Who's Your Dandy?
You know the Dandy Warhols, of course, even if you don't know them know them. That's their song "We Used To Be Friends" (from 2003's Welcome To The Monkey House) that plays over the names and faces of the Veronica Mars cast and kicks off the show's soundtrack album. You might also know about them from the fascinating award-winning documentary Dig!, which traced seven years in the life of the Dandys and their frenemies the Brian Jonestown Massacre, whose leader Anton Newcombe is portrayed as the id to Dandys frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor's ego. Or maybe you simply caught "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth," "Bohemian Like You" or "Smoke It" on the radio one day and gave in to their drive and muscle. With a crazily experimental new album, Odditorium or Warlords of Mars, now in stores, Taylor-Taylor spoke to spacecitymarc for the September/October issue of Amplifier magazine and Mars Investigations to share, among other things, his opinion of Dig!, his true feelings for Kristen Bell, and the infiltration of all things Mars into his psyche. Danger: salty language ahead!
MI.net: Let me start out with a hypothetical question. If an incredibly lazy interviewer were to ask you how to describe your music, what would say?
Courtney Talyor-Taylor: I'd say, "Get off your ass and buy the record, jerkoff. What the fuck are you doing? Are you getting paid for this, or what?" No, I would say that basically our music is an experiment about, where does a jackhammer fit into "Bridge Over Troubled Water"?
MI.net: Have you found the answer yet?
Courtney: Every time.
MI.net: [laughs] Where are you right now?
Courtney: I am now in London. We just got here. We were in Berlin, and before that we were in Cologne, and before that we were in Paris.
MI.net: How different is your reception in the U.S. versus Europe?
Courtney: Well, you know, it's kinda weird because, like, if I'm here and I call my girlfriend, it'll cut in and out, but it won't hang up. But I could be at home and she could be right down the street, and she'll call, and we can talk for like maybe ten, twenty seconds, and then when it cuts out, it hangs up. So I don't know, how's your reception?
Courtney: God, I'm sorry. I am just stupid. Oh, you mean the band. I'm sorry. I'm just fucked. My phone has been having so many problems, because I couldn't charge it in Germany, so I was thinking, you know, like, "reception," that you mean reception. And do you hear that sound that goes, "Nyeerooweeoon"? Are you hearing that?
Courtney: Yeah, somebody's cellphone is being called. I'm sorry. Okay. Our reception is about the same everywhere, because basically we travel the world and preach to the converted. We just have our fan base, our kinds of people. It grows slowly and steadily of the people that are into our music. And it generally tends to be people that are similar to the people that we are in the band. Like, fairly educated, culturally aware, probably know that there was cool things going on, like, the Beats were in Cairo in the '50s, and Man Ray and Picasso and shit were in Paris in the '20s. It's just that kind of people. So our reception is always pretty nice. We make records that are pretty specific to the kind of people we want to know and we want to be able to meet around the world, and it works. It's great, we're good like that.
MI.net: What's your relationship with Capitol like? Are you guys pretty satisfied being on a major? Are they doing everything that you need them to do?
Courtney: Yeah, yeah, definitely. You know, they've got a company to run as well, and theirs is huge. And they get everything done. The real problem is that they have so many people in their company that sometimes they don't tell us what they need us to do until it's due in, like, an hour. We get told things like, "We need a dance club remix made of this, but apparently you weren't told, but actually, we need it tomorrow." You know, that kind of thing.
MI.net: Like, "You've got an interview in 20 minutes?"
Courtney: Yeah. And that's easy. That's the easy part. The other part is, like, "We need three strip ads for whatever magazines. We need three of them and we need them basically before we leave the office today. So, like, in the next couple of hours." And fortunately, we have the Odditorium [the band's Portland rehearsal/production facility], which has graphic design, web design, film production, two recording studios. I don't know how bands ever get anything done without having their own facility anymore. I don't know how we ever did it without it. So it's pretty fun, even though it's a bit stressful. It is fun getting a call from them, and they're like, "Hey, dude, did you not get the message?" [exasperated] "What?" "We need five B-sides, Japan needs three tracks no one else has, England needs three separate ones but one of 'em can be the same as the European B-sides, nuh-nuh-nuh." "AAAAAAAA!" "And we need them by the end of the weekend." "AAAAAAAA!" So you get on the phone and we get all whipped up and stuff. So I can't say that we really have a bad relationship with our label. I mean, they think we're a pretty cool band, and they like what we do. And they certainly dig our records, so it's been really fun this time. I think once you develop a level of trust where they're impressed with the work that you produce – and it's probably this way in any business when two companies are trying to do business together, once the marketing and the commercial end of that company is comfortable and confident in the ability of the creative company to produce the fucking goods – that then you have a great relationship and you can really a) kick a lot of ass and b) have a good time doing it at the same time. So I think that's kind of what we're trying to achieve, and that's what we are achieving in a lot of ways.
MI.net: Were there any disagreements over the direction you guys took on the new album [Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars]?
Courtney: No, we handed in the artwork, the first video and the record all at one time. And they just couldn't believe it. They were fucking stoked.
MI.net: What do you think has changed most about being in the band since Dandys Rule OK? [the band's 1995 debut]
Courtney: [long breath] What has changed...Our world in Portland really doesn't change. You know, we all own a house, although I don't live in mine yet. I'm still having it worked on. So I live in a smaller apartment now than I did when we made Dandys Rule OK?
MI.net: So that's what's different, you're living in a smaller apartment now.
Courtney: Yeah, yeah. But the biggest one is, obviously, we own a studio that is a quarter of a city block. It's probably the coolest art facility on the planet, in the entire world right now. I would wager that the Odditorium is by far the most extremely designed, exotic, cool, fucking whacked-out and fully functional artist's studio, multi-media, basketball court, pool table, deck, barbecue on the roof, a restaurant-sized kitchen. We've had a Moroccan dining room, screening room, library, lounge. We can park a tour bus in the Odditorium and it will not disrupt anything going on in there. It's a really incredible thing that we've done there. The level of stress has become a lot less, and the amount of disappointment is almost completely gone because we're in complete control over all the mediums that we need to work in.
MI.net: So then do you find it easier or harder to be a band ten-plus years down the road?
Courtney: Oh, it's so much easier. Yeah, it is. It's more consistently fun and the lows are not even as low, and the highs don't have that nervous, hollow center to them.
MI.net: How did "We Used To Be Friends" end up as the theme song to Veronica Mars?
Courtney: The writer of the show is a fan, and it apparently it just works as lyrical content and the feel he wanted to have for the show. And it sounds kinda like that chick looks, you know? She's got kind of a good New Wave-y haircut, and a good angular face, and she's tomboyish but pretty and kind of a little exotic. You know, a little bit tomboyish, a little New Wave, a little bit rock, a little grungy. So, yeah, it just worked, and so he called up John, my manager, and said, "Here, I want to send this to Courtney," and sent us the pilot episode and it was pretty fun. I mean, half the time I don't know what the hell they're saying. You know, it's a barrage of clever dialogue, I'll tell you that, with this really, really cute chick. And so we were like, "Great. Cool."
MI.net: Do you guys watch the show now?
Courtney: I don't have TV. Zia [McCabe, keyboards and bass] watches it. She likes TV, she watches TV. Pete [Holmstrom, guitar] doesn't watch TV. Pete and I don't have TVs. Fathead [Brent DeBoer, drums] does not watch fiction shows. He watches racecars, any auto racing event. F1 or stock cars or anything. That's what he watches. He watches History Channel, Biography, that kind of stuff. Anything with Bill Kurtis or four wheels, four rubber tires going fast. That's basically what he'll watch.
MI.net: Is that how Bill Kurtis ended up on Odditorium?
Courtney: Well, I had written the thing with the intention of finding somebody that sounded a lot like Bill Kurtis. And then I got a call from my friend, 'cause he does a lot of documentary films, just low-level kind of thing. And he said, "Yeah, I can find you a guy like that. But there's this new guy that sounds like James Earl Jones, and maybe you should get him. 'Cause I think he'd probably do it for free, 'cause he wants to build his reel up and everything." Great. And then he goes, "Yeah, I'll call you back tomorrow." And then he called me back, you know, tomorrow, and said, "You know, um, how would you feel if, uh, maybe I could get Bill Kurtis?" Like, "Oh, are you fucking kidding?" So I got Bill's number and called him. We chatted and he's just a great guy, just lovely, well-informed, well-educated. Fun to talk to, just a darling, and a real elegant sort of man. So yeah, I sent him the script for it and he loved it so he just did it. And I didn't know this at the time, that they said, "Yeah, Bill wants to do other things and spread out and duh-duh-duh. But Outkast had just gotten a hold of us and wanted him to be the straight man talking hip-hop, and didn't really suit him, so this really came along at a really opportune time for us." And that was incredibly flattering. Then I understood the gravity of what gets in to Bill Kurtis and what doesn't.
MI.net: Since Veronica Mars started, has there been any increase in interest in your music?
Courtney: No. [laughs]
MI.net: You haven't noticed anything.
Courtney: No. Not at all. Not that, not even the movie Dig! Yeah, we haven't really noticed anything.
MI.net: Yeah, in the bonus features on the Dig! DVD, Peter was sort of good-naturedly bitching about the fact that he was hoping that more people would know who you guys are now. But that hasn't happened?
Courtney: No, instead, just our fans went to see the movie. They estimate that a whopping 30,000 people in America saw Dig! in its theatrical release. [laughs] It didn't move mountains. Like everything we do, it'll just be a slow infiltration into the culture. And as long as you do good work, it sticks around and it spreads out and gets bigger and bigger over time.
MI.net: I don't know if you guys are sick of talking about the movie yet, but do you think it gave an accurate impression of what you guys are all about?
Courtney: Not even remotely. And it certainly didn't give an impression about what the [Brian] Jonestown Massacre is all about. It's very just, "all right, here's a filmmaker who shot a lot of film and just needed to do whatever it took to make this thing feel like a good movie." 'Cause it doesn't feel like a documentary, it feels like a movie, you know? But certainly at the cost of the...I don't know if I'd say truth, but at a cost. Certainly at a cost. To get a movie out of that stuff, it certainly cost a lot of artistic depth and stuff like that.
MI.net: How does that implicate you, then? Because you were the narrator.
Courtney: Oh, *pfft*, the narrator. I was supposed to go get on an airplane to fly home. I'm a very fucking busy guy, and Ondi [Timoner, the film's director] has been saying, "Oh, I'm gonna finish the movie," for like six years. It's like, "Sure, you are, Ondi. Look, I'm busy. You know, I got shit to do." And then, "Oh, well, can you just come by and read this? It'll take you 25 minutes, I swear to God." Okay, I will leave a half hour early, I will stop by this guy's apartment where you're recording and I will read this shit. Fine, let's just get it over with. I need to get home, blah blah blah, we got a tour to start, duh duh duh. And it was kinda fitted in between stuff. But you know, it's not like I ever believed Ondi was gonna finish the movie. Come on. She's been saying that for fucking nine years. And then, whoa, you know, like, [laughs] "Holy shit." So I don't really feel like I was the narrator or anything. I was just helping a friend make a movie. I help lots of friends make art. And lo and behold, next thing you know, "Ondi's going to Sundance with this movie." Oh, really? Great. Okay, great, got into Sundance, cool. And then, "Ondi won the Grand Jury Prize." And, Whaaaaat? The thing is, Anton [Newcombe, leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre] and I were both disappointed in what the movie ended up being as far as us being characters in it. Obviously he really didn't want to see himself that way. And for us, I think we wanted to be looked at for what we do, not just, occasionally we're in as the foil for Anton's craziness: "Oh, here's a band that can kinda get along." You know, can get along, who does focus on getting along and making a good time out of what the fuck ever horribleness is going on around us. And that's part of what we do, but what we do is we make music. And there's not one instance in the entire thing where we're creating music. And there's only maybe two minutes or one minute or three minutes where Anton's actually creating music. And then the rest of it is just us partying and them fighting. You know, we talked about it right after it came out, and Anton was just in a fury about it. And I had to just remind him, "Anton, you and I did not get involved in the editing. We opted out. So who are you gonna blame? Ondi needed to make a film. She needed to make the film good and use whatever she had at her disposal to make a film that is watchable. And she took the most obvious route, which is Jerry Springer with some artistic depth. And she did it. That's the way she went with it, and if you wanted to go sit in the editing room, I'm sure you could have helped her edit it and made a very different film out of it. But you didn't and neither did I." So there's Dig! for you. You know, a great film. I wish it wasn't me and Anton. [laughs]
MI.net: But you liked the film otherwise.
Courtney: Yeah. Yeah. Shockingly good movie. Really, truly good movie. Definitely not a documentary.
MI.net: Going back to the Veronica Mars thing...
Courtney: [laughs] Oh, we are? Oh, really, are we?
MI.net: Was the title of the new album, Odditorium And Warlords Of Mars, is that at all a reference to the show?
Courtney: Of course not. It's a reference to John Carter, Warlord Of Mars, which is an Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure. But that is ironic. And also what's ironic is that when we were on tour with the Mars Volta, I watched them a lot in Australia and I was stupefied by this band, the Mars Volta. They're fucking incredible. And Omar [Rodriguez], their guitarist, I ended up chatting with on several occasions, and he is one of my favorite people ever from another band. So I thought that was funny, that we're doing a lot of space-out jamming on this record, which is pretty much what they do exclusively live, or at least it feels like that. And then Veronica Mars. There's a lot of Mars in my life right now. It's just one of many Mars references in our world right now.
MI.net: So in a way, you were destined to do the theme song to the show.
Courtney: Yeah. Yeah, kind of. [laughs] Sooner or later. I'm glad it's that one, man. 'Cause that's a good, fun show. It's smart and it's cool and it's got such a cute chick. [laughs]