Portland's pop-psyche players take off their clothes.
By Brendan Doherty
DECEMBER 8, 1997: THE COVER OF the Dandy Warhols' new record, Dandy Warhols Come Down, says it all--the band sits on once-elegant furniture in a house filled with dilapidated Tiffany lamps, and ornate and sad couches that've accommodated a few too many asses. Sipping wine from long-stemmed glasses, they look out of place in their vintage Rolling Stones T-shirts, blonde-over-black roots and the requisite hipster gear that's decidedly un-Victorian. They look like visitor-kids getting drunk in the attic while their folks are away at work; or worse, relaxing burglars.
What they're guilty of stealing is an English musical approach-- lush instrumental washes, big crashing guitars and decadent seven-minute-long songs. For a band from Portland, it's interesting how many publications insist that the band is English. Rolling Stone calls them the "best English band from America," and the tag has stuck. It doesn't help that singer Courtney Taylor occasionally dons a faux-English accent. Maybe they just don't make rock stars in America like they used to.
"I don't know where that English stuff comes from," says Dandy Warhols' drummer Eric Hedford from the pay phone outside a gig in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
"We're completely clueless to that. While there's no question that we look to Manchester and shoegazer stuff, we all grew up listening to the same '60s rock. The radio stations in Portland when I was a kid used to be so bad, you had no choice but to listen to the oldies."
What they don't get credit for adding is American context, detail and setting. That gets lost in the hype about naked keyboard players, rumors of pharmacopoeia and accusations of Anglophilia. The band fits in a record collection near the Stone Roses, Love and Rockets, or the Jesus and Mary Chain, but is distinct enough to stand on its own. Their latest, Come Down, does more than just create lush, transcendent pop. Singular pop grace is achieved in the sleeper hit, "Minnesoter," a love-and-get-lost relationship ode. "Shouldn't you have got a couple of piercings and decided maybe that you were gay? I never thought you'd be a junkie because heroin is so passé," sings Taylor on the band's sore thumb stick-out of an anti-drug song, "Not If You Were the Last Junkie On Earth."
Come Down serves as a selective discography for the last 20 years, replayed as modern, driving, dirty and dense. "Last Junkie on Earth," the record's first single, steals the drumbeat from ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down," and updates it with a kiss-off note to a girl hooked on heroin. "Cool as Kim Deal" rips its rhythm section from the Monkees' "Stepping Stone," and "Boys Better" plays sleight-of-hand with Sweet's "Fox On the Run."
"We steal from everything--'60s harmonies, '70s rock grooves, T. Rex stuff, keyboard stuff from New Wave, and some Northwest rock," Hedford says. "So why that makes us English sounding, I'll never know. Maybe there aren't that many bands doing that in America."
But oldies, they're not, and neither are they thieves. Everywhere there's a five-fingered take, there's a big deposit of new material. Come Down musically kicks down the doors of perception in three short pop bursts and 12 spaced-out tracks. It's ambitious, chemically fueled, and obviously the product of people so longing to be rock stars that their whole philosophy comes off either as preposterous or genius. Occasionally, it's both.
"We were very happy with the new record," Hedford says. It took two years to make, and was released after a chemically induced meltdown, and an aborted full-length attempt. The title is an affirmation that it took a while to sober up from the high that the band was on after its initial signing with Capitol Records.
"Ah, the Black Album," says Hedford. "It's still in the vaults at Capitol, along with unreleased Brian Wilson stuff, and Beatles, and Frank Sinatra. The label said that there weren't any songs on there, and they sent us back."
Their first record, 1995's Dandy's Rule OK (Tim/Kerr) was a self-indulgent monster of pop theory that made it seem as if the band was feeding on nothing but takeout from the psych-a-delicatessen. The very uniqueness of their sound in their region brought them a look when grunge died off. When they went into the studio to record their debut, they thought it would be a couple of songs, and the rest would be chemically induced instrument washes.
"We went in and had the idea that we'd totally experiment, and it was naive," Hedford says. "And fun. But it wasn't well-received. We tried to spend more money on drugs than studio time, and it was pretty close, but the studio was expensive. We went back and got day jobs for a while. When we had songs, we put them in there, but some of the Black Album's wild spirit is on there, too."
The Dandys' wild spirit often precedes them. During a "meet and greet" with Capitol records executives, keyboard player Zia McCabe returned from performance to the cocktails without any clothes.
"She just had a cocktail in one hand, and a cigarette in the other," Hedford says. "That's all she was wearing in a roomful of studio execs. Everyone freaked out. L.A. people are so (easily) shocked. People tried to hide her. She got clothed again, and the security guards told her that if she got naked one more time, she was outta there. Yes, the rumors are true. It's not every show, and when people ask her to take her clothes off, they are made into fools. But if your friends are there, and it's fun, it fits right in with rock and roll. The naked thing pretty much follows us around. I asked her about why she does it, and she says that she likes to see what people do. No matter what, she told me, people have to deal with a naked lady in the room."
"Besides," Hedford says philosophically, "if rock is any good, people will get naked."
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