The Dandy Warhols
by Alexander Laurence
Formed in Portland, OR, during 1994, the Dandy Warhols consist of members Courtney Taylor (vocals, guitar), Zia McCabe (keyboards), Peter Holmstrom (guitar), and Brent DeBoer (drums). They signed on with the independent label Tim/Kerr shortly after their formation. 1995 saw the release of the quartet's debut release, Dandy's Rule OK? While other rock bands may be a bit hesitant to spell out their influences, the Dandy Warhols decided to openly advertise it with songs like "Lou Weed" and "Ride."
Capitol Records soon signed the group, but rejected a second album (it didn't have any "hits"). Disappointed, the group reunited and came up with Dandy Warhols Come Down, issued in 1997. While the album didn't exactly establish the group as a household name, it did prove to be an underground favorite. I remember hanging out with writer, Blake Nelson, in Astor Place, and I watched him get excited, as the Dandy Warhols walked by us at The Starbucks. Of course, he is from Portland too.
The third album, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, created a larger international audience. Their music was included in a few commercials. The group played many festivals. Their fourth album is Welcome To The Monkey House, named after the Kurt Vonnegut book. It displays a new electronic sound. Recently they were on Conan O'Brien where they played "We Used To Be Friends." In September 2003, the Dandy Warhols are doing an American tour. After that, they are supporting David Bowie in Europe for two months.
The Dandy Warhols are also featured in the film, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, which will came in early 2004. The new album was self-produced, with contributions with Nick Rhodes and Tony Visconti. That led to collaborations with Simon Le Bon, Nile Rodgers and Evan Dando. I spoke to drummer Brent DeBoer, right before some LA shows, including headlining one at the Sunset Junction. In 2005, they are planning to release a new album.
AL: Right now you have just finished this small acoustic tour of dance clubs. How did that go?
Brent: It was pretty fun so far. We have done three or four. They want us to play acoustic. They always say, "We'll have guitars there. If you want to play that is cool." Then we get there and they introduce us to the lighting director and the sound guy. There's a stage with two stools and two guitars and microphones. Everyone is already facing that direction. They were arranged to be record listening parties but some of them ended up being big concerts. We don't really play acoustic guitars.
AL: You haven't played here for a while. Some young people have never seen you play before. So there's some excitement about seeing the Dandy Warhols play again.
Brent: Yeah. It's kind of hit or miss. But the acoustic unplugged thing is not really our focus. They aren't really seeing our live show. It was fun last night. We had the whole audience singing along. It was fun.
AL: You and Courtney were playing guitars and singing together. What is the setlist like?
Brent: Beatles and Dandy Warhols and Kristin Hersh. Whatever. We take requests from the audience. We try to get everyone to sing, "It's a Hard Day's Night."
AL: Peter and Zia don't play you on these shows. It's it odd that Peter is not playing some of these shows?
Brent: Not really. You don't really need three guitars on most of those songs. Some of them we only play one guitar. Both Courtney and I sing, and Pete doesn't sing. Also I don't think that Pete is interested in learning all those chords from all those old songs from the 1960s. Not as much as Courtney and I are. Last night we tried to get Pete to come up and play "Mohammed" with Courtney. He wasn't into it. Pete and Zia are hanging out with us. We have a couple beers. We play a few songs.
AL: You also played songs by Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre?
Brent: Yeah. Anton Newcombe has always been nice to me. He's nice to all of us. Once in a while you read or hear him saying some nasty stuff. I think that it's an attention getting device. I don't think he would do anything to mess with us, and if he did, I think he would be in a lot of trouble.
AL: When you went to New York to do the Conan O'Brien show; that is when the blackout hit. Did you sleep in the NBC studios?
Brent: We didn't do any sleeping. We stayed late there. We had our passes. All the lights were out. The air conditioning was off. All of our rooms were ovens. It was scary when the lights went out at the beginning. The streets were too crowded. People were crying. Then it turned into a snow day. People had barbeques going in the middle of the street. That's how it was all over New York, so everyone was out on the streets. We were walking around for a while with these lamps on our foreheads. We bought them on the street. We were having a good time with the whole city. The show got cancelled on Thursday and Rockefeller Center was evacuated. We felt lame sitting in our rooms, we ventured out. We remembered that we had our passes for NBC. They had all their generators on and their power was on first. They needed them for all the newsrooms. We went back in there and it was lovely. We went back in our dressing rooms and we had a half bottle of tequila. We hung out there until 3:30 in the morning, till security kicked us out. By this time we were running around in the lobby. We went to this bar that was owned Clonan O'Brien. It was a coincidence. We went down in the basement with ten people. We played with these plastic guitars and our headlamps all night. The batteries ran out eventually. It was one of the best and fun nights I have ever had. We were happy to be part of that.
AL: When did you record the new album?
Brent: We started recording in Portland on September 10th, 2001. We had just got the keys to our new building and got everything squared away. We had plans to meet on the 11th around noon. We were starting to plug in gear and start decorating. We knew that we were going to be in there for months. People were on the phone, saying, "Have you checked out the TV? This is really messed up." We went down and turned on the radio and started freaking out about the situation in New York City. That was the first day. We started knocking down walls. We set it up for a few weeks. Then we started recording. We got our friend, Brian Coates, in there. He has really good ears and is the best at music. The five of us were in there for months, from track to track to track, till it was almost done. We had the engineer from the Smashing Pumpkins to help us sift through tracks and be like a cleanup crew. We did some rough mixes and got it to where we wanted it to sound. We were loving it. We also worked with Nick Rhodes in London for a few weeks to polish it up. Only a few songs truly felt finished and the rest were not quite done. When you get Nick in the studio, you get someone who has worked in the studio for over twenty years. You get some fresh ears and a really smart guy. Nick is a cool guy. It makes for a relaxed and easy time.
AL: What do you think that Nick Rhodes brings to the record?
Brent: The record was almost completely done. We didn't know exactly what was going to happen when we headed over to London. We just wanted to hear some ideas. What do you think about this or that? Nick is very good for that. He's really honest and it's impossible to hurt his feelings. He was doing the new Duran Duran record across the hall. So he was jumping back and forth.
AL: How did Tony Visconti become involved?
Brent: Courtney and I had already gone and recorded Neil Young's "Ohio" for this movie. It was a one-day thing. It was really good. It was everything you would hope it would be when you got to meet him. We had this one song with a T-Rex vibe. So we thought we would go all the way and try to get Tony Visconti to work with us again. He was into it. We were at Bowie's studio in New York and Tony stopped by. We hung out. We were tracking the drums. Courtney said to him, "The song needs those T-Rex Ooo Yeans." That high falsettos. Tony said, "Well, I sang all those." So we were all "Get in there, man." So that why it sounds just like T-Rex. Because it is the guy who sang on those records.
AL: You actually played a band in this new movie called Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen? What was that like?
Brent: It was great. We were two days in Toronto. It was one big room. It was set up to look like a rockstar party. It was a Disney movie. These young girls get invited after a concert to go to the singer's party where he has the Dandy Warhols play. They had all these rocker look-alikes there. There are all these supermodels. Then you go, "Oh there's Lenny Kravitz, and there's Avril Lavigne." These girls sneak out of their house to go to the party and we play at the party. We mimed a song about twenty times and they said great. One day we were in the background and the second day we were closer up. I am not sure how it's going to turn out. It stars the girl from Freaky Friday.
AL: What is the Odditorium like?
Brent: We wanted our own studio. That's the dream: to have your own studio. We found a location for it. We shot a video in it. Usually they spend all this money for a set and tear it down the next day. We have a pretty good production company in Portland. We had our friends build the set. Shot the video for "We Used To Be Friends" and the set stayed. We have three decorated rooms. Now it's a photo studio, a kitchen, and a dining room. There's a rehearsal space and a recording space. We put a deck on the roof. It's a great place to have all our scumbag friends over and sit around and watch movies and drink beers.
AL: When did you have the idea to do this new record? You didn't want to do the same guitar oriented record, right?
Brent: Yeah. When we came out with Thirteen Tales, when we came out with that, we went around the world, and you would not hear a guitar on a record. You wouldn't hear any rock records on the radio. You might hear a Travis song, maybe. Mostly it was the Backside Boys, or whatever. We would go to parties and they would play Sticky Fingers and songs by Neil Young. Now there are bands like White Stripes and BRMC. We wanted to challenge ourselves to not just make another lo-fi wall of guitars record that is "cool." Now that is cool to do that. We wanted to see if we could make something that we really dig, that you could stick your head inside of, and had the sound of an Outkast record, but our songs. It's just us: me and Zia, Pete, Courtney, and Coates. They we are going for it. At one point we just reduced it down to bass and drums and Courtney's voice. It was a straight up dub record. We then started to texturize that sound with guitars and blippy keyboard sounds. It was really a lot of fun.
AL: Even though you draw on New Wave music more, "Hit Rock Bottom" goes back further to Glam Rock sounds.
Brent: Yeah. Each song is its own little puzzle that you have to work out. That song wanted to be that. It needed that trip going on. But "Burned" had no choice. It had to be what it is. The song dictates itself and how it's done.
AL: How do you do songwriting in the band? Courtney worked with Evan Dando on one song.
Brent: Courtney was in New York. He had some lyrics he wanted to work on. Someone told him to call up Evan Dando. So they got some beers and sat around. They hashed it out. Evan Dando came up with a few lines in the song. He's a great lyricist. That is not how Courtney works usually. Generally it's more like, poof, suddenly there's a song in front of him. He doesn't really finish them. He's not a craftsman like Paul Simon, with a pen behind his ear and scratching his head. The songs just show up. Sometimes when you are at the end of a song you haven't finished all the words. You can't think of any words that fit in.
AL: How are you going to bring these songs to the stage?
Brent: We have already played thirty shows in Western Europe. We played a handful of shows in Australia. It's been amazing. It's been incredible. The songs play themselves. Most of the songs are three or four chords. We are just singing and playing them. Only a few sound exactly like the record like "Burned." We have been playing together for a long time. If we don't get it together for the first hour, we usually get it together for the last half.
AL: Are you looking forward to the tour with David Bowie?
Brent: Yeah. It's going to be in October and November. It will be like a vacation. We are going on early. We are going to be playing for only an hour. We have to adapt to that. An hour into our set is when the gig starts for us. We are either going to have to play one song or the greatest hits of The Dandy Warhols. Most of the shows are every other day, so that is going to be like a real vacation for us. We are used to playing five or six nights a week.
AL: What is a regular set like?
Brent: We don't exactly know. We usually play the same few songs. Before that we usually jam for a while and get it sounding lovely. The room always changes when people show up. You have to screw around for a while. I love how it is at the beginning of a show. After the first few songs, anything can happen. We try to play every song we know. That's about three hours. We try to make it one thing, a lovely trip of fuzz, drone and hypnosis.
AL: You will play a lot of the new album?
Brent: Maybe five or six songs. We haven't played "Hit Rock Bottom" or the first song. We will play a song for a year and then it sounds contrived or silly. It gets dumb. We will quit playing it till it resurfaces. Somebody in the audience yells for a song. We don't know exactly what we are going to play. We get backstage at the end of the of show. We realize that we forgot to play a song. We don't have a setlist. We just have a list of all of our songs. We just jump around.
AL: If people want to hear a certain song they should get up close to the front and yell it out?
Brent: Hell yeah!
AL: Do you have any hobbies?
Brent: I like shifter cart racing. It's a high performance cart racing. I like skiing.
AL: Have you read any books lately?
Brent: Yeah. Reefer Madness. That is a great book. I am only halfway through it but what a trip, man? Makes me want to move to Toronto. The political system is so backwards in America. It's so weird and repressed. The prohibition of drugs is a new experiment. It will take about thirty years for people to look back on this experiment as a waste of time and money and lives. It's over nothing: it's just a plant. It's no more damaging than legal drugs or what you can get in a bar. More advanced societies in the world have done away with bothering people about weed.
AL: Have you seen any movies?
Brent: I just saw Seabiscuit. It could have been forty minutes longer. It would have been easier and dreamier. It seemed rushed. I liked it. It was cinematic. The best movie ever is Hannah and Her Sisters. Courtney and I watched it the other day. Everybody, you and me, is every one of those characters in that movie. You are just watching yourself. It is embarrassing but it's just so fun to watch.
AL: What is hardest thing about being in the band?
Brent: Just getting sleep. You just end up not sleeping very much on tour. It's so fun meeting people. I just want to stay up all the time.
AL: Do you have any advice for people who want to start a band?
Brent: Musically I could talk forever. I would say, don't invite people into your world, your band, and your life, that you have a notion of not trusting them. Don't let them be your bass player or your manager. Do everything yourself. You can always trust yourself. If you can really trust someone, that's good. Invite them into your gang. If they mess with you, let them go. They are going to create a lot of heartache later. Don't just dream big dreams, plan big plans. Have a plan and stick with it.
AL: Are there any other bands that you like?
Brent: I like Dr. Dre and Johnny Cash. My favorite band in the whole world is Brian Jonestown Massacre. I was listening to The Byrds the other day.