Interview: The Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor!

For the past two decades, The Dandy Warhols have established themselves as the embodiment of cool. From their detached garage rock stylings through to their infectious pop hooks, the famously bohemian Portlanders have created a distinctive, guitar-based sound that’s been described as Portland’s answer to Britpop. Frontman, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, recorded their latest album, Distortland, in his basement using a retro cassette recorder. The rest of the band added their touches in the studio and the whole shebang was masterfully mixed by Jim Lowe (Taylor Swift, Beyonce) to produce an album of gorgeous, neo-psychedelic ear candy. This October, The Dandy Warhols are returning to our shores for a set of unmissable dates. Thanks to our good friend, John Howarth of Nuclear Blast, we had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Courtney Taylor-Taylor about music, politics, Portland, and the band’s long-standing connection to Australia.


distortlandSR: You emerged in the nineties with your sexy bohemian garage style when everything seemed to be grunge, and your aesthetic’s always been a major part of the whole package. Were you always interested in art and aesthetics, growing up?

CTT: Well, yeah, I mean think I understood very early that the style is part of the emotional content. And it’s also what kind of person it is and whether you buy them – whether you buy into their program. Is this real? Is this cool? Are you sophisticated enough for me to even care about what you’re doing? Are you savvy enough, or am I enjoying an idiot’s babble? So yeah, style’s huge and it’s absolutely a huge part of what the emotional content is.

SR: You started out as a drummer. Can you tell us a bit about your musical evolution and what made you switch to the guitar later on?

CTT: The whole time I was playing drums in bands I would always record myself at home. And then, after a while, I started taking my things at home that I would make and going, ‘Here – let’s play this.’ So then I became the drummer writing the songs. Then, finally I realised I just wasn’t going to find the vocalist I wanted, and I’d gotten kicked out of a band that I was the drummer in – and it was a really great band – because the singer had become a junkie, and his best friend was his junkie buddy and he was a really great drummer, too. So he wanted to have a junkie buddy in the band, so they kicked me out. That was so lucky. If that hadn’t happened, I would have probably never put this band together. So, Pete had just moved back from New York and he was like, ‘Come on, we’ve got to do this.’ And so we did, and it was great.

SR: I try to catch you guys whenever you play in Australia. One major highlight for me was seeing you play in my home town back in 2008 the day Obama was elected.

CTT: Where?

SR: Brisbane.

CTT: Oh, yeah.

SR: It was an incredible show.

CTT: Yeah, Brisbane’s always great for us because it’s a bit more redneck than everywhere else. So it goes off a little wilder when everyone’s drunk and all that stuff.

SR: How do you feel about your presidential hopefuls this time ‘round?

CTT: Well, I can’t imagine that anyone would let someone as bizarre and crazy as Trump win. We don’t really know if voting does anything. I think the George W Bush era proved to us that votes don’t really count. So, I’m hoping that whoever the boss is goes, ‘Oh God, are you kidding me? We have to have Hillary Clinton as the President of the United States. She’s not insane’. Personally, I like Hillary a lot. I think she’s awesome. When she was Secretary of State, we met a bunch of her cabinet and a couple of them brought their kids to my house. They’re just good people. She keeps a good team around her. I think she’s great – she’s obviously savvy, on an international level. She’s been a part of it forever. And, I mean, she’s a woman, and I think women obviously just feel more for other people. Maybe that might help with having parks and schools and publicly funded health so people can have their families function – and for poor people who can’t afford it. I mean, states do that – they pick up a lot of slack of childcare and welfare and all that, but I think having a woman might help that side of how our nation gets along. I think she’s a great one for it – I like Hillary.

SR: You famously bought a quarter of a city block in Portland for your Odditorium. Can you tell us about that?

CTT: Yeah, I’m putting up a wine shop and wine bar right now. I’ve got my floor guy…we’ve got alarms…it’s a fucking nightmare. I’m trying to do five things at once. Splitting your mind and time up between different tasks is really a bummer. That’s the best part of tour – you’re just there for one reason, you know? You’ve got one thing to do every day, and that’s rock. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Oh, I’m looking at a Simpsons sky right now – it looks like the beginning of The Simpsons. That sky at the beginning of The Simpsons is very Portland – that exact cloud shape is probably what our sky looks like, more often than not.

SR: Is (the TV show) Portlandia in any way an accurate depiction of Portland?

CTT: No, not really. There was one out of every several that was pretty Portland. But that was about ten years ago now. Portland isn’t cool. I mean, it’s like California now – it’s quintupled in size. It’s gone from like 400,000 to 2.2 million. It’s not cool anymore. At all. There’s nothing cool about it. It’s just fucking condo after condo and tanned people with bleached hair in expensive clothes jogging.

SR: Really?

CTT: Yeah, it’s over. I mean, 1.6 million mall shoppers moved to Portland. And they say things to each other like, (adopts pretentious tone) ‘It’s just like you’re in a city, but it’s safe!’ It’s become the whitest, lamest place in the world and we have horrible traffic all day now. Because we’re not supposed to have 2 million people here – we’re supposed to max out at about half a million or something, or grow to a million by about 2035 or something. But no, it just blew up, this thing. The Portland thing just exploded.

SR: Will you stay there?

CTT: Oh, you know, unfortunately, everyone’s here – my family’s here. I have a quarter of a city block in The Pearl District. I have my studio, I have a great house – I’ve got a really cool medieval-style house that was built in the twenties. I mean, where would I move? I guess I could move to St Louis or somewhere kind of interesting like that…Kansas City, Kansas…Mackenzie Missouri…

SR: Was your house in the style it is when you bought it, or did you fit it out that way?

CTT: No, it was built in the twenties. It was a West Coast trend to build medieval houses in the twenties. A handful got built in Portland. A lot were built in the Hollywood Hills and apparently a lot got built in the Berkeley Hills. Interestingly enough, none of the Californians who came up here wanted to buy this house. It was on the market for a long time. In that moment when I was looking for a house, it was like ‘Oh my gosh!’ I think they’d just taken it off after years, too, so it was lucky.

SR: You have a great connection with Australia. You always sell out down here. Are you ever surprised by what a massive following you have down here?

CTT: No, when I got down there, I realised it was pretty close to how we grew up here in the Portland, Oregon area. It had a really similar feel and I related to it.

SR: In what way do your Australian audiences differ from those in other countries?

CTT: Well, I guess they’re a little rowdier. More physical – they’re a more physical audience. You’ve also got to realise that a lot of that happened because boy band/girl band became really respected. I mean, the Backside Boys, or one of those kind of things was on the cover of Rolling Stone. It said ‘greatest band in the world’ or something like that. It was bizarre. It was like, ‘holy shit!’ So Australia – probably because ACDC came from Australia – will always have a rock vein, a strong rock vein. So when you continued to be a guitar band, you sold more tickets in Australia; because more people cared about guitar bands in 1999 than they did in London, that’s for sure. I mean, the closest thing you got to a band was Moby, you know? Like, you couldn’t believe it if people were playing instruments on stage. There were so many people just plugging in instruments and not playing them –  pretending to play them – while the singer sang the songs…and the band was a back-up band. I mean, people would go to festivals and this is what they would watch. It felt like insanity to me. It felt completely like the world was insane. The world feels a lot more sane to me now.

SR: Even though Donald Trump’s running for president?

CTT: Well, that kind of thing’s pretty easy to predict – that kind of idiocracy. And Jesse ‘The Mind’ Ventura is the governor of…wherever he’s the governor of.

SR: Not Florida?

CTT: No, somewhere far more insidious than that. Minnesota, I think.

SR: Oh, middle America?

CTT: Yeah, I think he’s around the great lakes. And I mean, Ronald Reagan – get serious. I mean, the guy was a fucking goofball, 2-bit John Wayne. He was like a bargain John Wayne. So, you know, (under breath) Trump running for…ah…Jesus Christ… I hope we get Hillary Clinton. I always wanted Hillary Clinton.

SR: You don’t buy into the corruption claims about her?

CTT: Well, it’s politics. You don’t know what they do. I mean, to have someone like Hillary Clinton… She’s going to look after schools, she’s not going to outlaw abortion, she’s going to allow the legalisation of marijuana, and she’s going to be glad to do it. She’s going to be glad that all that fucking tax money’s going to be coming in. And bombing Iraq? I don’t know what they do. I don’t like the world very much, you know? I’m pretty fucking horrified and disgusted. I’m scared of it and disgusted by it all at once. I mean, we thought Obama was going to do everything. He didn’t take care of schools. Schools are worse off than they were ten years ago, you know? And he’s my guy. Oh fuck, I wanted Obama so bad. Everybody did. But I honestly look at Hillary Clinton and go, ‘Fuck yeah, man.’ She never fails to get things done. And she was a politician in the South, and I mean, wow. Talk about not easy. That’s a bitch, and she got things done. And there’s Bill Clinton who does the Sunday Times Sunday crosswords with a pen, not a pencil. Come on, he’s smart. And I mean, what is corrupt? I mean, they’re going to be taking money for favours for this and that. But at the end of the day, just get something good done. Help. I mean, she’s very clear about the job problem – that joblessness and drugs and crime and unhappiness are all in the same line. They’re right next door to each other. They’re just consecutive tunnels, you know? You have to put people to work. You have to make people feel productive and happy – busy. We wouldn’t have a crime problem. We’ve got jails for hire, you know? Privatised jails. It’s ridiculous.

But I think Hillary has a better chance of playing the game correctly and playing with other scary big boys than anyone else would. Trump would just make everyone hate him and he would do horrible things. It would be a military state faster than you could say Donald Duck, you know? It’ll be Commander Duck. I mean, I know Hillary’s people. We’ve met several of them and hung out with them. They’ve come to the house for lunch when they’re in Portland and they’re great. There’s nothing odd or creepy or weird about them. They’re just incredibly clear, smart people just trying to make things happen. They’re trying to open up trade and make trade fair…being cool with South Korea…trying to not incite the crazy North Koreans. I mean, get on with stuff and get on with the world progressing. Hopefully we can all have tempeh burgers and renewable resources. I mean, McDonald’s is gonna happen over there, too, you know? If that’s bad, okay. Calvin Klein? Okay, whatever. Corporations are bad, mmkay? It’s gonna happen, but at least I don’t have soldiers in my streets right now – I never have. I’ve never had soldiers in my street. Isn’t that weird? Ever… in my life. It’s always been safe to play in my street. I like the political thing when people make sense to me. I like listening to it and watching them talk. It’s so cool that Obama didn’t talk like those guys used to talk. Think about Bush giving a speech. It’s like a bizarre, wind-up puppet. It’s embarrassingly old-fashioned. Bill Clinton did that too. He was an old-fashioned orator. (Mimics Bill Clinton): ‘Well, you know, I thought to myself…’ you know? Like that is a simpleton 1950s society – like great-grandpa and great-grandma. The post-war years, you know? God and country and just real naïve. So I like the modern head talker now, you know? I mean, I don’t like… I mean, Trump is modern. You’ve got to give it to the guy. I love having him in the race.

SR: But he could win.

CTT: Well, I don’t actually believe that. I think we learned during George W Bush that votes don’t matter. It’s about other people with power; and, if you have enough, you get in. And I think anyone with any power will be like, ‘This fucking guy? No way.’ But I like having him in there – he calls everyone out on their shit. When the other Republicans were going, ‘You went to Hillary Clinton’s wedding and Hillary Clinton went to your wedding’, he goes, ‘Yeah, of course she did. She had to.’ And he goes, ‘I gave her a lot of fucking money, like I gave all of you guys.’ And they were all like (nervous laughter) ‘Oh, ho ho. Mr Trump!’ And the youngest guy at the end goes, ‘Excuse me, Mr Trump – you didn’t give me any money.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, I will. And you’ll take it.’ Awesome. Awesome. But he’s a scary dick. So, there you go. At the end of the day, unfortunately, he’s a dick. I mean, I love his crazy hair. Oh my God – he’s Donald Trump with the orange tan and you wind him up and let him say crazy shit. Love it. Like fun, but I certainly wouldn’t want him at dinner at my house because he’s a dick. He’s not invited. Hillary’s staff are invited to my house. I’ve had them to brunch. They’re great and such fucking fun to talk to. They’re smart…they’re problem solvers. I’m into it. I love it.

SR: I was watching an interview recently where you were talking about partying at the new studio and how you’ve got chefs on site and like to break out the bordeaux and champagne for your guests and jam all night.

CTT: Oh my God, yeah. I’m gonna try to figure out how to make the wine rager, superfun part open to the public. Make it from like noon thirty to like 7pm. Just a place to go in, have a glass of champagne, a glass of wine, bread, soup, lettuce – romaine. You know what I mean? And it’ll be great. It’ll be like eight bucks for a glass of champagne, eight bucks for a glass of old Bordeaux, and eight bucks for bread, romaine, and soup. It’ll just be simple, quick, cheap, easy. Not pretentious, not slick…not a metrosexual $18 for a glass of wine/$42 glass of wine from the seventies, you know? It’ll be late nineties. I’ll have wine from the late nineties and it’ll be really, really rustic and gorgeous and everything’s going to be cool.

SR: Would you describe yourself as a hedonist? What sort of people do you like to surround yourself with when you’re partying?

CTT: Yeah, yeah, you know. And I like people that are impossible to offend and have given a shit-tonne of very objective thought to stuff that I haven’t given a lot of…or anything…stuff I have given a lot of thought to… Just people who pride themselves on knowledge, objectivity, awareness, and open-mindedness. I think those are the best things. And fun and outrageous wit doesn’t hurt. I do like a dry sense of the ludicrous.

SR: Do you have a message we can send out to your Australian fans, ahead of the tour?

CTT: Okay, just drink old wine because old wines are great – they’re the best drunk you can have. And legalise marijuana and basically you have the most fucking genius high. And it’s legal where I live. It’s incredible. The wine is the most incredibly brilliant poet’s high. There’s nothing like it. Nothing. Certainly not beer or hard alcohol. There’s nothing like the high of old red wine. And then with grass? Fuck me, dude. You could reinvent water desalinisation in your mind on that drug. You could cure cancer. It’s fucking brilliant.

***Dandy Warhols Australian Tour October 2016***

26th Oct – PERTH – Metro City

27th Oct – ADELAIDE – HQ

29th Oct – BRISBANE – Eatons Hill Hotel

30th Oct – GOLD COAST – Parkwood Tavern

3rd Nov – CANBERRA – ANU Bar

4th Nov – SYDNEY – Big Top

5th Nov – MELBOURNE – Palais Theatre

Tickets From: