The dandy aesthetic

The Dandy Warhols made their escape from urban bohemia witha little help from Vodafone. now they’re going retro-glam. Zia McCabe explains.

Despite a somewhat colourful reputation for her antics (getting her tits out on stage and stealing booze from Liam Gallagher’s dressing room… the list goes on) Dandy Warhols keyboardist Zia McCabe has her head firmly screwed on.

Having scored a lucrative advertising deal with mobile giants Vodafone, 2002 saw The Dandies propel their excellent 13 Tales Of Urban Bohemia album to gold and platinum status all over Europe, taking in a series of festival dates that garnered a diverse selection of new-found fans.

“That whole project was single-handedly Vodafone,” says Zia. “We’d toured, we’d done what we could with that album and we were going home to make a new one. We were like, ‘Oh, it was a moderate success, a little bit more successful than the one before’.”

However, Vodafone had other plans. Having put “more money behind us than any label ever has”, The Dandies soon found themselves on heavy TV rotation, heralding a speedy single re-release and top five hits all across the European charts.

“It completely turned our career around,” she says. “We stayed out on the road. We did a big promo tour and all these great festivals and when we went home, we had a greater sense of self and could realistically set our goals a bit higher for the next record.”

That record turned out to be Welcome To The Monkey House. An electronic amalgam of trademark hooky melodies, electro-synth keyboard effects and a deliberate shy away from their traditional guitar band roots, the band’s fourth LP adds a new dimension to the Dandies’ already expansive repertoire. Guest producers Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran) and Tony Visconti (Bowie, T Rex) play up the ’80s dance pop synth slides, while still paying homage to Zia and co’s decidedly retro quirks (think poseur rock with clapping and ah-ha choruses).

“When we were making guitar music, we were reacting to grunge,” says Zia. “We wanted lush, trippy, stoner music that people could drink cocktails and dress really fabulous to. Back then though, everybody was making electronic music – guitars were out, so we decided to make the last classic rock album. We were like, ‘Let’s use guitars, vintage equipment and make a record that’s already obsolete, and if people buy it, great. But really, we make the music that we think is needed. We’re like, ‘Let’s make a record that’s got a really cool tight package, that’s still our little stoney trip, but without that wall of guitar and instead use some of these new wave keyboards and glam music sounds.”

This progressive approach to writing and recording is something Zia cites as crucial to a band’s relevance, and consequently, their shelf-life.

“You can’t get stuck in the past,” she maintains. “You won’t be satisfied. People have gotten such a fear of losing their success that they want to keep with what’s good and not try anything different – unless you keep doing your own thing and it just stays popular anyway like Bruce Springsteen or something. But we have a very short attention span anyway. We need to be inspired and in the midst of chaos – constantly trying to figure things out, constantly learning, so it’s the perfect thing for us to go, ‘OK, what’s nobody doing right now? What kind of record do we want to listen to that we can’t put on from any band we know?’ And then we make the record.”

Idealistic or not, it’s an aesthetic that has paid dividends.

“I think that’s the way it should be done”, she declares. “Otherwise we’d have millions and millions of people trying to make this one great record. Nirvana made it! Stop trying!”

 

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