The Dandy Warhols
A long time ago, we used to be friends, but we haven't heard much from The Dandy Warhols camp in five years. With radio silence from the Dandy camp silent for those long years, interrupted only by a brief Australian tour last year, their latest release This Machine has been a long time coming. Icons within the rock scene for irreverent, nihilistic anthems such as Bohemian Like You, Not If You Were the Last Junkie On Earth and We Used To Be Friends, the Portland-based four-piece crew are taking to Australia again this year to join the lineup of the iconic Harvest Festival. We spoke to lead singer and guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor about writing the latest album, touring, and not being Kurt Cobain.
This Machine is a decisive step into new territory for the group – more melancholic and stripped-back then a lot of their previous work. Some have declared it a radical change for the group, but Taylor-Taylor disagrees. "We always go into the studio needing to experiment with the sound we're making," he points out. "I don't think it's a darker record, like some have said – there are just less zingy moments to it, I guess. Certainly there's nothing on this record darker than the song Sleep, you know, or Weeping Tree. I guess for anyone reading this, this will seem a darker record. I like The Who and a lot of ‘60s stuff, which is kind of zingy – which gets confused with being bright and cheerful, which it’s not. I mean, Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth is about my girlfriend of three and a half years basically becoming a junkie in one weekend and going down that path of becoming, basically, a crack ho. It’s not cheerful, it’s really cynical and historically, I think there’s been a lot of confusion around my band."
On the overarching sense of narrative present on This Machine, it's all in the name. "Well, Woody Guthrie had a sticker that said, “This machine kills fascists on his guitar," Taylor-Taylor says. “And I dunno, 13 years ago I put one on mine that said, ‘This machine’. It's been there forever and it started feeling really appropriate for this record. Well, at first just because we've been together for so long, what a strange machine we are. As we went along living with it, it really just became: ‘what isn't this machine?’ What on Earth does it not apply to? A sky? The stars? People have fucked up ideas. The army. I mean, it just applies to everything."
Citing writers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Kurt Vonnegut in cheeky references, Taylor-Taylor's irreverence and sharp wit can be understood as being informed by literary influences – a tradition that continues today (which Keanu Reeves, of all people, gave him a hand with) as well as press notes for This Machine carefully authored by novelist Richard Morgan. "I love books," Taylor-Taylor says, simply. "For an entire grown man's lifetime, so I'd imagine it's pretty heavily influential. Also because I didn't grow up being a songwriter, I inherited this job because people talked me into it, really. So there isn't a history of being in high school and sitting and trying to imitate poets or songwriters; I was drawn into it in my twenties.” He pauses. “It's hard to say even, I don't even feel like I write my songs; I feel like I work with someone else – Miles Zuniga, David J, anyone I've ever worked with. It's a great relief to have them both writing songs. I'm not a prolific songwriter. If I had to write all the songs on this record, it would have taken another two or three years, so. By myself, I have to wait for them to happen to me – I don't sit down and write them. And then I'm really dealing with my subconscious – so I don't know how literature, art and things [come out]. It comes out, it's how I feel about certain situations, it's something I can't get off my mind, I need to work out emotionally for myself – that's the part music plays in my life.”
Harvest’s whirlwind run of dates in November will constitute another chance to catch the unit in action in celebration of 2012’s mammoth release. This Machine’s music has received a solid workout already on tour, as he explains. “You have to re-approach it and it takes a bit,” he says. “We tried playing songs from it a couple of years ago – in Australia, actually – and that helped, we started to really focus on what parts of this are the thing. How to handle it, and get the most depth and emotional power and beauty out of it. It's amazing, fits seamlessly with the rest of our songs. But we don't know how many people there are gonna be fans of us, or give a shit about our new record. And at some level, you have to give the people there what they want. Godless. Bohemian Like You. You Were the Last High. We'll just play a couple of songs from the latest record, just so we can go look, this is fucking amazing, it's our new record – buy it."
BY MIKI MCLAY
THE DANDY WARHOLS play Harvest Festival on Sunday November 11 alongside Beck, Grizzly Bear and more. This Machine is out now.