The Dandy Warhols: Distortland and the albums that influenced us
'I didn't know music could be like this'
"The first week of touring is terrible: you're torn from your home, where it's your personal space, and you're given a new space as big as a windowsill. And everybody's getting this done to them, so everybody's complaining, everyone's being a little bitch and it's all fucked. But once you're a week in, everybody gets it. You let go and it's fine."
Courtney Taylor-Taylor isn't one to hold back. Ask him a direct question, like ‘Do you still enjoy touring?' and he'll fix you with his steely gaze while doling out enough expletives to turn the air blue. Lucky for us, we're in a Bristol rock pub where swearing is practically a prerequisite for entry.
"But it's part of being in a band, writing music and wanting to share it with people," reasons Brent DeBoer, drummer for The Dandy Warhols and cousin to singer/guitarist Courtney. "And thank god [that we can] because it's fantastic."
It's been four years since The Dandy Warhols released an album, but now they're back with Distortland, a highly-praised long-player with overtones of '60s rock and undertones of hypnotic, LSD-fuelled vintage trance. For fans, Distortland has been a long train running.
"I can't just sit down and write songs," Courtney explains when asked why it takes so long to write a Dandy's album. "I have to party a lot and be social and get drunk and humiliate myself publicly and be a dick. And then someone needs to be a dick to me. There needs to be a lot of that because, to me, songs are an act of salvation. I can't fake that so I have to experience it firsthand."
Getting emotionally messy might be Courtney's muse, but for Brent and the rest of the band, bringing songs to life is done through jamming. "It's a case of us playing the song and expanding it, because only half a song ever comes out [of Courtney] – a verse or a melody or something."
"The writing happens on my sofa," Courtney chips in, "then it goes down to my basement and ends up on a cassette four track that I've had since I was 13. I'm fast on it. Once I have a few of those, they get loaded in to my computer, then they go down to the studio where we start replacing the sounds that weren't that great and the band start layering shit on."
Enter the band's studio and you'll find yourself in a world of vintage gear, of eighties drum machines and experimental musical instruments, plus some familiar modern names. "We've been collecting gear for years," Brent laughs about the ever-expanding haul. "We use anything that's available to us, and at this point we have a lot of stuff available to us."
"I have a couple of synthesisers, a Fender Jaguar – brand new, not vintage – and a Tech 21 SansAmp amp," says Courtney. "I've also got a little Optigon, which is like a wurly or something. You can play a sound and have this rhythm loop going. It's old – fifties, I think. I've got a couple of 80s drum machines, a LinnDrum and a Sequential Circuits DrumTraks, and we have some fancy stuff, too, including a digital SSL mixing port."
"That's a beautiful thing," gushes Brent. "It's boring to talk about, but we also have lots of nice outboard gear. We're well set up."
Swapping the gear talk for album talk, we ask Courtney and Brent to reveal the albums that changed their lives, and to explain how the success of Distortland has taken the band by surprise.
The Dandy Warhols - Bohemian Like You (2000)
Courtney: "There are so many albums that influenced me and the band: The Verve's A Storm In Heaven, The Velvet Underground & Nico [The Velvet Underground] and Mazzy Star's So Tonight That I Might See.
"I can tell you what record absolutely changed our lives and that's Bohemian Like You. Junkie changed our lives first because it put us on the map, but Bohemian was crazy.
"It was one of those strokes of luck and crazy timing things. It sold a couple of million copies, back in the day when people were still buying records.
"It was the last record for stoners that sold big. After that, you only sold millions of records if you were writing for nine-year-old girls."
Queen - Another One Bites The Dust (1980)
Brent: "My early life was always The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, Dylan and The Stones, but if we're talking about the moment when everything switched, it was when our cousins Scott and Mike played Queen's Another One Bites The Dust.
"My dad only had 60s and some 70s music, and probably the newest thing he would've had was Steely Dan, so that's all I knew. But then suddenly I'm in the back of my cousin's car and he puts on Another Ones Bites The Dust.
"I'd never heard anything like that. It scared the piss out of me.
"We were having a family reunion and I remember going back and telling my mom about the song. She hadn't heard it but said we shouldn't get it anyway because, ‘Another one bites the dust means a person has died.' I was a kid. I had no idea."
Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
Courtney: "Devo and Bauhaus were the two bands that really got to me. I liked rock, but I didn't know you could deconstruct it and come at it from a different angle and use it to hold a mirror to reality.
"Devo truly defined their sound and philosophy through their name. Devo was all about de-evolution. They made rock and it sounded so smarty; scrawny, skinny, weird. Just listen to their first album – just, wow.
"Alan Myers [drummer] was fucking amazing. Everything he played sounded cool and smart. The whole band resonated with me. It was all cool guitar tones, cool keyboard sounds, weirdo smart guy lyrics."
Bauhaus - In The Flat Field (1980)
Courtney: "Listen to the first Bauhaus album and you'll instantly get it. Bauhaus were massive for me – they changed my life like no other band, other than Devo.
"There's a deconstructionalist art school in Germany [Bauhaus] where the function is the style, and Bauhaus are aptly named because they're such a minimalist band – there's no wasted sound, not even a millisecond.
"Not like this [Courtney refers to the paint-by-numbers pop punk blasting over the pub's speakers]. They're wasting energy like five year olds."
Brent: "Yeah, music is about affecting someone's emotions and it can be done without all this jerking off.
"When I hear music like this, I immediately think of other ways the song could be done, because every once in a while you catch a great lyric that's emotionally lost by the spastic nature of the music."
Spritualised - Lazer Guided Melodies (1992)
Courtney: "This album was like taking a diamond bullet between my eyes. It was like being force fed growth. I first heard it while sitting in the back of a rental Lincoln town car, on a drive to the Oregon coast.
"This guy had flown out from Capitol Records to try and sign the band [The Beauty Stab] I was drumming for. He had a bag of pot the size of my head.
"So we just smoked and he played Lazer Guided and I remember thinking, ‘This is the coolest fucking thing I've ever heard. Finally, someone has made the record for me.' It was exactly what I didn't know I always wanted."
Catherine Wheel - Ferment (1992)
Courtney: "In the wake of that Capitol Records experience, Peter moved back to Portland from New York City and brought with him records by bands like Low and Swervedriver, and all these other amazing bands that were happening in the UK.
"Catherine Wheel's Ferment album had just come out and I thought it was so fucking cool. We played that a lot. Those records by those bands helped shaped the Dandys for sure."
The Dandy Warhols - Dandys Rule OK (1995)
Brent: "I wasn't in the band when the first album came out [Brent replaced original Dandy's drummer Eric Hedford in 1998], but that album ruined everything I knew about music.
"There was no internet, no way for me or any bands I played in to know anything about anything other than what our peers were telling us, and we didn't have that many cool people around us at the time.
"One day my dad said, ‘Your cousin Courtney's got a new band. You should check 'em out.' So I went to one of their gigs and their music was a punch in the gut for me. Once you experience that lightning change, that's it.
"Suddenly, our big heroes were my cousin's band. [Dandys Rule OK] raised the bar; the bands we originally looked up to didn't cut it any more.
"We needed to find out about the bands Courtney and Peter Holmström [guitar] talked about in interviews, which introduced us to The Verve, The Velvet Underground, Spiritualised… It shifted us into a whole other world: our rehearsals changed, our gear changed, the feel of our songs changed.
"And we all got girlfriends because of it."
Led Zeppelin - No Quarter (1973)
Courtney: "I didn't hear No Quarter until right before I put the Dandy's together. The singer in [The Beauty Stab] told me to check out No Quarter.
"So I took a huge bong rip, sat in front of the speakers and had my face melted.
"I'm not massively into Bonham as a drummer, but I love the band. I'm still excited by Zeppelin and if they came on the stereo now I wouldn't be so fucking anxious to leave this place [the pub is now playing screamo, much to Courtney's comic dislike]."
Toto - Toto IV (1982)
Courtney: "Great drummers always played in foolish bands. You know, drummers like Jeff Porcora with Toto and Steve Smith with Journey. Toto only had a couple of goods songs, like Africa and Rosanna – and yeah, Hold The Line [Toto, 1978] is a good song too – but Jeff Porcaro was so much better.
"Rosanna has a drum beat that you have to learn. It's the same with Paul Simon's 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, where Steve Gadd is just killing it – if you want to be a real drummer, you need to learn that.
"But I didn't get into those bands because of the drummers. Those bands weren't cool. Not like Devo was cool."
The Dandy Warhols - Distortland (2016)
Courtney: "We've never had a record come out and pack out the venues as fast as Distortland has. Or a new record where everybody sings along to all the songs straight away – it usually takes a year for that to happen.
"All of our new songs are very singable. There's repetitive, hypnotic, trancy stuff and classic sixties rock. [On the band's recent tour] we've been playing Pope Reverend Jim, Search Party, You Are Killing Me and STYGGO and people are really getting into the songs.
"They're stoked with the new material. After four years of writing, it's really fucking cool to see that."