Q MAGAZINE: Courtney Taylor-Taylor on the Dandy Warhols’ New Album, Befriending David Bowie, and Singing ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ With Love & Rockets



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By Will Harris

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“I’m at my house, down where I have my little studio set up. It’s where I’ve got my old VHS, DVDs… I even had a Beta player, but it finally broke down. But I’ve got an old TV and all my old CDs and a 200-disc changer. But I just ran across the issue of Q Magazine with Richard Ashcroft on the cover that has us in there somewhere for some reason, and… that was great. It brought back some memories. I always loved Q. It’s always been a great magazine.”

Sbegins Qs conversation with Courtney Taylor-Taylor, which – all things being equal – is a pretty solid way to have a conversation begin, as far as we’re concerned. As it happens, however, it also serves as a reminder of how long the career of the Dandy Warhols has been, since the issue of Q in question will be celebrating its 24th anniversary this September… and the Dandy Warhols have been a going concern for six years longer than that.

Indeed, at the point Q spoke with Taylor-Taylor, the Dandys were on the cusp on releasing their 12th studio album, Rockmaker, an LP which – with a spot of luck – is currently sitting on the shelf of a record store near you. As such, a good chunk of the conversation was taken up by that very topic, with particular emphasis on the album’s trio of notable guest stars: Frank BlackDebbie Harry, and Slash. Beyond that, however, the chat made its way into a number of other moments from the band’s back story, including collaborating with David J, sharing the stage with David Bowie, and being more than a little miffed with a certain controversial film that was made about the band back in the day.

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SOURCE: ELEONORA COLLINSThe Dandy Warhols, at your service.

You’ve got several high-profile guest stars on the new album, so that’s as good a place to start talking about it as any. How awesome was it to work with Frank Black? I’m sure you grew up on the Pixies.

Yeah, he and I became friends maybe 15 years ago, and I haven’t seen him except for when they come through Portland to play. Y’know, I go to the gigs and we hang out a little bit. But he lived in Oregon for a number of years, for a long time, and then he moved back to the northeast, where he still is now. But we have a lot of friends in common as well, so it was amazing having his tracks show up and then listening to them and just going, “Okay, wow, that’s really smart.” Everything he does is just smart. He’s just a very intuitive, highly intelligent artist. He’s cool. And to have him on “Danzig with Myself” is… great. [Laughs.]

It’s also a great title. I know it was originally only intended as a working title, but I’m glad you kept it.

Yeah, totally. It just has a… Well, you know, that sludge riff is very Danzig. Originally we thought it was Danzig IV, but it’s, like, Danzig II, maybe? I don’t know. Danzig II was bluesier. But it just had that thing, so that’s how it started – Pete [Holmström], with his “Danzig with Myself” – which has led to “Danzig on the Ceiling,” “Dirty Danzig,” “You Should Be Danzig.” Yeah, it’s a good one. And he’s a great, legendary character to have lots of memes like that about.

As far as those guest stars on the album, with that trifecta of Frank Black, Debbie Harry, and Slash, I was, like, “I don’t know what this album is going to sound like, but I am here for it.”

Yeah, that trifecta of legends… It’s amazing.

When it comes to getting guests like that involved… As you said, you’d known Frank for years, but with the other two, was it just a case of reaching out to them? Or did you cross paths on the road and suggest the idea of a future collaboration?

Yeah, I’ve known Guns ‘N Roses for decades…and I can’t remember how. [Laughs.] Oh! I was very good friends with – and deeply in love with – the lady that became Duff McKagan’s wife. When she was out of town, she’d just leave the keys to her apartment in Hollywood, and I could stay in her flat there. Yeah, she was rad. I mean, she was just really rad. And just way out of my league. We were a new band at the time. So that’s kind of how I started meeting the Guns ‘N Roses guys, and then, y’know, you just run into each other. And they all had kind of an interest in us. We were a cool guitar band and the next thing. So, yeah, it’s been great knowing those guys, and for this album, we had that song, “I’d Like to Help You With Your Problem,” and I just really wanted that full Vietnam-era, acid-rock sound. And that’s the guy you get. I don’t think anyone else can do it like him anymore, really.

And then Debbie, that song I just really wanted a female singer, and I think my manager just said, “If you could have anyone… Let’s just start with that: if you could have anyone, who would it be?” And I said, “Well, duh: Debbie Harry!” I mean, if you could have anyone on your record, particularly a female vocalist, you get Debbie Harry! And it took a bit. They got back to us a couple of weeks later and said, “Yeah, she’s into it. She wants to do this. She loves the song.” Chris Stein also said this was a very cool song, so we got his thumbs-up as well. So that’s how that happened. And it took her a couple of of months, because they’ve been pretty busy. But, God, I mean, can you imagine how well I slept once that finally showed up? You know, downloaded into our hard drive at our studio, I listened to it, and… Oh, my God, it’s great. She’s great. She’s an angel. It’s, like, this person is just suffering and grinding it out as best they can, and then this angel just appears and… it’s just beautiful.

And Frank, when his guitar part comes in during that song, it’s just like… Pete just turned to me and goes, “A moment of sanity.” And I was, like, “God, it is!” He just knew what had to go there. It’s like he went, “Okay, this is really cool, it’s crazy, it’s a mess… It needs this.” But he had played with Joey [Santiago] for basically his entire life, who is a lot like what Pete laid down on that song. So, anyway, he knows what to do.

These people were all very directly in what I believe was their wheelhouse anyway. I mean, that’s what you hope for. Because I sang Debbie’s part when I sent it out, and when it came back, it was hers. She’s a truly great artist, one of the greatest singers in the history of rock. And she gets a lot of credit for being really cool and a trendsetter and a style maven and all that, but during that whole time… I mean, I really studied her as a vocalist, and that was pretty eye-opening. The level that she achieved with understanding vibe, vocal tone, sheer vocal chops… Just being a great, professional super singer, and then having really groundbreaking hipster style… I only met her once, years ago, and I didn’t think to ask her if she listened to a lot of Marlene Dietrich, because there’s a lot of that kind of masculinity in her voice, in her style. That’s a thing you choose to do.

How was the experience of working with Keith Tenniswood as producer?

He was the mastering engineer.

I stand corrected.

Yeah, Pete and I produced. I produce all of our records, but this one was heavy-handed Pete Holmström. He and I haven’t really made a record together since Come Down. Our first two records were the Pete and Courtney show, so this one was back to that, and it was really fun. The level of skills that we’ve both developed outside of the band, in our own studios, it really made this a very exciting and pure experience. I think we were pushing ourselves into a genre that we’ve never explored more than one song at a time or here and there – like, heavy, heavy metal – and then with some electronic interfacing, in the electronic world, but making sure it never had an electronic sound or feel. And Pete’s great at that. Really great at it. I did my usual tricks of f—ing things up, and then Pete straightens it out.

It was great going back to how we started the band, y’know? It really was very special. And it took us years. It took us, like, four years. I spent the first two years making this record alone, and then when I finally got one song finished, Pete went, “Oh. Oh, I thought you meant, like, a metal record.” And I’m, like, “No, not a stupid… I’m not gonna sing like…” [Offers a brief vocalization that lands somewhere between Eddie Vedder and Cookie Monster.] “I’m gonna sing like T. Rex or… like me. Whatever it is that I do, I’m doing that.”

And I do a couple of other styles, because I like doing other people’s styles. Because when I want to do one of my heroes’ styles, of course it doesn’t sound like them. I’m not that good at it. It’s just exciting to wear a new jacket, y’know, and see how you can make it fit. “Top button? No, don’t do any buttons. No, do all the buttons! Loose tie? Tight tie? No tie? Ascot?” That’s how I look at the imitative part, where you get your influences and what you do with them. Like, doing the song “Summer of Hate,” that was Pete doing Captain Sensible in his mind, so then in my mind, I was doing Dave Vanian! And the working title for that song from the beginning was “Pete Be Damned.” [Laughs.] And then I think that was one where I just blurted all those lyrics out in one go, just extemporaneously. I just sat there: “What would Dave do?” I think Dave Vanian is… If he’s not my favorite singer of all time, he’s up there. Him and Jim Morrison, obviously. I love those crooners. Glenn [Danzig] is amazing, just a really great singer. And he really got to explore that when he went and did his four records with… Rick Rubin? Those are Rick Rubin, aren’t they?

They are, yeah.

F—. He nailed it, dude. That was cool. Oh, and Andrew Eldritch, Sisters of Mercy, he’s another one. A lot of bad-ass baritone singers. And Peter Murphy, maybe my favorite? I don’t know, they’re all very similar, and they all came out of the same vat.

Actually, mentioning Peter Murphy reminds me: how was it for you to do a co-write with David J (“The Autumn Carnival”)?

Oh! Yeah, it was really, really great. Really easy. He is f—ing great to work with, man. Something about our two styles… We crushed. That song is amazing. And he’s got it. He’s got the songwriting-with-someone down. And, y’know, he writes with Daniel Ash, of course, who’s probably my favorite guitar player in history, actually. Probably my single favorite guitar player ever. And you think about those songs – and there’s so many of them, and they’re very good – but Daniel is tweakier. He’s a weirder person than I am. So I think I probably was pretty easy for David J to work with, just because I’m a similar type songwriter and heavily influenced by Love and Rockets, and Daniel particularly. But there’s something daydreamier or ADHD or a little more Rain Man going on with him than there is with me. So I hope David enjoyed it, too. But we just went and had breakfast, and then we just walked down to the studio and got right to work. Four hours later, we had this incredible song done. Pete listened to it, plugged in, started tweaking on pedals, and came up with that guitar sound, and it was, like, “This is amazing! This song is amazing!

I’m going to bounce around a bit here, so… to jump back to the earlier albums, to do a song called “The Dandy Warhols’ T.V. Theme Song,” and then to go on and have a Dandy Warhols song used as a TV theme song (“We Used to Be Friends” for Veronica Mars), that’s just perfect.

Yeah, although I wish that actual song would be a TV theme song sometime. It doesn’t have any real words. “Hey, la / Hee haw / Doot doo / Ay yi yeah…” And I thought for sure, “Someone’s gonna want this as a cartoon theme song!” But nobody ever did, not even during those years where we kind of dominated the film and TV synchronizations. Nobody actually dug back there and grabbed that one. I dunno, it’s not too late. Maybe somebody will. Maybe somebody’ll read this and say, “Heyyyyyyy…”

They’ll use it for the inevitable Dandy Warhols series, surely.

Right? Yeah, that’d be cool! We have been writing a book for years of our weird experiences on the road and just our life as a band, and a lot of it takes place in the ’90s, which I think would just be fascinating for young people – y’know, like, teenagers now – because if they have a three-digit IQ, they’ve got to wonder what life was really like before people could just whip out a phone and film you being a dick, thinking you’re being funny but you’re not, thinking you’re being serious but you’re actually being funny, being a f–ked-up mess. All that sh-t. Things are far more uptight than they used to be. And tense, because of the internet. And caustic. Things were a lot cooler back then. Well, some things were…

I have to ask you about meeting and performing with David Bowie.

Oh, right! Yeah, I just did an interview with NME, and the kid said, “Do you remember who played before you and directly after you at Glastonbury. I said, “Yeah, Bush went on before us. I remember that, because their drummer rushed all of his fills.” And I thought, “What a huge band to have such a flaw, such a major tripping point.” But after we played, David and his whole band fell upon us like a glamorous pack of black Gucci overcoat wolves. And teeth. Just a lot of big, white teeth. And David’s very firm handshake, and real sincere enthusiasm. And I have no idea what happened for the next five hours. So I have no idea who played after us! [Laughs.] But I know that later we were up watching him play on the little platform above the stage. And that started a great friendship that lasted for several years.

We worked in his studio with him, and he’d always let us in and just use his studio for free whenever we were in New York. We’d hang out. He’d always come to our New York shows. We got to play with him at the Meltdown Festival. At the Royal Festival Hall, I got to sing with him… and I think he said that there’d only been one other person who’d ever walked onstage during a Bowie concert and sang with him, and that was Lou Reed. And we’ve kind of been forgotten in history, because of the song I unwittingly picked. He asked me what song I wanted to do, and I said, “I don’t know. ‘White Light / White Heat’?” And he went, “Oh, great!” And then his biographer – I think his name was Marc Spitz – he introduced me to him, and he said, “Marc’s just reminded me of something: it was 30 years ago this week, in this room, and you picked the same song Lou did.” [Laughs.] I thought, “That’s pretty f—ing weird!” I just did it because I didn’t want to do… [Hesitates.] I mean, I should’ve said, “Well, do you want to do one of ours?”

Later, when David passed into Rock Valhalla – or maybe he went to Theater Valhalla? He’d probably be welcomed with open arms into both! But everybody was asked about him, and I think it was the guitarist from Metallica, who we’d toured Australia with, that said, “Yeah, I met David once, and I was so nervous, I didn’t know what to talk to him about, but I didn’t want him to leave, so I said, ‘Hey, you’re a fan of the Dandy Warhols! I love those guys!’ And David said to him, ‘Oh, you like the Dandys? Oh, I love that singer, Courtney. Do you know him?'” [Doing a Bowie impression.] “‘In my good / Good mor-ning…'” He did that! By the way, that was me doing an impression of David Bowie doing an impression of me to Kirk Hammett.. [Laughs.] So that was kind of gut-wrenching. It was, like, “Of course he would’ve done one of ours.” Had I known that he loved “Good Morning” enough to impersonate it, I probably could’ve asked him, “You know ‘Good Morning.’ You wanna sing that?” And for dudes with baritone voices to sing another person’s baritone part that you didn’t come up with, it’s gloriously satisfying.

I found that out when Seattle had a fundraiser to help pay for uninsured musicians’ medical bills, and they asked me to come up and sing on something. It was all Bowie covers, and they found out that I was the only person in that entire cast – which was everyone, all the old Seattle groups, from Sleater-Kinney to Pearl Jam to The Head The Heart to Death Cab for Cutie to Thunderpussy – who was actually friends with David. And I knew that no one would have the balls to do “The Man Who Sold the World.” I asked them, and they said, “Nobody is doing Kurt’s song.” And I said, “Well, I am.” [Laughs.] And then I said, “I want to do ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire).” And I thought, “Nobody even knows what that song is.” Yet it’s the only song I ever liked on Let’s Dance. And interestingly, one day when we were sitting on my tour bus having coffee and bullshitting, he asked me, “What do you think of Let’s Dance?” I said, “The song or the record?” He said, “Either.” “I like ‘Cat People.'” And he goes, “I f–king hate that record.” Isn’t that crazy? He really didn’t like that record!

But anyway, I said, “I want to do ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ first. I’ll play congas and sing.” Because in all my bands, my life has always been as a drummer. So I did that, and it was a real joy to sing. But then Ian Moore, who’s a guitar player, he had actually also picked “Cat People,” so when he found out that I wanted to do it, he said, “Great! Because I’d love to just play guitar and not have to sing it! So you sing it, and I’ll play guitar.” And he’s got to be the best guitar player I’ve ever stood on stage with. He’s insane. And he’s playing that sh-t at rehearsal, and I said, “How… How did you figure that out? Because that’s an intricate, crazy… I mean, those are the Carlos Alomar days!” He said, “Well, I did a session with Carlos Alomar a month ago, and I just asked him how to play it.” [Laughs.] “But he said, ‘Oh, that’s not me, that’s Stevie [Ray Vaughan].” But he still knew how to do it, because he watched him to do it…

But, boy, singing that in a big room, great P.A., I think I had one in-ear so I could really hear myself, so I could be fairly quiet no matter how loud it was on stage, and I got to just croon that motherf—er out. It was so beautiful, so powerful. And I ended up just putting my fist on my hip and waving my finger around and… I was just being Bowie. And it felt like the most natural thing I’ve ever done in my life, just to be Bowie for a song. It was absolutely the most satisfying thing.

I had a similar moment when we were on tour with Love and Rockets in…1996, probably. Very early days. But they were playing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and waiting for the monitor mix to get fixed. And I jumped up on the stage and took Daniel’s mic and started going, [Deep voice.] “White on white translucent black capes back on the rack…” And I had certainly sang that in my bedroom 14,000 times, and done the whole Peter Murphy imitation. So they had us come on stage and do that song with them, and that was also just… It was at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, the room is completely sold out, the P.A. is on, great mixing engineer Chris Rawley, lights by Scott Simon, who we still use as our light guy, and just being able to boom that thing out and be able to sing fairly quietly and have it be heard… Oh, I love it when I get to just sing other people’s amazing songs that have the same register that I do. They’re some of the best feelings of my life.

Okay, last one, and then I’ll let you go: what do you know about this new DIG! XX cut?

Oh, you know, they’re just trying to squeeze it for another buck if they can. I don’t know, they’ve just dumped a bunch of other stuff into it. Which is good, because basically… [Hesitates.] We kind of got fed a lot of lines. “Pretend you’re singing!” “Say this and do that!” Stuff like that. So hopefully there’s some more fun stuff, because it’s a really dark and negative, pretty toxic film, which… I mean, a lot of people, that’s what they like. They like to get angry. So… whatever.

They like it even more now than they did then, unfortunately.

Absolutely. I, however, don’t. I don’t like that feeling. [Laughs.] So, y’know, I wish I could’ve gone and partied at Sundance with everyone, but we were snowed in in Portland. And I don’t have anything to do with it anyway. I haven’t seen it, and it’s not really part of my life, I guess.

I just wasn’t sure if they’d maybe run it past you, because I’ve heard it’s something like 40 minutes longer now.

[Laughs, then dryly.] Cool. Well, I don’t know. We didn’t really have a lot to do with it, actually. We didn’t understand that that was going to be such a huge phenomenon. We should’ve actually just really fought to make it, like, “No, no, no, you told us to say that. No, no, no, no.” We should’ve been there when they were doing the editing and sat in the room and checked it every couple of months. But we were just off and running. We were on fire, and we had our heads pretty far up our own butts and really had to concern ourselves with negotiating a lot of a world that we were not prepared to be in. So a lot of sh-t slipped. We were not built to last as a Hollywood industry band. We were definitely not built for that. But we were obviously built to be a great band of great friends and cohorts that could stay together indefinitely and find our thing and be creative together and live together on tours and really enjoy what we’ve created. So I can’t really take any of my regrets very seriously, y’know? They don’t matter. They’re all part of the continuum, and all points are the same size on the continuum when you look back.