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15 questions for… The Dandy Warhols: “Be nice to everyone. There’s no point in being a d**k; it’s a small world and an even smaller music world"

(Image credit: Press)

Peter Holmström is best known as the lead guitarist for The Dandy Warhols, air traffic controller for Pete International Airport and collaborator in Walls Of Dada. He formed The Dandys in 1994 with singer/songwriter and guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor. 

They have released 11 albums over the last quarter of a century, the third of which, 1999’s Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, spawned the worldwide hit and Vodaphone soundtrack Bohemian Like You. 

The band have just unleashed a 214-minute opus of unreleased Dandy’s material called Tafelmuzik Means More When You’re Alone, which is described as: “never-before-tasted Dandies goodness”. 

We talk to Holmström about how he creates his distinctive sound and what he’s learned from 25 years in the industry…

1. What is your overall philosophy or approach when it comes to music?

“I’m always trying to push myself a bit further, and I’m always obsessing on a sound or vibe that I’m trying to incorporate into what I do. I also love messing around with alternate tunings. I’m less likely to fall back into my old habits. New toys make new things happen. Combining disparate sounds is always interesting to me too.” 

2. How did you discover the route to computer music-making?

“I first saw the full potential of Pro Tools while recording 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia in early ‘99. We were at Dave Sardy’s studio in Williamsburg doing some overdubs and editing. I was completely blown away with little things like stretching audio (in the middle of Horse Pills there is bit of my guitar that was stretched beyond recognition). A little over a year later I had the privilege to see Neil Davidge at work at the Massive Attack studios. The speed with which he edited the tracks we were working on was amazing.”

3. How has working in the box changed the way you work?

“I got into recording pretty late, I was given a 4-track in ‘98 and started using it to work out parts for what would end up being 13 Tales. After seeing Pro Tools in action later I got a refurbished Pro Tools III rig (the Digi 001 came out the next year). This was too much of a jump for me and it took me a while to figure out that I needed to approach it like ‘tape’ and ignore all the bells and whistles until I understood what I was doing. I’m still learning.”

4. Tell us a little about the rest of the gear in your studio

”I have a pair of Shadow Hills Mono GAMA mic pres, a pair of Phoenix Audio mic pres, a Little Labs VOG and an Inward Connections The Brute compressor in an API lunchbox. I also have a Universal Audio Apollo 8 (which I just got as my RME Fireface 800 died). I use AEA N22 ribbon mics and in my studio, I also have a Sontronics Delta. Lately, I’ve been borrowing a pair of Neumann KM 184s for recording acoustics, and I have an Electro Voice RE20 for vocals.”

5. What are your five favourite plugins?

Fabfilter’s Pro-Q 3 EQ “This was the first EQ that made sense to me. On others I would twiddle knobs until it ‘sounded good’, but I guess I needed a visual representation to make sense to me. I don’t do much mixing, so it’s nice to be able to quickly see potential issues and deal with them. All the other Fabfilter plugins are great too – super easy to find settings that work in a creative way that can take the track farther than expected. And they all sound amazing.”

Sound Toys Crystalizer “I love reverse echo stuff. I first became aware of it when working on the first PIA record. Jeremy Sherrer, the engineer/mixer used it to great effect. Along with the Decapitator, EchoBoy and the FilterFreak.”

Valhalla Shimmer reverb “So easy to make a beautiful pad out of anything. Not really subtle, but incredibly musical. Definitely the first reverb plugin that made me sit up and pay attention.”

Universal Audio 1176 limiter  “Just got the UA plugins with my Apollo 8 so I’m still learning them, but I’m familiar with the Bomb Factory BF76 and so far I’m loving the UA – it’s super smooth. The LA2A is great too of course.”

Echo Farm “That was a fun plugin, there are still things I did with that that I can’t replicate. The sweep echo was something I used a lot, I would automate the repeats and control the oscillation. I ended up using Mod/Delay that comes with Pro Tools. It’s very basic and easy to use, but definitely not the same thing.”

6. How does a track typically start out and then progress?

“Before I start recording, I generally have the basics of a song worked out, usually on guitar. I figure out a tempo and program a very simple beat to track to – I find this gives a better feel than a click track. I’ll use a drum machine, modular synth drums, iPhone apps, or plugins; I change it up all the time to keep me on my toes. I then record the chord changes. Since I don’t sing or write lyrics I will make a rough arrangement that will most likely get
moved around.” 

7. Do you have any production tricks?

“Something that I’ve been doing for the last seven years is using a Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper pedal. It’s a kind of clock-able tremolo, with different waveforms. Just playing the root note on a bass or synth through it creates a rhythmic part that has a melodic content. Malekko has reissued it now and I use their version more often. The Boss Slicer pedal works too. I’ve used a guitar through it to create a melodic percussive line that has an almost hand drum feel. I find that these tracks support the rest of the song without taking up a lot of space.”

8. Tell us about some of the other collaborations you are involved in?

“I’m always collaborating with different singers, either on music that I write or lately the records I’m producing with Jasun Adams and Evan Harris, where I get to play guitar, bass, synths and program beats. There is also the project I have with Chris Olley from Six By Seven.”

9. What is on your wish-list studio gear-wise?

“More mic pres. I’ve been eyeing the Helios Type 69 500-series and the Skibbe Electronics 736-5. Both don’t seem to be available at the moment so maybe I missed my opportunity. New monitors are probably the most important thing I need.”

10. What would you like to see developed in terms of studio technology and why?

“I’m still catching up on equipment from the '80s and '90s! New shit keeps coming out that’s amazing, far beyond what I could have imagined.”

11. What advice have you picked up from playing live?

“Be on time, make friends with the house engineer and maintain your gear. Basic stuff that seems really difficult when you’re young.”

12. … and from working in the studio?

“Always label everything in your session. Being slightly obsessive/compulsive has been very handy.”

13. And from the music industry as a whole?

“Be nice to everyone. There’s no point in being a dick; it’s a small world and an even smaller music world. You’ll run into the same faces somewhere down the line.”

14. Tell us about your latest album?

“Tafelmuzik Means More When You’re Alone was an experiment in using different instruments to create music. I was in a bit of a rut with the guitar and we had a decent collection of thrift shop organs and drum machines, all of which we ran through pedals. We recorded hours of this, lots of fun, but ultimately it didn’t turn into a traditional album. It is an interesting snapshot of where our heads were at. At more than four hours it’s a very unfiltered snapshot…”

15. What have you got planned for the near future?

“I have been working on the next Pete International Airport record; most of the music is done. Some vocals have been added, but I’m waiting on others or trying to figure who to ask to sing on the rest. The third Walls Of Dada record is also underway – Chris Olley and I are trading files across the Atlantic. I’m also producing records for my long time collaborator Jasun Adams and for Evan Harris, a local artist who has a more traditional musical style, as well as working on the next Dandy’s record.”

Tafelmuzik Means More When You’re Alone is priced at $11.11 with $1 from each purchase going to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charity who provide financial assistance to musicians. And check out the Pete International Airport website for more information.

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