Dandy Warhols are serious, but only about the music | AspenTimes.com

Dandy Warhols are serious, but only about the music

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN ” Courtney Taylor and Peter Holmström, friends from their days as Portland, Ore., high school students, came up with a bunch of what Holmström calls “not great band names,” before they came up with the one that stuck ” the Dandy Warhols. It fit on several levels: Holmström, a guitarist, often used the word “dandy.” “And we joked that Andy Warhol would have loved us, because we were a pack of weird little kids with good haircuts ” which was what seemed to run around the Factory back in the ’70s,” said Holmström, speaking from Atlanta, where he had not yet emerged from the tour bus, despite it being well past noon.

As David Byrne ” who it would also be easy to envision as a Dandy Warhols fan, though for reasons of music rather than fashion ” sang, “Names make all the difference in the world.” From the name Holmström and Taylor chose for their project ” jokey, arty, hip, offbeat ” all else seems to have followed. The sense of humor encompasses them. Early song titles include “Lou Weed” and “Hard on for Jesus.” Taylor, the band’s singer and songwriter, now goes by the name Courtney Taylor-Taylor ” perhaps an homage to Duran Duran, whose keyboardist, Nick Rhodes, would go on to produce the Dandy Warhols’ synthesizer-heavy, 2003 album, “Welcome to the Monkey House.” And on their latest CD, “… Earth to the Dandy Warhols …,” released last month, there is an overriding theme of outer space, down to the publicity photos, which feature the four band members in astronaut suits.

“That’s just who we are,” explained Holmström, a 40-year-old with no noticeable surplus of hipness or irony. “There doesn’t seem to be any escaping the humor. It’s been there since the beginning. Both Courtney and I grew up with Monty Python, that English sense of humor. Zia and Brent” ” keyboardist Zia McCabe and drummer Brent DeBoer ” “are younger, and brought in more of that younger, stoner humor. And it’s just always been there.” Failing any better explanation for the funny bone in their music, Holmström carried on: “It helps you get through crummy situations, which we’re always faced with, being on the road.”

The funny part of all this is that the comedy doesn’t carry into the sound itself, at least not overtly. It’s everywhere ” “Except for the music. We’re always serious about the music,” said Holmström.

The clearest musical touchstones for the Dandy Warhols, who make their Aspen debut on Sunday, Sept. 28, at Belly Up, are not acts known for their wittiness. One comparison frequently made is to the hazy, dark Velvet Underground; there are also touches of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, David Bowie and Talking Heads. On “… Earth to the Dandy Warhols …,” there are moments of funk, rockabilly, space-rock, ’80s New Wave, art-rock and much more. But even the sometimes abrupt changes in style are never played up to comic effect.

The disparity between the image ” cosmically hip, knowingly odd, name-droppers ” and the sound ” fairly well rooted in ’70s and ’80s rock, but with a respectful dose of experimentation ” has helped to land the Dandy Warhols in an interesting spot on the rock spectrum. Almost every band with a former record label will tell you that said label didn’t know what to do with them; in the case of the Dandy Warhols, it is a little more self-evident.

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“When we were with Capitol Records, they had a very hard time marketing us,” said Holmström, noting that 2005’s “Odditorium or the Warlords of Mars” was their last album for the label, with “… Earth to …” released on their own World’s Fair imprint. “We’re too weird for modern radio, and too normal to all the hipsters. We make pop songs, but we’re kind of in-between things.”

Courtney Taylor and Peter Holmström, friends from their days as Portland, Ore., high school students, came up with a bunch of what Holmström calls “not great band names,” before they came up with the one that stuck ” the Dandy Warhols. It fit on several levels: Holmström, a guitarist, often used the word “dandy.” “And we joked that Andy Warhol would have loved us, because we were a pack of weird little kids with good haircuts ” which was what seemed to run around the Factory back in the ’70s,” said Holmström, speaking from Atlanta, where he had not yet emerged from the tour bus, despite it being well past noon.

As David Byrne ” who it would also be easy to envision as a Dandy Warhols fan, though for reasons of music rather than fashion ” sang, “Names make all the difference in the world.” From the name Holmström and Taylor chose for their project ” jokey, arty, hip, offbeat ” all else seems to have followed. The sense of humor encompasses them. Early song titles include “Lou Weed” and “Hard on for Jesus.” Taylor, the band’s singer and songwriter, now goes by the name Courtney Taylor-Taylor ” perhaps an homage to Duran Duran, whose keyboardist, Nick Rhodes, would go on to produce the Dandy Warhols’ synthesizer-heavy, 2003 album, “Welcome to the Monkey House.” And on their latest CD, “… Earth to the Dandy Warhols …,” released last month, there is an overriding theme of outer space, down to the publicity photos, which feature the four band members in astronaut suits.

“That’s just who we are,” explained Holmström, a 40-year-old with no noticeable surplus of hipness or irony. “There doesn’t seem to be any escaping the humor. It’s been there since the beginning. Both Courtney and I grew up with Monty Python, that English sense of humor. Zia and Brent” ” keyboardist Zia McCabe and drummer Brent DeBoer ” “are younger, and brought in more of that younger, stoner humor. And it’s just always been there.” Failing any better explanation for the funny bone in their music, Holmström carried on: “It helps you get through crummy situations, which we’re always faced with, being on the road.”

The funny part of all this is that the comedy doesn’t carry into the sound itself, at least not overtly. It’s everywhere ” “Except for the music. We’re always serious about the music,” said Holmström.

The clearest musical touchstones for the Dandy Warhols, who make their Aspen debut on Sunday, Sept. 28, at Belly Up, are not acts known for their wittiness. One comparison frequently made is to the hazy, dark Velvet Underground; there are also touches of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, David Bowie and Talking Heads. On “… Earth to the Dandy Warhols …,” there are moments of funk, rockabilly, space-rock, ’80s New Wave, art-rock and much more. But even the sometimes abrupt changes in style are never played up to comic effect.

The disparity between the image ” cosmically hip, knowingly odd, name-droppers ” and the sound ” fairly well rooted in ’70s and ’80s rock, but with a respectful dose of experimentation ” has helped to land the Dandy Warhols in an interesting spot on the rock spectrum. Almost every band with a former record label will tell you that said label didn’t know what to do with them; in the case of the Dandy Warhols, it is a little more self-evident.

“When we were with Capitol Records, they had a very hard time marketing us,” said Holmström, noting that 2005’s “Odditorium or the Warlords of Mars” was their last album for the label, with “… Earth to …” released on their own World’s Fair imprint. “We’re too weird for modern radio, and too normal to all the hipsters. We make pop songs, but we’re kind of in-between things.”

The pre-story begins at an Oregon band camp, attended by both Holmström and Taylor in the early ’80s. Or perhaps this is the pre-pre-story; Holmström, a saxophonist at the time, says that he and Taylor, then a percussionist, only “kind-of met.” A few years later, Taylor’s band played at a semiformal attended by Holmström, and the two met ” no “kind-of” about it. When the younger brother of the guitarist in Taylor’s band needed a guitarist, Taylor recommended Holmström; after Holmström finished college, at New York University, Taylor tapped Holmström to start up their own group.

The Dandy Warhols debuted in 1995 with “Dandys Rule OK?” and the self-released CD earned them a deal with Capitol. It was with their third album, 2000’s “Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia,” that the quartet caught fire. The single “Bohemian Like You” showed up in advertisements, TV shows and movies.

“That was the record that really got us out there,” said Holmström. He still can’t explain the mechanism that earned them such exposure ” but he’d like to witness it again: “I just hope they pick up another one from the new album and do the same thing.”

Much of the band’s music is built on the back of the ’70s and ’80s sounds that Holmström and Taylor grew up on. “Bohemian Like You” is an unabashed plundering of the guitar riff from the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.”

“We kind of wear our influences on our sleeves, the music we were brought up with. It just comes out,” said Holmström. “If it sounds just like Keith Richards, it’s intentional. But we try to approach every song differently. There’s a sequence of chords, or the way they fit together, that sounds like us. No matter what.”

While the building blocks come from a few decades ago, the more relevant inspirations come from a more recent vintage ” either what is happening at the moment in rock music, or from the last Dandy Warhols record.

“We’re always reacting to what we did last, or what we’ve been hearing a lot of,” said Holmström. “The influences on the different records tend to be a reaction to something, rather than us intentionally trying to do something.

“For instance, in between ‘Thirteen Tales’ and ‘Odditorium,’ a lot of guitar records, by the White Stripes and the Strokes, all came out. So we didn’t feel like we had to make a guitar record. There wasn’t a need for a guitar record.” Hence “Welcome to the Monkey House,” named after a Kurt Vonnegut story collection and the Dandy Warhols’ experiment with synth-pop, which didn’t derail the band’s momentum as much as one might expect.

For “… Earth to …,” the band responded to its own creation, “Odditorium,” which Holmström describes as “a meandering, free-form, experimental record.”

“So we went in wanting to have everything focused, have the songs exactly how long they needed to be,” he continued. “No excess. Where ‘Odditorium’ was all about excess. And [ “… Earth to …”] is very produced; you can hear all the layers, where we usually go to lengths to make a real chaotic mess. This time, all the parts stand on their own and can pick them out.”

One result of the latest approach to recording is that the Dandy Warhols can actually play the songs from the new album. Usually it has taken a few years for the band to figure out how to perform the studio material, but not so with “… Earth to … .” Holmström expects the band will play eight of the new songs in Aspen.

“This is the first time we can play the new record right out of the gate,” he said. “We’re usually a record behind.”

stewart@aspentimes.com

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