’Time For A Little Monkey Business’
Formed in Portland, OR, during 1994, the Dandy Warhols consisted of members Courtney Taylor-Taylor (vocals, guitar), Zia McCabe (keyboards), Peter Holmstrom (guitar), and Eric Hedford (drums), who signed on with the independent label Tim/Kerr shortly after their formation. 1995 saw the release of the quartet's debut album, Dandy's Rule OK?, and while other rock bands may be a bit hesitant to spell out their influences, the Dandy Warhols decided to openly advertise it as the album contained such song titles as "Lou Weed" and "Ride."
Capitol Records signed the group the same year, but the Dandy's new label rejected a second album they submitted (claiming it didn't have any "hits"). Disappointed but undeterred, the group reunited once more with the producer of their debut album, Tony Lash, 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. But at the height of the band's popularity, Hedford left the band to take up DJing in Portland. Taylor's cousin Brent DeBoer stepped in to play drums. In 2000, the band issued their third full-length overall, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia. "Bohemian Like You" was a hit at college radio. Two summers later, founding member Peter Holmstrom married his longtime girlfriend and took her maiden name of Loew. Taylor also got a name change when he opted to go by Courtney Taylor-Taylor after an interviewer misinterpreted the pronunciation!
Within months, Taylor-Taylor, Loew, McCabe and DeBoer were back in the studio for a fourth album. Welcome To the Monkey House has just come out and features collaborations with Nile Rodgers, Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes and Evan Dando. The Dandy Warhols were also personally asked by David Bowie to be the opening act for his fall 2003 ‘A Reality’ tour! So, as you can see, life for the Warhols is real damn dandy these days!
Catching up with lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor whilst on tour, and knowing that they named themselves after the late, great Andy Warhol, I first wondered in what manner or respect towards him that had been done? ”There’s a thing that people do. They collect artists together and weirdo’s and make their little scene. This is the natural thing that happens in cities and he did such a good job for so many years that it was really in that respect, you know. It was the whole factory thing and that’s now kinda our thing in the factory that we’ve now got going.”
What was your approach to this new album, Welcome To The Monkey House? ”Obviously, the main point is that you write songs that are important to your soul and you need those and after that it’s all production. And so, for us the production approach had to get beyond psyche garage rock and electro clash. Because everybody and their dog now has black hair, vintage guitars and analog synthesizers and that’s about all it f**kin’ takes these days.”
So, how does a band like the Dandy Warhols continue to stand out in the crowd? ”Well, first of all, we’ve been doing it for ten years so we have that, but also that’s why I got Nick Rhodes. We hadn’t made a record for a year and a half and we would have ended up going for a dub version or a kinda trip-hop, hip-hop urban sound, having lived in New York for two months. So, finally what we did for the last two weeks we listened to the early Duran Duran record. Their first one, which is a really amazing record.”
You don’t come across as a band that would be influenced by Duran Duran! ”Oh man, yeah, it’s just f**kin’ incredible and every band today would shit to be able to call that record theirs. It is so now, it’s fantastic and it’s got this kind of quasi elegance! Way more than anyone is willing to do. Champagne and caviar is gone! There is no sexy, international feel, cosmopolitan high life kinda loneliness to any music.”
Can you give me an example of a song that had that kind of feel? ”Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator’ was one, you know. Yeah, that kind of feel, of passion is just so not there any more.”
But, why Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes out of everyone?! ”I guess we’ve always tried to do whatever was missing in our lives. And nobody was making that kind of sophisticated chic music and we thought Nick would be the perfect guy to get to finish it off and to clean it off. And we’ve kind of got away from everything that’s currently really trendy. Which is what we’ve kinda done our whole career and so we needed to get out again.”
What's the story behind your bad feelings towards this new album? ”“Well, we got f**ked with by our label [Capitol Records] who were sneaking off and doing remixes. They even went so far as to have people playing guitar and singers come in and sing with us without us even knowing behind our backs! And so we finally found out about it and got mad and got pissed off and they then threw us the threats of not even putting out the record and leaving it on the shelf. It’s old-school, sleaze ball shit going down over there, man.”
And so the album is called Welcome To The Monkey House because … ? ”That’s why the record is called what it is for that happening and that’s why we don’t have a real promotional budget now! We hated the way they chopped stuff up and re-recorded so much! They even began editing ‘We Used To Be Friends,’ and so we just went nuts and said ‘Absolutely f**kin’ not’! So, based on that they took away our promotional budget and our marketing budget claiming that they couldn’t do anything with the song left the way we sang and recorded it! We’re in the position now where our record label is trying to teach us a lesson,” he angrily laughs.
But you’re out on the road promoting it anyway?! ”Well, yeah, but we’re out struggling on our own like a poor indie band. But very fine because we’re with our people! We show up to a city and there’s thousands of people and they’re ours. We feel the same way as they do. We love music and I don’t think anyone’s into us because we’re trendy anymore at this point. I think people are into us because they love music and they love the way our music feels. And that’s a pretty great place to be.”
Has it always been like this for you with regard Capitol Records? ”No, we got ignored until now, which was amazing! When we made Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia we handed in an obsolete record. We wanted it that way so we set out to make a 1971 record that was All Things Must Pass and Sticky Fingers! And we did and we handed it in knowing full well, as today, that’s there’s not one f**king snowball’s chance that we’re gonna get any modern rock radio in America off of it! And they didn’t bat an eye, because back then we were the ‘trendy Dandy Warhols doing their own thing,’ but on this record they thought we’d do hits! But,again, we weren’t doing a hits record.”
Which song from the album did they ‘tinker with’ the most? ”It’s miserable, because ‘We Used To Be Friends’ took a beating and it’s now the most up-tight, weird, worst sounding song on the record. And it started off so gorgeous and sexy and f**kin’ awesome!”
So, are you saying that you wish that this new album hadn’t ever been released?! ”No, just ‘We Used To Be Friends’ isn’t the ‘We Used To Be Friends’ that we wanted put out! But the record is f**king awesome! But, you have to start at ‘Plan A,’ which is song three and from then on it’s just so f**kin’ sexy! It’s so f**kin’ gorgeous man that there’s nothing like it in the world!”
So just what is it about ‘their’ remixed version that you hate so much?! ”I think ‘We Used To Be Friends’ is now a little too boy rock! It’s like 45 year old men trying to make a song work for boys and it’s just kinda of like weird. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t, but even that I ever like it is a testament to good songwriting! But, sometimes even good songwriting can take a lot of abuse.” he laughs.
‘Bohemian Like You’, due to TV commercials and such, has certainly created some massive exposure for you, but is that the way you looked at it when agreeing to give out the tune? ”Our shit’s probably in one hundred commercials a year. We will use anybody as anything we can to get our music out there. We have to turn down some people, but things like tampons, cars and cell phones we don’t give a shit! The only person we’ve ever turned down was Tommy Hilfiger. Tommy Hilfiger is somebody we had to say no to, because he has a product that has a style and a statement that is in direct contradiction to what people’s styles should be like.”
That’s great you still have principals in this sometimes murky business of ours! ”Yeah, but they didn’t believe us either at first and they went ahead and used ‘Godless’ in their commercial and so we ended up having to send a Cease & Desist order! We were gonna slap them with a major law suit if they didn’t stop,” he laughs.
So, where did your media label of being a ‘drug band’ originate? ”All our friends, bands like The Charlatans, well, all these bands just do tons of drugs and they would never talk about it because they actually had drug problems! But, we got the reputation of being a drug band because just occasionally we’d get really high and stay up on E for like three days and party and have a disco," he laughs. ”And then, because we were the only ones who had the balls to talk about it, we’re the ones who got tagged being this f**ked up drug band!”
But you admit that you just sat there and told them you loved drugs?! ”Yeah, it’s funny ‘cause they needed someone to do it and we were naive enough to just go, ‘Oh sure, yeah we’re on drugs!' But, we love sleep too and we love expensive f**king food even more, you know, but that didn’t make in into any of the final interviews!”
Will your now infamous ‘Black Album’ (rather like Prince’s same-named album) eventually see the light of day by legal distribution? ”I think we’re gonna try and put it out, but we’re obviously gonna have to have our own record label sooner or later. We’ve been thinking of releasing a box-set of all our early stuff early next year maybe, but it’s hard to have a machine in place to run a record label. So we’ll have to figure out who can do that for us down the line.”
Finally, describe the band’s music in three words ”Ever been in love? Oh no, that’s four. Erm, erm, … erm, … strength, beauty and comfort,” he finally gets out as the cell line dies and the interview comes to an abrupt end.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
To win a Brand New copy of the Dandy Warhols' new CD, Welcome To The Monkey House just answer this question! In which American state and in which year was their inspiration Andy Warhol born? Now, just send an e:mail to me with the subject title 'DANDY' and the answer in the text to:
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