Lounging Out With The Dandy Warhols
Addicted To Noise
by Clare Kleinedler
September 8, 1997
SAN FRANCISCO -- The hotel lobby is too bright and certainly too cheery for Dandy Warhol's singer Courtney Taylor. The lanky, 6-foot-plus frontman sits on a plush couch, glaring through his shades at the happiest doorman on earth.
Mr. Doorman glides around the peach-and-yellow decor lobby, smiling from ear-to-ear as he opens the heavy brass doors for hotel guests. "Great day!" he shouts to a 40-something yuppie- looking woman who strolls out of the elevator with her two poodles. On the other side of the room, a family looks confused as they leaf through a tourist handbook. "What can I help you with?" says Mr. Doorman as he runs over to rescue the family.
"Aargh," groans Taylor as he sinks deeper into his chair.
Even though it's 1 p.m., it is way too early by rock star standards. And the hotel, though located near San Francisco's seedy Tenderloin District, is a bit on the posh side. The disheveled and hungover Taylor looks painfully out-of-place among the tourists staying at the hotel.
Although it may not seem like it, lack of sleep is probably the least of Taylor's worries these days. With the video for their humorous anti-heroin single, "Not If You Were the Last Junkie On Earth," in MTV's "Buzz Bin" and the press hyping over the Dandy's new album ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down, the pressure is building to live up to expectations. Though the circles under his eyes may tell a different story, Taylor claims he doesn't give two shits if things don't work out.
"I hate when bands whine about not making it," says Taylor, frowning. "They'll say stuff like, 'Man, the record company didn't promote us,' or 'Radio just didn't play us,' or 'MTV hated us.' It's all crap. It's like, I take responsibility, man. If we don't make it, I won't blame anyone else. It will be no one's fucking fault but our own."
Soon enough, Taylor is joined by his cohorts, key bassist Zia McCabe, guitarist Peter Holmstrom and drummer Eric Hedford. The three drag their feet as they exit the elevator, and ignore the cheerful greeting of Mr. Doorman as they walk toward us. McCabe and Holmstrom head off with another journalist for the first of many interviews of the day.
"Let's get coffee," says Hedford, who by the looks of it just rolled out of bed. "Can we go somewhere and get coffee?"
It's been a long week for the members of the Portland-based band. They've been playing gigs every night, some good, some not so good. Well, some that were just horrible.
"There was this one place that we totally fucked up at," says Taylor, looking a little more awake thanks to a large cup of coffee. We're across the street from the hotel now, and the rusty patio furniture we're sitting on outside of the coffee shop suits everyone much better than the plush velvet couches of Hotel Sunshine, Sweetness and Light. "But we do so much better when things are screwed. Like if there are no microphones at a club, and there's four home stereos we have to hook our guitars into, that's when we'll fucking smoke! Basically we don't work unless we absolutely have to."
Even though the Dandy Warhols have no work ethic, it hasn't affected their career thus far. In fact, many music publications are touting them as the on-the-brink-of-fame band of the year. After releasing a critically acclaimed indie album, the Dandys got snatched up by Capitol Records and just released their major label debut last month. Not bad for a band that's only been together for three years.
"Well, three years is about right for where we are," Taylor says. "A year to get a body of work together, record it, then another year- and-a-half to get another complete body of work, and so on."
And, all in the plan, according to Hedford.
"It was nice, because we did it on purpose in a way," says Hedford, between sips of java. "We wanted to have the time to tour and play before we went to a major, because we didn't want to go straight into a major label. We were still young, performance-wise, so we thought it would be better to start smaller."
Taylor's story of how the band met is an interesting one, but it is also a flat-out lie. According to him, it was tragedy that brought himself and Hedford together. "We come from old timber logging families, all of us. Actually we met at the funeral. All of our fathers were loggers. Eric's father was actually felled by a Redwood, the only man ever killed by a tree. So it was a little awkward meeting, but we had a lot of similar emotional needs at that time, and I was addressing them in a lot of my personal writings and in my music, and everybody kind of related to it, and the rest is history. Can we be really clever in this interview? I kind of want to develop that as my new thing that I'm a liar..."
The real story of how they met is slightly less amusing than Taylor's, but at least it's the truth. The four members were doing various odd jobs in Portland when they met through mutual friends several years ago. Taylor organized a band and they immediately went to work in his basement, recording on the four-track and playing the results for their friends. At the Dandy's first gig, someone from Tim/Kerr Records, a local label that has discovered a good number of acts including Everclear, offered to pay for the recording of an album. The finished product was Dandy's Rule OK, which spawned the single, TV Theme Song, which received heavy play on college radio. The buzz even drew KROQ, the influential Los Angeles-based alterna-radio station, to one of the Dandy's shows.
"KROQ is really cool. Those people came out to some old gnarly leather bar to see us," says Taylor, laughing. "Imagine those KROQ people coming down to some leather bar with some dude sucking cock under a table and another taking it up the ass... little gay boys almost naked go-go dancing and stuff!"
"Yeah, it was cool," Hedford adds. "Record companies always want you to play these industry parties... they book it, they invite their friends, and it's lame because people in the industry are more jaded than your average listener. So we'll do stuff like book a little queer bar, and make the industry people come see us there along with our friends. If they want to see us, they have to come out and actually put a little effort into it."
Enough industry-types put their efforts into seeing the Dandys in their element to pay off. The band was courted by several huge labels and, in quintessential Dandy Warhols style, the band took advantage of that time as much as they could. Their self-written press release reads like a confession: "You know we can be quite excessive and big moochers, so naturally we rode this pony for everything it was worth: free meals, plane rides, hotel rooms and much, much more."
This sarcastic sense of humor seems to be the stand-out characteristic that separates the Dandy Warhols from many of their peers. While many bands whine and moan about unfair treatment from the industry, or throw false attitude to get attention, the Dandys relish in taking the piss out of themselves. They don't put their success in others' hands. If they fail, according to Taylor, it's their own damn fault.
And band decisions are often based on superficial and even frivolous reasons. If it doesn't work out, who cares?
"Like how we picked Capitol Records... We did it because Perry Watts-Russell, our A&R guy, is a cool cat," Taylor says. "He can come to one of our shows where everyone is just slurping up rails of crystal meth and getting fucked up and smoking crack and dropping 'E' and God knows what else. I mean, he can deal with all of our freaky weirdo stuff, like Pete getting tied up by some dominatrix chick and getting his cock whipped and stuff. That's cool."
The best example of the band's weird persona, however, is their latest album, ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down. Just look at some of the song titles: "Hard On For Jesus," "Cool As Kim Deal" and their current single, "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth." The record is a refreshing kick-in-the-ass, a collection of hilarious, well-crafted pop songs. Lyrics like, "I never thought you'd be a junkie/ because heroin is so passe" from their single takes a peculiar view on an old subject.
"I write lyrics about anything that happens in my life that makes me feel anything greater than a seven or eight, and that's about all it is," says Taylor, squashing the idea that there's any heavy meaning to his songs. "Like you for instance...if I thought you were really great, like I thought, 'that's how an interviewer should be,' I'd write a little song and call it 'Press Darling.' Or like if I met a girl who was totally amazing, and I just mentally jacked myself off about how our life is going to be forever and here's a little snippet of a conversation we had and she said this and I said that and it fits into the song...."
Um, a little obsessive, are we?
"Yes! I forgot to tell you, I am a totally obsessive, neurotic freak," replies Taylor.
Hedford laughs in agreement.
"Like the 'Cool as Kim Deal' song. It's about living with the knowledge of a little bit of what Kim Deal is about and thinking it is pretty much cool as fuck," Hedford says. "But it's almost like the song really has nothing to do with her. (We're like) indie kids who never met this person but totally idolize and love that person, like we're in love with something we don't even know. It's kind of like (doing his best indie-kid voice), 'I just got out of this relationship and it sucked and school sucks but there's this little thing and don't you just wish we could all be like that?' "
As for music, the Dandy Warhols are constantly being accused of sounding British. Funny, since I didn't get that at all. Their jangling guitar melodies and Taylor's monotone vocals are more Velvet Underground than anything new wave or new romantic. It is hard to categorize the Dandy's sound; some songs sound like heavy- metal ballads while others sound borderline psychedelic.
"We don't try and sound like anything," Taylor says. "I'll have a melody or two or three chords, and we'll just jam on it, like, 'oh yeah, that fits right into everyone's pocket.' And we'll rock out on it, and slowly I'll come up with the words."
"To understand our influences, you have to understand the radio in Portland," Hedford adds. "We're just like this classic rock and top 40 town, and there's not much in-between. Then you have what's happening in the clubs, which was punk."
Doesn't sound too limited, does it?
"We're just like this classic rock and top 40 town, and there's not much in-between. Then you have what's happening in the clubs, which was punk." -Hedford
"Well... I guess now that we're talking about it it sounds like we had a pretty broad spectrum of music," says Taylor, changing his mind. "In Portland, you'd go to punk shows and see people dressed in totally new wavy fashions, and no one was like, 'Hey man, what are you doing here?' The punk rockers were wearing pajamas in Portland! I think anything that seems smart and somewhat fresh got well received in Portland. It's a city of punk-rock librarians, which is like the best thing ever."
This amalgamation of influences is not always a positive thing though. It sometimes makes songwriting a difficult task. In fact, the first record was scrapped by Capitol and the band because they felt it "sucked," according to Hedford. The band had to start all over again, but in the end, it was well worth it. Still, Taylor has mixed feelings about the record's producer, Tony Lash (Veruca Salt), who the band had also collaborated with for its indie debut.
"He's not a dreamboat or anything. He's very controlling... well, he's really fucking brilliant, but I think he's got a lot of control issues or something. He really seems to crack under pressure. I mean, for us, we are the only band I know, thus far, that really isn't affected by pressure from our peers to be really cool, or to be more abstract and hip or more honest or more folk sensible or intellectual or whatever," Taylor says. "Like we've got some friends that are hipper than fuck and others who are dweebier than dweebs. We don't care. We just make our music and that's it."
However they like to do it, the Dandy Warhols do make beautiful music together. With a solid second album released and months of touring ahead of them, they may just be "the next big thing." But what makes that label sit OK with them is that if it doesn't turn out that way, they say they won't give a fuck, and most likely won't work too hard either to attain a goal that's been set for them by other people.
"Everyone asks us, 'So when are you moving to L.A.?' " says Hedford. "We're not going to be moving there, and if that affects us, oh well."