The Dandy Warhols recently visited Bowery Ballroom, on one of many stops in support of their latest record, Distortland. We got to speak with guitarist Peter Holmstrom about the new album, the upcoming tour, and what keeps the Dandies moving forward after so many years of putting out new music.
As anyone can tell from one good listening session, the Dandy Warhols have been constantly incorporating new sounds and straying from the rest of the music world's well-worn paths. It's part of what's kept their sound so unique and hard to place and largely plays both into the music style itself as well as their own ironic wit regarding how lyricist Courtney Taylor-Taylor seems to remain on the fringe in his writing.
"It's actually pretty interesting the way we write, because it's often done in directly the opposite way of using influences. What we tend to do in the songwriting process is to try and react to the trends that are going around in music and do the direct opposite in our own work. That's the way it's always been for us. Look at Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia; that's an album we wrote in reaction to all of the stuff that was around as a big trend at the time...all of that rap-rock and rap metal, and so we went and created an album that's ultimately an acoustic-driven classic rock album in spite of that. If people are making music that's guitar-heavy, we'll switch to something driven by keyboards and other things. We basically look for what we would like to hear more of, and the way we're influenced is by looking at music trends and thinking about what we would do differently, or what we would do instead.
We definitely react in the same way with our lyrics, and all of the themes we try to work within our music, and especially within Courtney's songwriting that comes out as a way of thinking. We're always trying new techniques, but Courtney is really the mastermind behind all of the production efforts. On guitar, though, I'm always trying out new instrumental elements."
There's a new track on Distortland called "Catcher in the Rye." When asked if the Dandy Warhols were musical Holden Caulfields, Holmstrom said,
"I knew that question was going to come to me eventually. I guess in certain ways, we might definitely feel a little bit like Holden Caulfield. We've always felt on the fringe, like we were outsiders, so we definitely feel that aspect and have throughout our time."
As a member of a band that has self-released their work and have become recording hobbyists in their own right, Holmstrom mentioned the freeing nature of being able to work on one's own time and be able to, as a collective, make the production process their own. Luckily, they managed to finish the latest album's recording before their home studio, dubbed the Odditorium, was temporarily destroyed by a storm.
"When recording on a cassette player rather than in a more conventional way, it was a means for us to be able to just get things done at a much faster rate, and be able to capture everything the way we wanted to. All the sounds we created were more or less pre-production, and that really gave us a better sense of our sound throughout the process.
I think in terms of all the ambient effects we had for some of the vocals, we all kind of decided on that together as part of an instrumental thing. We just took it song by song, and by the sound adjustments alone, we decided that certain songs needed that ambience."
Holmstrom, who any guitar players would certainly deem a gear head, is heavily inclined to crazy guitar tones and psychedelic, shimmering effects that make his experimental work extremely fun to listen to. He even has a signature guitar pedal that makes some otherworldly robotic sounds.
"I'm always messing around with a wide array of guitar effects and pedals. The one I've been on is a pedal made by Makello; it's called the Charlie Foxtrot pedal. Charlie Foxtrot is a military euphemism for clusterfuck, and that's exactly what this pedal does. The sounds that I could make with that pedal are insane. Aside from that, I'll get a new guitar here and there, and I'll always be trying something new out. There's other pedals I'm absolutely dying to get my hands on."
It's always interesting to hear from musicians who've been in the same band for over two decades, because it's a feat few can manage at an independent, self-produced level. When asked about what the glue is that keeps the Dandy Warhols together and going strong, Holstrom said,
"There's definitely a certain magic about the Dandy Warhols because it works as a collection of four mediocre musicians who when working together are able to create something great as a whole. I think that's a huge challenge for a lot of musicians, but it's something that's always come natural to us, and knowing that we're all better at music when working together is what's kept our momentum."
A documentary, Dig!, captured the touring lives of the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, who were both at the time still developing as artists. With that, a lot of aspects of the touring rock band lifestyle were brought to light and provided an interesting perspective on the group's misadventures...hedonistic, awesome, and wild throughout.
"Our past touring with the Brian Jonestown Massacre still influence what we do. In fact, we're touring still with The Out Crowd, and half of Jonestown is in that band. In terms of everything else, we're simply a lot older...and saner. What brought us together in the first place, and nothing else, was our love of music. Now that time's gone by, we're looking to continue doing what we love in a way that won't kill us.
We've played a few of the earlier-released material, such as things like "You Are Killing Me" since last November. Aside from that, it's been a really rewarding challenge to get all of our songs together playing live without inevitably finding a spot where we completely mess everything up and have to rebound.
But out of the new songs, there are certain songs that by this point we're able to play in our sleep, and other songs that we're still having difficulties with, but I think that gives us a certain kind of edge. After playing the same songs for so many years, so many times in a row, it's nice to have that edge as a musician because it makes everything feel new."
The Dandy Warhols' Distortland is out now on Dine Alone Records.