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Nothing Stays the Same | An Interview with Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols

With every new album, I seem to fall more and more in love with The Dandy Warhols. Since their earliest days in Portland’s indie rock scene, to quickly becoming everyone’s favorite band throughout the late nineties and early 2000s, the band has reinvented themselves countless times, recording an absolutely massive body of work that runs the gamut from synth-laced new wave to neo-psychedelic rock n’ roll, with some incredibly catchy moments nestled alongside more sprawling, experimental pieces. Their latest record ROCKMAKER was released just today, March 15th, and features eleven blistering tracks of sexy, rock n’ roll cacophony. The record, which features a myriad of high-profile collaborations from the likes of Slash, Black Francis of Pixies, and Blondie’s Debbie Harry, is one of their most fun and rewarding to date, meant to be listened to at maximum volume.

Dandy’s vocalist and guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor and I sat down and chatted early on a Saturday morning about the new record, the band’s salad days, Dr. Dre, angular guitars, and big muscle men wielding power tools… Before we began, Courtney and I made a solemn vow to avoid any basic questions that he’d already answered over the last few weeks, so be sure to brush up on some other features before diving in here…

We should get an obvious one out of the way, but hopefully this isn’t one you’ve answered lately. The Dandy Warhols have always flirted with a lot of different styles over the years. When you all start making a new record, do you have a particular direction in mind, or do things happen organically?

Well, there are specific records that we have decided to make. The last record was decided, we put the put the frame up, you know, the boundaries and the bumpers are up. We stay inside this realm and we explore just only this. Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia definitely had a frame around it as well. We were making Desire or Workingman’s Dead, you know, that kind of thing. We wanted to stay within that. That way, when you bleed over a bit, it doesn’t really matter. You’re just kind of in a zone and it makes for a great record experience. The next one, Monkey House, really – no one was making new wave records at the time. It was the heyday of retro, vintage guitars. You had “Seven Nation Army” and “Are You Going to Be My Girl” and these great tracks that were all really brilliant. I really didn’t want to have to compete with Jack White because we’ll never be that, you know? He was at the peak of his absolute intuition and passion for just awesome guitar rock. We’re more like dabblers. You know, I think that’s probably what David (Bowie) liked so much about us was we just kind of did whatever, we just like music and we liked doing something new. We need to turn over quickly.

So, the last record we made (2020’s Tafelmuzik Means More When You’re Alone), we decided that we were going to record every single instrument, including noisemaking toys that we own. We have probably a few hundred instruments or toys that make noise, including a Hannah Montana toy guitar and things like zithers. We just wanted to make a great ambient and noisy kind of record and have a concept behind it. Basically, if you go to restaurants that are kind of nice, or have nice food or interesting food, they tend to play chill out lounge sort of music there, bad imitations of air more or less, right? So we thought going filthy and and organic and scrappy was a great thing to do, and we wound up organizing the record into a nine-course dinner where there’s a film for each course. There’s a course that starts with champagne and oysters that’s really bright and clicky, very chatty and social. Then there’s a salad course which is similar to that. Then there’s a soup course which is very warm and enveloping, and it goes on and on. If you look online you can find a wine pairing with a menu with descriptions of each of the dishes with a film to go with each of them, so you can have a totally immersive experience. There are even two cigarette breaks in there with shorter pieces of music. Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls has a guest vocal feature on there, speaking French with Zia!

Very cool! To your point about loving music and being so willing to try different things, I feel that way as a listener. It’s always admirable when a band evolves, or tries different things outside of their comfort zone. With that in mind, I think ROCKMAKER is a really fun and exciting record. I love that the dirty bass tones are back in action and I detect a bit of Dave Vanian swagger throughout…

Yeah – I really did my best Dave Vanian and you know, we’re not very good at imitating our heroes, which is kind of a blessing, as we have to own things ourselves. I think I was trying to be a bit more like Serge Gainsbourg but it turned out to be a bit more Iggy Pop or Nick Cave, which is pretty fun, you know?

Man, I remember the first review of our first record that came out in ’94. At the time, you could only get any musical respect in America doing rap rock or grunge. We didn’t do that, and when the reviews came out and said we were more like T. Rex or The Velvet Underground, they said “no thanks.” Literally no one was doing that kind of thing or talking about those bands then, it was probably the most uncool thing you could do.

Oh yeah, I was a teenage Bowie fan in 1993. It wasn’t a great time to be into anything from that era.

Was that when he was getting involved with Trent Reznor and had a goatee?

Yeah, leading up to that era for sure. It really wasn’t cool to like this kind of music then, so I can imagine it especially wasn’t cool to make that kind of music either…

Yeah, it wasn’t in style. Well, David existed outside of that in a really strange way. But since I’m from Portland and was playing in bands long before the early 90s, my friends and I were privy to the evolution of grunge. In the late 80s, we would go up to Seattle, and my band at the time was slightly gothy, and we were horrified that everyone was a fluffy hair metal dude wearing skin tight, stretchy jeans, but they wouldn’t wear pointy black boots, which we did. They wore big puffy sneakers and the guys shredded lime green, you know, modern guitars with weird colors and all that stuff. We always thought it was pretty silly, but we liked going to Seattle because you drive three hours and you feel like you’re on tour. For a teenager, that sounds pretty cool, but we were in our twenties by then. However, three months, four months would go by and we didn’t go back there, but when we returned, all of our friends had removed the Ratt and Poison posters from their walls and put up Black Sabbath, Hank Williams, and David Bowie posters. They started to cut their hair and there was just certain things that they would do that we felt were stylish. They got into those double-breasted thin leather jackets that were in vogue in the early seventies, but they had dreadlocks as well. This was literally within a six month period of time. I think it had a lot to do with the singer from Mother Love Bone, who was a real kitchy style dude, you know? Bell bottoms, sparkly sunglasses…

Very T.Rex!

Yeah, he really was cool and had a weird band. I mean, that was when Stone Gossard looked like a gorgeous woman. So yeah, Mother Love Bone were the first major signing. Really those were interesting times.

Well, I know all this stuff isn’t really a cut-and-dry lineage, it all kind of starts blending together at some point. Wasn’t Alice in Chains a hair metal band for a bit before they landed on their sound? A few years later, they were a completely different band. I’m not suggesting that people are jumping styles without intention, or trying to be trendy just to land a deal, but it’s kind of amazing how quickly things evolve and how it all starts melting together, so genres kind of become meaningless at some point… 

Yeah, grunge was so much metal and punk, and even though it killed hair metal, that energy was still there in some places. I don’t think ayone ever noticed this, but it first struck me that Mudhoney must have had some electronic influences, even in their subconsciousness. We were obviously walloped by “Touch Me I’m Sick” and the main riff was definitely reminiscent of “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath, but it was the rhythm of the riff was very staccato, it reminded me of European techno.

I can totally hear that now that you mention it. That track has kind of a “Mr. Vain” or Belgian new beat kind of treatment to a ballsy rock n’ roll riff!

Yeah, it was early formative proto-EDM! Even if you hated electronic music, it was unavoidable by the late eighties and early nineties.

You know, in the early internet era, before I knew any better, I was dead convinced you were a British band. “Junkie” was 1997, and I was really into Blur and Britpop at the time, and I thought that track fit in perfectly with that sound – the bright guitars, catchy riffs, etc. It wasn’t like much else that was happening in the States at the time. 

Zia just told me the other day that somebody printed in Spin or Rolling Stone or one of the big boys from that time gave us “the best British band in America” moniker. I mean, that’s why we got Eric Hedford to drum for us. He was the coolest DJ playing stuff like The Charlatans, Stone Roses, and Inspiral Carpets and so on. It wasn’t like we were going to listen to the rap rock or metal that was out. What we had was Pretty Hate Machine. We loved that. Eric was the DJ at the Lotus Cardroom which was the cool bar with a dance room in the back that was just packed. It was sweaty and you could smoke in there, and there were drugs and cool clothes and wild hairstyles. People were dancing very cool by then. I remember at that point it was the same time as C&C Music Factory, and Deee-Lite. This is all the same era and you could literally go in the back and hear “Groove is in the Heart” and a few songs later the same DJ would play “Head Like a Hole” or “Wise Up! Sucker” but also stuff like Belfegore and these great early synth tracks like…

**At this point in time, Courtney hums a synth riff which neither of us can place at the time, but we have since determined was Trans-X’s legendary “Living on Video” single from 1983…**

Sounds like my DJ style for sure… I love those Belfegore records. Have you heard the first album? It’s much more “out there” in the NDW and experimental world than the second album, which was big riff stadium goth. They’re both great for different reasons. 

Speaking of, when did Einstürzende Neubauten start? Was that in ’81?

Yeah, 1980, I believe…and they were a little more difficult to listen to at the time, really caustic and intense. 

Yeah, they really changed German rock you know, because you have these experimental bands from the seventies pushing some boundaries and being prog in a very different way than like Rush, right? Then you get you know, Blixa, with his cool look, but he’s also got a big muscle man in the band who will pull out a table saw and bang it against stones while they’re recording under a freeway off ramp…all that all that kind of noisy amazing groundbreaking stuff. But then there was also the progression of the other side of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream in that band Freuer and that song “Doot Doot.”

They became Underworld, which always kind of blows my mind. Karl Hyde was in that band!

Wait, I thought Underworld were Australian…

Nope, Welsh!

Really? Whoa! They had that hit “Underneath the Radar” before they went straight EDM. Well, when I met Karl I couldn’t tell an Australian accent from an Irish or English accent, so what do I know. *chuckles*

In all fairness, it got a little confusing then, with bands like Dead Can Dance and Nick Cave setting up shop in the UK…  

Oh yeah, and Nick Cave went to Germany. I wonder if that’s because David and Jim had gone and done so much great work in Germany.

Yeah, definitely a right of passage, I suppose… 

You know, Portland, Oregon has gotten really blown out and gentrified and sadly, it doesn’t have so much of an art scene anymore. Whereas it used to be economically depressed, you know, the same way Germany was still post-war in the seventies, so it was probably inexpensive. Then the fringers, you now, the people making  a living by selling blobs of pewter as jewelry to bikers. Talk about creative… I guess Berlin still really is a kind of an industrial wasteland in between pockets of civilization within the city itself. It’s a sprawling metropolis and it reminds me of old Portland in that it just doesn’t seem like much is ever going to change there. Anton from the Jonestown moved there quite a long time ago. When I have visited him, the city had a real fringe junkies and burnouts vibe and everything, but now they now they’re all more sophisticated, because everyone can have a recording setup on a laptop. I can definitely see the allure of that. I’ve always loved Germany because of that and the music scene there.

I’ve never been, but I definitely romanticize it too. A lot of New Yorkers from the scene I was involved with moved out there. It seemed like it was possible to do so much more there, musically.

Was that post Y2K like the big exodus to Brooklyn?

Yeah, kind of. We had the indie rock wave, the post-punk revival thing that evolved into a big minimal synth and coldwave thing in the early 2010s. While that scene still thrives here in some pockets, a lot of the big players moved to Germany and found success there, probably because Europe has always been a bit more receptive to these kind of sounds. New York comes and goes, people see the writing on the wall and embrace different things, but Berlin is ever-popular as a scene. 

Yeah, New York is still subject to the corporate rigors of America. The internet and all that has really brought back the exclusive power of the billion dollar major label, and even they can’t break every one that they try to break, but it does remind me far more of the eighties where underground was underground, you know? Selling 20,000 records was called punk rock gold. By the nineties that was not the case anymore. Sub Pop had had worked out this thing where they had looked at Motown as their role model. They were an indie label that was a brand and a look and a sound and not just some dudes. They reinvented that up from your own bootstraps, DIY label thing, going for international fame and success. That was cool because then you had K Records and you know, Kill Rock Stars who also did it and did a great job and had their real style and sound and everything. We had T/K Records in Portland, which was a little more all over the place. Lindsay who ran the label was a total fucking mess, but still really cool. In the eighties you had no chance of of doing anything except starving to death on the road and running out of gas in your van. You couldn’t leave your region, it was just so utterly controlled. But with college radio and MTV together we were making absolute superstars out of our green card artists.

Yeah, it’s crazy how bands like R.E.M. became pop stars, when they really had much more humble indie rock beginnings.

Yeah, they walked both lines between massive indie darings and big rock stars because of MTV. In America, I don’t think we would have ever heard of bands like The Cure or The Smiths, or other bands in the English underground. You could only find that stuff in the indie record store before then.

In the import bin! I remember all the 4AD stuff would just be like in a bin somewhere just for like the two of us that would ever go in and get it in there. Everybody would always raid that bin and that’s the stuff I often connected with.

That’s where I found Tenpole Tudor, in that import section and saw the cover and thought “wow that’s cool, what’s that sound like?” I’ve been a lifelong fan of that band ever since. The main guy Edward has a cameo in one of the Harry Potter movies. He works in a magic shop, which is perfect because he had a very gaunt English face with slightly changing eyes. He had a perfect look for any mediaeval British anything, especially when you look at the album cover for Let the Four Winds Blow, which has them all with swords, ready to storm the castle.

Storming the castle with Tenpole Tudor.

So, are you going to cover a Tenpole Tudor song on the tour then? 

Not on this tour! I had learned a few of their songs because they’re easy you know, but it’s hard enough to learn our own record. We build our songs in the studio, similar to electronic music, and then we have to adapt to them. Zia was just talking yesterday about trying to figure out what she played on “Danzig With Myself” where she had to remember whether she played synth bass or real bass and whether or not she had to get an ex-boyfriend to show her what she played in the studio.

You could always get the isolated track from the studio and play along that way. That’s what’s worked for me in the past…

Oh, that’s too difficult for us. We don’t go mucking around in all the old hard drives trying to find these things. She just asks her ex-boyfriend to come over, makes him dinner, and he shows her how to play the bass line. Usually in the studio, she just dances around on synthesizers and pianos and then breezes out and says, “ok guys, you make that work.”

I learned how to do this kind of thing early on, because I produced all the early stuff. The band was a bumbling mess of people who had great taste and had never played their instruments in a band before. I was a drummer always. This was my first time playing guitar and singing. I was the only one who had been in different bands at the time and so I knew how to dink around and I knew how to get sounds. I had this four track that I wrote and recorded on, I’ve had it since I was about 14. I understood layering and what goes away as you add more instruments and that you can think of a speaker as the size of the sound. How much space is the bass drum going to take, and then where’s the snare going to sit?  If you think about it, the size of a speaker, you how much how much can you fit in there,. That was a Dr. Dre/The Chronic kind of thing when you could a really dirty, amazing, cheap sample, put it really loud and and then just have a drum beat behind it and then just start putting vocals on it. That was pivotal! I just finished engineering school and I was SO ready for minimalism at that point.

To circle back to the new record, there’s a bunch of tracks that are like that. The opening track “Doomsday Bells” for example. Every song on this record had to start with a riff that was either punk, metal, or thrash, and that’s the bumpers on this one. Everything has to start with metal. I remember hearing that Dr. Dre was really into Nirvana and I’ve held that in my brain for decades. Finally, I wanted to just do that kind of thing. I played the drums on “Doomsday” and I really wanted that Dre feel on the track. So we got the 808 out, with the the tiny snare sound that became my little homage. They all kind of wandered off after that. “Root of All Evil” started out as Yardbirds and ended up Sly and the Family Stone when they discovered heavy metal guitars, while “Love Thyself” was very fifties, so of course you have to go Ramones.

Yeah, that Ronettes-on-speed kind of sound… 

Yeah, exactly, they were the greatest fifties band from the seventies. Motown’s greatest band they never put out! So yeah, “Danzig With Myself” naturally started as a Danzig IV kind of thing and then ended up Pixies, you know?

Well, you did get Frank Black to contribute to the track, so that makes sense. How did that come about?

**Courtney and I then recall our initial promise to avoid anything that he’s talked about in other interviews, so we move on quickly. We talk briefly about Debbie Harry’s collaboration on closing track and my personal favorite on the record “I Will Never Stop Loving You,” which had not been revealed at that point. but totally happened. We also talk about Slash, who also plays on ROCKMAKER and has since performed at this year’s Oscars.**

Well, let’s see if this is one you’ve talked about, and please stop me if so. The band has been using AI for the last two videos, let’s talk about that since AI is a pretty hot topic these days… 

Yeah, when the “Summer of Hate” video came out, it was five months ago and it was the most developed thing at the time. It got a good deal of hubbub even though we had just released it ourselves. We didn’t get a lot of publicity. Look at that, and then look at the “I’d Like to Help You With Your Problem” video that came out a few weeks ago and it’s a different world entirely. We were like “oh man, we have got to make another AI video. I think AI now looks like a James Bond movie, it looks like the most expensive high tech film. I think it’ll be quite a while until AI has noticeably moved forward enough for us to use that tool again, you know. Now I’m wanting to do our next video with early seventies/late sixties film stock to get that look. To make it very gritty and real. The track (“I Will Never Stop Loving You”)  has got Debbie Harry on it so it’s gonna be very New York. I want to look at that anytime, day or night for the rest of my life, whatever that video ends up being. I want it to make me long for New York City. As long as it does that. I don’t really care what it is. It could just be sitting and eating in a window of a restaurant but I want it to make me long for New York the way I usually do.

Courtney and I then discuss the (then) upcoming New York shows, including a special acoustic set in the East Village that featured a DJ set by Zia aka DJ Rescue afterwards. We touch on Zia being an absolute “mindfuck” of a DJ as well as a newer French band called Scuffles, who Courtney discovered from a DJ in France who performed shortly after the Dandy Warhols’ set at Levitation France… We both implore you to check out “Sol détrempé,” which Courtney claims is the coolest piece of music in the world right now.

I had to Shazam that song because it was just so fucked up and particularly loud and earth shaking with some weed and French wine in you.  You know, in that situation we’ve got all these cool bands and cool people and everybody is on everybody’s chatting and open and having a good time. I was greatly relieved to listen to it properly the next day and still feel the same way about it. That is an amazing, absolutely satisfying, and stunning piece of music.

Zia McCabe aka DJ Rescue at Gonzo’s NYC. Photo by Lauren Krohn.

I love moments like that, such a cinematic feeling you’re describing. DJs don’t get enough credit here, while we don’t make the music we play, we do carve out such a unique atmosphere. Being the catalyst for kind of moments make it really worth it… 

Yeah, music is just so fucking cool. What a weird abstraction, trying to build architecture out of water. It’s just seems impossible on paper. It’s just a bunch of noises and click-clacking in time and space, and if you do it right, thousands and thousands of people go crazy. They start twitching in their bodies and freaking out.

Right, and the same track that does that for your or I might fall completely flat for someone else. There’s just no rhyme or reason to it. It’s one of those “from the heavens” kind of things – that divine influence that touches some people. 

Yeah, an agreed upon fiction. Like governments, national borders, religion, banks – believability in a story. We have so much absolute fiction that we agree or disagree or agree to disagree on. Music, thankfully is one of those things. It was wonderful during that MTV era, because we had probably the single most powerful, single global TV station in the world devoted wholly to music and musicians, and they got involved in breaking down apartheid, they got involved in saving destitute farmers. Back then, they wanted to save the world. MTV at the heart of its corporate soul had the best of intentions.

And again, that’s how I discovered your band all those years ago. It was on M2, I believe, the sister-station that kept playing videos while MTV proper was moving more into reality television. Going full circle here, there weren’t that many bands making that flavor music with the glam-rock sheen. Placebo maybe, Blur, early Queens of the Stone Age, Spacehog, maybe… 

Well shoegaze and Britpop had become very, very uncool. That whole thing had come and gone, and for our second record, we had just decided that we weren’t done with that style. We didn’t think that anyone else really was either, they were just going along with whatever the politics of music were and what you’re supposed to like. We were rewarded by doing that, because we did bring all of shoegazerdom to us, and we we got requests by all of our heroes from Spiritualized to Blur to The Charlatans and to Love and Rockets. Everybody that we thought was great thought we were also great and wanted us to go on tour with them. We got to make such great lifelong friends of some of our favorite musical artists of all time. It also served to prove to ourselves that we were we were right, and we weren’t going to have to listen to any corporate record label people telling us what to do or thinking that they know better than we do and what we should be and all that stupid shit that so many people succumbed to. I directed the videos from day one and produced the records. Indie record labels had so much weight at the time that major labels also could easily be scared into just shutting up and let you do your thing.

You didn’t get a lot of resistance at the time?

Nope, we went in and we fucked off a lot of money and we just did too many drugs and we just experimented too far and we failed in our first attempt to make a record on a major label budget. We have never had that kind of money before that. We made records in my bedroom. To rent two hours in a real studio and go in and record a horn section or something was wild. We always mixed in a real studio but we would always record in a place that we had access to. Once we were on a major label, we just started renting out an empty office space, or a gym fitness center that was abandoned on Vaseline Alley, as it was called back then. We’d just go in and build our studio and sometimes we had to bring in heaters. You could just work forever. But yeah, we failed. We did the classic, move of recording a bunch of pretty weird cool stuff but not a record.

That was good in a way, we agreed to take seven months off, do some touring, and try to hone the new songs and then go back and do it all again, but not with a new engineer. We worked then with the first record’s engineer, who was a very put together and amazing engineer called Tony Lash, who worked with Heat Miser and Elliot Smith. He was a happening guy in the Portland scene, a real stiff, get it done kind of guy. So we went back in and made The Dandy Warhols Come Down. Then we mixed with Tchad Blake, who had done Cibo Matto and Soul Coughing. He had a pretty horrible emotional tragedy happened in his life that kind of made him a pariah in Hollywood. He was telling me about sitting alone at dinner when this chick sat down next to him who had been a backup singer on some big records and asked him to produce and mix her first solo record. That was Sheryl Crow, and that’s how we were really able to get him as our producer. If he had only done Cibo Matto or Soul Coughing we would have been told that we had to get a big pro radio guy, not an artist masquerading as a pro. We’ve worked with him a few times and he’s really had a great career since. He’s did that Arctic Monkeys breakthrough and worked with The Black Keys.

So, you’ve done such a large body of work at this point, does it feel bizarre looking back on these old moments? Do you still feel a connection to that material?

I dunno, they just sound great. Most of what I listen to is my band. I also listen to a lot of the Renaissance and early Baroque music. Historically that’s just been my thing. I really like things like Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and Guillaume de Machaut, those guys…

Oh wow, Machaut has always been a favorite. Never thought I’d talk about his work in an interview… 

Yeah! That said, the problem with this era of music is that somebody, it might have a pope, had been confused about where the resolutions were and where the root note resolved back to. This music was meant to surprise and delight and to change the shape of the music to where it wasn’t predictable when it comes back to land. That must have required a fair amount of musical sophistication to pull off because somebody made an edict that covered all of Europe that I know of from that time saying that music has to end in such a way *hums* before you resolve to the root and that makes me NUTS to hear thirty of those resolutions in a four minute piece of music. It’s embarrassing and stupid but some clever people learned how to slide around that. Sometimes the problem is the way forward, so there is great music from that era and it’s not all goofball.

So I listen to a lot of that, as well as a lot of Chet Baker, early Thelonius Monk, Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich. But then I really listen to my band. My band is my full-on sonic experience. Just get fuckin’ stoned, put on the Dre Beats studio headphones and listen to Thirteen Tales or Come Down. I really love our record Earth to the Dandy Warhols. 

Funny you should mention, I was just listening to that album the other day, and it really hit me hard. I also just recently got into The Black Album, which I’m sad I hadn’t heard before, but here we are… 

The Black Album is what was valuable from that first attempt at making a record. We just took it and mastered it and took anything else that we never released and that’s all put on there. I set next to (and fell in love with) Traci Lords at a dinner party one night and so there’s a song about her that I did as a one-off by myself in a friend’s studio. There’s all sorts of weird cobbled-together stuff from that era…

So it truly does sound like you have a great connection with your catalog and still have space for it all in your heart… 

Absolutely. I barely recognize myself or my life in it. It’s very Blade Runner in that way in that these might be real feelings or memories, you know? They aren’t implants, but having those records and all those photos is a real trip, you know? I’m looking at myself and my band in say, Greece in 1998 or some shit like that and it’s really wild.

So when you sing these songs still, is there an emotional pull within you? Some artists only play certain songs rarely because of the weight of it all, you know? They can’t just pull that emotion out of a hat or fake it for a performance. Do you have any moments like that?  

I don’t really scream and haul in pain, you know? I’ve never been that guy. So for me, I can do it. Pretty much any song, the emotional torture is about the restraint. The emotional restraint is inherent in what I do. I’ve always found myself to be an errant monk in life. I’m very homebody and I love to get drunk because I can be an extrovert but yeah, I don’t want to express that even on a screaming baby tantrum. I would rather have emotional discussion about why I’m not going to do that. That’s more my songwriting style. So we can pretty much play anything historically, even things dating back things I wrote for the first gig in January of 94…

…as long as you can remember those parts that y’all did in the studio *chuckles*

Ohhhh, they’re super, super simple. They were really one or two or three chords back then. And that was the rule over and over at the time. You know, Zia never played an instrument. I was really into that, having gone through music college. I knew what it meant to play with somebody who has bad musical habits, bending guitar notes that they shouldn’t bend.

…whammy bars on everything…

Yeah, and you remember what bass guitar was like then? By ’93, it was a solo instrument with no low end in it, just twanging and clacking away up the neck…

Oof, yeah I play bass too, and I can’t with that. If there’s a bass melody, it has to be mindful and rhythmic like The Cure or Joy Division, or just dig in a deep on one or two notes, nice and dirty. 

Absolutely. You know, Pete’s regretting his decision to be a guitar player. He really just wants to play bass all the time. It’s like this contentious thing where it’s like having a monster outside your cage trying to get in. That’s how Zia feels over there with her bass, bass synth and all that stuff. She just sees Pete looking at her like a hungry lion… Pete really prefers playing bass to playing guitar now, but he’s an amazing guitar player. I guess he’s always been more of a pedals and sound noise player. You know, so once he started learning how to do tricky riffs and stuff, I think that’s when he got a little tired of guitar.

The Dandy Warhols’ acoustic set at Gonzo’s NYC. Photo by Lauren Krohn.

Well all of my favorite music is bass driven, you know. You already mentioned Love and Rockets… 

Oh man, how about that David J as a bass player?

YES! I just did a huge deep dive on Bauhaus and re-fell in love with them after all these years and I realized just how many of those bass lines are in my blood. I don’t play fretless, but wow. So impressive. 

I was talking to Dave Allen from Gang of Four about that. You know, what happened was everybody hated guitar by the end of that whole Foreigner and Journey era. Guitar players couldn’t play a whole bar chord. Jesus Christ, you’d get booed off the stage. You certainly couldn’t play a lead. So you get all this really super hyper-inventive angular guitar. Country guitar came back too, like Devo used the shit out of country in that way. Even The Cars did. Elliot Easton was playing country twang guitar. But you get that kind of guitar tone and that’s what I was going for on “Shakin'” on Thirteen Tales. That left it wide open for the bass to be the featured instrument. The bass became a really big deal. Putting chorus on it, turning some high end up. That is the air mark of post-punk, that the bass is now the main instrument. Everything else is dressing over that.

All that atmosphere and tension… Like Wire or Daniel Ash, who never played solos or wanked all over the tracks. Sheer blasts of noise, guitar scrapes, and those kind of things. You got so much more room to make interesting choices when you forego the traditional arrangement. 

It’s really interesting because at what point does noise become more emotionally and psychologically powerful? And then, at what point if you keep going with abstraction does it become less engaging emotionally, psychologically, sexually, whatever. Then it becomes some goofball, you know, the kind of the kind of dudes that tuck their shirt in and have the belt with the other khakis and go see jazz. They go, “OH!” after every fucking note.

Oh, I see those guys at noise shows, too! It’s baffling, but I guess that circles back to the emotional response and how everyone reacts differently…

Yeah, they want to love it a little too much.

Sue me, I like a melody!

Oh, you know exactly what they’re doing. They’re living their special moment with their gifts, like they’re the only one who gets it… They have the special vision. Mommy told them they were special and they found this moment where they can be around other people to show just how much they get it. They randomly attach some kind of abstract thing to it. My music college was a jazz college. I mean, complete with bullet holes in the chalkboard and windows and heroin addicts as teachers that played that were fucking jazz legends. I felt really, really cool, but I did see a lot of just a lot of phoniness around the thing.

I think as long as you’re sincere about whatever you’re doing and it comes through, that’s what resonates with me…

I guess that’s just you know, my own frustration with something if I’m sitting there watching this dude with his polo shirt tucked into his khakis oohing and ahhing to everything. Just…what is that? I have to see a shrink about this clearly and find out what what it that bugs me about that more than maybe anything else in the world.

Well, I mean I’m here for you if you ever need to talk about that further…

I’m clearly trying to get some answers from you! I’m looking to have some redemption from my own smallness here.

I dunno, I feel like the best I can do is offer solidarity here.. 

**At this point in the interview, Courtney and I continue down this path, exploding in laughter as we rip apart scenesters, talk about Godflesh, Deftones, Andrew WK, yacht rock, and how Bad Religion writes the same song over and over again and it’s kind of the best damn song, ever. We dream of the great Dandy Warhols/Christopher Cross hybrid record that may or may not be in the works. Much to my eight-year-old son’s delight, we touch on the expansive world of Minecraft and end with Courtney gearing up to race RC cars for the afternoon.**

Check out the full artwork and tracklisting for ROCKMAKER and be sure to catch The Dandy Warhols on tour right now.

The Dandy Warhols – ROCKMAKER
1. Doomsday Bells
2. Danzig With Myself
3. Teutonic Wine
4. Summer Of Hate
5. I’d Like To Help You With Your Problem
6. The Cross
7. Root Of All Evil
8. Must’ve Always Been A Thing
9. Love Thyself
10. Real People
11. I Will Never Stop Loving You

The Dandy Warhols – Spring 2024 tour dates
March 4 – Washington, DC @ 9:30
March 5 – Boston, MA @ Royale
March 6 – Philadelphia, PA @ Ardmore
March 7 – Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom
March 9 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
March 11 – Montreal, Qbc @ Le Studio TD
March 12 – Toronto, Ontario @ Danforth Music Hall
March 14 – Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall

March 15 – Indianapolis, IN @ Vogue
March 16 – St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall
March 18 – Denver, CO @ Gothic Theatre
March 19 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda

Header image by Eleonora Collin

Frank Deserto

Bassist of The Harrow, curator/writer at Cherry Red Records, and blogger at Systems of Romance.

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