For dry wit, it’s hard to beat The Dandy Warhols. Formed in 1994, the band’s early success is probably best remembered by the release of their 1997 album The Dandy Warhols Come Down and hit single “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth”, a tune where the band staked their claim to music lovers’ hearts with a song less remembered for its title, and more for the delivery of it’s deadpan refrain “I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passé.” As a chorus line of leggy hypodermic syringes danced around the band in the accompanying David LaChapelle directed video, the Portland Oregon quartet decisively carved a uniquely irreverent niche in the alternative rock world of the ’90s.
The band’s latest, This Machine, is a fuzzy, thick, slightly sober and occasionally meditative album. While stripped of many of the band’s common accouterments, and chipper sing along choruses, the signature wit is still in place – interestingly adjusted for the band’s maturity. Really, who other than Dandy frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor would have enough cheek to mourn the loss of his pretty young self, crooning on Enjoy Yourself “It went by so fast, now I want to go back, and that’s why I’m living in the past!” before entreating listeners “Enjoy your health”? Your parents’ AARP this isn’t.
Rocker met up with Dandy Guitarist Pete Holstrom to hear more
Rocker: It’s been four years since the last full-length from you guys. What’s been going on during those years?
Pete: We toured the last record, then we put out a best-of record and we toured on that, and then we made a new record. I think we all did side projects in that time, as well. I put out a record, Brent’s record just came out, plus I think he did a solo record, plus his other band, Zia’s got an EP out, and Courtney has a record out, and a graphic novel. It’s been busy!
Rocker: I was surprised I didn’t see you listed as a songwriter on the new record because everyone else seems to have a credit?
Pete: Yeah. I submitted some stuff, and since I don’t write lyrics myself, the other people didn’t latch onto them in a way that would make them want to write lyrics for those songs, so it didn’t happen with this record. But those ideas are still there, and they’ll probably be on the next record.
Rocker: Might they come out on a future Pete International Airport records?
Pete: Probably, if they don’t get used. That’s what the first Pete International Airport record is, is a bunch of ideas that did not get picked up by Courtney, and I thought they were good enough, so I just worked them up.
Rocker: For the track Autumn Carnival the band teamed up with David J from Love and Rockets. Between that and working with Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes in the past, it seems like you’re getting all of the great new wave people involved with the Dandys. How did you first meet him?
Pete: We toured early on with Love and Rockets, and we’ve known all those guys ever since. Courtney and I were huge Love and Rockets fans growing up, so that was just amazing. It had been talked about, the writing with David, for a long time, and it finally just happened. I think it’s one of the best tracks on the record, I hope some more stuff comes out of that.
Rocker: When you end up meeting these people, do you have to get over being a fan and geeking out over them?
Pete: I have to get over the fact that they’re human. You sort of expect them to be more than a normal human being. You want them to be superbeings of some sort, and they’re not. Those guys were the first ones that we met, and they were very real people. That was very disappointing at first, but because they’re real people, it’s like we’re friends with them now. We don’t see Daniel too much, but we see Kevin and David all the time.
Rocker: Is there anybody you have your eye on collaborate with in the future?
Pete: Not really. These things just sort of happen, it’s not like they’re really planned. There’s lots of talk, and most of it never happens, so when it does happen, it’s like, “That’s cool.”
When you’re recording, sometimes you get an idea, “I want to have a banjo on this track, we want to get Steve Martin to play it.” That didn’t happen, so we ended up with Mike Campbell and (Dire Straits’) Mark Knopfler instead, just because Steve Martin never got back to us. It’s pretty random stuff.
Rocker: The band moved on this record from having self-released to going back to having a label. What precipitated that decision?
Pete: We felt like we didn’t know what the hell we were doing, or we learned that we had no idea about releasing records, and we reverted just going back to, “We’ll make records, we’ll go on tour, we know what we’re doing with that, leave all the other stuff to people who claim they know what they’re doing,” and so far, they’ve been great, and they’ve done a wonderful job, as far as I can tell.
Rocker: You’re not the first person I’ve talked to who’s said the same thing about self-releasing.
Pete: Before you actually try it, you think you know better than you do… I’m sure Capitol was… well, I don’t think they were doing the best that they could have, but maybe the best that they were allowed to by the people holding the purse strings.
Rocker: When your band and Capitol split… how did that whole thing fall apart?
Pete: It was kind of funny, they picked up the last option for a record on our original contract, signed off on it, agreed to give us the money. We started recording, then they dropped us, so we had a record pretty much almost done, then they had to pay us to make this go away, because they’d signed the option. They could have, at that point, not picked it up, and we would have been free agents. It was a weird thing.
Then the next royalty check came in, and it was for…I forget how much money, but it was enough that they would have recouped on picking up the record if they had kept us. It was just really like they were just looking at figures going, “This band didn’t sell enough records on their last record. They’re gone!” but we recouped through advertisements and movies and TV shows and all that stuff. It’s just very short-sighted. Whatever, we’re on our own now, and that’s great. We wanted off of that label for years before they let us go.
Rocker: I was talking to The Primitives recently, and they spoke about how when they were on a major label, they were packaged in ways they didn’t want to be packaged. Do you feel freed up now with Capitol off your back?
Pete: We fought against everything like that with Capitol, which is kind of why there was tension, so no, it’s not any different, because we were in complete control the whole time, even when maybe we shouldn’t have been.
Rocker: Why should you not have been?
Pete: We should have had people around us that were maybe better business people. We’re not politicians, we’re not good at putting on a fake smile and pretending…at playing nice. We said things we probably shouldn’t have to the wrong people. There could have been a better way to go about a lot of things.
Rocker: I re-watched ‘Dig!’ recently, and even though it’s ancient history, one of the things that really struck me was the talk of the $40,000 video, and I thought, “Who has these budgets anymore?”
Rocker: Oops, $400,000.
Pete: Like $600,000. It was ridiculous!
Rocker: Considering you were able to musically come of age in a time when people were spending that kind of money, is it hard to adapt from that?
Pete: At first it was. We’re continuing to adapt. We have to. Things cost more and you get paid less. You sell less records, but what are you going to do? I don’t know how to do anything else, and I don’t particularly want to do anything else. It was great, being a part of it though, to get that opportunity to really see, I guess, kind of the peak, where there was so much money being thrown around, just constantly. None of it ended up in our pockets, but it was a blast. We had a good time.
Rocker: What excites you about your new record, when you hear it back?
Pete: For me it’s not really about the end result, it’s about the making of the record. I’m just happy that it sounds cool, and the sounds are all there in a way that I find exciting; that there’s pretty songs with some extreme sounds, and in a variety of different styles, which is kind of what we go for all the time. For me, when the record is done, it’s for other people at that point and I don’t really listen to it. Other people make records for me!
Rocker: Is it hard to listen to your own work because you feel critical?
Pete: I enjoy it when I hear it, but it’s not like I go out of my way and listen to it. I won’t put my own records on. I’ve heard all those songs far too many times. I hear my mistakes and hear other people’s mistakes, and I hear things that are other than the way I’d prefer them to be. That’s part of it. When it’s done, you can’t go back, you can’t change it. So I don’t want to put myself through that.
Rocker: Do you feed the changes you hear you’d like into the live show?
Pete: Oh yeah, because live, we don’t necessarily try and replicate anything. Whatever works, whatever the four of us can do, sonically…
Rocker: When you’re doing your solo work and stuff, does that feed a freshness back into your work with The Dandys?
Pete: With the Dandys, we’re definitely very used to what we all do, so you rely on people to take care of things, and they do. It’s very comfortable to just relax and let everybody else do their thing. With my own record and with the other projects I’ve played in, it’s always been about trying to become better at my instrument or learning another one, or just any sort of input.
Rocker: Was it challenging to record your solo record all on your own? Was it all on your own?
Pete: No, but I didn’t have anybody driving it, so it was me who had to organize everything. I kept sitting around, waiting for other people to do stuff, and I was like, “Wait, no, I have to do it, oh no!” It was tricky, difficult, frustrating. I find working with other people to be very frustrating, because I don’t know what they normally do, and I expect them to do what the other Dandys do, and they don’t, and they all have other jobs and other bands, which are maybe their first priorities. Very frustrating.
Rocker: So, do you find you come back to the Dandys having more appreciation for your fellow band members?
Pete: Absolutely, I can’t believe how lucky we got as a band to have four people that actually kind of had a common goal and would show up to rehearsals three, four times a week, back when that was very important, and would put the band before family, before holidays, before everything, pretty much. It really did allow us to get as far as we got. I haven’t had that luck with five other bands since then, plus my own side project. It’s amazing.