By Ana Ammann //
The Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor on Depravity, Decadence and Debauchery
Like the iconic artist from which their name is derived, The Dandy Warhols are Rock 'n' Roll icons in every sense of the word. Over the past 21 years, the legendary status of this Portland-based band that includes singer-guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor, guitarist Peter Holmström, keyboardist Zia McCabe and drummer Brent DeBoer, has evolved from the local Rock ranks to quasi-mythical.
The foursome, who rose to prominence in Europe thanks in part to a Vodafone advertising placement of their hit “Bohemian Like You,” were handpicked by David Bowie to support him on his 2003 tour. The band was also the subject of the documentary Dig!, which won filmmaker Ondi Timoner the Documentary Grand Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival in 2004.
From a creative perspective, the Dandy’s have remained relevant in a fickle and finicky industry while marching to the beat of their own drum as they evolved their sound — from garage Rock and neo-psychedelia, to Britpop, Shoegaze and Goth. On the business side, their ability to tap into what is catchy and marketable among the populace has served them well with a string of advertising, gaming and film placements.
But far more interesting, and adding to The Dandy Warhols lore, are the fabled gatherings at their recording studio and creative space, “The Odditorium,” that fills a quarter of a Portland city block and boasts a who’s who of the world’s art and epicurean scenes in much the same way their namesake, Andy Warhol, did with his studio, The Factory — creating a party refuge for artists and superstars fueled by drugs and debauchery.
As Taylor-Taylor and I are sitting in the basement of Eugene’s WOW Hall on this crisp November afternoon on the first day of the band’s Fall tour, he is both droll and dreary; eccentric with a hint of ennui at times; but humorous, exceptionally adroit and engaged when diving deep into a subject. We begin our conversation with me asking what’s been happening at the Odditorium…
“A lot of drinking, a lot of partying. We have an industrial kitchen and a pretty big space and dining room. We have a lot of great chefs, some of the greatest really, local cats come in. We’ve had everyone from the New York Dolls to dinner, to Saul Williams for Vegan Brunch, to Duran Duran, Gus Van Sant, and some old Andy Warhol people. We’ve had some amazing ragers.”
“I’m a major wino. I just love wine and I have a pretty focused palette. I have a classic, old world style that I discovered after spending a fortune trying to figure out why wine wasn’t giving me that thing that classic literature told me growing up it was going to give me, and then I found it. It’s old French wine.
“For a year, I blended a wine. Why would I make wine? I drink it and it’s great. This guy really wanted me to do it. What nobody had done is make red wine for Mexican food. Spicy food and red wine don’t go well together, the wine makes the spice hurt, it amplifies the pain. Sicilians have spicy food and wine. So I took a Sicilian red and added white to it until it was perfect for spicy Mexican food. I spent a month on tour just eating spicy food and ordering different wines.
“The most important thing is that now people show up to our gigs with bottles of wine saying, ‘Our family makes this wine.’ ‘This is from our estate, of a clone from Pommard,’ or whatever, and ‘This was our best year ‘09’. It happens in France, Alsace, Germany — people just knock on the bus door, hand over the wine and hang out, so that is fun.”
A connoisseur of wine, food, music and film, Taylor-Taylor and the band will be bringing all of these elements together at a special show on December 10 when McMenamin’s Edgefield hosts “Dandy’s Christmas Dinner and a Show,” complete with a five course dinner feast paired with wines hand selected by Courtney and silent films with accompanying live score by the band.
“I pick six great wines and then we get together with their chef. Chris [Rattaro] is amazing. He has been at the French Laundry and a bunch of other really high profile restaurants so he can do anything, he had a great heavy handed style kind of signature that he does. We taste all the wines and he adjusts the menu to whatever strange notes are going on. Like, ’that’s got a little juniper going on, I’m going to poach this in gin...’
“We really like cabaret shows and theme nights. I don’t know how we came up with the film/wine pairing and avant-garde cinema thing, I think it was probably because the theater was right there and it was such a perfect and beautiful Baroque room. We probably just thought let’s do the live scoring to like Salvador Dali, Man Ray or Maya Deren films.
“This will be our fourth year. We’ve moved out to anything that is kind of mind blowing and between 10 to 20 minutes long. We set up a bunch of equipment and do live music to something that is visually amazing. Sometimes there are stories, sometimes there is just visual motion, you know, an evolving image that just keeps changing, an abstract, anything. We just look and look and look. And now it’s great, you just get on YouTube and … And it always ends in porn and you have to go back to the beginning [laughs]!
“I’m learning to love Baroque, because that era was so queer. The Baroque era was created by queers, the Sun King and French royalty — they didn’t want all that heavy dogma in their music, they wanted air and light and space and freshness. So you get really great Chamber music from that era, from the early 1600s. The idea of dinner music was invented in the Renaissance, well, actually, they were probably also doing it in Rome, so that’s me talking out of my ass. But I think it was perfected in the Baroque era. Johann Heinrich Schmelzer…the very indigestibly named “Schmeltzer” [laugh], he did some of the best music to dine to that I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining and drinking to.
“The Dandy’s made a three hour series of Tafelmusik that is just for us to have at dinner parties. Maybe one day we will figure out how to try to sell it. Three and a half hour piece of music that is cut into different courses, like 'bright and crispy, clear and watery for the salad'; 'warm and wah..wah..wah...' kind of for the soup; and a kind of acid jazz moment for a cigarette break after every two courses, a palette cleanser. One track is called, 'Hot Vegetable.' It reminds me of that Sting movie Brimstone and Treacle. See Brimstone and Treacle and think 'Hot Vegetable!'"
For the fourth consecutive year, The Crystal Ballroom will host the second of The Dandy Warhol’s two holiday events, an all-ages show on Saturday, December 12. The theme for this year is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and everyone is encouraged to come dressed in their best past, present or future garb.
“Every year we have a different theme. Last year was Pagan Christmas, the year before that was….”
“Black Christmas! The end of the world!” Zia chimes in.
“This year it’s Past, Present and Future,” Taylor-Taylor said.
As for the future, the band continues their fall tour across the U.S. and has plans to release the album they have been in the studio recording in the Spring.
Tickets for Dandy’s Christmas Dinner and a Show on Thursday, December 10 at McMenamin’s Edgefield are on sale for $150. 21+. The Dandy Warhols “A Christmas Carol” at McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom is $20 advance/$25 day of show. All ages. Available at www.mcmenamins.com.