The Dandy Warhols started recording in 1998 and haven’t stopped since, sectioning off their output into albums that have delighted or annoyed critics in equal measure. Recording at the Odditorium, a cavernous Portland rehearsal/party space modeled on the factory of the original Warhol, frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor has found a way to harness his songwriting to the ebb and flow of parties and hangovers.
This way, each Dandies recording is the product of a dialect between the grandiose, creative Taylor-Taylor present at midnight, and the introspective and critical Taylor-Taylor who emerges into the sober light of the following morning.
“You know what a great day is?” says Taylor-Taylor. “To get into the studio at 11am, bone-sober, and get some work done… We get all the taskmaster work done, and then in the evening, we’re gonna go out to a nice restaurant, we’re gonna throw some money at old European wine and we’re gonna smoke a fucking huge amount of pot before we walk into that restaurant. So, by the end, you’re pretty highed up and you’re in a different place. You have a two-hour dinner, and you walk back to the studio, be it rain or shine, and you get back in, highed-up, and you check your work.
“Now that you’re in this elated emotional space – and wine has a kind of wistful thing to it, too, to the drug itself – and you check your work, you’re like, ‘Look at this. This is fucking Dorksville. Get this done, do that. No way, that snare is not even obnoxious enough.’ And you start making cooler decisions as you’ve changed your own perspective on the work you’ve done. And then people start coming over. You’re like, ‘Oh, God. Get that distortion off. God, it’s embarrassing.’ With that social pressure, you’ll get rid of some really dumb stuff that you don’t notice if you’re just three dudes in a studio all day together.”
Taylor-Taylor, who has often burlesqued the behaviour of a rock star diva, grew as an equally picturesque version of the square – a well behaved kid who attended church and earned Boy Scout merit badges in the Portland suburb of Beaverton. His avenue into rock ‘n’ roll was the four-track cassette recorder with which he conducted his first experiments in mixing.
“For me, the recording process is everything,” says Taylor- Taylor. “When you’re mixing down a record, it’s about structure versus character. You have to have things smacking and pumping in the correct way, but if everything’s pumping correctly, it has no character. It’s too professional, at that point.”
Why You So Crazy, the band’s forthcoming tenth studio album, is a prolonged experiment in recording technique. Tracks like ‘To The Church’ cast the listener adrift in a sea of low-frequency synthesised warbling, while the sleek single ‘Be Alright’ is immediately reminiscent of Dandies’ earliest recordings. The album is unified by a sparing use of trebly instrumentation, with rock mainstays like the hi-hat appearing briefly, if at all.
“If you’re a mixer, if you’re a producer, this record is worth buying a $1,000 pair of headphones for,” says Taylor-Taylor. “It is so fucked up. If you’re not a pot smoker, it’s worth smoking pot this once, just to listen to this record. It is a studio head dazzler.”
The latest project created in Taylor-Taylor’s quest to unify work and play is the Old Portland, a low-profile wine bar that pairs French and Italian reds with a soundtrack of Chet Baker and Serge Gainsbourg – natural selections for a proprietor who believes in the spiritual qualities of wine. The Dandy Warhols frontman is only moderately interested in fame – to be 50 percent more famous might be nice, he says, but to be twice as famous would mean an exponential increase in the number of managers and legal advisors, as well as sycophants and hangers on, all of them taking time away from exploring and experimenting with sound.
“The fame is the bummer,” says Taylor-Taylor. “The money is the fun. The money equals more free time, because that’s ultimately what you want. The stuff doesn’t matter. It’s the free time and doing shit you want to do that is the best thing you can achieve. The fame takes the fun out of being rich – that’s the fucked-up part.”
Why You So Crazy is out via Cooking Vinyl Australia Friday January 25.