Interview: Courtney Taylor-Taylor

Mission: control freak
By FRANKLIN SOULTS  |  September 8, 2008

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In the 2004 documentary DiG!, the Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor reacts to the musical criticism of a Capitol Records executive by scoffing, “I sneeze and hits come out!” Touring Europe in that movie, the Portland (Oregon) four-piece lived up to his offhandedly clever boast by living up to their offhandedly clever name, making money and winning fans with equal parts ironic conceptual panache and bald pop moves.

Now it’s four years later, and the singer/songwriter/producer has reacted to the new economic relations in music by leaving Capitol to form the Dandy Warhols’ own label, World’s Fair. This Tuesday, the band come to the Wilbur Theatre to promote their first album on the new label, Earth to the Dandy Warhols.

The Dandy Warhols started as a guitar band often compared to the Velvet Underground, then moved through an ’80s phase with Welcome to the Monkey House [produced with Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes]. Now for two albums your music has been spacy, drony, reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, maybe early Jesus and Mary Chain. Are you conscious of moving through music history decade by decade?
Only in retrospect. When we are working, we tend toward oblivion, both aurally and emotionally. Well, oblivion, but while avoiding current trends in mixing or production style. It’s been a chore avoiding all the current ’80s trends.

What happened with Capitol Records?
We had to get free. The last regime we had, there was meddling with our trip in a huge way: remixing our music without us and “fixing” photos by making us tan and crap like that. Between that and the movie DiG! we were put into the world looking like a band that I don’t think I really like very much. The records are lovely, but everything else grosses me out. Even myself. Especially in interviews. I was very confused by the pressure to be a celebrity, and I ended up being quite a little phony. . . . Really, the last five years have been the most depressing time of my life. For my own part I needed a drastic change.

Why did you call the new album Earth to the Dandy Warhols?
We see a lot of the world and it shows up in our music. This was part of it, and the other part is that we are often regarded as really “out there” or just plain fucked in the head. This strikes me as ridiculous, and being a person who loves language, having a phrase with two or more meanings usually trumps those without. Add even a tiny bit of irony and I find it album-title worthy.

Why do you bury the sound of your vocals so much?
I can hear them perfectly. But I don’t want them getting in the way of the sonic landscape that we spend an average of two years per record struggling to achieve. Recorded music is like a ship in a bottle: not everything can be big. One must balance the size of the instruments with each other.

The third track, “Welcome to the Third World,” has a sleazy, sex-starved narrator. Was it inspired by your time touring with the Rolling Stones?
It was a scary night in Tijuana with cops and drug dealers and prostitutes and all sorts of Third World shenanigans going on around us. The video is an animated version of the story. It should be done this week. As far as the clarity, that song is fairly spartan instrumentally so there really isn’t a massive soundscape to preserve.

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Related: Interview: Mitch Fatel, Slideshow: Mogwai live at the Wilbur Theatre, A real blast, More more >
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