The Dandy Warhols’ latest album, This Machine, has been called the band’s goth-iest by their friends and the grungiest by band front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor. Recently, Consequence of Sound spoke with Taylor-Taylor about the group’s eighth album, working with David J of Love and Rockets, and what it means to have songs on the album written entirely by someone other than himself.
Youve described your new album, This Machine, as stripped-down and extremely guitar-centric, but youve also described it as woody. What did you mean by that?
Guitars are made of wood, ya know. So are drums. Real drums. I dont really think about onomatopoeic descriptions, the whys or wherefores. Its woody, but its not soft. Its not particularly metallic-y, but there is something there. Yeah, its a woody, crunchy, dirty thing. Its beautiful.
On your past albums, youve never shied away from revealing your influences, especially with regard to The Velvet Underground and Ride. You never sit still. It seems like you prefer to bounce between sounds and ideas throughout the whole of the album, but I notice theres more of a commonality between all the songs on this new disc.
You felt like there was a commonality to all the songs on this record?
I thought so. When I was listening to it this morning and just walking around the house I dont know, I felt like
Oh my God Our records, we generally feel, are kind of all over the place before we put them in the song order. This one we really just sat and looked at each other when they were just a pile of songs in no order. Theres 11 finished, individual tracks. We looked at each other and just went, What in the fuck are we going to do with this? We felt that it had never been so You know, the difference between Sixteen Tons and The Autumn Carnival, it was like, Oh my God, what are we going to do? The thing that does sound alike about them is having Tchad Blake, whos a very interesting mixer, just left alone to do his thing and mix them.
Maybe thats what it was, because when I was walking around the house and had it just playing, it just felt like there was some kind of connection between all the songs.
Well, thats great. Theres a million connections. Its basically the same four people on every one of them (laughs) and one guy mixing at the end of the thing without anybody in there fucking with him. Which is what I used to do during the mixing process. Id hire these super-talented mixers, and then Id sit there and micromanage them. So, this was a great thing. This was also the third record Tchads mixed for us.
So, you guys understand each other really well by now.
I think so, yeah.
You mentioned Autumn Carnival. That was co-written with David J of Love and Rockets (and formerly of Bauhaus). You said that someone told you that it was your goth-iest, but you thought it was your grungiest.
The record and the song and everything.
Thats what I thought. I am sure the quote was referencing the song, but after I listened to the album, I thought that that applies to the whole album.
Yeah, its really dark. Everyone keeps telling us, even dudes from The Warlocks are saying this is a dark, goth-y record. It definitely has this Northwest-y thing to it. Im really glad we got Hickory Mertsching to do that cover, which is really the Northwest-iest painting that you could possibly ever have. Its that old style John James Audubon style thing but with a landscape in there, too, not just a log and the owl or whatever.
Since you said it was the same four people on this album, I guess David J doesnt play on the song.
No, no. Im not a prolific writer; I never have been. Every song Ive ever written is recorded on a Dandy Warhols record. I dont have extra songs laying around. There are no trapped songs that didnt make it on the record. I just dont write much. I dont actually write at all. I have to wait for them to happen to me, is more like how all of this has been done.
Its been interesting. Ive found other people who I am super-impressed with what they do, and Ive tried writing with them on occasion. Its nice. Its a great relief to know–to be able to go in to write a song and know confidently that you are going to come out with something. It’s a great relief to know that I can. I can actually write a song on command if I have someone there to work with and keep each other I think most of it is just keeping each other focused, because Ill just get up and wander off and do something else if I tried to write. Ill get disappointed that everything that comes out of me seems really cliché and obvious, and then Ill get up and wander off and go, Fuck it.
Its nice writing with other people, and David has certainly written some great stuff. No New Tale to Tell is lyrically one of the most amazing songs ever written. Do you remember that one? You cannot go against nature, because if you do go against nature, its part of nature, too.
When I got a chance to see Bauhaus a few years ago up in Maryland, it was just amazing. I felt like they hadnt stopped from 1983. It was amazing seeing the same four members again.
Wow. When I saw them they were on tour with Trent [Reznor], and something happened. The light rig went out, so they were playing with the work lights, the white flood lights on. And we were on the back of the stage. Peter Murphy was just having a bald-headed, fucking gothic, old man tantrum. He was livid. And then Daniel Ash was having a pissy cross-dressing tantrum. It was just a mess. It was a mess, so I didnt really, ya know
Thats a shame. When I saw them, they were great. But Ive never had a chance to see Love and Rockets.
That was one of our first tours, was Love and Rockets. So, I got to sing Bela Lugosis Dead with them. That was the closest to me seeing Bauhaus, actually being the singer for Bauhaus (laughs), for four and a half minutes. That was fucking awesome. And whats really absurd, you know how Peter [Murphy, Bauhaus vocalist] would take the mic in one fist and the cord in the other and stretch his arms out, pointing his thumbs away from him, holding the cord as far as he could, his arms perfectly stretched out to the sides, and then kind of work his shoulders back and forth and lean forward and do a bow, but with his shoulders right-left-right-left, bobbing forward? That move? I had all of them, because in high school, I learned every Peter Murphy move off of the Shadows and Light collection, and I could do Peter Murphy all the time. So, I had every Peter Murphy move down, so when I sang Bela Lugosi with them, they were ready to kick me out of the band by the end (laughs). Gratuitously fucking copying that dude. Peter Murphy is probably the favorite singer of my entire life. He or Andrew Eldridge.
Wow, yeah, Sisters of Mercy.
Fuckin A, we played with Andrew Eldridge. We played with Sisters last year in Belgium. I got to stand there on the side of the stage and watch that guy sing. Watching him sing is like watching fucking Baryshnikov dance. Its like you just sit there and wait for the next spectacular feat of human genius or transcendence. He just walks around; he dresses like an Army/US Marine Corps drill sergeant now; thats his new look. And the wrap-around sunglasses. And he walks around, and he just points. Hell pick some weirdo out of the crowd and tilt his head with his asshole wrap-around sunglasses on and point at the dude. Scary guy. The mic comes up to his face, and he goes [makes noise], and its fucking amazing. The most amazing thing comes out of his throat, through his mouth, into the microphone, broadcast out to thousands of people, and you see the speakers, and its like your spine goes numb, the hair stands up on your arms, and its like, Fuck, this is incredible; this person is not quite like a human.
Did you get a chance to come up onstage with them?
No. I didnt meet the guy. Well, I met him a little bit. We were just lucky to get a soundcheck. I got to hang out with him a little bit afterwards. Andrew Eldridge is one of those self-taught, brilliant guys where he speaks like nine languages now, and he fancies himself a gentleman, although he wasnt a posh kid or anything like that. Hes just made himself into the man he wants to be. Hes aged really well. Hes a cool, cool guy. And hes fun, too. He wants to be real wise and worldly, and he is, but hes also a goofy nerd, a goofy, super-smart nerd, too. Hes awesome. I love him. I was really impressed with that guy.
Youve played with Bowie, too, right?
Uh-hmm. Yeah, I actually… when I got onstage with Bowie, he said, You know, theres only one other time in the history of Bowie that another person has come onto my stage and sang with me. The weirdest thing occurred to me, that it was about 30 years ago to the week, in this same room, the Royal Festival Hall. And Courtney two months ago, when I said what are we going to do, what song are we going to do, he picked the same song that I picked 30 years ago when Lou Reed came up and sang with me. Ladies and gentlemen, ‘White Light, White Heat’.
And fuckin, we slayed that shit. It was incredible. And nobody filmed it. Not one person got their cell phone out or anything. Everybody was up on their chairs. It was a madhouse for three and a half… for three minutes it was a madhouse in there. People were going fucking bananas in the Royal Festival Hall. And then it was over, and there was nothing on the internet. It was nuts. I emailed David, Did you get that? Did any of your guys get that? Not one fucking person got it.
Once it happened, that was it. At least you have the memory. Why that song? What was it about that song?
I just didnt know what song youd do with Bowie. What do you do? Do you do one of Bowies songs? No. We certainly dont do one of my songs. He would just go, God, youre a fucking vain weirdo. What do you do? Who else do you do? A Beatles song? No. Well, maybe. Then I was somewhere… Oh, I was at a lighting guys girlfriend’s at the time, at her restaurant, and they were playing Bowies covers record, and White Light, White Heat was on it. And I was like, Ah! Ah! There ya go! He already knows it, he loves it, I love it. We used to get called a Velvet Underground rip-off band.
It was. And its super-fun to play live. Fathead [drummer Brent DeBoer] was playing congas, and Zia [McCabe, keyboardist] on shakers, and I think Pete [Holmstrom, guitarist] might have even had a guitar plugged in. Who knows. It was kind of likeget on, sing with him. My guitar was in; I was in the mix and all that shit. Im not sure what else was going on, but it was a pretty crazy three minutes of my life. Standing there, looking over at David Bowie onstage and singing to him. At one point, Im singing in the mic, looking at him, and hes singing in the mic looking at me. And its crazy. Were doing that Run-DMC White light buh buh buh buh. White heat And I was doing the white light, white heat part, and he was doing the stuff in between. And it was just like, Shit, this is really working.”
Did you have any prep time, or was the only thing you knew in advance the song?
No. Backstage we talked about it, and what key its in. His band had a slightly different version than the VU version, so I said, Well just do your version, and Ill watch Earl Slicks hand to watch where the chords are going, so dont pull anything weird. And, yeah, that was fine. No flubber. God, that was something. Wow. I havent relived that moment for a long time. Thanks.
On this album, Ive noticed, this is one of the first times that youve had songs written entirely by other band members.
Yeah. Thats pretty awesome.
Is that something were going to see more of in the future?
God, I hope so. I guess I could write with other people, but, hopefully Fathead and Zia will just kind of produce more stuff. Sad Vacation wasnt written by me and Fathead. It was written by Fathead, but Zia didnt like the lyrics, so she wanted me to fix some of them. So, I just went in and reworked the lyrics and kind of strengthened the emotional content of it. Took it away from being bitter to being more defiant, I suppose… or more confident, more strength in aloneness rather than the bitterness. Because Fathead tends to go into a bitter, comfortably bitter language in songs. So that was just a tinkering.
Fathead has really got some great music in him. Weve all just gotten so good at the studio process and getting it out and da, da-da, da-da. What the possibilities are once you have sort of a melody and words and stuff. Monkeyhouse [Welcome to the Monkeyhouse, 2003], for example, was a standard wall of guitars Dandy Warhols record. I was, Im tired of this. Im tired of this sound. Im tired of vintage guitars.” The Strokes and the White Stripes and Jet were huge, and I was like, “Look at all these young fucking amazing guitar bands. The world doesnt need one more,” and the new wave hadnt happened yet.
I stripped out every fucking guitar and every instrument that was playing a chord for more than an 1/8 note. Anything long or thick got reduced and made a minimalist, experimental record out of just pushing buttons in a studio, muting, and gating, and EQ-ing. I sat there with that thing one night, stayed up all night with Bjorn Thorsrud, who was engineering at the time, and we just started muting and muting and muting and muting and muting and muting. I just wanted to see if these songs would be whole songs with just drums and vocals. Was that enough? It was pretty damn close. Sometimes, Id let the bass come in and go boo… boo boo, and thats it. Everybody in the band now knows you can do that. You can write a country song, and if you diddle with it enough in the studio and have enough inspiration and focus and luck, it can end up being like a Peaches track by 3 oclock in the morning. Petes not really into writing songs, but Zia and Fathead, they love it. Theyre into it. We can all edit each others lyrics if we need help. Things are looking good.
The other members are also in side projects, two country bands and a psychedelic rock band. Has there been any thought to bringing those bands on the road with The Dandy Warhols?
We keep that all separate, because it would get weird. Personally, I wouldnt want to perform for that long, and the psychology of having to do that, then get my head back into it… Thats a bad idea anyway. But when were on tour, were there because were this band. Were The Dandy Warhols at the end of the day.
What about One Model Nation? You made a fake greatest hits album for the band you wrote about in your graphic novel.
Yeah, yeah, Totalwerks, Vol. 1.
Would you ever actually consider making a little band and touring that around?
I wouldnt [laughs]. Thats the book. The book could go out as though thats a tour.
Any plans to write a follow-up book?
Oh, I dont know that I have another story in me. If I have another writer who wants to write, maybe then they go to South America and get involved in some political arts thing in an emerging third world country. Argentina, lots of German ex-pats, 1980. Pick up a year and a half later. Maybe they went to Mars. Maybe they get abducted by aliens. Maybe they fall into a wrinkle in time and a black hole and come out in a different time. They come out in Roman times.
You have ideas. You can do this. You can do it while youre on the tour bus. Are you excited for the tour?
Yeah, pretty stoked.
Youre going all over Europe. When do you come back to the States?
Well, were going out for a couple and a half weeks, then we come back for a couple and a half weeks. And then we do America for a month. Then come home for a few weeks, and then, hopefully, we get to go live in the French countryside for a couple months. And just play shows in Europe and play little arts festivals all over France and Belgium or wherever. Just have a French country lifestyle for a couple months. Thats what were trying to do next.
Sounds like a nice reward for all the hard work.