A cool blend of contemporary & retro culture

Fine & Dandy: an interview with Dandy Warhols lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor

Throughout September and October, Cream celebrates 25 years in publishing, presenting a best-of selection of interviews, and kicking off with The Dandy Warhols, who’ll be touring Australia later in the month in support of the Hoodoo Gurus 40th Anniversary Tour. Plenty of anniversaries, then! To put things in perspective this interview was first published in Cream in 2003.

With reference to their namesake, The Dandy Warhols have certainly lasted beyond their proverbial 15 minutes of fame. From their earlier albums Come Down and Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia came a string of infectious hits including Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth (its video directed by hyper-photographer David LaChapelle), Every Day Should Be a Holiday and Bohemian Like You.

Latter-day Dandy records prove just as addictive: the catchy-as We Used To Be Friends, the dumbed-down rapping of Over It and the Pink Floyd-ish anthem Heavenly all having earnt regular rotation on hipsters’ phone shuffles.

“The first record I remember liking was The Dark Side Of The Moon,” Dandy guitarist Peter Loew once told Cream. “Pretty much because it had creepy sounds like rooms full of clocks and stuff. And psychedelia that’s so swirly, you don’t know what the hell it’s on about.”

Indeed, listeners often have trouble dissecting Dandy Warhols’ lyrics thanks to all those swirly sounds, making some people assume that the occasional spliff gets smoked during the making of a damn good Dandy record.

This month, the Dandys support Hoodoo Gurus on their 40th Anniversary Tour of Australia (dates and venues below).

Here, frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor tells Cream of his taste for illicit substances and the ‘loosening up’ of the music industry.

Interview by Antonino Tati

 

Thanks for the five-minute wait, Courtney. I was subjected to some lovely porno-like muzak while on hold.

Did you come?

 

No, I’m afraid I didn’t. So where are you now?

I’m at our studio in Portland, Oregon.

 

Is that the studio you call the Dandy Funhouse? It sounds like a bit of a party place.

It is. It’s a place full of heavy-duty creative trippers doing surreal photo montage-type web design and graphic-y remix-y things. At eleven in the morning I get up and I end up down here, and already they’re cookin’ and people are knee-deep in, like, five different projects. We’ve got theatres in here. We’ve got a library. We’ve got special effects. A photo studio. And a performance space. We even do our own videos here.

 

It sounds a lot like Andy Warhol’s Factory, albeit somewhat more productive.

Yeah, a lot more focused and productive. And a lot more cosy and sexy in the way that it’s decorated and designed. I’m just obsessed with lighting and with controlling my environment.

 

What star sign are you that might make you so controlling?

I’m actually a George, with a Ringo rising. I’ve got a sense of humour but with a Zen-like elemental control kinda complex.

 

That Warhol Factory fascination really shows through. It’s obvious in your band’s name. Were you fairly young when all that was first happening in the 1970s?

I was in college when I became aware of The Velvet Underground, The Factory, and all that stuff. I always thought they were kind of strung-out and cynical. Just this idea of a bunch of fabulous, crazy kooks living and working together in this one space and doing fucked-up art projects all the time. I mean, what a dream! That’s why we called our band that. We were living amid this scene of all-round artists and we happened to be writing some great songs so we put a band together. We’re just more in control of ourselves than they were back then. We don’t have as much of a drug addiction problem as the Warhol Factory scene seemed to have.

 

There’s certainly been a few drug connotations throughout the Dandys’ discography. What about the song ‘Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth’, released as the heroin chic phase of fashion was taking off? It may have had listeners thinking you guys were actually into H.

That heroin chic thing was just so fucking stupid. You know, MTV and VH1 having their Vogue magazine specials on [mocks smoky vixen promo voiceover:] ‘Heroin Chic: The Look That Kills’. That’s really making it look like what it is, which is basically just a fucking cop-out. Like, they’re sadder than other people are. Like, ‘Ooh, it’s so dark and scary’, but they were just fucking fuelling the fire. Somebody needed to go, ‘Dude, I didn’t think you’d be a junkie because heroin just isn’t fucking hip anymore’. Someone had to be arrogant and cool enough to say, ‘I don’t have a fucking drug problem, and I’m way fucking cooler than you are, junkie’ and so that’s what we did.

 

Why did fashion and music go through that dark, druggy stage?

It always does and it will happen again. You can tell, just look at the disposition of the music. Things always go back to guitars, and when you go back to guitars you go back to self-proclaimed prophets rather than entertainers, and when self-proclaimed prophets become all the rage, the world will chew a few of them up and they will find heroin sooner or later and it will kill them.

 

Er, okay. So who are some of these ‘self-proclaimed prophets’?

Most people who write songs and who have nothing to do with guitars, and who like to have a lot of gravity in what they say. They have something to say because they think what they feel nobody else can feel. Guitar singers traditionally feel a responsibility to be walking, talking prophets. You know: Jack White, Perry Farrell, Alice In Chains. The guitar is traditionally an instrument of the serious artist, not the entertainer. And those guitarists are mucking about in their own darkest shit that it hurts a lot, and when it hurts a lot, the heroin eases the pain.

 

“I’m actually a George, with a Ringo rising. I’ve got a sense of humour but with a Zen-like elemental control kinda complex.”

Courtney Taylor-Taylor on his ‘star sign’

 

And so what would the keyboard player be taking then?

Keyboardists should definitely stick to, like, Ecstasy. Drummers should probably stick to organic things like mushrooms and grass.

 

Speaking of grass, you guys have a song called ‘Over It’ which starts off with what sounds like the toking of a bong…

I love pot. I think it’s the best of all things you can take. It’s a great unlearning device. Not like hard drugs. Pot is such a nice sort of ambiguous, loosen-your-shoe-laces kind of thing. When you get stoned, you kind of go, ‘Woah! I can’t believe I haven’t been questioning these things before. I’ve been operating under autopilot’. You really notice that, and that’s why pot scares the shit out of a lot of people who can [otherwise] do acid or pills. Pot freaks them out because it’s an ‘unlearner’.

 

Well they say it was part cause for revolution in the 1960s. Is there a drug today that you think is kind of doing that?

Ecstasy might be helping people cross boundaries. When you’re trippin’ on E, you don’t care if somebody’s a Catholic or a Protestant. It kind of gets your head above that kind of thinking. Of course then people probably get to an age where they get a real job, they stop doing Ecstasy and they become some racist religious freak or whatever. It would be nice if they could come up with a drug that would just open up everybody’s mind and everybody would sort of get along and stop being so freaky to each other.

 

There’s quite a lot of psychedelic pop coming out right now. Is it a sign of artists wanting to slow the techno down?

Well, traditionally, every time there’s a big push to go forward, it’s followed by a push to go back. You had that Nirvana guitar rock thing come in after the ’80s. And then it was back to bad over-produced high-tech, slick music. And of course now there’s this pull to go back again. It’s back and forth, back and forth…

 

With stock market crashes in between.

Maybe. Gosh, I never thought of that.

 

Well at the end of the day, if the kids are raving and missing out on going to school. Or not going to work and are happy at home eating a lettuce leaf after a big night out on go-ey, they’re not going to go out and spend too much, are they?

Well I don’t know about that; I always like to go out and get McDonald’s on a hangover. Just to get yourself out of the house long enough to get some fast food that’ll metabolise all that unhealthy shit you’ve had.

 

I must say, Courtney, you’re very much a liberal talker. Whatever happened to the manager who’s supposed to be listening in on the conversation so that you don’t say anything out of line to the media?

Yeah, how do we get away with that? How are we so fucking under the radar and yet get away with saying so much?

 

Well a lot has loosened up in the music industry. Listen to how much swearing and political incorrectness gets through on record, so much so, the conservatives can’t possibly control it.

I guess there’s always a little anti-establishment commentary getting through.

 

Do you think with its occasional drug connotations, your music should sometimes come with a warning sticker?

No. You can have all the ideas you want on a record so long as you don’t say ‘pussy’ and you don’t say ‘fuck’. God, you can bring the government down, if you word it correctly.

 

“I always like to go out and get McDonald’s on a hangover. Just to get yourself out of the house long enough to get some fast food that’ll metabolise all that unhealthy shit you’ve had.”

 

 

Are The Dandy Warhols getting any bigger in America?

We sell more records in Europe and Australia. Whereas America’s like, ‘The Dandy Warhols? They’re weirdos, man!’ We’re just so fucking anti-fashion that I don’t think we’ll ever make a record that’s going to be hugely successful in America.

 

What are your top five classic records of all-time?

Love And Rockets’ Express. Dr Dre’s 2000. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon. The Pretenders’ first album. And the Beatles’ White Album. I probably would never get my house cleaned if it wasn’t for the Beatles’ White Album. It’s good because you open all the curtains, open all the windows, get baked out of your head, and start meticulously putting things back just where they belong.

 

Everything in its right place?

Everything in its right place.

 

Except when you get to ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’ and then you make the house a mess again.

Oh yeah, that’s a little racket, that one. That’s when you get in the kitchen and start makin’ a mess. When you’re cookin’ and it’s all excitin’. But then you just put the record on from the beginning again.

 

HOODOO GURUS’ 40TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR

FEATURING VERY SPECIAL GUESTS, THE DANDY WARHOLS:

 

Tuesday 13 September
Riverstage | Brisbane, QLD
Special guests The Dandy Warhols & The Buoys
​All Ages
ticketmaster.com.au | Ph: 13 61 00

Thursday 15 September
Hordern Pavilion | Sydney, NSW
​Special guests The Dandy Warhols & The Buoys
All Ages
ticketek.com.au | Ph: 13 38 49

Friday 16 September
Sidney Myer Music Bowl | Melbourne, VIC*
​Special guests The Dandy Warhols & Even
All Ages
ticketek.com.au | Ph: 13 38 49

Saturday 17 September
Hobart City Hall | Hobart^
Special guests The Dandy Warhols & Gnarhünd
18+
oztix.com.au | Ph: 1300 762 545


Tuesday 20 September
Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre | Adelaide, SA
​Special guests The Dandy Warhols & Even
All Ages
ticketek.com.au | Ph: 13 38 49


Friday 23 September
Belvoir Amphitheatre | Perth, WA**
​Special guests The Dandy Warhols & Rinehearts
All Ages
moshtix.com.au | Ph: 1300 438 849


 

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