“We’re just big idea people and not so great on the follow-through shit” – an interview with the Dandy Warhols
Eagles frontman Don Henley famously quipped upon the band’s 1980 breakup that the group would play together “when hell freezes over.”
That lasted a creditable 14 years before the cash became too tempting and they got together for a money-spinning reunion tour with hell still seasonably warm.
Money was never an issue for Portland, Oregon’s the Dandy Warhols who – in keeping with their similarly named muse – were always more about the art than the cash.
It was the power of an entirely different sense of numbers that led them to take their seminal album, Thirteen Tales of Urban Bohemia, back on the road.
Dandies frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor (the second Taylor is affected) explains to Something for the Weekend that the band were initially reluctant to take their iconic record on tour but were eventually wound down by the logic of unlucky number thirteen.
He says: “2013 was the thirteenth anniversary of 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia. And so with the three 13s we were like, ‘God, everybody does that!’
“You know, Spiritualized doing ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space,’ the Cult touring all of ‘Love,’ it was beginning to become a big thing to do, which of course means that we’re not going to do it.
“But then Zia [McCabe, bassist] kept going, ‘you guys, come on, it’s three 13s – it’s the triple 13 – we’ve got to do this!’
“We’d been talking about this since we finished Come Down. We were like, we gotta tour this whole record, just play it with all the trippiest shit between songs. Of course, we never did because we’re just big idea people and not so great on the follow-through shit.”
The band – and Taylor in particular – are contrary sort of people, meaning that resistance to the very idea of a ‘nostalgia’ tour was strong, but stronger voices won out in the end, and finally fans of the band were faced with the prospect of hearing ‘Bohemian Like You’ and ‘Get Off’ in their original context.
“Somehow, Zia and Pete just kept pushing us to do it so we did, and we got the extra guys and made it happen, and toured the thing.
“We recorded a lot of our shows and started mixing them, but for some reason we had the right cast of characters involved and the mixing went really quickly, so we actually finished and I don’t know how or why this one got finished. We start a lot of things and finish very few.”
Taylor-Taylor sounds sleepy at the best of times – and he sounds every more sleepy as he patiently endures a testing bout of phone problems throughout the interview – but he’s lucid and articulate as he recounts the mistakes the group made recording the live version of Thirteen Tales, their first, and so far only, live record.
He says: “We did no re-recording. I didn’t want it to be like a Sting or a Sheryl Crow live record where you’re like, ‘wow, that’s really clean!’ We wanted it to feel like ‘rock,’ I guess. We didn’t re-record anything. We just went in and mixed it and it’s pretty much just what happened. What happened live is exactly what’s happening when you click play on this record.
“Our intention was to play the record live, all of the parts, all the songs with bits in between – the trippy, drony, weird , ambient stuff and the segues and everything – but as far as the record sounding like the record, I don’t think it sounds at all like the actual record.
“It’s the same instrumentation but the live album sounds really trashy – the mixes sound very trashy and quickly done – compared to the record. I did that on purpose. We wanted to play the record exactly as it exists if you were to buy the original, but for the actual record I wanted it to sound as it is live – I wanted it to sound very trashy and chaotic, sonically, compared to the original record.”
Certainly he’s had few complaints from the fans, the majority of whom were delighted to hear the band reprise their signature record in full.
“There is a certain kind of person that you run into after the gig, and there is a certain kind of person you don’t run into after the gig. It’s everything from a pack of 15-year-olds that got dropped off by someone’s big brother or it’s like a 71-year-old couple who saw the Beatles on their first tour and they love us and they want to talk to us about how we’re like the Beatles to them.
“It’s so random who shows up at our gigs and who we end up meeting at the bar next door afterwards, or at lunch beforehand, or the ATM or whatever, it’s oddly random.
“I got one complaint from somebody who was there at the gig, and they said, ‘it’s really loud at your gigs, the audience is really fucking loud,’ but the thing is we didn’t mic the audience, so you can’t really hear the audience at all! The lesson we learned is: you mic the fucking audience!
The Dandy Warhols’ current tour marks 25 years as a band – something which most bands would mark down as an achievement – if not a downright miracle.
Taylor-Taylor is somewhat more sanguine about his group’s apparent longevity and is as clueless as everybody else as to what exactly it is that has enabled them to stand one another for so long.
He says: “I honestly can’t remember if I thought about it. I’ve been in a lot of bands – I’ve spent my whole life playing in bands – but having one band work for 20 years I guess is pretty far-fetched. Maybe I just assumed if it works it’ll work forever.
“I remember we said like Andy Warhol’s Factory, we’d have our own Factory one day, and that was a fantasy thing, and then we ended up having like an Andy Warhol Factory but way better. I don’t know, maybe we did actually mention it.
“It seems ludicrous to think your band will stay together for 20 years because how many bands are there that do? There’s U2 and the Stones, and I don’t know any band that has ever stayed together for 20 years.
“They generally tend to break up and get back together for the five-year reunion or whatever, but who has done 20 years straight through?”
Originally published in the Irish Sun on Friday, June 13, 2014.