The Janitors Of Rock

26 June 2012 | 2:58 pm | Stuart Evans

“That whole thing was bullshit. It was dishonest and I was lied to about the whole thing. It took years for me to trust people again, particularly people that I toured with.”

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"We're really good at what we do and our prime musical direction is ensuring we can't be confused with trying to be current. We are garbage technicians and are sick of electronic samples, sick of drum loops and sick of synthesisers. We're the clean-up crew of rock – the janitors of rock,” says the always-modest Dandy Warhols frontman, Courtney Taylor-Taylor.

As vocalist, guitarist and head producer, Taylor-Taylor is not shy in coming forward. “We will always be a guitar rock band as I love to play and love the guitar,” he says. He is also not afraid to spruik the band's talents and achievements.

The band formed in Portland, west coast USA, in 1994 and released their inaugural album, Dandys Rule OK, in 1995, releasing their breakthrough effort, The Dandy Warhols Come Down, two years later. But it was Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia – the album they released at the turn of the millennium – that put the band on international charts and in the spotlight thanks to the huge commercial single, Bohemian Like You.

Taylor-Taylor and The Dandy Warhols are infamous for their humour, chart hits and partying. Taylor-Taylor is also a wily businessperson. After he received his share of the royalties, largely thanks to Bohemian Like You appearing in Vodaphone TV adverts, Taylor-Taylor used the profits to build the Odditorium, a recording studio designed and built in the band's hometown. The complex features enough space for a video production and web design studio and takes up more than a quarter of a city block. He views the song's association with Vodaphone as a positive: “Because of that relationship it funded the Odditorium and gave us freedom.” 

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They quickly put the recording studio to good use as their 2003 effort, Welcome To The Monkey House, continued to keep the band in the spotlight after it spawned another hit single, We Used To Be Friends. And then things went quiet. Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars (2005) and …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… (2008) received mixed reviews despite the band roping in a swag of cameo appearances for the latter, including Mark Knopfler and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell. Earth To The Dandy Warhols… was also the first album recorded on their self-funded label Beat The World Records. If dodgy reviews weren't enough, it was about to get worse for the Dandys. In 2004, filmmaker Ondi Timoner released Dig!, a documentary about the band that focused on their relationship with friends and fellow west cost band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Dig! became a critical success and won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. However, despite the accolades both bands remain displeased with how they were portrayed. Taylor-Taylor has stated that he felt pressured to be a part of the film. His anger and frustration about the experience remains: “That whole thing was bullshit. It was dishonest and I was lied to about the whole thing. It took years for me to trust people again, particularly people that I toured with.” In the end, both bands thought that the filmmaker's depiction of Anton Newcombe, The Brian Jonestown Massacre's lead singer, was constricted and unwarranted.

Still, that's in the past and Taylor-Taylor is focused on the future, which is timely as they're back with their new studio album, This Machine, an altogether darker, unassuming and contemplative collection. Gone are the snares and gentle synths, replaced with a sobering offering of stripped-back rock. It was a deliberate ploy, explains Taylor-Taylor. “We didn't really have to think about this album as we said that it felt fresh again, which for us is cool. We wanted to make a simpler record and we didn't want to do something that everyone else is doing.”

Aside from being sick of drum patterns, loops and directors, Taylor-Taylor has another bugbear. “We're not directed by what other bands are doing or what other bands are doing but not doing well.” He's also in a reflective mood and is aware of his limitations. “I'm not someone who can just sit there and write countless songs. I have to wait for something real or something that is meaningful for the writing to happen.”

Reviews for This Machine ave been mixed, with some media rags comparing the band to reformed alcoholics who only make decent music when they're sloshed. The criticism has been fierce and Taylor-Taylor has witnessed it first hand whilst on tour. He says that during recent gigs, when they've performed material from This Machine, the crowd has taken a while to get going. “For the first fifteen minutes they stand around in disbelief that we make this futuristic music. When a load of people turn up and ninety-nine per cent of them aren't on drugs, for fifteen minutes they're in a fucking trance. We stand on stage, looking at each other thinking this is a crazy trip before we see everyone with their fucking hands-in-the-air and palms out.”

What is a given is This Machine is The Dandy Warhols stripped bare. It has more in common with Goth than electronic. “There is normally an arbitrary line between the last record from our previous album and the first record from our current album. For this album, we tried to limit ourselves with the amount of tracks we recorded and it worked well. Our approach has always been the same throughout our time together as we always ask ourselves, 'What have we not done that we'd like to do?'” 

The partying – and booze – may have stopped, but the touring has not. Case in point is their latest road trip. “We've just been on one hell of a long tour. We had a month touring the USA and then had time in Europe. We have a good time and fuckloads of fun.” Other bands may have excessive demands on their tour rider; not The Dandy Warhols. “We take bicycles and barbecues on tour,” he laughs. “Spending so much time on buses isn't great, but we have to be accessible as everyone on tour matters. We are the social cheerleaders and try to make it fun and enjoyable for everyone.”

But this wouldn't be The Dandy Warhols without something slightly odd to tell. To be different, the band hooked up with Richard Morgan, respected sci-fi author, to write their bios for This Machine. Taylor-Taylor explains, “It's really a variation on what we've done before. Most bios are dull and we wanted to do something different. Pete [Holmstrom, guitar] bumped into Richard and became friends due to their interest in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.”

After nearly two decades of writing, producing and touring, what is left for The Dandy Warhols to achieve? A lot, says Taylor-Taylor. “We'll be touring and in 2014 it's our twentieth anniversary as a band. I'm sure we'll have something planned for that one.”