by Alexander Laurence
Formed in Portland, OR, during 1994, the Dandy Warhols consist
of members Courtney Taylor (vocals, guitar), Zia McCabe (keyboards),
Peter Holmstrom (guitar), and Brent DeBoer (drums). They signed
on with the independent label Tim/Kerr shortly after their
formation. 1995 saw the release of the quartet's debut release,
Dandy's Rule OK? While other rock bands may be a bit hesitant
to spell out their influences, the Dandy Warhols decided to
openly advertise it with songs like "Lou Weed" and
Capitol Records soon signed the group, but rejected a second
album (it didn't have any "hits"). Disappointed,
the group reunited and came up with Dandy Warhols Come Down,
issued in 1997. While the album didn't exactly establish
the group as a household name, it did prove to be an underground
favorite. I remember hanging out with writer, Blake Nelson,
in Astor Place, and I watched him get excited, as the Dandy
Warhols walked by us at The Starbucks. Of course, he is
from Portland too.
The third album, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, created
a larger international audience. Their music was included
in a few commercials. The group played many festivals. Their
fourth album is Welcome To The Monkey House, named after
the Kurt Vonnegut book. It displays a new electronic sound.
Recently they were on Conan O'Brien where they played "We
Used To Be Friends." In September 2003, the Dandy Warhols
are doing an American tour. After that, they are supporting
David Bowie in Europe for two months.
The Dandy Warhols are also featured in the film, Confessions
of a Teenage Drama Queen, which will come out in early 2004.
The new album was self-produced, with contributions with
Nick Rhodes and Tony Visconti. That led to collaborations
with Simon Le Bon, Nile Rodgers and Evan Dando. I spoke
to drummer Brent DeBoer, right before some LA shows, including
headlining one at the Sunset Junction.
AL: Right now you have just finished this small acoustic
tour of dance clubs. How did that go?
Brent: It was pretty fun so far. We have done three or
four. They want us to play acoustic. They always say, "We'll
have guitars there. If you want to play that is cool."
Then we get there and they introduce us to the lighting
director and the sound guy. There's a stage with two stools
and two guitars and microphones. Everyone is already facing
that direction. They were arranged to be record listening
parties but some of them ended up being big concerts. We
don't really play acoustic guitars.
AL: You haven't played here for a while. Some young people
have never seen you play before. So there's some excitement
about seeing the Dandy Warhols play again.
Brent: Yeah. It's kind of hit or miss. But the acoustic
unplugged thing is not really our focus. They aren't really
seeing our live show. It was fun last night. We had the
whole audience singing along. It was fun.
AL: You and Courtney were playing guitars and singing together.
What is the setlist like?
Brent: Beatles and Dandy Warhols and Kristin Hersh. Whatever.
We take requests from the audience. We try to get everyone
to sing, "It's a Hard Day's Night."
AL: Peter and Zia don't play you on these shows. It's it
odd that Peter is not playing some of these shows?
Brent: Not really. You don't really need three guitars
on most of those songs. Some of them we only play one guitar.
Both Courtney and I sing, and Pete doesn't sing. Also I
don't think that Pete is interested in learning all those
chords from all those old songs from the 1960s. Not as much
as Courtney and I are. Last night we tried to get Pete to
come up and play "Mohammed" with Courtney. He
wasn't into it. Pete and Zia are hanging out with us. We
have a couple beers. We play a few songs.
AL: You also played songs by Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown
Brent: Yeah. Anton Newcombe has always been nice to me.
He's nice to all of us. Once in a while you read or hear
him saying some nasty stuff. I think that it's an attention
getting device. I don't think he would do anything to mess
with us, and if he did, I think he would be in a lot of
AL: When you went to New York to do the Conan O'Brien show;
that is when the blackout hit. Did you sleep in the NBC
Brent: We didn't do any sleeping. We stayed late there.
We had our passes. All the lights were out. The air conditioning
was off. All of our rooms were ovens. It was scary when
the lights went out at the beginning. The streets were too
crowded. People were crying. Then it turned into a snow
day. People had barbeques going in the middle of the street.
That's how it was all over New York, so everyone was out
on the streets. We were walking around for a while with
these lamps on our foreheads. We bought them on the street.
We were having a good time with the whole city. The show
got cancelled on Thursday and Rockefeller Center was evacuated.
We felt lame sitting in our rooms, we ventured out. We remembered
that we had our passes for NBC. They had all their generators
on and their power was on first. They needed them for all
the newsrooms. We went back in there and it was lovely.
We went back in our dressing rooms and we had a half bottle
of tequila. We hung out there until 3:30 in the morning,
till security kicked us out. By this time we were running
around in the lobby. We went to this bar that was owned
Clonan O'Brien. It was a coincidence. We went down in the
basement with ten people. We played with these plastic guitars
and our headlamps all night. The batteries ran out eventually.
It was one of the best and fun nights I have ever had. We
were happy to be part of that.
AL: When did you record the new album?
Brent: We started recording in Portland on September 10th,
2001. We had just got the keys to our new building and got
everything squared away. We had plans to meet on the 11th
around noon. We were starting to plug in gear and start
decorating. We knew that we were going to be in there for
months. People were on the phone, saying, "Have you
checked out the TV? This is really messed up." We went
down and turned on the radio and started freaking out about
the situation in New York City. That was the first day.
We started knocking down walls. We set it up for a few weeks.
Then we started recording. We got our friend, Brian Coates,
in there. He has really good ears and is the best at music.
The five of us were in there for months, from track to track
to track, till it was almost done. We had the engineer from
the Smashing Pumpkins to help us sift through tracks and
be like a cleanup crew. We did some rough mixes and got
it to where we wanted it to sound. We were loving it. We
also worked with Nick Rhodes in London for a few weeks to
polish it up. Only a few songs truly felt finished and the
rest were not quite done. When you get Nick in the studio,
you get someone who has worked in the studio for over twenty
years. You get some fresh ears and a really smart guy. Nick
is a cool guy. It makes for a relaxed and easy time.
AL: What do you think that Nick Rhodes brings to the record?
Brent: The record was almost completely done. We didn't
know exactly what was going to happen when we headed over
to London. We just wanted to hear some ideas. What do you
think about this or that? Nick is very good for that. He's
really honest and it's impossible to hurt his feelings.
He was doing the new Duran Duran record across the hall.
So he was jumping back and forth.
AL: How did Tony Visconti become involved?
Brent: Courtney and I had already gone and recorded Neil
Young's "Ohio" for this movie. It was a one-day
thing. It was really good. It was everything you would hope
it would be when you got to meet him. We had this one song
with a T-Rex vibe. So we thought we would go all the way
and try to get Tony Visconti to work with us again. He was
into it. We were at Bowie's studio in New York and Tony
stopped by. We hung out. We were tracking the drums. Courtney
said to him, "The song needs those T-Rex Ooo Yeans."
That high falsettos. Tony said, "Well, I sang all those."
So we were all "Get in there, man." So that why
it sounds just like T-Rex. Because it is the guy who sang
on those records.
AL: You actually played a band in this new movie called
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen? What was that like?
Brent: It was great. We were two days in Toronto. It was
one big room. It was set up to look like a rockstar party.
It was a Disney movie. These young girls get invited after
a concert to go to the singer's party where he has the Dandy
Warhols play. They had all these rocker look-alikes there.
There are all these supermodels. Then you go, "Oh there's
Lenny Kravitz, and there's Avril Lavigne." These girls
sneak out of their house to go to the party and we play
at the party. We mimed a song about twenty times and they
said great. One day we were in the background and the second
day we were closer up. I am not sure how it's going to turn
out. It stars the girl from Freaky Friday.
AL: What is the Odditorium like?
Brent: We wanted our own studio. That's the dream: to have
your own studio. We found a location for it. We shot a video
in it. Usually they spend all this money for a set and tear
it down the next day. We have a pretty good production company
in Portland. We had our friends build the set. Shot the
video for "We Used To Be Friends" and the set
stayed. We have three decorated rooms. Now it's a photo
studio, a kitchen, and a dining room. There's a rehearsal
space and a recording space. We put a deck on the roof.
It's a great place to have all our scumbag friends over
and sit around and watch movies and drink beers.
AL: When did you have the idea to do this new record? You
didn't want to do the same guitar oriented record, right?
Brent: Yeah. When we came out with Thirteen Tales, when
we came out with that, we went around the world, and you
would not hear a guitar on a record. You wouldn't hear any
rock records on the radio. You might hear a Travis song,
maybe. Mostly it was the Backside Boys, or whatever. We
would go to parties and they would play Sticky Fingers and
songs by Neil Young. Now there are bands like White Stripes
and BRMC. We wanted to challenge ourselves to not just make
another lo-fi wall of guitars record that is "cool."
Now that is cool to do that. We wanted to see if we could
make something that we really dig, that you could stick
your head inside of, and had the sound of an Outkast record,
but our songs. It's just us: me and Zia, Pete, Courtney,
and Coates. They we are going for it. At one point we just
reduced it down to bass and drums and Courtney's voice.
It was a straight up dub record. We then started to texturize
that sound with guitars and blippy keyboard sounds. It was
really a lot of fun.
AL: Even though you draw on New Wave music more, "Hit
Rock Bottom" goes back further to Glam Rock sounds.
Brent: Yeah. Each song is its own little puzzle that you
have to work out. That song wanted to be that. It needed
that trip going on. But "Burned" had no choice.
It had to be what it is. The song dictates itself and how
AL: How do you do songwriting in the band? Courtney worked
with Evan Dando on one song.
Brent: Courtney was in New York. He had some lyrics he
wanted to work on. Someone told him to call up Evan Dando.
So they got some beers and sat around. They hashed it out.
Evan Dando came up with a few lines in the song. He's a
great lyricist. That is not how Courtney works usually.
Generally it's more like, poof, suddenly there's a song
in front of him. He doesn't really finish them. He's not
a craftsman like Paul Simon, with a pen behind his ear and
scratching his head. The songs just show up. Sometimes when
you are at the end of a song you haven't finished all the
words. You can't think of any words that fit in.
AL: How are you going to bring these songs to the stage?
Brent: We have already played thirty shows in Western Europe.
We played a handful of shows in Australia. It's been amazing.
It's been incredible. The songs play themselves. Most of
the songs are three or four chords. We are just singing
and playing them. Only a few sound exactly like the record
like "Burned." We have been playing together for
a long time. If we don't get it together for the first hour,
we usually get it together for the last half.
AL: Are you looking forward to the tour with David Bowie?
Brent: Yeah. It's going to be in October and November.
It will be like a vacation. We are going on early. We are
going to be playing for only an hour. We have to adapt to
that. An hour into our set is when the gig starts for us.
We are either going to have to play one song or the greatest
hits of The Dandy Warhols. Most of the shows are every other
day, so that is going to be like a real vacation for us.
We are used to playing five or six nights a week.
AL: What is a regular set like?
Brent: We don't exactly know. We usually play the same
few songs. Before that we usually jam for a while and get
it sounding lovely. The room always changes when people
show up. You have to screw around for a while. I love how
it is at the beginning of a show. After the first few songs,
anything can happen. We try to play every song we know.
That's about three hours. We try to make it one thing, a
lovely trip of fuzz, drone and hypnosis.
AL: You will play a lot of the new album?
Brent: Maybe five or six songs. We haven't played "Hit
Rock Bottom" or the first song. We will play a song
for a year and then it sounds contrived or silly. It gets
dumb. We will quit playing it till it resurfaces. Somebody
in the audience yells for a song. We don't know exactly
what we are going to play. We get backstage at the end of
the of show. We realize that we forgot to play a song. We
don't have a setlist. We just have a list of all of our
songs. We just jump around.
AL: If people want to hear a certain song they should get
up close to the front and yell it out?
Brent: Hell yeah!
AL: Do you have any hobbies?
Brent: I like shifter cart racing. It's a high performance
cart racing. I like skiing.
AL: Have you read any books lately?
Brent: Yeah. Reefer Madness. That is a great book. I am
only halfway through it but what a trip, man? Makes me want
to move to Toronto. The political system is so backwards
in America. It's so weird and repressed. The prohibition
of drugs is a new experiment. It will take about thirty
years for people to look back on this experiment as a waste
of time and money and lives. It's over nothing: it's just
a plant. It's no more damaging than legal drugs or what
you can get in a bar. More advanced societies in the world
have done away with bothering people about weed.
AL: Have you seen any movies?
Brent: I just saw Seabiscuit. It could have been forty
minutes longer. It would have been easier and dreamier.
It seemed rushed. I liked it. It was cinematic. The best
movie ever is Hannah and Her Sisters. Courtney and I watched
it the other day. Everybody, you and me, is every one of
those characters in that movie. You are just watching yourself.
It is embarrassing but it's just so fun to watch.
AL: What is hardest thing about being in the band?
Brent: Just getting sleep. You just end up not sleeping
very much on tour. It's so fun meeting people. I just want
to stay up all the time.
AL: Do you have any advice for people who want to start
Brent: Musically I could talk forever. I would say, don't
invite people into your world, your band, and your life,
that you have a notion of not trusting them. Don't let them
be your bass player or your manager. Do everything yourself.
You can always trust yourself. If you can really trust someone,
that's good. Invite them into your gang. If they mess with
you, let them go. They are going to create a lot of heartache
later. Don't just dream big dreams, plan big plans. Have
a plan and stick with it.
AL: Are there any other bands that you like?
Brent: I like Dr. Dre and Johnny Cash. My favorite band
in the whole world is Brian Jonestown Massacre. I was listening
to The Byrds the other day.