The Dandy Warhols have a lot to talk about at the moment, including a new EP, their imminent headlining of Standon Calling and a bunch of UK shows including ones in Sheffield and Manchester in July. A great time to catch up with the band’s Courtney Taylor-Taylor then, which is what Ilia Rogatchevski did for Louder Than War. Check out their conversation below.
The Dandy Warhols are not a band known for releasing EPs. They have in the past flirted with extended promotional material – most notably the Tales From Slabtown and Earth to the Remix series, from 2000 and 2008 respectively – but their inherent methodology rests on producing albums that invite the listener on a timely trip through a carnivalesque dream sequence. The release of Chauncey P vs All the Girls in London, back in March, suggested adherence to the established template: songs of love and loss laced with cheeky psychedelic overtones. More material is certainly on the cards, but which form will it take? At first, the news on the grapevine spoke of a possible EP and then someone mentioned the ‘A’ word. In any case, more Dandy Warhols tunes are well overdue. Braving a miserable Monday morning, we asked Dandy’s head honcho, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, about their new material, the nature of work, popular music at the end of the ’90s and of course, the weather.
Louder Than War: So Courtney, what is to be… album or EP?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: I guess we’ve got a collection of five or six songs. We’re always in the studio working, noodling on something. I think it’s not so much about the number of songs we have at this point, as it is about how much time it has been since we’ve put something out. I bet that by the end of the summer we’ll have about seven songs that are like… “Wow! Let’s put these out.” Is that an EP or is that a record?
That really depends on your definition. What do you want it to be?
I like EP because it means that we get to put stuff out more often, y’know? We’re like three years between records. We’re terribly precious about it. We drag it out, for sure.
Is that because you’re looking for a narrative strand to connect the new songs?
That’s definitely playlist mentality. You’re not making an epic when you do that. We make records where you need the gooey-sludgy ones here and now, because you’ve been grinding your teeth for the last seven minutes to bashy-garagey ones and you want to come down a little bit… and then come up again sideways. We make records that take you on a whole hour-and-twenty-minute experience, or however long CDs were. That was our only goal.
To fill up a CD?
Every last second. If they made three-hour-long CDs we would have done it.
What sort of sonic direction are the songs taking this time? Is there a theme?
I’m sort of steered by two things when we are at this stage; when we have layered down a lot of instruments and I begin stripping them away. You go through it all looking for that one sound that is immediately engaging. Something that makes the hairs on your arms stand up. When those sounds happen, that is because there is nothing that is currently trendy that they evoke. You have to avoid trends or idiosyncrasies that are of the current era in order to make something that is physically, sonically and emotionally engaging.
Do you ever get a sense of cabin fever at the Odditorium (Dandy Warhol’s studio, Portland, OR)? Do you ever want to step outside of yourself and go work somewhere else to see if that changes your relationship to the music that you’re making?
Yeah, definitely. I’d like to go and record in Barbados or the Canary Islands. That would be really cool, but I think I’m learning this room, y’know? The mixes that are coming out of this room are consistent. Every stereo makes every record sound very different. So you have to learn what your speakers and your room sound like. Every time I hit this at any volume in my studio, it’s like: “Holy shit!”. But then you get it in the car and the bottom end is mushy and it doesn’t pump right. And then you take it to a party and everyone’s drunk and someone puts it on and it’s like “Oh, no… it’s weak and shrill. I thought the vocals were trippier than that.” Those things are happening less, so I don’t think I’m going to be working outside of this studio… unless I get to work with someone like Deadmau5. Anyway, we’re a studio head-tripper band and anyone who knows our music knows that. In the classic sense, we’re artists. That’s our trip: the studio.
The cover for your last single, Chauncey P vs All the Girls in London, features an arresting illustration by Javiera Soza. How did that collaboration materialise?
Because of who my friend is – the song is about him, he’s a quirky individual – I thought it would be really funny to get some black and white shots of a little rascal with a black eye. So I was trying to put that in [a search engine] and there weren’t any images of little rascals, but then that [image] came up. It’s not what I imagined, but it’s an incredible, sexy and creepy image. It’s got something, man. It’s powerful, but odd, because it’s uncomfortable in a way different [from] anything else we’ve released. Plus that phrase: ‘Chauncey P vs All the Girls in London’. I really love multi-layered concepts. If you’re going to put words on art it better be way greater than the sum of all the parts.
How do words come for you, as a lyricist? Where do they come from?
Oh, I wish I knew. It probably starts with just a guitar and a really serious fuck up on my part. A lot of really uncomfortable days and nights, where I’m really embarrassed of myself, making excuses and then running circles mentally around it. Eventually I get tired of it and need to get rid of it, so I pick up the guitar and the hands start moving quite randomly until I hit two or three chords in a certain order. That opens the floodgate… and I hope that I notice what chords those are. The words then come out and they can only be one way and they are truly, exactly what I’m going through. Like Bob Dylan said, “If you find yourself in it, you better get out as soon as you can”. You don’t put the guitar down or keep playing that same part over and over, pleased with yourself figuring that you’ll finish it later. You might not finish it for another fifteen years, which has happened to me. Fortunately I still have the same career, so I did get to put those hours in.
Are you looking forward to coming over to the UK and Ireland in the summer?
Yes, that will be fun. Breezy, sunny and nice. I’m looking forward to getting back into playing England, because we haven’t done that for so long. We usually just play London and that’s it. The festivals used to be so miserable in the old days. They were all badly staffed by mean, grumpy, fucked up people. We played a surfer point in Ireland last year [Sea Sessions, Donegal]… you guys have it so good nowadays. Everyone’s nice, there’s good food and all the bands are pretty cool. It used to suck, man. Think about how agro festivals were in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Think about the rap-metal-hate-testosterone-ape-man-shit. Cave man music. And that was popular music. That was mainstream. Being dumb was only slightly less cool than being mean. Now, it’s going to be dreamy…
I think that must be to do with the weather improving due to global warming. There’s now a general upbeat attitude towards summer time.
It sure is in Portland. It used to be the rainiest shit-hole-armpit of Earth and now it’s hipster heaven. Our spring and summer last about eight months now, whereas they used to last about two. There was no spring, in fact, it just went straight to two months of summer and then back to grey and rainy. Which is what England used to be like, right? When we went there in the ’90s, I don’t remember it being anything other than grey and rainy… mud pits, at summer festivals! [Chuckles to himself]. Yeah, man, global warming… those days are over!
I remember when I saw you in London a couple of years ago, you were trying out the new songs from This Machine (2012) and Zia [McCabe] was saying how much you value audience feedback. How do you evaluate audience engagement? Has there ever been a point when alterations have been undertaken to your songs as a result of how the new material was received?
We’re not really a performance band. We want to get the hum going in the room. Each song is just a group of parts that build towards an emotional euphoria. We’re like a trance band who play late ’60s and early ’70s instruments. Simon and Garfunkel making trance music. It’s hyper-modern in its structure and ultimate end-goal, but the journey is definitely like a rusty old pick-up truck on the gravel road in the desert.
Do you guys rehearse? I assume you would before a tour…
Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. It’s hard to say whether rehearsal prior to a tour makes you less adaptable or more adaptable; more flexible or less flexible. We might practice three or four times, and if we’ve been playing the same group of twenty-five songs for too long then we need to have more practice, so that we can go: “Ok, I don’t think we’re playing anything from …Come Down or Monkey House anymore.” So then we have to re-learn to get those songs to work again.
Speaking of the past, I remember once reading a criticism you made of Ondi Timoner‘s Dig! (2004), that there wasn’t enough footage of you actually making music in the film…
There is none. Nothing. I guess the sad part is that there is no dialogue between the members of my band. There is never [any footage of] us sitting on the bus having discussions. Ever. All those long hours where we were working through problems or analysing the things that we do, Ondi would be sitting with her camera in her lap. Then we’ll be somewhere and she would get some big idea: “I need you to go here… You gotta do this now. Come on you guys… ok, ok! Can you say this… Ok, ready? Take. Go!” There must have been amazing footage of us that she shot and never used, much less that she actually tried to make a documentary out of. Now, Anton [Newcombe] would get wasted and put on a show for the camera, but Joel [Gion] is the only actual genius in the movie. He’s fucking amazing. Every time [he is on camera] he is funny, he is above it all… it was he and Anton. There was nothing about our band in it.
All the discarded footage must be archived somewhere. Could you approach her and make your own cut, perhaps?
We’ll never get our footage back from her. We’ve tried. She’s contractually bound. It’s ours: we own it. She just doesn’t want to dig through all that shit. She’s probably just afraid that we would show her up to be such a phoney and debunk her, but I don’t give a shit. I don’t need to do that. I just want to have the stuff. I want to see it. I want to hire a group of out-of-work 19-year-old tagheads to sort through it and make me a fun edit out of it. Then we’d smoke tons of weed and watch it. It was like, five years of our lives: gone forever. A major missed opportunity.
Would you consider inviting another film crew into your lives, to document the creative process properly, to do it justice?
Maybe now… but it would have been more exciting then, let’s just say. We were insane people, on fire! We were on drugs all the time, we were horny weirdos. Fucking-crazy-mad-artists. Now we’re more like monks. We’re more masterful and less insane.