The Dandy Warhols: A New Day Ahead

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By: Andrew Bruss

The Dandy Warhols
In a bar on the boarder between Boston’s Theatre district and Chinatown, Courtney Taylor-Taylor sat down for our interview surrounded by seemingly out of work alcoholics, already buzzed by the middle of the afternoon. The founder, sole songwriter and frontman of psych-rock outfit The Dandy Warhols, worked on a frozen drink, soothing a coarse throat he was suffering from due to the current tour. “My voice is fucked right now,” he said. “I’m going to have to drink a lot of water and go to sleep.”

In the background, the midday broadcast of the Fox25 newscast, shot several blocks away, made its presence known in the room. Coverage ranged from the high cost of energy, a depressed housing market and a damaged Wall Street. As soon as Taylor’s eyes hit the screen, he was absorbed.

“I just don’t like politics,” he said. “There’s so much dishonesty. It makes me really uncomfortable.” Dishonesty is something Taylor has always had to deal with, and he’s learned from it the hard way. But before the conversation went into his music, he apologized, saying, “I keep wandering off. The TV’s on and the brain wanders into the horrors of mankind.”

The Dandy Warhols arrived in Boston the previous day, and spent a good chunk of time hanging out with a group of fans that happen to work for a lab specializing in tissue reconstruction. Commenting on the encounter, Taylor said, “We went to a tissue research center. It’s the place where they grew an ear on a mouse. They do a lot of really amazing work there. They’ve figured out how to separate oxygen from the blood, and blah blah blah. And they’re growing bones, and a lot of really phenomenal things. They’re such great people. They’re smart, and the ten of them are fans of the band, so yesterday they took us out for lunch and showed us the lab and they showed us the stuff they’ve been working on.”

As Taylor continued discussing the merits of human achievement, the conversation took a strikingly darker tone.

The Dandy Warhols by Jake Sinclair
“Are people worth saving? The amazing creatures we are; I mean human beings are unbelievably cool. We’ve created a lot of amazing things, and made so much joy for ourselves. But we’ve created so much pain and agony for ourselves, so much torture. I mean, there are a lot of really mean spirited people in this world, and you run into that and it makes you think, ‘Are we worth saving?’ If we hack down the rain forest and run out of air to breath aren’t we at fault?”

Taylor’s connection to the Earth stems from his childhood surroundings. The story of The Dandy Warhols began in the mid 1990’s, south of Seattle’s grunge scene and north of San Francisco’s psychedelic past. Founded in Portland, Oregon, his band’s hometown lies in between the two aforementioned cities, a reality embedded in his songwriting and guitar tone.

Growing up, Taylor was raised in the Portland suburbs. His mother, a school nurse, was very tuned in to her son’s development.

“My mother was a school nurse, so naturally ADD was everything, and I was immediately diagnosed by my mother in all her wisdom, because I found TV too boring and couldn’t hold my attention. I’d constantly flip the channels until I turned it off, so obviously I was ADD. Except I can sit in a studio for two years and work on the same twelve songs, so I don’t know. I don’t believe ADD is anything more than another way to sell drugs to people who don’t need them.”

Following the release of their 1995 indie debut, Dandys Rule, OK?, the group signed with Capitol Records and in 2000 released Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. The album saw commercial success in the U.S. and abroad, with the tune “Solid” finding use as the theme song for Judd Apatow’s cult-classic college sitcom, Undeclared.

The Dandy Warhols
As Taylor’s fame grew, so did the frequency of soulless media-hounds and starfuckers looking to surround the group. They learned a lot of hard lessons about the true ambitions of those they associated themselves with, and none were as hard to learn as the fallout from Ondi Timoner‘s documentary, Dig!. The film was supposed to chronicle the stagnant relationship between Taylor’s Dandy Warhols and their cohorts in the Brian Jonestown Massacre, a San Francisco-based act led by Anton Newcombe. Both Newcombe and Taylor have criticized the film’s integrity, and Taylor feels both acts got burned by a manipulative director. The fallout from the experience has made the film a sore subject, to say the least.

“The movie has no linear timeline. There’s no story,” observes Taylor. “There’s this thing the directors invented, with Anton sending us bullets and us going over to shoot photos at their house when we thought we were going to be shooting photos [with Brian Jonestown Massacre] and they weren’t even there. It really did ruin our relationship.”

As he discussed the Dig! experience, Taylor added, “This movie, the whole time they kept saying, ‘We’re just doing a documentary,’ and at the end of the day we hadn’t seen them for a year and I guess I knew something was up when she had me read a few pages of stuff, and she chopped some of it in there so I sound like a narrator. But I remember going, ‘This isn’t really how it was.’ And it turned out to be dark and it made them look like one kind of shit bag and made us look like another kind of shit bag. That was a bummer. Just a huge bummer.”

The experience seemed to have left Taylor feeling as though he had been taken advantage of, and as a result, he seems to have learned to distrust journalists and filmmakers, who he feels habitually manipulate trusting artists. However, given his past experiences, Taylor was in no way shy about the value of the lessons he learned.

“At the end of the day we were suckers. But god, we learned to keep better company. We got off Capital Records, and we have a lot of things in place now, [including] a manager whose a friend and organized and intelligent. We learned every hard lesson and with our one tooth left, we’re now going to become a chef. It feels good.”

Continue reading for more on The Dandy Warhols…

 
Are people worth saving? The amazing creatures we are; I mean human beings are unbelievably cool. We’ve created a lot of amazing things, and made so much joy for ourselves. But we’ve created so much pain and agony for ourselves, so much torture. I mean, there are a lot of really mean spirited people in this world, and you run into that and it makes you think, ‘Are we worth saving?’

Courtney Taylor-Taylor

 

Several hours after his interview at the bar, Taylor took the stage with his band at the Wilbur Theatre for a sold out show that he afterwards described as being unlike any other show he’d ever performed. The Dandy Warhols dished out tunes from across their catalog, setting the mood with tracks like “Muhammad,” “We Used To Be Friends” and “Godless,” as well as tunes off their new album, …Earth To The Dandy Warhols (released August 18, 2008 through World’s Fair), such as “Mission Control” and “Love Song.” During “Godless,” and “Bohemian Like You,” his sore throat was a very present reality, as he strained to hit the high notes. However, the next day when Taylor spoke about the show, his vocal chords weren’t an issue.

The Dandy Warhols
“Fuck dude, it was easily the mellowest show we’ve played in our career. I think it’s great,” said Taylor. When asked to elaborate on what made the show so unique, Taylor commented, “There was no sweaty rock vibe. It was this remodeled theatre with a precious and calm vibe to it. It had a very small PA, [so] it was a very quiet and performance oriented [concert]. The theatre and audience [were great], with a small, sold out show, with no alcohol on the premises. It helped make things feel elegant and mature.”

After the show, Taylor and the rest of the Warhols hit up the bars with their tissue-growing Boston fans before schlepping out to New York City for a show at Terminal 5. But while Taylor was sipping his drink at the bar, he couldn’t stop talking about how happy he’s been with the recent developments within the band.

“It’s the only record since our first indie record [that we didn’t do with Capitol]. I don’t think Capitol really liked us that much. They had a lot of not very ‘us’ ideas, and I wouldn’t say this was harder but I wouldn’t say it was easier. But, it’s better because now it’s people who really love our band who are the ones who want to interview us. We don’t deal with the creepy dude who hangs out with us and has a great time, going out to dinner and having fun, and then writes the most horrible personal [piece], venting his frustrations, letting it all out like they’re our problems. There are truly some mean people, and we don’t have to deal with them anymore. We’re selling slightly more records than we were, and we’re playing bigger venues and selling more tickets, and we’re doing it with less money.”

The Dandy Warhols
“The ultimate goal of any band is to be able to make a living making music and film and imagery, graphic design, album covers, posters,” adds Taylor. “You know, you’re in a band. You’re creative. You’re kind of immature. You like to draw and sketch and write songs. Now we can do that. The thing that kills creativity isn’t success, but fame. Being recognized, when walking into a random bar by the people you don’t like hanging out with. They follow you around, and it’s just bad. You’re also a target for all the nasty people who want to make money. When Thirteen Tales got big, that’s when everything went down hill. All of sudden, the worst, most manipulative people wanted to get close to you and take advantage of you, and they did. So now, we’re a band that doesn’t get recognized in public. We don’t do magazine covers, but we have more freedom, and more days that are happy all day long, and that’s a huge thing, to actually have day after day where you feel good all day. I haven’t had that in six years. I was a manic depressed alcoholic for five or six years. You know if you’re drinking too much, and too depressed all the time. It does not take a shrink. It’s interesting because things feel different. Things feel really great. Finally.”

As Taylor finished his drink, discussing the fact that they don’t get recognized in public, he got stopped in the street by a group of fans on his way back to the tour bus. While they took turns taking photographs with him and telling him how much they love his band, Taylor quietly but humbly accepted the complements. He clearly was not expecting to be recognized in broad daylight in a neighborhood full of street vagrants, but he was genuinely happy to talk with the fans that have supported him while others were looking to screw him. Given the amount of negativity that has followed his band through their rise to fame, Taylor has somehow seen the value in anyone who appreciates him for who he is and not what he can bring them. Taylor embraced the fans, because they loved his music not his status.

At the end of the day, Taylor feels as though all of the interviews and documentaries he’s participated in will be a footnote to the music he’s made. As seemingly self-conscious as the press process has made him about his group’s public image, he seemed confident that his music, not his quotes, would prevail in representing his art.

“I would rather all the dialog and interviews and pictures go away, and have the records and the music last. And I’m pretty sure that’s how it will go down. Look at Jim Morrison. There are like four photos of him that people have seen, but the music is what people remember. I wouldn’t mind one bit if my name went away and people just thought, ‘Wow, this band and this music.’ That’s what I think will last.”

The first song from the Dandy Warhols’ Breathe Easy project has been released and is available for download on the Breathe Easy MySpace site. The sessions with J Mascis and the Black Angels, recorded on different days at the Dandy Warhols’ Odditorium, were filmed and compiled into an episode, which helps to trace and explain the progress of the first track, and is now playing on the Breathe Easy MySpace site.

The Dandy Warhol tour dates available here.

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