Interview | The Dandy Warhols

Breaking onto the scene in 1994, The Dandy Warhols were tagged from the get-go as ‘Portland’s answer to Brit-pop’. Releasing a string of iconic hits over the last two decades, the Dandies, as they are affectionately known, have proven themselves to be veteran outliers, drifting effortlessly between garage, psych-rock, shoegaze, electronica and glam. These past 22 years have seen the band support the likes of David Bowie and The Rolling Stones on tour and pack out some of the biggest venues on the globe. Since their first Australian tour back in 1998, The Dandy Warhols have returned nearly every since for national tours and festival performances at Falls, Big Day Out, Parklife, and Harvest and most recently, Splendour in the Grass 2015. In April this year, the band released their ninth studio album, Distortland, and are bringing their new material to Australia once again for their fourteenth Australian tour. We had a chat with drummer Brent DeBoer about Distortland, their upcoming Australian tour and sharing the stage with David Bowie.

So you guys have another Australian tour in October – it must be a nice change when the other guys have to make the flight to join you…How have you find living in a different hemisphere to the rest of band over these past five years?
It’s not too bad too bad. For recording, I just show up a week or two ahead of a tour and we’ll rehearse and record, or maybe I’ll stay after a tour and that’s seems to work pretty nicely actually. I recorded a little bit here in Melbourne but I guess it’s just a whole hell of a lot of flights, a lot air miles getting racked up. I fly back and forth every couple of weeks really. A lot of time sitting on airplanes. I think I’ve seen every movie Quantas has to offer.

Dandy Warhols have visited Australia a bunch of times and you relocated to Melbourne 5 years ago – what attracted you to Melbourne as a place to live?
It’s where my wife is from, so it made a lot of sense because it’s near her family and friends and she knows this town. That’s the main reason we moved here, we lived in Portland for a few years which was great and we’ve tossed around the idea of doing that again but it’s a great town. I love this country so it’s worked out nicely.

‘Distortland’ came out earlier this year and was your first album in four years… How have you found taking the new material on the road so far this year in Europe and the US?
These songs are just a blast to play, some of my favourite ones we’ve ever played. The audiences have really been digging the new stuff and as the years have gone along, there’s been more and more reaction to the new songs and people yelling out the titles from the new album and singing the words and all of that fun stuff. Before and after the gigs, hanging out with people, they just seem to be really loving this new album so we’re really happy.

Will you guys ever use live shows as a way to experiment with new music that you’re still refining? Or is it quite a planned and deliberate approach most of the time?
We take really long sound checks where we’ll play new stuff or play stuff that we’ve never played, just experimenting here and there, trying covers and trying songs from the back catalogue that we haven’t played in years. For all of our songs, including the new stuff, we always tackle it as a live project, we don’t generally try to make it sound just like the album, we just do whatever it takes to make the song work in a live setting even if it comes off sounding radically different from the album. If it’s working in that particular way live, we’ll just go with it, you know.

I know the roof of your studio caved in while you were recording, was it an otherwise smooth process?
Yeah, it was really smooth. We just kind of worked off and on between tours for a couple of years until we realised we had enough material for an album and then just started mixing it and getting it all tidy to release it. We got home from a tour and found the studio’s roof was caved in. Because it had been raining something biblical while we were gone and when we got back the drainage had clogged in the roof and it had filled with water like an olympic sized swimming pool. The weight of it caved in, but the bulk of the water was held by this rubber cover that’s up on the roof that actually held it. So the irreplaceable vintage gear was all salvaged, we were really fortunate that way. The insurance covered it and now it’s all spruced up and tidier than ever in the studio, it’s really nice now.

The album started coming together initially on an 80s cassette recorder in Courtney’s basement, is that something you’ve experimented with before?
Yeah, I think all of us grew up using those 8-track recorders when you have an idea for a tune, you can lay it down on cassette and Courtney still uses his. Sometimes those four track recorders get really good sound, the tape just sounds beautiful. We’ll just take Courtney’s basement demo on cassette and load it in to the system and utilise some of those sounds along the way. I’d say 90% of the songs you hear on the album are recorded in the studio at the auditorium with the big old outboard gear and the fancy mics and everything, but it’s nice to get that earliest inspiration for the song, take some of those sounds and put them in there. We just think it sounds really cool.

I know the album’s title is bit of a reference to the gentrification, I guess, of Portland – in what ways have you seen Portland distort and change the most for the worse?
A lot more traffic, lots and lots of cranes and overly priced apartments. The neighbourhood where are studio is used to be fully industrial, we called it the fiction corner because we were there and Will Vinton Studios were there, film and animation studios as well and lots of rehearsal spaces and now all around us – it’s like that movie ‘Up’ where the guy is just surrounded by these modern building and refuses to move, that’s totally what our studio is like now. It’s just totally surrounded by coffee shops and bike stores and indoor climbing facilities and apartments and brand new 24hr fitness gyms and all of that kind of stuff and then there’s our rock studio – the last single story building in the whole neighbourhood. It’s alright, there’s just a lot of traffic and a lot of people moving in that don’t really know the unspoken rules yet, like, letting pedestrians have the right of way and never honking your horn – just slowing down and chilling out. I guess the pace has just picked up a bit but it’s still a great vibe and it’s a beautiful city, it’s very clean and there’s great restaurants and great people. There’s still a bit of quirkiness but it’s just a bit cleaner now.

I was just going through and watching your music videos last night and stumbled across a really poor quality fan video of you guys performing ‘White Light’ with David Bowie in 2002 in London – that must have been such a surreal moment, can you tell me a bit about that night, what it was like?
Bowie was always a big fan of the Dandys and we went on the road for with him for a couple of months in Europe. It was actually his last tour, and we were the opening band. He was curating the week long arts festival in London and they invited him to have a concert at Royal Festival Hall and it was kind of a sit down, almost black tie event. We played first and Bowie headlined the night, and looking out at the audience was kind of trippy, it was like playing at the Grammys or something. The audience was full of people like The Cure, Kylie Minogue, U2, Coldplay, Green Day, this comedian and that actor – looking out at the crowd was trippy. We played for an hour but we only played three movements and we kind of made it up as we went because Bowie said we should do something a bit different because it’s an arts festival so we played some droning, tripped out wall of sound, Massive Attack style, avant-garde set. There were a few people in the audience looking like us dogs being shown a card trick, not really sure what they were looking at there but it was a fun night. At the end, Bowie invited us to come on stage with him and when we got up there, he announced that the last time he had invited someone up on stage at one of his concerts was Lou Reed in 1977 and they played ‘White Light/White Heat’ and this was the second time ever. So we felt pretty special at that moment. I remember, just before we were going on stage, this was the third encore, Bowie’s drummer turned to me and said, ‘This song’s more of a Dandy Warhol style song, do you want to play drums on it?’ And he’s holding his sticks out to me and I was just about to say, ‘OK’ when suddenly Bowie screamed out and went ‘Here we go, my band first, my band first on stage, then The Dandys’, and he was looking really intensely at everyone and I was like, ‘No, no, no you play – I’m not doing it.”  But it was a great night and I remember backstage at the after party which was quite an amazing party, there’s some photos online of it… Zia thought that Bono was Daniel Ash and she goes, ‘Oh my god, Daniel!’ and runs and jumps on him wrapping her legs around him. Bono just standing there like ‘what the hell, who is this?’ and he says, “Darl, I think you’re mistaking me for somebody else”.

That has to be the first time that has ever happened to Bono in his life.
Yeah, it was a classic.

I imagine you would have stacked up a few of those surreal moments playing to massive audiences around the world and supporting people like the rolling stones? Do you ever have any special destinations you always like returning to?
The Fillmore in San Francisco is always really special, with all of that history and it’s such a beautiful room with the chandeliers and the vibe in there is always incredible. Over the years, we’ve played a few ancient roman amphitheatres around Europe. That’s really incredible to be in this thousands year old amphitheatre. We played in one that was in Switzerland, and our dressing room was in this stone cave under the back stage and it was the actual room where people were held before they raised this gate and they were shoved out to be eaten by lions or whatever. So we’re sitting in this room going, ‘This is kind of creepy’.

These days, I’m really enjoying these unknown, out of the way boutique festivals that take place along the coast of Spain or Portugal or France that you don’t know anything about and you show up and it’s catered with local cuisine and the fans are all various age groups. I just love those kinds of festivals. Recently, on this last tour, we played in the city square in Santiago, Spain in this medieval square and that was really surreal. It was really, really fun.  It’s an amazing job to have to travel around the world and playing these concerts and meeting so many people, it’s really fantastic actually.

Catch The Dandy Warhols Distortland Australian Tour in October, dates below. 

Wednesday, 26th October
Metro City, Perth
Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Thursday, 27th October
HQ, Adelaide
Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Saturday, 29th October
Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane
Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Sunday, 30th October
Parkwood Tavern, Gold Coast
Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Thursday, 3rd November
ANU Bar, Canberra
Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Friday, 4th November
Big Top, Sydney
Tickets: Metropolis Touring

Saturday, 5th November
Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Tickets: Metropolis Touring