They’re the last great rock group of their era, with a devil-may-care outlook and a store of cracking anthems. But as the sea sessions bound Dandy Warhols mark their 20th anniversary, Courtney Taylor isn’t inclined to look back
Courtney Taylor doesn’t hate hipsters – actually, the Dandy Warhols frontman thinks they are kind of sweet. Nonetheless, he admits to a shudder whenever a member of the unicycle-and-skinny-jeans club crosses his path. Fifteen years ago, he had a vision of a future in which the ‘h’ crowd were overlords of all they surveyed — and dang if it hasn’t come true.
“Remember the video to ‘Bohemian Like You’?” he says, referring to the Dandy’s 2001 Vodafone-approved uber-smash. “The people in it looked like the biggest collection of scumbags anyone had seen since the ‘60s. And now everybody looks like that. It’s fucking weird. It was another ten years before the word ‘hipster’ even came into being. And yet the song was about them – it’s funny stuff.”
‘Bohemian’ remains, by a considerable distance, The Dandy Warhols' biggest hit, the one played on the radio, the one that draws casual fans to their shows. Nothing else in their catalogue comes close and, with their music taking on an increasingly uncommercial tenor from 2005’s Odditorium or Warlords Of Mars on, it seems they’ve given up trying to replicate its success. Still, Taylor isn’t ambivalent about the song at all; he loves it as much today as the day he wrote it.
“It’s simple to play – fun to play,” he says, speaking from his home in Portland, Oregon. “You get in the chute and it builds and there you go: it takes on a life of its own. Our songs are easy to perform. If we had to do all these complicated parts maybe it would get old. But it’s like surfing – the energy isn’t coming from us. All we're doing is manipulating it a little.”
Sentimentality isn’t part of his make-up and he seems indifferent to the fact the band this year celebrate their 20th anniversary. That said, he does consider it a minor miracle the Dandys are still around – or, for that matter, lasted long enough to put out a record in the first place.
“We were mocked and ridiculed,” he notes. “The outlook for the Dandy Warhols was bleak from day one. Around Portland people were like ‘fuck you… you fucking faggots’. It was non-stop. This was right after grunge. It was fashionable to have big huge shorts and tattoos up your calves – when being mean was fucking cool.
“Fortunately Portland wasn’t a cool town – there was a declining population, had been for 20 years. You had lots of squatters, lots of loser hippy artists and freaks. Those were our friends, the people we picked our band from. It wasn’t important that we were good musicians. I was classically trained, could write songs, but that wasn’t what it was about.”
They were quickly signed to Capitol Records and, with a fair amount of cash behind them, in 1997 recorded their major label debut, Dandy Warhols Come Down (remembered for quasi-hits ‘Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth’ and ‘Everyday Should Be A Holiday’). Nowadays, they're independent and have to self-finance their music like everyone else (their last original collection was in 2012 – a new LP is planned for 2015). Does Taylor feel privileged to have experienced the music industry before, commercially speaking, it all came crashing down? He shakes his head.
“That system worked for us. We were a minority. I remember thousands of bands just… going away. You’d meet on tour and never hear from them again. So the old way worked for maybe one band out of a million. The rest are 45-years old now pulling shots of espresso for a living. I’m not especially nostalgic for that time.”
Taylor is a wry dude, his patter sarcastic and incredulous. Nonetheless, he presents a much improved figure compared to our previous encounter in 2012, when he was grieving for his friend, the society shock artist Sebastian Horsley.
“We were very close,“ he said then of Horsley, who passed away in 2010 after a heroin overdose. “We’d made plans to get together in London the next month. His play had opened, he went to it and was thrilled with the reception. Then he went home and shot a bunch of dope, that killed him.“
That the Dandy’s have not troubled the charts in a serious way since the early 2000s bothers Taylor not at all. He found the mainstream a strange, uncomfortable place.
“I remember drinking with The Cure’s Robert Smith in Greece just as 'Bohemian' was starting to break,” he recalls. “And he said, ‘you’re going to hate it, man. This is going to be the most sick you are ever going to be in your life’. He told me that when The Cure began playing arenas he’d look out into the audience and see all these guys wearing baseball caps. And they weren’t even wearing them the right way around. Nobody else told me that. I was friends with Joe Strummer before he died. He didn’t tell me. I’ve spent a lot of time with David Bowie. He didn’t say anything. It was just Robert. He was the only one.”
The Dandy Warhols headline the Sea Sessions Festival in Buncrana, Co. Donegal on June 27 with the full weekend line-up at seasessions.com
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