Hailing from the quiet, rain-soaked streets of Portland, Oregon, the Dandy Warhols have made their presence felt in the contemporary music scene with their delicious version of indie rock. Mixing a minimalist approach, with the genre reminiscent of the Velvet Underground, with sultry space-rock melodies, the Dandys have established a sizable niche for themselves, earning lots of critical praise last year for their third album, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. Artsweek got a chance to chat with lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Courtney Taylor-Taylor about recent goings-on and the upcoming show at Coachella.
Artsweek: What have you guys been up to the last couple of months since your record came out?
Taylor-Taylor: We went to Europe for a month. We tried to really take time off after December ‘cuz we’ve been touring for way too fucking long. And we changed managers, which was the smartest thing we did. And now we’re building a studio and getting on with our lives.
I heard you did some work with Massive Attack. What was that like?
Um, it was fun, man. We just went in. We spent all day in there. Just laid out some chord changes and some lyrics for some new songs off our next record. It was like working with my band basically. We laid down the basic tracks, basic vocals, arrangements, and we just started piling our shit on there and fucking with it, you know. Just having some other genius-type guys who are really good at electronics and loops. It basically sounds exactly like a cross between us and Massive Attack.
Are you playing guitar right now?
Yes. I’ve got to keep my fingers on the guitar or my calluses will go away. If I go out on tour, it starts to hurt a lot. They start to crack and bleed. Yeah, it’s still working for a living.
Are you going to play anything new at Coachella?
Um, no. Nothing new. We don’t like to play anything new ’til it’s on a record.
What are you doing right now? Any plans on releasing your next album?
Well, we’ve started a bunch of things. We’ve got to buy a building, build the studio, get all our shit loaded into the computer framework, and, uh, keep going at it. (Plays a sample of a new song). This is what I’m working on right now.
That’s a cool beat in the background. That’s a lot dancier than I’ve heard of you.
We’ve got like 12 to 13 songs. So we actually have a record done, and we haven’t even started it officially.
So, what’s your approach to songwriting? Do you start with a chord change or a concept?
Start with a chord change and a little lyric.
I’ve always been really impressed with your melodies. How do you come up with them?
They just come. I don’t think I’m clever enough to make anything up. I just wait for it to happen to me.
So, you’re just sitting there playing the chords and the melody will come to you?
Yeah, melody, lyrics – it all comes at once … if I’m lucky. Boy, talk about depression. When it doesn’t, you know, like you have to just go, “OK, I am not writing songs now. I am getting up and doing something else,” otherwise you’re going to get real fucking depressed.
So, do you ever listen to the chord change on a tape and try and pick out a melody over it?
Yeah, sure. Find another little melody to go over it and stuff. I do a lot of that too.
Back to Coachella, do you enjoy playing these mammoth festivals?
Yeah, I like it. I like being around a lot of other bands. It’s the only chance you really get to talk shit, talk shop.
Who are you excited about seeing?
Um, just Jane’s Addiction. I don’t really know anybody else who’s playing. There’s got to be some great bands playing.
Yeah, there’s not too many other rock bands playing there beside you, Weezer, and Jane’s.
Rock bands have gotten pretty unfashionable. But if you look at the rock bands, you kind of know why. Like Blink 182, know what I mean (plays guitar). People have forgotten what to do with guitars. And Weezer has forgotten what to do with guitars, but at least they stick to one thing, which is songwriting.
That’s a good line: “People don’t know what to do with guitars anymore.” Do you mean that songwriting isn’t as good as it used to be. or that people aren’t innovative anymore with guitars?
The ones that are using guitars are doing Blink 182. They’re putting numbers and letters and shit in their name and that’s what guitars are: Blink 182, 741, and it’s like, OK great. And then there’s nothing. There’s people like Limp Bizkit, or whatever, super ass-rock, which has become very sequencer oriented. Like Marilyn Manson, their keyboardist is more important than their guitarist. They could play live without their guitarist, but they can’t play live without the keyboard. So, it’s all very, very kooky. It makes sense, but I’m just not saying that I like it … which is kind of why Jay-Z’s last single was the coolest sounding guitar. You know that one? It goes (plays chord change on his guitar).
It’s got that acoustic guitar compressed (imitates sound). And he’s talking about all his bitches and how many problems they make for him, but it’s really fucking cool. And I was like, “Oh my God, oh great!” Now hip hop are the last people who are actually making the guitar sound cool. Well, of course they’re not just going to get away with using a generic guitar tone, ‘cuz who gives a fuck, you know? It’s got to be cool or ain’t going to use it. It’s innovative as hell for them to be using guitar in their music.
How long does it take you to get your tones? You had some interesting ones on your last album.
Sometimes you just hit a pedal and it’s like, “Whoa, Whoa, don’t touch a thing! Get a mic! Get a mic now! Don’t breath, nobody fucking move!” You just get a mic on it and you play it, and then other times it’s like a month later and you’re still re-recording that part.
You mentioned that you like to play older guitars.
Yeah, we come from that scene, you know. A lot of our peers, Swoon and Sugar Boom and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and we are all like vintage nuts. That’s what we all kept saying, “White people like retro.” We’ve been kind of obsessed with Dr. Dre and D’Angelo and all the guys who are making the best-sounding records – are not white people! We’re not that good anymore. The producers of hip hop, they’re state of the art, they’re the ones making the most amazing-sounding records. Sonically, what they can do, the level of sonic control they’ve achieved and power. They’re fucking light years – Dr. Dre is the greatest producer and mixer that’s ever lived this far.
Would you ever want to work with him?
Fuck yeah! That’s like working with Sinatra. How can I work with Dr. Dre, call him up? That guy’s sold like a 100 million records.
Have you guys ever played in Santa Barbara before?
Uhhh … yeah we have. Five years ago maybe.
Are you playing anywhere after Coachella?
We go to Australia.
How long do you think you’re going to be on stage at Coachella?
What do you think about Napster? Are you against it, do you think it’s cost you anything?
Well, it makes our live shows bigger, ‘cuz everybody has the record. But they didn’t buy the record. It puts us in a bit of a Grateful Dead situation where we don’t sell a hell of a lot of records, but we have a lot of people at our live shows.
How do you feel about the fact that you seem to be more popular in the UK than you are here?
You mean like three years ago when we were more popular in the UK than we are here?
Is that not true anymore?
Fuck no. Hasn’t been true for years. We’re a lot more popular in Australia than we are here. We’re almost platinum there. Greece, France. There’s certain countries where we just blew up, you know. And it’s generally countries that don’t wear big, huge pants. They don’t wear big, huge pants in Europe, you know.
They wear really tight pants in Europe.
The girls wear really tight pants. The guys just wear pants, but they’re not big, huge pants. They don’t wear a lot of baseball caps. We don’t really wear a lot of baseball caps. I think there’s something to be said for a universal aesthetic.
Speaking of aesthetics, any books you recommend to today’s college kids?
Um, get on “Lord of the Rings” before the movie comes out. Don’t go see the musical “Les Miserables.” “The Painted Bird” by Jerry Kazinski? Don’t read it. It’s fucking horrible and brutal. Fuck ’em. We’re the generation of brutality. We’ve certainly seen more of that garbage on TV then he could write in a book. … Any book by Herman Hesse. Any book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Just read Marquez, read Hesse.
What bands are you into?
Get D’Angelo’s Voodoo. Fucking incredible. Dre’s 2001. The Brian Jonestown Massacre, whatever the lastest record’s called.
What about the rock bands that get a lot of press right now like Radiohead or Coldplay?
I’m not too concerned about either of those bands. Radiohead has some great sounds, Coldplay has no great sounds. They’re a little bit grown up for me, a little bit too adult contemporary. I actually like to fuck, you know what I mean? I really like to live a little harder than those people do, or maybe I’m just more fucked up emotionally. I just need a little more something.
Safe? Do you think their sound is too safe?
Well, Coldplay, fuck yeah, they’re saying Coldplay is Radiohead-lite. Radiohead is, you know, you got Thom Yorke, basically a one-eyed, anemic dwarf. Do you think that guy knows what it’s like to be alone and self-loathing? I mean I know about insecurity, and I know about aloneness and the difference between that and “lonely,” but those things are important to me. It’s important that we all take care of ourselves emotionally. It’s probably why we all play music – creating our own therapy for ourselves. Radiohead, half the time I’m like “Fuck yeah” and half the time I’m like “next.” I definitely have to listen to Radiohead with a remote in my hands. Coldplay is very, very good, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate them in 15 years but I’m just not that grown up now, and I never have been.
One of the first songs of yours I liked was “Orange,” but you never seem to play it live. How come?
Yeah, we don’t, never do. We used to a long time ago, and it was fucking great. I should really do that. We never practice, we just tour, so whatever people yell at us we play, and if we hear one enough that we don’t play and hear it enough, we start to feel really guilty.