If it feels like The Dandy Warhols have been around forever, that’s probably because they just about have. To put things in perspective, if you are 19 years old – or born later than 1994, chances are you’ve never known a world that didn’t contain The Dandy Warhols. That news will either blow your mind or make a whole lot of you feel really, really old.
In their first half decade or so of existence the band trundled around in the middle echelons of alternative, sonic rock. It wasn’t until 2001 that they found commercial success with the immense hit Bohemian Like You which rose to prominence after being featured in a Vodafone commercial. The record that came with it, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, and the acclaimed follow up Welcome To The Monkey House (2003), were easily the band’s biggest commercial successes to date.
It may come as a surprise to many then, that The Dandy Warhols have in fact released six studio albums since then, meaning that they’ve actually written and recorded substantially more music since We Used To Be Friends then they did before it. But if you think that the lack of commercial hits in the last decade has phased the band, you’d be way off.
Frontman Courtney Taylor Taylor and other band members have made it public knowledge that they keep making music for those who need it, and that they could care less if it satisfies the world of commercial music.
We caught up with Courtney Taylor Taylor to chat about why he could care less if anyone likes their new record or not, why “being a fairly fucked up person” is the perfect inspiration for song-writing and why he believes in this day and age there is no longer any real monetary value attached to music.
Music Feeds: You guys have just dropped a new album Distortland – is it a relief that it’s all done and dusted?
Courtney Taylor Taylor: Yeah, I think I’ve said that at least twice a week since it was finished, what a relief to have it finished – and that it is amazing and I know it is. To be utter completely aware of what it is and know that it’s fucking awesome. That was such an amazing feeling.
MF: So I guess this record was a particularly satisfying one to write?
CTT: Yeah. There’s just this thing that happens where you finish a thing. This record – I was listening to it two or three times a day; I’d just get stoned and put my headphones on, lock the door to my room and the world can just fuck off. It makes me feel better. I don’t really care who else likes it and who doesn’t.
If people like it then that’s because they need it in their lives emotionally and they feel what I do, and if they don’t like it that’s because they don’t relate to it and that’s great, that’s fine. They have other things, other kinds of music that they can have. Maybe they don’t need music – although I have a hard time believing that anybody doesn’t need music. That’s a great feeling.
I don’t really have to give a shit, and it’s incredibly satisfying and empowering. You look for salvation and redemption and those kinds of things in music and if you do – then this has it.
MF: You’ve been doing this now for over two decades – where do you guys find inspiration to write new music after all this time?
CTT: I think just being a fairly fucked up person is the only inspiration for songwriting – that’s probably why there are more sad songs than there are happy songs, because happy people don’t sit along in their bedroom writing songs. But if you’re a person who’s a bit of a fucked up mess and you occasionally get happy – you might still sit in your room and write a song about it instead of going out and enjoying the world. I think that’s probably where it comes from; I know that’s how it is for me, where my songs come from.
It’s just shit on my mind that I can’t stop chewing on, and I need salvation, I need to be helped out of this fucking thought process or this emotional rut that I can’t stop this negative thing looping around in my head. Somehow making it into a piece of music can make you feel less guilty about whatever it is you feel guilty about. That’s just how it is. That’s why I do it.
MF: This record was first recorded in your basement, what was that like – and is it something you’ve done before?
CT: I haven’t had a high tech recording rig since Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia, or some of Welcome To The Monkey House. Those were the last times I had recording programs, so I went ten years without. A couple of years ago I got ProTools mini rig on my laptop and so when I had enough ideas of songs just from the acoustic guitar, recording them in my phone when they came to me, then I would go downstairs – I have an old four-track cassette recorder that’s thirteen years old – so I can quickly get songs into a form on that on multiple instruments.
Then when I have enough of those together I plug in the laptop and get the digital recording software fired up, play from the cassette into that, line it all up and that’s how they all start. When I have enough of those in my laptop I take it down to the studio and work on it there for a while, then Pete (who?) takes it back to his basement studio, he works on stuff doing the more expansive sonic textures.
Zia (McCabe) finds it hard to stay awake at our studio with the big sofas and its dark and beautiful – she finds it to be very… sleeping, so she gets a lot of her best work done at Pete’s basement studio. It’s like a monastic cell down there, he’s got hard chairs and a bunch of equipment, you can’t lie down. There’s no cell phone service either.
MF: You’ve said as well that this album is organised more like a pop record, but with the same sonic garbage in there. What do you mean by that specifically?
CT: Sonically, where the drums fit. The relationships between the instruments in each song just seem more musical and there seems to be a level or common sense there that we haven’t had for a decade. We’ve had real splatter-gun kind of everything goes, and it gets swirled around.
It’s been far less organised I think, or felt like it. That could just be Jim Lowe, who’s such a great organiser of music. I think with a mixer of that level, of mixing chops, I think you run the risk of making a record that’s too slick, but fortunately we are a messy, messy band. He didn’t really clean any sounds up, all the dirt is in there but it’s just more sanely organised.
MF: Your tour across the States and Europe is about to kick off – what can fans expect from this tour?
CT: Well we try to play at least a couple songs off each record. You have the commercial hits, but then there are what we call the ‘real hits’ and those are the more specifically emotional tracks that the hard core fans of our thing and our sound have spent more time alone with headphones on listening to – getting their life in order and getting their emotions in order to the sound of those songs. Good Morning, Holding Me Up, that kind of thick dreamy thing.
There is something that mid-tempo atmospheric, heavy rock, that is pretty and elegant still. There’s something we do that no one else can do, we have a thing that is uniquely this band, and that particular sound – we have those hits. So there’s always that particular sound. I think we would get Frankenstein’d – we would get a mob with axes and torches and pitchforks chasing us down if we didn’t play those.
MF: Do you find long tours just as exciting after all this time?
CT: It’s just nicer, the hotels are cleaner. I think it’s a lot more enjoyable than it was – also the world is a more intelligent place now than it was in 1997, it was an icky, dark, and grumpy place. It was very cool to be big and dumb and mean, in the 90s.
Misogynists, and rap-rock, angry hate metal, I did not enjoy the latter half of the 90s at all. I enjoyed the 80s and early 90s, that was fun. Music was good, there were all the baggy beats and good hip-hip and all that stuff, it was absolutely fantastic. Things felt fairly bright and the things just became abysmal.
The connection between people and the internet I think really helps, it has helped brighten the world a little bit, even though now we are being informed of how absolutely disgusting people are all over the world. In day-to-day stuff, the real life of us, I think is far nicer than it was.
MF: What do you think about the current musical landscape with the advent of streaming and downloads?
CT: Music is free now, there’s no longer any monetary value attached to music unless you’re making pop entertainment for 9 year-old girls. Parents seem to buy music for their kids or they buy it with their own allowance. If you’re a rock band, rock is art.
It’s not pop, it’s different from the Justin Biebers and Katy Perrys of the world, it’s a different idea. So that hurts, but I don’t really get involved with the business side of it, you leave that to your record label and hopefully your management, and that’s their job – to interface with an artist and a real public.