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Interview: Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor

Images courtesy of The Dandy Warhols

The shelf life of rock bands is incredibly short, so a certain amount of respect has to be inherently bestowed up on The Dandy Warhols, who have found a way to navigate through the treacherous waters of the music industry. Led by Courtney Taylor-Taylor, the Portland, Oregon natives have been rocking for nearly two decades. With the release of their ninth album, This Machine, they look continue to shape-shift, touching upon the classics of rock and putting their own twist in a way that only The Dandy Warhols can.

We spoke to frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, who gave us a candid look into the history of the band, and broke down the ever-changing industry of music. (You can purchase This Machine at The Dandy Warhols website through a ton of attractive bundle packages.)

Playmaker Magazine: The sound and title seem to be a departure from the traditional sound of The Dandy Warhols. What was the driving force behind those choices.

Courtney Taylor-Taylor: We tend to go back and forth between densely layered tracks, like thirteen tracks of guitar on our last record, and minimalist sound. I’ll say, “okay, Pete, you take the left speaker and I’ll get the right speaker.” That’s kind of how this album went. Plus, I’m pretty tired of synthesizers. There’s only a few bands doing that that haven’t become stuck on the basic eighties thing. We’re finally pulling out of that after ten years of the eighties.

I’d say that we wanted to shift away from what we did on the last album, which is human nature.

PM: After eight albums, what’s a lesson you’d impart onto a band looking to have longevity in the music industry?

CTT: Don’t put a band together with musicians who are good enough to imitate anyone well.

PM: That seems to be the trend. There’s always twenty bands that latch onto one popular band’s sound.

CTT: Well, we couldn’t play our instruments well when we first started. We developed sophisticated skills but that came through noodling as a band by ourselves. We were very good at being The Dandy Warhols, as opposed to imitating anyone else. It’s a great relief and I never thought it’d ever be a problem. You never think about getting better at instruments as a problem, but if you can nail the seventies pastiche by doing great drum fills, vocal stylings, and play horn embellishments perfectly, well, then you’re a seventies pastiche. The eighties are what we’re just coming out of.

The main thing that started us was a desire for music that we like. We started in 1994 and had our first practices in 1993. So there was Luna, Mazzy Star, and Opal. Pete and I were sitting in a bar and I said, “why aren’t there bands that sound like T Rex and Luna? Why is there rap rock? It’s embarrassing. And there’s no bar to listen to good music to.” So we started and sounded vaguely like Luna and Velvet Underground. We got called a Velvet Underground rip-off on our first album. So we were like the clean-up crew of rock. If nobody was doing what we wanted to hear, we better do it ourselves. That continued on. The Shoegazer thing disappeared and we were disappointed in that. so we decided on our second album to make a shoegazer album. Nobody was doing it and it was replaced by boy and girl bands. So how bad is that for us? Now we had to compete with rap rock, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam imitations, and now we’ve got boy bands. So we thought we were making a Shoegazer album but it was very clear upon hearing it that we weren’t capable of creating that sound. It sounded more like Neil Young with Love and Rockets vocals. Once again, we had to have our own sound because we weren’t talented enough to do what we had wanted. That’s why I named songs after those people, like Lou Reed. It was amusing but the song would sound like AC/DC turned down on a 33 record.

PM: The nineties definitely was a clusterfuck of grunge, pop, rap rock–

CTT: And pop rock.

PM: Right. MTV started as a music video platform. Now there’s none of that there. Is that a positive or negative for bands, seeing as there’s no pressure to have the right look to land on MTV.

CTT: Well, unfortunately nothing really gets better for too long, but it doesn’t get worse for long either. Now bands have to be website designers and their own engineers. Years ago, if you were a cool band and knew a bit of what you were doing in the studio, you had a chance. That’s what I did. I had a four track recorder when I was 14 and knew what I wanted to hear. So, by the time The Dandy Warhols were a band, I had been recording for ten years. The sound was at least stylistically okay, if not simplistic. A beginner can play any part on that record. But now you have to do a lot more. We have plenty of great bands in Portland but they don’t Facebook or social media the shit out of their band. They like to practice, record, and play shows. They’re real old schol bands, rather than new school bands that are internet-zesty. That’s a bummer. It removes rockers from the equations unless they have an uber-nerd rocker in the band.

PM: Right. Now you’re measured by Facebook Likes and page views.

CTT: Yeah, it used to be that you could be an A&R guy and pop into Tulsa, Oklahoma to watch every band there. One of them is going to be amazing. You could make a great band known in the world withing a year and a half. Now, dinosaur labels only do it for hip-hop artists. That made some bands angry back then because some bands that blew just got lucky and got big. Then they’d be gone in eight months. So, DIY bands, whatever, there’s no perfect answer to music. There’s always douchebaggery, disappointment, and a few victories by the good guys.

PM: Do The Dandy Warhols plan on coming to Austin?

CTT: Yeah, we should be there in June. We never miss Austin. Austin is awesome. We love it and everyone else does.

About Adam Sweeney

Adam Sweeney is the co-publisher, and Editor-in-chief at Playmaker Magazine. He currently lives in Austin.