A stoner’s quandary

Courtney Taylor-Taylor and pal Pete Holstrom formed the Dandy Warhols in 1994, Taylor says, “to meet cooler people to drink beer with — fucking that was it.”    Over the last decade theirs was an adventurous sonic streak that has extended beyond their early influences (Ride, Velvet Underground) to embrace a musical smorgasbord of sounds. Along the way they’ve survived a harrowing brush with fame and slithered out the other end happier (and richer.)

“A few years ago there was like a freak out,” Taylor-Taylor says by phone from his home in Portland, Ore. “We had this massive hit single [2000’s “Bohemian Like You”] that attracted a lot of the people that I just fucking hate — exactly the type of people I thought I was making a band that would protect my people from.” The idiot wind attracted by that kind of success almost destroyed the band.

“Dude, it was not pretty,” Taylor-Taylor continues. “It was just not happy. But we made the dough, and it was great, like, we needed that. We made it through, and stayed together as a band, which is shocking. Now we all own houses and we own our studio and complete production facility.”

Ever the itinerant songsmiths, they went another direction for 2003’s follow-up, Welcome to the Monkey House, leaving behind the head-schtupp rock ’n’ roll of Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia for glossy, new-wave style pop, which surprised the shit out of everyone. As it is with the Warhols, each new direction becomes a fashionable template for later acts, in this case, the Killers.

“It’s so flattering, and they’re so good at it,” Taylor-Taylor says. “That’s sort of what we’ve always done — two years later, whatever we’ve done last gets co-opted.”

With their latest, Odditorium or Warlords of Mars, the Warhols fashioned a tumbledown album whose doors, hubcaps and muffler sound on the verge of rattling off, songs seemingly held together mercifully by chicken wire, pot resin and loogies. It’s undoubtedly the band’s most idiosyncratic release.

“That’s one thing Pete said: ‘You know, this is a great victory in that we finally have made a record that will be impossible for any other band to imitate,’” Taylor-Taylor says, offering up a hearty laugh. “Ramshackle — that was what I was looking for. I wanted that feeling like it was about to fall apart at any second. It’s just clunking and bumping into things, but then really elegant and truly sophisticated arrangements.”

Not everyone glommed on to Taylor-Taylor’s sonic madness. Many newsstand glossies panned the album.

“Magazines with Ashton Kutcher on the cover are fucking saying our record sucks and hating on us? Gooood,” Taylor-Taylor says. “It’s really the perfect time for us to indelibly stamp ourselves as a stoner art band and really corner that market. Really draw in those people and exclude everyone else.”

Taylor-Taylor admits he’s tired of talking about the 2004 “documentary” Dig, though its release has obviously raised the Warhols’ profile further. His biggest complaint is how seven years of life are compressed into an overly simplistic portrait of the Warhols as a band that partied their way to the top (“You don’t see us making music even once in the entire film.”) and Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe as their belligerent, envious counterpoint.

“It’s amazing [director Ondi Timoner] actually made it feel like a movie,” Taylor-Taylor says. “It has what seems like a plot. It seems fairly plausible that this is how it went. But it isn’t a documentary, it’s just good entertainment, like Jerry Springer.”

Taylor-Taylor admits, though, that partying, drug use and extreme experiences are an essential element of his craft, all of which is, of course, self-defining.

“Then, when you’ve dried up and expressed everything, validated your little retarded, stunted-growth artist ego, then you go into data mode, where you don’t produce any art at all,” Taylor-Taylor says. “You waste thousands of hours with your friends drinking, smoking grass and laying around or having naked hot tub parties where everyone is on blow, or you go hike in the Himalayas or you and your girlfriend go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. You live live live.

“You have to do that or your music is nothing except entertainment. Entertainment only seeks to placate the masses for the amount of time the entertainment is happening, whereas art seeks to exist and always be there for the troubled soul that needs it.”

Much like the Dandy Warhols.


Monday, Dec. 5, at St. Andrew’s Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-8137.


See Also:
Odditorium or Warlords of Mars - Dandy Warhols
review by Serene Dominic

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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