The Dandy Warhols: Bohemian Rhapsody
By David Basham
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
The Dandy Warhols know all about the decadent pleasures of the three, and for its new album, "Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia," the Portland, Oregon-based band has crafted a brilliantly trance-inducing record that builds upon the indulgent free spirit of its obvious influences, the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground.
Last time around, the Dandys enlisted the aid of Beastie Boys producer Mario Caldato, Jr. for 1997's "... The Dandy Warhols Come Down," which spawned the colorful alt-rock hit "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth." But for "Thirteen Tales," the band holed up in a local recording studio, hung out with such friends and accomplices as Eric Matthews, Cake's Vincent DiFiore, and DJ Swamp, and just let the music flow.
And flow it did. As evidenced by such key tracks as "Nietzsche," "Solid," and "Shakin'," the new grooves are as deep and thick as ever, driven to excess by Courtney Taylor-Taylor's laconic snarl and deadpan observations on such mundaneness as living, loving, and losing.
Taylor-Taylor and Dandy Warhols keyboardist-tambourinist Zia McCabe recently spoke with MTV News' David Basham in between lunching down on a burrito (McCabe) and some fruit salad (Taylor-Taylor) and discussed the laid-back atmosphere of the "Bohemia" sessions, the whole "Britpop" tag, and meeting country-outlaw legend Willie Nelson during this past summer's Glastonbury Festival.
MTV News: It's been over three years since the release of "...The Dandy Warhols Come Down," so tell me a little about when and where the sessions for this record were held.
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: From December 1, 1998 until probably the middle of March 1999 was when the bulk of the recording was done at an empty gay men's gym [in Portland] that's been there probably since the '70s.
We went in there and made it the big extensive recording studio-hippie-opium den-hangout-white trash living room. Had all our friends come down whenever they could to drink all our beer and smoke our cigarettes, and we just got after it and started recording it. My friend Greg Williams is a really good engineer and has a lot of equipment. Anything he didn't have, we just borrowed or rented if we absolutely had to.
MTV: Coming off the high expectations of "Come Down," did you find these sessions particularly difficult, or were they more enjoyable than the last record?
Zia McCabe: We weren't under as much pressure for time since we were spending about a tenth what you'd normally spend for studio space.
Taylor: We had way more fun, and it was way easier. It felt like doing it at home.
MTV: "Bohemian Like You" is the first single here, but in the U.K., you chose to release "Get Off," which seems like the lightest song on the record and not really reflective of the overall vibe.
Taylor: Yeah, that mix of it. Our first mix of "Get Off" was skinnier and far more punk rock. Arguably, you can go either way on mixes. There's another mix of "Shakin'" that I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't have put that one on, 'cause it's really hard. Unfortunately, that's the thing about having just enough budget to keep going. But, yeah, I'm not really sure exactly why "Get Off" was issued in the U.K. They were dead certain, really certain that was the one that was obviously the hit [single]. [Laughs] Good for them. Thanks, thanks.
MTV: You released this album in the U.K. first, and you've already completed your first round of touring over there. Do you ever get annoyed when you get referred to as "The Best Britpop Band Raised In America?"
McCabe: It doesn't annoy me. It's just not true.
Taylor: I haven't heard it for a long time, actually.
McCabe: Yeah, sometimes they just can't think of anything else to say. That's okay, that happens. They could have said a lot stupider stuff -- and they have. So, really, of all the things that could annoy me that have been said, no, that's not one of them.
MTV: In another new track, "Solid," I'm fascinated by the line "I must have a door in the back of my head." When I heard the lyric, I immediately thought of "Being John Malkovich." But the track was recorded well before the movie was released, right?
Taylor: That song was written about two years before the movie came out.
MTV: You should sue.
Taylor: [Laughs] Yeah, he probably ripped it straight off.
McCabe: Does John Malkovich have a door in the back of his head?
Taylor: No. In the film, he has a door kind of into his head from the back of a file cabinet.
Well, that was kind of just a happy song. I have this friend of mine who got dumped quite unceremoniously after living with his girlfriend for four years out in the country. [She] just met some guy with some money, dumped him, and married this guy. He moved back into town and was basically drunk for eight months.
It's a true story, everything. He could just wander around and have a good time, but he had to get really drunk to do it. He had a great life, and he had kind of a new girl that was really into him, this beautiful, pan-Asian nymphomaniac. [Laughs] He should have been happy, you know. He would have been happy had not somebody just devastated him. I just wanted to write a happy song for him.
McCabe: Does he like it?
Taylor: He couldn't believe it.
McCabe: I love the lyrics to that song.
MTV: On "The Gospel," there's prominent use of the refrain, "Comin' for to carry me home" from the old hymnal "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Was the song written around that line?
Taylor: Pete [Holmström] came up with the song. He was just starting to really get into countrified, early '70s Stones stuff. He was just noodling that riff constantly and then one day it was channeled in. Just there it was. I didn't write it, but it had to be that feeling, or something very similar to that.
I mean, that's ultimately the bottom line, that you feel something similar. It sparks something, or the music opens a door and out it comes. At least, that's how I work. It's the only way I know how to work, really. Probably on our next record, I'll try to sit down, write lyrics, and then fit them in. But, so far, that's not it. I sit patiently and wait weeks, months, years, minutes, hours, whatever.
McCabe: Don't you have one song that you did that for?
Taylor: Sat down and wrote the lyrics for?
McCabe: And then fit the words into the melody.
Taylor: Dammit, I sure tried a lot.... But, yeah, I go long periods of time in between relationships, and really try to get my head together and myself arranged where I'm okay and all that stuff. Basically every odd year, I fall in love with somebody. It's pretty major for me, and it's overwhelming, and I feel the whole thing. That song was when I was in the thick of it, as well as touring a lot.
With a long distance relationship, all you really want is to just be like, "All right, I will do this. I will achieve this thing. I want this kind of stability, security, and I will create a home, and I will create this life for myself, and I have met this woman, and we're in love, and we're best friends, and I will do this because she lives halfway across the country." Somebody's got to do it, she ain't gonna, and I would rather I did it anyway, so there it is. This is what I will do, and of course it hasn't happened yet, and that relationship has since passed on. [Laughs] [RealAudio]
MTV: You mentioned the countrified thing, and I know the British press has noted the Stonesy nature of the "Bohemian Like You" single, but I was taken by the similarities between a new song, "Country Leaver," and the Rolling Stones' "Country Honk."
Taylor: It's more hillbilly than the Stones ever did. We missed on country, we're not that good at it. [The song] became gospel or hillbilly.
MTV: Still, there's some nice slide guitar work on the song.
Taylor: Well, Troy Stewart, who played those parts, is our guy. He's a Texan. He is full-on.
McCabe: He gets it.
Taylor: Yeah, the guy can do it. He's got the skills; he's smokin'. On "Country Leaver," rather than having drums and electric guitars, it's all acoustic guitars and stomping and clapping. I pulled out the washboard, which I haven't tried screwing around with for years, and we just laid it out like that. So it's just washboard, stomp, clap, and then a bunch of acoustic and slide guitars for the whole thing.
MTV: You got to hang out with David Bowie at Glastonbury, but that wasn't the only one of the band's heroes that you got to hobnob with, right?
McCabe: Yeah, I met Willie Nelson. I didn't even know he was playing. We went and saw his show, and I was like, "Oh, yeah, this'll be cool." My dad [was a big fan], and just from having his records and listening to them when I make dinner and stuff. I start watching him and I look over and there was this big screen and it says "This is Willie," and I just started crying.
I couldn't even believe how emotional I got, 'cause I'm not really that kind of girl at all. I was just sitting there, tears running down my face, blowing bubbles, and hippies were kissing and hugging me, 'cause it made their moment better. [Laughs] It was just so cool, and then... we're walking back [to the bus], and he's walking to the backstage [area] at the same time, cause I'm getting ready to play.
He's about 5'2". He's littler than me. He is this little old man, and I had my braids in, and I was all excited. I was trying to be relaxed, and I'm like, "Oh my God. You're Willie Nelson, and that was just the best show ever." I was so totally embarrassed about my behavior, but he was really nice, and he held my hand and gave me a hug. It was incredible