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Dandy Warhols: 'The web made playing instruments absolutely worthless'

Daniel Gumble
Dandy Warhols: 'The web made playing instruments absolutely worthless'

Making their first UK festival appearance in more than a decade, The Dandy Warhols recently headlined Hertfordshire’s Standon Calling in what was a triumphant return for the US alt rockers. Daniel Gumble made the short trip east from MI Pro HQ to catch up with front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor, who was on particularly fine form, to discuss how the industry has changed over the past two decades, why physical music stores are going nowhere and why Standon Calling is the greatest festival he's ever played...

It’s been over ten years since the Dandy Warhols last played a festival on UK shores, which, for a band that has put out five albums and celebrated its 20th anniversary during that time, is a pretty lengthy absence. Not that the Dandys have abandoned live performance altogether – they have remained a regular fixture on the international touring circuit – they are just a little more selective about the places they play.

It may come as a surprise, then, that the band’s return to the UK festival scene was marked not with an appearance at Glastonbury or on the main stage at Reading, T in the Park, Isle of Wight etc, but with an exclusive performance at Hertfordshire’s humble Standon Calling festival. Why? “Because they asked us,” is the reply of Courtney Taylor-Taylor, the Dandys’ genial frontman, guitarist and creative driving force. And it seems that, in the few short hours since the band arrived on site, the festival has had a significant impact on him.

After forming The Dandy Warhols back in 1994, it didn’t take long for Taylor-Taylor and his band mates to become disillusioned by the realities of life on the festival circuit. Indeed, the band became disillusioned with many of the realities of rock ‘n’ roll during the ‘90s and early ‘00s in general, citing the ever increasing competitive and corporate nature of the industry among his biggest bugbears.
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These days, however, he’s of the firm opinion that things are on the up; that the business of rock ‘n’ roll is more positive, creative and accepting than ever before. Qualities that he feels are typified perfectly by Standon Calling.

“This is my favourite festival I’ve ever been to in my life,” he states. “It’s incredibly creative. I just didn’t know that you could do this level of intricate work and achieve everything that goes into it. There’s a western town built and everyone’s dressed up – 75 per cent of the people are dressed up. It’s just incredibly fun. There’s acrobatics and families and children running amok, then there’s the usual hippies and trippers. But it’s not all angsty, angry electronic music. Everything is dreamy and chilled and earthy. It’s my dream festival. If you could suck all the great ideas I’ve ever had out of my brain and make a festival I think this might be it.”

So why such a long time away from UK festivals?

“I haven’t been to a festival in the UK for ten years because they were terrible. They were just angsty and nasty and corporate. It must have been ten or 12 years ago we stopped playing UK festivals and we just played little boutiquey arts festivals in Europe and Australia, and occasionally something in America. But, mostly, festivals just weren’t fun. They certainly weren’t fun in the ‘90s; they were fucking awful, mean places.”

It’s not just the festival circuit that has changed during the Dandys’ career. According to Taylor-Taylor, the entire live scene has transformed for the better into something radically different from things were in their early years.

“For the live part of it, we are living in this idyllic golden age that we only used to dream about 17 years ago. People are nice. You go into any club anywhere in the world and the crew are skinny boys and girls with groovy haircuts and great record collections and good social skills and they’re happy to see you. Everything’s easy and it’s fun. It used to be that the coolest thing you could be was dumb, mean and, if you were big, then wow, you were really fucking cool. And that’s what life was like, with rap rock and hate metal - people were fuckers. Bands didn’t want to talk to you. Everyone was an asshole – we were miserable during the ‘90s. We hated it.

“Then it just started to get better. Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia got big out of nowhere, like, a year and a half after we put it out. After that, all these bands like The Strokes, The Vines, The White Stripes, all these cool bands started getting signed to major label deals and suddenly you could just feel it. This music was way better than it was four years ago and the attitudes of the artists started to change. By 2008 you’re meeting other bands all the time at festivals and hanging out having fun together and everyone’s happy and glad to see each other. And now it’s this [Standon Calling]. It’s unbelievable. It’s like a geeked out artist’s wet dream.”

 

New music, shops and the web

Aside from preparing for their UK festival return, the band have been back in the studio this year, putting the finishing touches to the follow-up record to 2012’s This Machine, which is tentatively scheduled for a February 2016 release. Which brings our conversation round to the impact the Internet has had on the music industry.

“It’s made music absolutely valueless. There is no value to it; it almost cannot be sold anymore. That’s hard. It’s reduced it to the lowest of the lowest of the lowest. You have to make music for nine-year old girls to really get big. That’s rough. It has made it so that anybody can get a few hundred thousand fans and get in a van and go run around your country or continent and do it. Music is only there as a free ad for your band in the hope that people will go see you live and that’s how you’ll make a living. Fortunately we’re already set up so we can just go tour, and we’re still getting slightly bigger. We played Manchester last night and we sold more tickets by the day before the show than we did by the end of last year’s show."

His advice for bands just starting out?

“I’d just tell ‘em not to. You can take a few years of your life and do it, but don’t even imagine for a minute you can do it for the rest of your life. It’s just not like that anymore.”

For better or worse, the Internet has also had a huge impact on the way that music is made. Suddenly, one didn’t need a band or any discernable musical talent to create a fully formed record. Simply a laptop, a comfy chair and a pair of decent headphones would suffice.

However, Taylor-Taylor believes that, ultimately, the Internet has had a positive influence on the industry.

“For ten or 15 years it made it completely worthless to be able to play a real instrument. Nobody really cared. Now, it has put value back in. Since everybody can make it at home, I think know you just grow up being even more blown away by people playing instruments. Things are pretty cool right now. People dig music and real musicians. EDM has become a low common denominator; it’s like the new heavy metal. It’s mean, angry, athletics-oriented males that go and get wasted and get into fights to it and pee on each other, or whatever the fuck they do. This kind of thing [Standon Calling] is coming up. The Internet has made the world a way better place. I’m sorry it hit my industry so hard, but it’s done great things for it, too.” 

And what of the impact it’s had upon musical instrument stores?

“There are more guitar shops and music shops now in Portland [Oregon] than there ever were, growing up. They’re everywhere. Everywhere we go, we go to music stores. Used instruments is a fly-by-night business. So, when you see them go out of business for the first time, you think it’s a sign of the times. It is not; it’s a sign of the genre. That’s the nature of used clothing stores, hipster pizza joints, used guitar and drum stores. These places aren’t going away, there are more hipster bands now than ever.”

Taylor-Taylor is also of the opinion that the Internet has inspired the current crop of bands and musicians to get more involved with production, giving them a greater understanding of how to make a great sounding record.

“Everyone growing up with a laptop and making music for themselves has made everyone a much better producer. In the ‘90s I was recording myself on little tape machines and then I went to music college for the last two years of my school and went hard core into recording, photography and film, so when I went out into the real world of making records I was way ahead of everyone else; way better than everyone else. I’d been in so many bands so I knew how to pick band members. I did not pick good musicians, I picked people I loved hanging out with, people who had great taste and style and a great attitude on life. I knew how to do it. We came out a fully formed art force and I could write songs and I could produce the shit out of records and it was easy. Now everybody can. So the last few years have been highly competitive for us; everybody’s better at keyboards and synths.”

It seems that the competition of contemporary musicians/producers, as well as, according to Taylor-Taylor, the resurgence of guitar bands over synth bands, has had a knock-on effect with regard to the making of the next Dandys’ album.

“For this record, with the fading away of synths and guitarists coming up, I just scooped up a bunch of keyboards from my era – the late ‘80s – and I got myself a Pro Tools rig on my laptop again. I haven’t produced a record for us out of my basement and then taken it to the studio in ten years, so it’s noticeably more evolved and more Dandys than anything we’ve released in a long time. Our skill set is exactly where things are going right now.

“I fucking love being in my studio; just mixing and getting a fucking bag of weed, a few bottles of champagne, getting some friends over and just drinking and partying.”

As our time together draws to a close and conversation turns to musical influences, Taylor-Taylor believes that there is very little coming through that can match the artists that influenced the Dandys, as he recalls the key records that provided the backdrop to their formative years.

“When we put the band together I can tell you exactly what we were inspired by, but growing up I don’t know. The occasional song, like, Queen would put out ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and The Clash would put out ‘Combat Rock’. And there was Duran Duran’s first record and Devo, who we really loved. And AC/DC. But when we put the band together it was The Verve’s A Storm in Heaven, Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See, Spiritualized’s Lazer Guided Melodies, The Velvet Underground with Nico, T-Rex Electric Warrior and I think that was basically the only records we had. We did drugs and fucked and rocked and travelled and drank and did everything to these five records. That was everything that influenced the Dandys in the beginning – that was the soundtrack to our entire world, these five records.

“I see a lot of bands that I love and hear things that are great,” he concludes. “But I think I’ve just seen too much stuff and my expectations are… I want a Jimi Hendrix or a Beatles and it’s just not happening. And it doesn’t feel the same to me because they’re half my age and everything they do is obvious to me, no matter how good it is.”

Tags: Retail , interview , Interviews , festivals , standon calling , the dandy warhols , courtney taylor-taylor

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