The Dandy Warhols' Peter Holmstrom on major to indie: "the most challenging aspect was to learn how to work with a much smaller budget"
The Dandy Warhols (due at the Gothic Theatre and Twist & Shout on Tuesday, June 12) came out of the underground rock world of the 1990s to enduring popularity and fame. Over the course of the band's career, the Dandys have consistently pushed their sonic boundaries and songwriting. They are one of the handful of pop bands that have shown measurable artistic growth. In taking chances, the group has undoubtedly lost some of its audience, but it has gained just as many by not remaining stagnant.
The band's latest record, This Machine, finds it paring back some of the excesses of its previous album, and, as a result, is a bit of a darker affair. Critics have been generally unkind in their assessment of the album, but This Machine contains some of the band's most interesting material, with songwriting that crosses liberally into post-punk territory more decidedly than in the past. We spoke with the band's congenial, humble and refreshingly frank guitarist, Peter Holmström, about his solo side project, My Bloody Valentine, and the adjustment to life beyond the realm of major labels.
Westword: There's a great video on the Dandy Warhols website where you talk about the effects you use for Pete International Airport. Some guitarists would hide what it is they use. Why did you want to share what it is that you use?
Peter Holmström: I've never been very particular about keeping secrets. I've had a number of my friends from different bands over to my studio to play through my equipment, and they sound like themselves, even using the exact same settings that I do. So there's no way that, even if I showed anybody exactly what I did, that they would do the same thing. To me, it's always fascinating with what people do, and I personally have no desire to copy somebody else, but I like exploring what they do and getting what I can get out of it, so I'm just sharing. I think it's fun.
You mention in that video how you heard My Bloody Valentine and how it kind of changed your perspective on music. What album did you hear, and is there a song or few in their repertoire that you still find inspirational in creating sounds on guitar today?
I always kind of go back to Loveless. It's the first record I heard when I was a kid when I didn't understand music. It's using purely sounds and using sounds that aren't instruments to create music as well. It's funny because I'd been seeing My Bloody Valentine at the record stores, because, years earlier, I was into a band called My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. It was always right next to each other.
I was kind of intrigued by the name, but I never really picked them up until a friend played it for me a couple of years later. As far as songs on that record goes, the first one, "Only Shallow" -- that one was huge and an awesome-sounding song. The way the record flows together from song to song doesn't seem to end. It's a complete trip in itself, which was kind of a new thing for me, too.
It looks like you use a lot of Boss pedals and a couple of Electro Harmonix effects and a DOD pedal in your chain. What do you like about the ProCo Rat as opposed to another type of distortion?
You know, it's just the first one I ever got. I got it because I'd read an article in a guitar magazine early on as a kid. But Steve Stevens used one in Billy Idol's band, and I liked what he did and that stuck. Then, years later, when I bought my first distortion pedal, that's what I bought. I think it's a very good-sounding pedal, and it's incredibly useful. It's just sort of what I've built my sound around. I think if I had bought a different pedal first, that would have been the pedal I'd been talking about.
Some of the stuff you do for Pete International Airport is reminiscent of Yellow Swans. Did you ever get to see them and maybe play a show or collaborate with that band before it broke up?
I don't think I've ever heard of Yellow Swans. I'm going to have to look into that.
Oh, yeah, that band broke up four years ago, but they, too, were from Portland. Some of the noisy stuff they got into is reminiscent of the noisy stuff you get into with PIA.
I don't know what I was doing four years ago, but that was one of the points where I was checking out completely from what was going on. Every once in a while, I feel like I'm too old and I should just give up. And then I get back and I scramble to try to catch up and find out what the hell is going on again.
The Dandy Warhols
Eliot Lee Hazel
You said in an interview a couple of years ago that "The Dandys have never been about lead guitar." Why is that?
There's little solo bits here and there in the Dandys, but it's just never been about that. I mean, we started as a bunch of people who could barely play our instruments and kind of built our whole sound and our approach to music around that idea with just doing things to the best of our abilities. It's a similar kind of thing to the way that I think U2 works.
He [the Edge] is a really cool guitar player in a very unique way. He came up with his own thing, and it's not about technical ability. It's about sonic exploration. Every once in a while that gets to me, and I feel like I should be practicing my scales and all that. I still only know a blues scale and that's pretty much it. I've obviously not gotten very far with that. It just doesn't fit in too much, so whatever. Maybe one day.
How did you come to work with David J on "The Autumn Carnival"?
Years and years ago, before Come Down came out, we toured with Love and Rockets. Both Courtney and I were huge fans of Love and Rockets growing up and Bauhaus and all of that. So it was a really big deal for us. We've sort of remained friends definitely with David J and Kevin Haskins more than Daniel Ash. But we've maintained a relationship with them since then. There's been talk of writing over the years, and it finally happened, and I think it's one of the coolest songs on the record, too. Hopefully some more stuff comes out of that.
You've made the transition from major label backing to independent label. What do you think has been the best part of that change, and what has been the most challenging aspect of that?
I guess probably the most challenging aspect was to learn how to work with a much smaller budget. When we were on Capitol, we didn't really think about the money that went into promoting. Whatever was gonna happen, they're going to fly us around the world and put us up in hotels and bring people to talk to us. Now there's a lot more doing things via e-mail or phoners. It's fun. It was definitely fun flying around the world just to talk to people, but, whatever, we cut back.
And I think learning to scale back expectations, too, as to what is going to happen and working hard at that, as opposed to working against it. When we were on a major label, we were always battling with them about what they wanted us to do and what we wanted to do. I think that now we would probably just be a joy to work with on a major label because we would do anything they wanted because we know now what it takes having to have done it ourselves and how to go about promoting a record.
The Dandy Warhols, with Wymond Miles and 1776, 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, $26-$32, 303-798-0984, 16+; and Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Brent DeBoer of the Dandys will also be performing a set as an acoustic duo at Twist and Shout on Tuesday, June 12 at 5 p.m.
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