At the height of the grunge movement, the Dandy Warhols were bucking the trend and pushing forward with an innovative psychedelic sound that included elements of rock and pop.
Two decades later, the Portland, Ore., band is still on the road, and will play at the Desert Stars Festival on Saturday, Oct. 4, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.
The story of the Dandy Warhols starts in 1994. Courtney Taylor-Taylor (vocals, guitar) and Peter Holmström (guitar) were looking to start a band. After Taylor-Taylor’s girlfriend didn’t work out on bass, he replaced her with Zia McCabe.
Their early shows in Portland were provocative and featured nudity—along with music that gained the attention of Tim/Kerr Records, which released the band’s 1995 debut, Dandys Rule OK.
Soon after, the band signed with Capitol Records. A rumor circulated that Capitol spiked the band’s second record because it didn’t have any apparent hits on it. (The band eventually released that album later on, calling it The Black Album.)
During a recent phone interview, Holmström addressed the rumor.
“We actually recorded a record, never finished it and then went on tour,” Holmström said. “We kind of decided that we needed to just restart the whole process. That whole thing about The Black Album being turned down by the label is a myth. They never heard it, so they never had the chance to turn it down. We ran out of time to finish it on that first go.”
The Dandy Warhols’ actual follow-up record, … The Dandy Warhols Come Down, was released by Capitol in 1997. The song “Every Day Should Be a Holiday” was a minor hit and appeared on the There’s Something About Mary soundtrack.
The band released its third album, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia, in 2000. It included one of the band’s biggest hits to date, “Bohemian Like You,” which became popular in part because it was featured in a mobile-phone commercial.
Holmström said he was unsure when asked if Thirteen Tales represents band’s best work.
“It’s the album where what we planned on doing, we actually achieved,” Holmström said. “I don’t know if it’s our best, but maybe the most fully realized, for sure. It was recorded and came out during a time when it was the end of recording records. That’s completely changed the way that we work now, with Pro Tools. You can (now) go into the studio with a really rough idea and just keep working on it until it becomes a song. Back then, we actually had to rehearse the songs before we went into the studio. It seemed like back then, you had to be more of a band, and you actually had to be able to play.”
The band members received the opportunity of a lifetime when they were selected by David Bowie himself to play the Meltdown in 2002, the year he curated the London festival.
“He was apparently a big fan of Thirteen Tales, he came and saw us a number of times, and then asked us to play at this festival he was curating at the time in London. We got up and played 'White Light/White Heat’ with him and his band. It was incredibly nerve-racking, because we had maybe one run-through at sound check and didn’t know it really all that well, but it was a lot of fun. Then he asked us to be on tour with him for two months, which was incredibly awesome, too. He always seems to be aware of what is going on. … He got really big into Arcade Fire after us.”
In 2004, the documentary Dig! was released, showing the early years of both the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols. During the early years of the Dandys, the members befriended the members of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. In fact, the song “Not If You Were The Last Junkie on Earth,” on … The Dandy Warhols Come Down, was dedicated to the Brian Jonestown Massacre. The documentary suggested there was a strained relationship between the bands, and portrayed the Brian Jonestown Massacre in a negative light. Both bands have since expressed disdain for the documentary—although the film did have its benefits.
“I like to believe it’s now helping a little bit,” Holmström said. “At first, it definitely hurt, because it didn’t boost our profile in any way. We had put out 'Bohemian Like You’ … and we were bigger than we ever were, and then that came out, and then there were more reviews which should have been about our record … that were reviews of the movie, essentially. But it definitely helped the Brian Jonestown Massacre. It brought them up to pretty much the same level … without the help of a major label.
“Both bands have been touring this year, and we were chasing them around the UK, playing all the same venues a few days or a week apart.”
Holmström said he’s uncertain whether the Dandy Warhols will record any more albums. The band’s most recent studio album, This Machine, came out in 2012.
“I like to believe it still matters,” Holmström said about recording music. “A lot of times, promoters won’t book you unless you have a new product to promote, which is strange, because it’s not the records that are making money, but the touring that makes money. It’s completely backward from how it used to be.”
The Dandy Warhols will perform on Saturday, Oct. 4, as part of the Desert Stars Festival, which takes place Friday and Saturday, Oct. 3 and 4, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. A Saturday pass is $45; a weekend pass is $65. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com or www.desertstarsfestival.com.