In late 1995, Portland, Oregon's Dandy Warhols were generating big buzz for their debut disc on the independent Tim/Kerr imprint, but they didn't yet qualify as rock stars. During a chat with Westword, however, Courtney Taylor, the band's frontman, showed that he was well on his way to becoming one. He conducted the interview from a pay phone near New York City's Beauty Bar during a break from a photo shoot for Vogue, and when the line died twice in mid-exchange, he had his road manager call back on his behalf rather than soiling his fingers (or ponying up his own change). Along the way, he dismissed other groups in the piping-hot Pacific Northwest music scene as "Fugazi-Pavement wannabes -- little angst-ridden boys with guitars who'd be better off playing hoops in their back yard" and declared, "I'd rather that the only people who would have my music and like it would be people who I'd like to have over at my house."
Almost a decade to the day later, the chief Dandy is known by a semi-new name, Courtney Taylor-Taylor; he reportedly stretched out his moniker after a journalist mispronounced his given one. (How hard can it be to enunciate "Courtney Taylor"? And why would adding another "Taylor" help?) His career has expanded, too. Long after most of those Fugazi-Pavement wannabes returned to their day jobs, the Warhols are headlining a national tour to promote Odditorium or Warlords of Mars, their fourth release for Capitol Records, and Courtney's charisma is the main reason. He's clearly grown into the rock-star role, and he proves it by the way he asserts, against all evidence, that rock stardom holds no allure for him.
"I don't give a fuck about rock stars," he announces from the comfort of a Texas hotel room. "You mean like David Lee Roth or Gene Simmons? Idon'tcare." He's more receptive to David Bowie, but "Bowie isn't a rock star. I don't know that he's ever rocked hard in his life. He's more of an artist, and that's what we are. I didn't grow up playing guitar and shouting, 'I want to be a rock star!' We could just as easily have become painters." He adds, "For some reason, we come across as a rock band, but we certainly feel like something else."
Whatever they are, the Warhols -- currently Peter Holmstrom, Zia McCabe, Brent DeBoer and Taylor-Taylor -- have produced an idiosyncratic catalogue that regularly challenges conventional wisdom (see story below). Take 2003's Welcome to the Monkey House, which was slagged upon its release because "we didn't make another guitar record; we made an '80s new-wave record," Taylor-Taylor says. "By the time we were ready to put out another record, though, everyone wanted us to make one just like Monkey House. Because by then, everybody else was making '80s new-wave records."
Instead, the group put out Odditorium, a shambling opus that's generating severely mixed notices. Taylor-Taylor credits this response to the fact that "we didn't do what everyone expected us to do. And it's like, don't you fucking understand? How many records do we have to put out before you idiots figure out that if everyone else is doing something, we're not going to do the same thing? We just won't." But he also points to backlash from DiG!, a documentary directed by Ondi Timoner that was among the most acclaimed entries at last year's Sundance Film Festival. The doc spans several years in the relationship between the Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe, who's portrayed as an unstable, combustible genius, and a Taylor-Taylor that the man himself sees as practically a fictional figure.
"The way it was edited, it made people who are shockingly honest, unaggressive, disinterested in fame, interested only in making art and being really inventive and passionate about the craft and soul of making music look like social climbers," he grumbles. "When I was watching it, I was like, 'Who the fuck is that?' Sometimes I kind of liked that guy, that singer for the Dandy Warhols. I liked him a couple of times, anyway. But in general, I was like, 'Why is he in the film?' And then I figured it out: 'Oh, because he does coke! And because he yells at people at a record label! That's the Dandy Warhols!' And Anton gets in fights -- and, oh, for two minutes in a two-and-a-half-hour film, you get to watch him actually creating music. But maybe he shouldn't complain. There's none of us creating music."
The first songs the Warhols put out after DiG! paid the price for the unlikable characterizations, Taylor-Taylor argues. "The bad reviews -- the ones by people who are not very artistically sensitive and generally work for the kind of magazines that have Britney Spears or Ashton Kutcher on the covers -- reviewed the way we came across in the movie instead of the music," he says. "They didn't even hear the music. All they did was hate us in the movie. These are just sad and stupid people."
He feels much the same about the publications where such critics work. "I don't give a shit about magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin," he goes on. "I don't have those magazines in my house, and I don't think I've ever purchased one in my life. What's in it for me? If I don't get them, am I not going to have supermodel girlfriends and a tan and drive a fancy car and wear Guess jeans? I mean, what do magazines like that tell you about the world? That you're inferior and you need to spend more money? Go into debt farther so you can have a bigger boner? What the fuck"
Of course, the more Taylor-Taylor complains about being misunderstood, the more he seems like a rock star -- and if his appearances in the 2004 Lindsay Lohan vehicle Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and an October episode of the UPN series Veronica Mars are any indication, he may achieve notoriety in other media as well. Until then, he appreciates the support of those Dandy Warhols fans whose ears are truly open to the act's music but deaf to the negativity emanating from the press corps. In a comment that closely echoes one he made ten years earlier, he says, "The people we meet now are just fucking fantastic, because we've gotten our audience down, pretty much, to the kind of people who we would want to hang out with."
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A handy guide to the Warhols' Dandiest discs.
Dandy's Rule OK? (Tim/Kerr Records, 1995). In contrast to the square-jawed sincerity of many indie albums from the era, the Warhols' opening salvo delivers druggy grooves (and druggier lyrics) with an artsy wink. Erratic, but the likes of "Lou Weed," a sly slab of Velvety goodness, make it seem far less dated than the usual post-grunge torment-fest.
The Dandy Warhols Come Down (Capitol Records, 1997). Less an advance over Dandy's Rule than a recapitulation of it. Granted, the self-aware cutesiness of titles such as "Cool Like Kim Deal" can be disconcerting, but the band finds its form on "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth," which proclaims, "Heroin is so passé."
Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia (Capitol Records, 2000). Tales is the best Dandy disc to date because it's the most solid. Taylor-Taylor and crew keep their tongues out of their cheeks for minutes at a time, and if the majority of compositions are pastiches rather than wholly original creations (e.g., "Bohemian Like You," a Stones-cum-Blur rip turned hit), they're still consistently entertaining.
Welcome to the Monkey House (Capitol Records, 2003). Yes, this disc's synth-pop nods predated last year's '80s revival by just long enough to prevent the band from benefiting from it. But whereas the Killers and their brethren love the style from the bottom of their shallow hearts, the Warhols goof on it in generally tedious fashion. Enough of this Monkey business.
Odditorium or Warlords of Mars (Capitol Records, 2005). Upon first listen, Odditorium sounds like a lazy exercise in self-indulgence, and perhaps it is. But those willing to give it another spin are apt to be swept up in its hazy, late-hours mood. This is probably as honest and unself-conscious as these guys will ever sound, for good or ill.
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