The Dandy Warhols have been called “The best British band from America.” In my professional musical opinion, I simply call them the best overall rock n roll band to come out of the 1990’s who continue to make amazing music.
Touring in support of their new record This Machine, lead singer and primary songwriter Courtney Taylor-Taylor took time to sit down with me before his sold out show at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore to talk about his ambitious new album, as well as a fascinating career of making incredible music.
What’s your favorite touring moment, past or present?
Meeting Stevie Nicks and hanging out with her when we were out with Tom Petty. We played the Greek; it was just an amazing show and an amazing time. It was right after Earth to the Dandy Warhols came out. She’s probably the single coolest human I ever met in my life.
Really? Is she a fan of the band? Does she know your music?
I don’t think so. I think she just heard us play and was like, “Wow! Your harmonies are really good, you guys are awesome.” We all had beards at the time and dressed in these tight pinstripe suits without the jackets. So, you’ve got the vest, pinstripe trousers, high heel boots, and blousy shirts with an ascot. She was like, “Man, I was seriously tripping earlier when the 4 of us were downstairs talking. I kept having to go, wait this is not my band. It is not 1975. This is not –” And I just kept thinking to myself, I wonder if she’s thinking that.
Ever had a Spinal Tap moment on tour?
Are you kidding? Everything about touring is so continuously Spinal Tap. I’m trying to think of a moment that isn’t Spinal Tap right now.
The song “SETI vs. Wow! Signal” from the new album is a standout track. It reminds me of the old school Dandy’s. Can I say old school?
What’s the story behind that song?
I just think that it’s amazing that thing exists and no one ever talks about it.
There’s no explanation.
Yeah. It’s proof of extraterrestrial, intelligent life. We have never had more proof than that signal. It’s an organized thing that we can perceive as sound, but what else is attached to it? What other molecules are there which could be receivable by other senses? The five limited senses that we do have, plus the machinery that we have to interpret, we just don’t know. That signal’s been traveling through space for a fucking long time and it did not come from Earth.
I have to ask about the track “Alternative Power to the People.” What’s going on with that? Great groove to it, but are those lyrics and is that you?
No. That’s –
Yeah. I just get so fucking whipped up and angry about politics. All we ever get is whatever kind of douche-baggery is going on. I’m not going to write lyrics about it, that’s the last thing I’m going to do. That song just happened. I named it that because it just seemed like being gagged. We just filmed the video for it on the green screen and in the video I just have a piece of tape over my mouth holding the microphone.
The new record is a bit more stripped down than the usual Dandy Warhols material. Do you prefer the stripped down stuff or the bigger, more polished material from the earlier records?
Right now, I like it stripped down. We do whatever we want to hear happening in the world. We wanted harder rock, then the dance club hipster thing that’s been going on for so long, then the 80’s synthie stuff. And now there are some amazing songs out there. The um, what’s their names? The Foster the People hit.
Oh, “Pumped Up Kicks?”
Yes. It’s such an amazing song. I don’t think anybody should bother doing that kind of thing anymore. Now there’s just too much of it going around since it was such a huge hit. It was just so good that I think it should be the last word. I’m tired of that sound now. I’m going to laugh and mock anyone else who tries it. I think that’s a wrap. Can we produce some fucking hard rock bands now? Let’s have some rock.
I am a huge fan of your early stuff. The first time I heard “Boys Better” was on a mix tape I got while working in a record store. The first thing that popped in my head while listening to it was that these guys have to fucking love ELO. Is that the case?
Absolutely, but not all ELO.
You picked the best parts ELO, put them together with some My Bloody Valentine and made a huge wall of sound Phil Spector style.
Thank you. It was great, and that was necessary at the time. We purposely did something that was 4 years out of fashion. Shoe-gazer was gone. It was over. It died 4 years before that record. I was like, really, that’s it? As if shoe-gazer is never going to get harder rock than that? I want all that: Swervedriver, My Bloody Valentine, Catherine Wheel. I didn’t think Catherine Wheel was the end of it, I thought that was the beginning of the new hard rock version.
So we continue, then rap rock was kind of big. It got bigger and even bigger. Then Boy Band-Girl Band happened, followed by the fun broke kids with pop punk. That’s when we decided to make the Dylan Desire-ish, Dead-ish 13 Tales. Then Jack White came out. Once Jack White starts playing guitar, nobody else needs to do that anymore. I mean, what are you going to do, make a better record than Jack White on guitar? No. So, then we did our kind of Synthe – 80’s thing. Then everyone started doing 80’s.
Which one did you like better? Which version of Welcome to the Monkey House? The one Capital Records released or the or the one you released yourself?.
At the time, the Russell El Levado one. You know the New York one. I like that one a lot better. But I’m glad we made the slick Nick Rhodes version, really glad. It’s an amazing record. It’s something we couldn’t have done by ourselves.
Did he bring the pop sense? Did he pull something out of you that wasn’t there before?
I don’t really know. It was a long process so it’s hard to say how or what. He laid down a lot parts individual parts and directed the mixes to be slicker.
Lots of double claps. It’s an under appreciated cherry on the top of the songwriting sundae; the double clap.
He didn’t put them there. That was me – I’m the double claps guy.
Hey. How about the Strokes? Den, den, den, [clapping]. Den, den, den [clapping].
I love the double clapping. It’s timeless.
The pattern in the Stroke’s song “12:51” is far more legendary than they will ever get credit for. It is incredible. I’m telling you the fucking Strokes really crushed it on that whole record. It is one of the most miraculous feats of song writing I’ve ever heard in my life.
The fucking clap pattern on the song is…I melt. That song is amazing.
Is there a Courtney Taylor-Taylor solo record in the works?
I was thinking about making a solo record and almost did, and then this record came together. So, I made it instead. If I make a solo record, I don’t know who I’d work with.
Do you still get approached by major labels? And is there any instance that you would ever go back to one?
No, we don’t at all. We shopped this record and sent it to a lot of people who helped us out with connections. We’d make a phone call and get the rough mixes to these people but no one was interested. No big labels were interested at all.
These days, do you agree that you just need a good PR company and great manager and you’re set?
I’ll let you know in a year.
The song “Mohammed” is one the crown jewels of your entire catalogue in my opinion. How did that song come about?
Oh, probably just about getting dumped by somebody I was dating. Being real sad and depressed. Then self loathing and self analyzing about it while sitting in the basement. These little chord changes and guitar things have been my therapy all of my life. The Dandy Warhols is my first time playing guitar and singing. I literally learned how to play guitar as a salve or balm for my my self torture. They all come from there, it’s self loathing.
How are things with you and Brian Jonestowne Massacre?
Anton and I took our ladies out for dinner last week when they were in Portland. We hung out and saw the guys and everything.
So you still keep in touch? Everything good?
Yeah, it’s great. I wish we could get a tour together and be pals again. But they’re busy, we’re busy. We don’t get to see each other very much. And it, it’s just financially not feasible for us to tour together. And also our crowd is, you know, our crowd is just a kinder, gentler type of person.
They might frighten your crowd?
It would scare the shit out of them. They might hurt them. (Laughs) One of their crowd might get on their hands and knees behind one of our crowd and then another one of their crowd might push our – you know. We’re both Cure, kind of 80’s Goth kids. You move on and just keep going forward. I’m just glad that I get to see that guy. Anton is just a fucking witty, funny hugely informed and awesomely, irresistibly, charming man. I’m all into Anton right now because we just got to hang out for a couple of afternoons.
Taylor: So, yeah. I’m… I’m sort of missing him a lot right now.