Acting like you're famous while you're still a relative unknown often can lead to actual fame.
That's a lesson many performers never learn, but Courtney Taylor already knows it by heart. The trippy, self-titled CD by his Portland-based band, the Dandy Warhols, has been heard by only a handful of people thus far, but Taylor's overwhelming confidence, coupled with an understanding of effective theatrics, has already earned more attention for the Warhols (Taylor, Zia McCabe, Eric Hedford and Peter Holmstrom) than most acts receive in their lifetimes. Can global celebrity be far behind?
Maybe, maybe not. But if Madame Success decides that Taylor is worthy, he'll be more than ready to push his tongue into her mouth. The Dandy Warhols, on Tim/Kerr Records, is an enjoyable disc, brimming with melodic hookfests ("The Dandy Warhols' TV Theme Song"), narcoticized jams ("It's a Fast-Driving Rave-Up With the Dandy Warhols Sixteen Minutes") and self-aware nods to obvious influences ("Lou Weed"). But Taylor's smart enough to know that good music isn't enough to ensure the Warhols' prosperity; you need attitude, too. That's why he makes you go through three layers of assistants before he agrees to chat with you on the phone--and even after making this concession to the hype machine, he'll likely fail to call at the scheduled time, just to let you know that he's too chic to be punctual. And when he finally deigns to put a receiver to his ear, he'll make certain to do so while in a colorful location. In this case, he's at a streetside New York City pay phone while preparing for a fashion shoot with a photographer from Vogue. He begins by discussing the semiotics of the act's name.
"It's more about the Velvet Underground and some of the people around them, like Edie Sedgwick, than it is about Andy Warhol," he says. "I had it boiled down to, like, two sentences that really summed it up, but now I can't remember it. I should write that shit down. But basically, if you look at Andy, he was the first person to document a certain phenomenon, which is really indulgent, kind of drop-out-of-society pseudo-intellectuals who are generally pretty enough and smart enough to be lazy and still have a good time and do a lot of drugs. You know what I mean?"
Suddenly, a random voice, accented by electronic blips, interrupts him. "What the fuck?" he blurts out. "This fucking pay phone is going to, like, click off on us."
This prospect excites Taylor; he begins rattling off descriptions like an auctioneer on ether. "We're obviously not a Velvet Underground tribute band or anything like that," he swears. "Every song on the record is different--they come from different places. Sometimes you feel funny and sometimes you feel unbe-leeev-ably depressed and sometimes you feel unimportant and sometimes you feel like God. And I think there is probably one song for each of those feelings on the record. I mean, if you write songs over, like, a year and a half--and if you're any kind of human being--you're going to explore as many facets of your emotional makeup as you can." He pauses before noting, "I think we've got, like, ten seconds before the phone goes out. I think that's what it said. If it...hello?"
Precisely on cue, the line dies. Five minutes later, Jason, Taylor's road manager, calls back, offers an apology and puts his boss back on the line. Taylor tries to sound angry, but he can't quite keep the pleasure out of his voice as he grouses, "I haven't even been able to call my girlfriend in Minneapolis because of the fucking phones here."
An instant later he continues with his dissertation. "`Dandy' is a little more important than `Warhols' in the name," he decides. "But anymore, I think we should just call the band `Music.' Because it's like, the more we keep going, nothing matters except the music. I don't fucking care how we look, I don't care how anybody thinks, I don't care about anything except night after night getting on stage and playing our songs. At times they can sound vacant, you know, but at other times, they're huge, they're massive. It's like we're controlling the elements, they're so super-powerful and emotional. And that's all that matters anymore. You have one bad gig and no one can have a good time the next day."
The sound of another stray caller momentarily derails Taylor's train of thought. "Fuck," he barks. "Not that again." He taps this feigned frustration while denigrating a recent profile of the band in Portland's Oregonian newspaper, which alleged that the musicians had each taken the Warhol surname.
"That's an amazingly stupid joke, and the writer was even stupider than the joke," Taylor crows. "We were probably so dry and deadpan and dead serious when we told him that--like, `This is a really important part of the band, that we all have that for a last name.' If I delivered you a line like that in that tone of voice, you'd either go, `This guy is a major cheesedick,' or, `He's just really funny.' Oh, well, whatever."
Beep. Another ten-second warning. "Fuck, I can't believe this," Taylor moans. "I'll get Jason again." Another five minutes pass before he rings back, this time from a different phone. Picking up nowhere near where he left off, he dismisses the majority of his Portland-area musical peers as "Fugazi-Pavement wannabes; little angst-ridden boys with guitars who'd be better off playing hoops in their backyard." Then he launches into the Warhols' own story--or at least the version that he chooses to share with the public.
"Pete was strung out on heroin on the New York art scene--he'd lived there for a few years--when I came out to visit him," Taylor claims. "And I was like, `All right, you're moving back to Portland right away.' So I go home, and a week later he meets me at the airport with a van full of his shit, ready to go. And we drove in 51 hours across America, from Greenwich Village to Portland. Once we got there, Pete and my girlfriend at the time talked me into putting a band together. I'd played drums in some bands, insignificant bands, but I got her to play synthesizer and Pete to play guitar. And I asked Eric to play drums for us, even though he'd never done it before; he'd tried to be a singer before, but all his bands sucked.
"Next thing you know, my girlfriend and I broke up--so I got Zia to play bass," Taylor continues. "Zia'd never played it before, but I just wanted someone who was cool, who I liked to hang out with and who I could tell what to do and they'd do it, you know? I write all the songs, so I needed people who'd hear my ideas and get all excited. Like, `Oh, my God, this is so good.'"
Perhaps because the new phone isn't making any strange noises, Taylor cuts short additional inquiry. "These Vogue people, you know," he explains with a tone of exquisite boredom. "I've really got to get moving. But is there anything philosophical I can say first?" He pauses for effect before admitting, "My mind's too scattered. I always think of these fucking great things I could say when I'm, like, stoned out of my brain and drunk as fuck at three o'clock in the morning and I'm hanging out with my friends."
But at the last minute, something suitably pretentious strikes him. "If it was possible, 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," he says. "Unfortunately, to get it out to everybody, you have to use MTV and commercial radio, and that sucks. But to me, art should definitely appeal to people who are of a like mindset."
With that, Taylor bids farewell and rejoins the Vogue photographer. It's a match made in heaven--because Taylor's a man who definitely knows how to pose.
The Dandy Warhols. 9:30 p.m. Thursday, December 14, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, $5, 294-9281.
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