“Music has given me more salvation, and more hope, and more joy in my life than everything else in the world put together.” – An interview with the Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor
Portland rock veterans Dandy Warhols are enjoying somewhat of a purple patch in the past 18 months, and are back in Ireland for the second successive summer to headline Indiependence in Mitchelstown, having starred at Bundoran’s Sea Sessions last year.
This summer’s extended jaunt, frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor tells Something for the Weekend, is largely on the back of ‘Chauncey P vs All the Girls in London,’ a single the band unexpectedly dropped in February, ostensibly to let people know they were still alive.
“We shred, we’re amazing at guitars – that’s our thing – vocal harmonies. [It was just to] re-lay it down and put it out there that we rip. It was also just to get the phone to ring, you know?
“[It was] for labels to call up and be interested and to have producers and big mixers, and it did – it got the phone ringing.
“We have a lot of people we’d like to work with that, if we didn’t have anything out, wouldn’t call us back, or maybe not bother listening to an mp3 of something we were working on. You just have to do stuff.
“We got a lot of festivals going, ‘woah, this band is amazing.’ We’re getting a lot of calls still to play festivals and have a great super party summer on the heels of just releasing one song. One song now, and the 20 years of rock that came before it.”
Taylor-Taylor speaks slowly and thoughtfully in a distinctive deep voice, occasionally losing his train of thought as his speed of mind outpaces his lazy west coast American drawl.
He reveals the band are well on their way to recording album number nine, the follow-up to 2012’s This Machine, though anybody expecting anything soon is likely to be disappointed as the band – particularly the singer – are sticklers for detail in the studio.
“We’re cranking the bigger parts of the machine up again. I think next year will be a big year for us. We have nine or ten songs more or less complete at this point.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, but we should have a record out next year, it looks like.
“We own probably one of the coolest studios in the world, or ever, and we like to be there. We party there, we work and we record, and we do stuff all the time, and you get these songs.
“We build them to where they are nearly as perfect as we can make them. That’s sort of how our lives go. A lot of revolving around the studio.”
He describes the band’s mode of operation as more akin to a group of painters planning an elaborate artwork rather than a typical rock band – in the studio at least.
“Zia [McCabe, keboardist] and Pete [Holstrom, guitarist] showed up last week – I was in there every day that week on my own, then they showed up with a hard drive.
“Pete had come down and grabbed a bunch of tracks, gone back to his house, because he has a studio in his basement – a small, tight, really efficient [studio].
“Pete had taken it back to his house where he could work faster, and he had done a tonne of work on it in his basement, so me and Pete spent the day working the stuff into the big mainframe mix.”
“It’s more of a thinktank. I feel like we’re more a group of painters than a rock band when we’re in the studio.
“We are the most anal motherfuckers on the planet. Somebody said to us, aeons ago, ‘the genius is in the details,’ and we just took it way too seriously.”
Taylor-Taylor has never been one to shy away from expressing a controversial opinion (“I’m liable to say anything,” he says proudly), and he insists the Dandy Warhols were just about the only rock band doing anything remotely interesting in the mid-late nineties.
“In the early days, it was awful and it was hard for us. We were the punk rock band. We were the only band on a major label that was big finger to grunge, to rap rock, to mean people. It was fashionable to be mean and stupid back then.
“We were the only band who were going, fuck you, we’re just going to have fun, and we’re not going to be mean. We’re going meet other bands and hang out with them, not hate other bands and badmouth them. I can feel my mind darkening even just going there.”
At the same time, Taylor-Taylor describes himself as a natural contrarian, and it’s sometimes difficult to separate his opinions from some of his more outrageous statements. What is clear is that the band make a point of avoiding and subverting cliché.
“Back when the Strokes were big, and everyone sounded like the Strokes, anything that sounded like the Strokes at all we had to remove, or it turned us off. It made us feel like ‘god, now we sound like we’re trying to be the fucking Strokes like everybody else.’
“A couple of years ago, after the big [Foster the People hit, ‘Pumped Up Kicks], that song was huge and everyone sounded like that. Everybody had one hit all over Europe and America that sounded like Foster the People.
“That record was amazing and I love it, but I had to stop singing in that soft, breathy voice because I was just tired of it, and I was afraid people were just going to think we were jumping on a bandwagon, even though I’d been doing it for 15 years at that point.”
The past year has seen him developed a particular affection for Cork’s the Vincent(s), who will support the Dandies on their Dublin date, having stumbled across them walking around a festival “outside Cork” – which turns out to be Donegal, which is at least technically true.
“I heard this band that was beautiful – super heavy riffs, something really beautiful going on. I thought, this is a great take on that whole Sabbath, Black Angels, that whole angle. This is a great and different and very fresh take on that whole LSD, big riffs, psychedelic thing.
“I ended up mixing a track for them and they got some good mileage out of it, then I mixed another one last month with my engineer Eggleston.”
Ultimately, in spite of the odd exaggerated or ill-advised statement, the depth and breadth of the Dandy Warhols catalogue, and the level of detail and love contained in it, demonstrate the axiom that actions speak louder than words, in Taylor-Taylor’s case at least.
“I do love to make outrageous statements like ‘I fucking hate music!’ I do like to say goofball shit like that.
“Obviously, in the deepest part of myself I think I love music more than anything. It has given me more salvation, and more hope, and more joy in my life than everything else in the world put together.”
The Dandy Warhols play Indiependence in Cork on August 2nd and Dublin’s Academy the following night.