just original 1969 guitar rock. America wasn’t about to stop listening to Limp Bizkit and Tool and Kid Rock and stuff like that. And grunge was this huge commercial entity where you got Candlebox and Bush and all these humongous commercially successful bands cranking out hit after hit after hit after hit after hit and they weren’t going to let anything else get on the radio. Or MTV – we were relegated to the midnight on Sunday night alternative hour. That was our thing in America. Art bands showed up showed up on the cool kids’ weirdo show. It was nice. At least we got to feel very elitist that we were there. That was very important. That was very important to us back then that we definitely felt superior. Yeah we wouldn’t sell out, we wouldn’t know how to sell out, we didn’t really know how to make grunge so we didn’t have it choice. All we could do was simply make the best music we could possibly fucking make and not worry … but full well knowing it was going to be a fluke if it was hugely successful.”
The importance of remaining true to their music follows Taylor-Taylor influence and appreciation of the unique. He states: “One of the first big bands of my life would be DEVO. Then, when I was maybe 15 or 16, Bauhaus. I’ve always liked eccentric, abstract rock. Not weirdo abstract or anything, but really cool songs with an untraditional approach or as much of an untraditional approach as you feel without being a jerkoff. I don’t think we’re as abstract as Bauhaus but certainly occasionally we are, with minimalism.”
For the last two decades, THE DANDY WARHOLS proved, album after album, that cool doesn’t remain stagnant and repetitive. Their latest release, Distortland, is no exception. The process and feel may be similar to past releases, but the music is still cutting edge. Unsurprisingly though, it all starts in his basement. “Yeah,” he explains, “that happens a lot. I don’t record the whole song but maybe the guitar riff or the keyboard sound and the drum and the drum machine beat and then the basic vocal ideas and then once I have collected sounds and then we go into the digital realm. I press the song onto an old tape recorder. You can write four instrument sounds onto it. I’ve been using that since I as a kid. So then I take that and start tricking it out with high tech brass and sound and expensive microphones. And then it goes to other people who will take it home on a hard drive to their house. Then they come back and then we kind do a mixer and then we send to mixers and we change some till okay this is great. ‘Search Party’ is the first song we’ve ever sent to a mixer and when it came back we said: ‘Don’t touch it! You nailed it!’ It was cool. I called [Jim Lowe] when ‘Search Party’ came back I said I just said, ‘It’s perfect!’ And I asked him, ‘Were you 19 years old when the Stone Roses record came out?’ and he said ‘I was 18’. I was like, ‘Yeah well you really understand, it’s doesn’t sound like the Stone Roses record; but it’s just there’s something about the feel of a person who has lived through it. And he got it.”
David Bowie – it was really flattering like you know that the day he showed up on the side of stage in Glastonbury. We got off stage and we were like “What the fuck, really?” We met him and watched his show; hung out with him a little bit and then the next day I got an email from him. He knew the words to every song; he was side of stage, singing along, pumping his fist in the air, singing. Shit, it was great. [pullquote]You know what it felt like that David Bowie was side of stage? It felt like God had come down to me and just said, ‘Hey man, sorry I didn’t tell you sooner but you’ve been right the whole time, and that you were right when you were getting called a fag and getting elbowed in the halls at high school.’[/pullquote]” Taylor-Taylor continues: “He’s cool and all that shit. It was cool being friends with him and knowing him and working with him in the studio and going to the movies and all that stuff. It was kind of more like hanging out with your dad or something because he was 60 something by then so he was a very different generation to us and he wasn’t wild anymore and he wasn’t about to party with us. That we had scribbled a drug delivery person’s number on Phillip Glass’s wall was like a big deal to him, he was tickled pink that we were so fucked up. We didn’t really appreciate the magnitude of it during that period at all. We were Joe Strummer’s favourite band at that same time. I hung out with Joe Strummer a lot, and Robert Smith. It was just par for the course. We were the coolest band in the world on a major label and there wasn’t really a lot of competition for favour at that point because do you think David Bowie was going to be into rap rock? We were the cool band. Do you think Joe Strummer or Duran Duran or any of the legends would listen to that stuff? The legends were not buying into that era at all.”
The Dandy Warhols bring their coolness back to Australia. Catch them as they play the hits as well as songs from their new release, Distortland.