You can call the Dandy Warhols what you want: art rockers, American bohemians, slackers of the highest degree. Singer Courtney Taylor couldn’t care less.
He never wanted to be the poster boy for disenchanted grad students or be some sort of counterculture icon. And the Dandys have never treated what they do as high art or anything. It’s always been an excuse to get out and act like idiots, to play real rock & roll, to get drunk and have a good time. Somehow that got turned into some deep philosophical statement about the status of America’s disenfranchised youth and their lack of enthusiasm for, gawd, who knows what. Taylor still doesn’t understand it all.
“You know, people call us this intellectual band,” Taylor says. “I always thought we were the sex-and-drugs band. Guess not. I mean, sure, we’re a product of our post-college smarty-pants thing. But the difference between us and all those intellectual art bands is they tend to be really pompous and are afraid to act foolish. We’re over that. We don’t care.”
That should have been evident when the band scored a minor hit with “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” back in ’97. The track was a great slab of rock touched with bits of irony and imagery. Cool seeped through it all. But high art? Nah.
Same thing could be said about the Dandys’ latest disc, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia (Capitol). It’s Taylor’s laid-back stroll through a world of coffee shops, thrift stores and seedy bars, making fun of each one while at the same time reveling in the cheese of it all. Attitude and swagger saturate the Dandys’ music—think the American version of Pulp, with the distortion cranked up. Like a K-Tel collection of the ’70s greatest underground hits, the Dandys dumpster dive through the throwaways of pop culture and turn it all into a fuzzy, funny and gritty ode to America. Sometimes it’s a little scatterbrained. There’s everything from country (“Country Lover”) and gospel (“The Gospel”) to swirling psychedelia (“Godless”) and straight-up pop (“Bohemian Like You”). But like an ADD kid without his Ritalin, you expect the Dandy Warhols to lose focus.
“When we’re in the studio, there’s nothing more fun than going where you haven’t gone before,” Taylor says. “We’re all about impressing ourselves and each other. We’re basically children in an overfunded art class. This is like Finger Painting 606. It’s fully advanced and fully funded, but it’s still finger painting. We’re just little babies who feel OK by making little finger paintings to impress each other. That’s what it feels like, anyway. We just try to screw off as much as possible.”
It’s part of the reason Thirteen Tales took so long to produce. The band released The Dandy Warhols Come Down in early ’97. They toured off and on for the rest of the year. Then the group set about recording a new album. Thirteen Tales was originally supposed to come out in the spring of ’99. Taylor says the group just got to fiddling with things, and suddenly a year had past.
“I was a mechanic before I did this, and that’s like, done is done. The bolts are tight. That’s it. Away you go. Next,” Taylor says. “Now art—I have a studio at my house and every time I sit down and listen to a song I change something in the mix. It’s just how I feel at that moment, you know. You can just keep changing it and changing it. And then you run out of money and you go, ‘Oh, I guess I’m done now.’”
“But I always say this: Not getting what you want can more often than not be a blessing in disguise,” Taylor continues. “So, having it come out a year later than we thought is great, because people are really tired of what’s on the radio right now.”
Even if people are tired of what’s on the radio, the Dandys still have an uphill battle. Sure, sophisticated and challenging pop has an audience—look at the success of Radiohead’s recent release, Kid A, which debuted at the top of Billboard’s album chart. But the Dandy Warhols aren’t Radiohead, a critical darling and anti-hype sensation that can operate outside the current pop climate. Taylor and company fight through all the crap for attention, doing battle with guys like Rob Thomas and Bono. Tough fight.
Taylor isn’t too concerned, though. He’s not looking for the super-hit or to score a Santana song. He just wants to play some rock, and ride around on the Dandys’ shag-carpeted tour bus. (“When it’s sitting still it’s exactly what we want. But when it’s moving, forget about sleep.”) He gets to write songs for a living. That’s all he ever really wanted.
“It’s the best of everything,” Taylor says. “When it comes to me at four in the morning by myself, that’s straight-up therapy. The words that come out make me feel better about myself, or my friends feel better about themselves, or make me feel better about my friends—whatever the stitch that needs to be sewn.
“But when we’re not alone we try to have a great, screw-off time and enjoy it. Don’t freak out. And that’s ultimately what we’re preaching: Don’t freak out, enjoy yourself and have a good time.”
The Dandy Warhols play DV8, 115 S. West Temple (539-8400), Saturday Nov. 11, 8 p.m. Tickets available through the Heavy Metal Shop, Graywhale CD, Zumiez (Provo) and www.Soularium.com.