After I hang up with Dandy Warhols lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor I am convinced that nobody ever really has a conversation with Courtney Taylor-Taylor. Well, at least not any music journalist. I have a list of questions to ask the singer-songwriter, and only a handful of them are addressed. He just sort of just talks (or sings) to you. Not in a contemptuous sense but in a way that shows his mind carried off in tangents. Maybe his distinct drawl is the result of too many late night chemical binges and the allure of being a leading man. Sometimes he doesn’t make any sense at all, but you can see him working things out in his mind, very aware of what he is saying and how he is being perceived. If he cares at all, that is an entirely separate question.
He is the voice and heart of the band that brought psychedelic shoegazer rock back in the ‘90s. His band, though often passed off as derivative, cannot be ignored for the important catalogue they have assembled over the past decade. Taylor-Taylor is a celebrity; he is a presence (even on a speaker phone). He loves knowing that a tape recorder is picking up every insightful pause in his sensational quotes and even compliments himself for his outrageous sound bites. He is a pendulum whose scales are equally measured by ingredients of sincerity and boastfulness, graciousness and dismissiveness. He is musician who stands on a soapbox to defend his music against the press that has never treated him too lovingly, and he is human enough to still know what it means to be a fan. And now, because of last year’s amazing documentary DIG!, Courtney and Brian Jonestown Massacre front man Anton Newcombe are movie stars. But don’t for a second mistake who’s the bigger swinging dick…
PopMatters: Courtney, how you doing?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: I am ... doing ... pretty good.
PM: I know you’re a busy man, so let’s get right down to it. Your fifth full-length, Odditorium Or Warlords of Mars, comes out September 13. You described your last full-length, Welcome to the Monkey House, as having themes of self-loathing, salvation, doubt, redemption, forgiveness, temperance, and fear. How would you describe the new album thematically?
CT: Pretty much ... the same. Exactly the same—except at home amongst the clutter of my antique furniture, and red quilts and blankets instead of five-star hotels and first-class airline tickets.
PM: Okay ... do you feel that you guys are calming down a little in your age? More weathered musicians, kind of aging gracefully?
CT: Ummm ... no, I still feel like we are kind of out of control. And not really ... um ... yeah ... we haven’t really grown at all as musicians.
PM: You don’t think so?
CT: Absolutely not. We are still, you know, pretty much still flailing around. It’s generally only by luck can we control whatever it is we are trying to make happen. After we walked off stage at Lollapalooza, we kind of had to go, “We have been at this fucking for ten years now, dude, and we are no better at it than when we started. We are really truly hacks. And we’re lazy.”
PM: I wouldn’t go so far as calling you lazy, but it’s interesting you mention the hack thing because I was going to ask that as one of my questions. Do you feel that being open and derivative of your influences that it has taken away from your band’s success at all? I mean you look at a band like the Strokes who are basically copying a sound pervasive in New York from 30 years ago, and they are riding it all the way to this huge commercial success, and they aren’t as obvious about that influence as a band like the Dandys. Do you have any regrets about that?
CT: I never regret—I just want to reassure the people that I want to reassure that need reassuring that we are completely self-aware and that we are comfortable with it. There isn’t anyone that is more passionate or more desperate about music and making it happen and bringing it to ... a life-saving, life-altering need. And that is the thing—our fans are ... people who need it and they need it to feel like that. And that is who we made it for. We certainly never made any piece of music, for any other reason, than we need it. Therefore we aren’t so fucking worried that someone else will need it too. And that’s pretty much it. And that ensures that a) we will always have people that need our records because we make them specifically for somebody: us. And b) we will almost exclusively meet, when we we meet our fans, in Hamburg or Dallas, or wherever the fuck or or or Nottinghill Carnival, they will be people we will be like, “No way ... haha ... you guys wanna talk, you wanna go get a beer, are you hungry, lets go eat?” They are new friends. People that like our records are generally people who think and feel like us. It has just been a perfect life. And I think we have probably made more money than the Strokes have, too. And we get to go wherever the fuck we want, have dinner where we want and nobody knows who we are, and if they do, we generally think they are pretty cool and pretty neat.
PM: Yeah that’s another interesting thing. You guys have all stuck around Portland right?
CT: Yeah, we have our little hole we have dug in Portland and ... it’s incredible. Our lives are like, incredibly sweet simple, the same watering holes for years and years. The same friends. Hanging out, people having kids and shit. Parting, we rage and we don’t have to grow up. And ... um ... and we have really expensive toys. I mean I bought a quarter of a city block.
PM: Right, for the Odditorium right?
CT: Yeah, we filled it up with two recording studios, a restaurant, a quality kitchen, 22 seat dining room, Moroccan, total Stanley Kubrick 2001 Space Oddysey lounge, library, a screening room, film production, special effects, green screen cove, sound stage ... I mean a basketball court, BBQ deck on the roof, like, pool table with ‘70s vinyl only, 45s only, Cadillac brand ... uhh jukebox—
PM: Nice—it’s a nice clubhouse.
CT: Dude, it’s so ridiculous. We are so spoiled. We bought our freedom.
PM: Sounds that way. Do you have a favorite track off the new album?
CT: Yeah, Id say it’s prolly the first one. I’ts either actually “Everyone Is Totally Insane” or “Love Is the New Feel Awful.” Those are my current favorites
PM: Any particular reason?
CT: Because I am feeling sort of ... threatened a lot, in my day-to-day life. A bit insecure, a bit angry. And I am kind of over it and those are the two most, you know [long pause] sort of ... the glorification of the smaller feelings one has in life, you know? That is kind of how I am sort of in right now in a lot of ways—or at least a big chunk of my time. Or at least a lot of time is spent in those kind of defensive you know. Well how about: “Fuck. You. Then. All.” One is a little more exhausting, “Love Is the New Feel Awful” but they are both kind of, you know, as dark as you can go with still being hopeful. It is an extension in some sort of way ‘cause you can still turn on alternative rock radio and hear some very embarrassing like, embrassing submerged in darkness that is more like a retarded child confessing their most hate ... and losses, you know? But obviously we feel the need to do things with more sophistication then you would get on radio.
PM: Yeah, radio is nothing to brag about these days. I am sure you heard about the Sony payola scandal that broke yesterday?
CT: No ... awesome. What’s that all about?
PM: Basically NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer busted Sony and settled for 10 million dollars because they had been paying NYC radio stations money to put their songs on the air. Can you believe that? Isn’t that shocking?
CT: Have they been doing this long [sarcastically]? Or is this a new thing?
PM: [in same tone] Yeah, man, I am suspect to this being a long-term problem, but I think this is a step in the right direction.
CT: Yeah. Wouldn’t it be something if listeners’ demand is what created radio’s playlists?
PM: I know. Personally, Courtney, I feel that satellite radio could be the new forum that could make music its first priority.
CT: Yeah, for a minute. You remember there was a time before FM radio was this rebel forum where they would play whole albums? Could you imagine if satellite radio was like, “Yup, ok and after the Kaiser Chiefs’ entire record we are going to be playing the entire Dandy Warhols record. Then after that the new White Stripes entire record and then after that Kasabian’s entire record ... and just on and on. Every new band has a time where their entire fucking album is going to be played. And you can just check in whenever you want.
PM: Oh, come on, Courtney, we are the iPod generation—you know that! [laughs]
CT: That’s right. Everyone already has my entire record!
PM: [Laughs] That too, but it’s now all about the shuffle. I feel that very few people listen to albums anymore in their entirety, as they were intended to be heard.
CT: No one ... that is why my band did this. Because we were shocked that nobody made whole records to listen to anymore. I think, Velvet Rockets was the last record I put on where I listened to the whole thing because the songs weren’t like hits or anything, there were just trips all the way through. Cool sounds, two or three chords, just cool, you know? Easy. But don’t try too hard. Don’t get caught trying—ever.
PM: I like that…
CT: Yeah so that’s what we do. We make whole records to listen to. And it is great that people have iPods right now because that could in fact put us out of business but it means we just have to be better at this thing. Get in the car, put it on, road trip, you know—whatever. I think we will have to call our next album Road Trip just so people know that we are serving something necessary in the world. Like a movie. You can channel surf or you can go out and watch a movie with a story all the way through. We like movies…
PM: I was fortunate enough to catch your secret DIG! release party gig at Rothko and I really enjoyed your Beatles covers. What prompted that?
CT: Ummmm ... end ... of ... super ... party drug night. In cities all over the world. Where we didn’t have enough money to get our own rooms, so Fathead, my cousin [drummer Brent DeBoer], and I would room together, he on his bed and me on mine, with an acoustic guitars and so burnt, so crispy but still like [makes noise that cannot be transcribed that makes me chuckle, almost sounds like microwave waves in the air] you know when you’re all in your own head and everything’s just a little slowed down? And we would just start playing these songs really sloooooooowwww.
PM: Well it really worked—they were beautiful.
CT: Barely touching the guitars. We changed the harmonies, made, um, slower, darker and we thought we should do ... and we both have some really groovy old suits. We generally like getting one spotlight on us, Bob Dylan style, we wore these old suits, and I wore a top hat and he has this huge ol’ afro that is like a hat and a ... just stand there. We don’t have monitors. We just mic us up and then we just play. And it’s powerful. It’s really truly moving. And I love it ... It’s the softest thing you can do but it makes the biggest noise. It’s like an atom bomb. It’s like a fucking ... you know it really is. We were so surprised the first time we did it. We opened for this art noise band here umm ... at like a 1,300 seat really old antique, historic venue where like the Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jimi Hendrix played at in the ‘60s that is perfectly restored. Amazing. He and I are just standing there and making the quiet little most beautiful noises and it’s just heated. Like My Bloody Valentine coming through the speakers. It’s this pretty huge theater venue and we’re like, “Okaaaaaaay. I think we have something here.” And we do like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” really slow. And it becomes really sad. Really beautiful and hopeful in the real like in down-and-dirty single wife, family home, kind of way. You really get this [and sings slowed down: “And girls just wanna have fun…” and its like she goes [continues singing], “My mother says what are you going to do with your life / Ohhhh momma please were not the fortunate ones”, and its fucking heartbreaking! Girls just wanna have fun? It’s so fucking sweet. I just want to hug her.
PM: I have to ask you the prerequisite DIG! questions. Have you watched the whole thing yet?
CT: Yeah, I waited till I was done doing press though. Yeah, I had a great time. People were telling me how much they loved it. But obviously in the end I was just really impressed because it was actually a movie. She [director Ondi Timoner] didn’t really make a documentary out of it. She kind of used what was what her disposal to make a film. She wants to be a filmmaker. I don’t think she wants to be just another documentarian. But obviously you have no clue where the music comes from or what the music really is. It isn’t really about music—it’s about crazy Anton and we were fortunately kind of spared the knife. In another way we look like we come across like a bunch of fucking party yahoos who have somehow figured how to stay high enough to get along. Whereas they don’t get high enough, or they get too high—
PM: Or the wrong kind of drugs—
CT: Yeah, you don’t really understand any of us or anything about music. But in the end I think there is a really great hopeful feeling you get from this movie somehow [chuckles].
PM: I think what I took away from it was enjoying the aspects of your individual bands. You could see how much you and Anton really cared about your own music and each other—
CT: Oh, we’re both obsessive. And I think that’s why we are so obsessed with each other is because we were the only bands who we could ever find and listen to and be like, “What the fuck are they doing? Why the fuck does that work?” We started becoming influenced by one another and I had to stop listening to his records because I was afraid I was making wannabe Jonestown records. Obviously, he had a bigger obsession with me ... so ... you know, it was fucking awesome. And I didn’t feel that at all watching that movie. I felt like I got to see Anton when I wasn’t there ... It all started, and Ondi wasn’t there, he dropped apparently ten or 20 hits of acid one night and then he was just lodged into the I have the ring of power” and he, in his mind says, he broke into the Mason’s headquarters in San Francisco and stole the ring of power. And some other artifact, maybe a tome or something. And he could now control the police and the president of record companies. Oh ya ... he was an avatar of the ninth level. Are you recording this by the way?
PM: I am, yeah…
CT: Okay, because I don’t want you to get any of this wrong…
PM: No, no. I wouldn’t think of misquoting you. When was the last time you guys spoke?
CT: We played Lollapolloza together. After the movie came out he was super pissed so he emailed me and asked me, “Have you seen this?” and I said, ” No, and I’m not fucking gonna”. We talked about it and I said, “I know I am going to hate it, too.” And I told him, “I don’t remember you or I going into the fucking editing room, dude.” And, you know, we washed our hands of it and I have learned that in my business you can only trust people to be themselves. And that’s cool. You can’t trust them to do what you want to do or have them be what you want them to be. Ondi wants to be a filmmaker. Secondary to that she wants us to be more successful and famous but that is second to Ondi wanting to be a filmmaker. We should have gone in there and put the heat on her. It took her eight-and-a-half years to finish it. We weren’t even sure she would finish it. We thought she was just talking more shit. But anyways, it is a great film and it does great things for Anton, for sure. He is loved and listened to more than ever…
PM: Thanks, Courtney. I had a bunch of other questions but I guess we’re out of time. I’ll have to run them by you next time.
CT: Yeah. No problem. This will save on your editing time because this was good. You know I watch the clock; it is part of what I do. You have got some real lovely lovelies here to work with…
// Notes from the Road
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