“I never thought you’d be a junkie/Because heroin is so passé.” A memorable opening line for a song, especially on daytime radio. The track in question – Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth – was, for much of the UK, their first introduction to THE DANDY WARHOLS when the band’s now-classic single crash-landed on the BBC Radio 1 A-list in May 1998 (chances of this happening now: less than nil).
Having established themselves as one of the US underground’s finest bands, the group went truly global with the colossal success of 2000 single Bohemian Like You, a feat consolidated by that year’s magnificent parent album Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. Since then Courtney, Peter, Zia and Brent have been steadfastly doing things their own way, blurring genres, wrong-footing critics, strengthening their reputation as a stellar live act and inspiring scores of groups along the way.
Presently engaged in a global trek to spread word of sterling, return-to-form ninth LP Distortland, the quartet are currently recovering between dates, Peter Holmström explains on the phone from his base in Portland. Closely associated with their home city, the title of the new LP refers to the changes the conurbation has undergone over the last decade. “Portland has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” Holmström says. “It went from a pretty uncool backwards town to the place to be. It’s good and bad: we have crazy rent increases which are driving all of our cool friends out.” The city appears to be going through the same wave of gentrification as London, New York and San Francisco, the latter something chronicled by US indie rocker Kelley Stoltz and The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s tambourine man Joel Gion on his Apple Bonkers LP. “I really don’t understand what’s going on,” Holmström states. “Years and years ago it was a good place to work a couple days a week, which was all you needed to pay rent, then spend the rest of the time on your art.”
Staying on the subject of Portland, the band’s studio/rehearsal/all-round creative space The Odditorium, established with the royalties generated by Bohemian Like You’s inclusion on a Vodafone advert, was ravaged by storms last October. “It was one of those things where we kinda got incredibly lucky,” Holmström says. “We had just turned in the record probably the week before. The control room got destroyed, but none of the equipment got damaged. And we hadn’t left on tour yet. If we hadn’t been there then all the water that was being held up would have dumped in and destroyed everything. It just worked out in the best possible way it could have.”
Reminiscent of superb 2003 LP Welcome To The Monkey House with its concise synth pop tunes, half of Distortland is being essayed in the band’s live sets at present, the composition of which have become more complicated with each album. “It’s so difficult. There’s so many songs that you can’t take out, because people will get upset! Then there’s the ones that we can’t take out cos various band members will get upset!” Holmström laughs. “Then there’s all the new ones. Lead single STYGGO: that was one we were playing together for about a year and a half and that came together really quick. Girls In London: I think we’re now finally getting it, so it works every single night after two-odd years of playing it!”
Released at the pinnacle (or rather nadir) of the shit-awful nu-metal movement in 2000, the aforementioned Thirteen Tales… was as far removed from the weapons-grade faux angst of fellow countrymen Limp Bizkit, Korn and Deftones as could be imagined. The practise of releasing albums that define themselves against their era, something that continued with the synth pop-fixated …Monkeyhouse, is something the Dandies aim for. “That’s kind of our theory,” Holmström explains. “You would have thought that at the height of guitar bands in 2001-02 we would have made a guitar record, that’s what we’re pretty damn good at, but there was so much good guitar music at that point it was like, ‘Let’s do something different.’ We create what’s missing in our musical world.”
Along with close buddies The Brian Jonestown Massacre, the band were harbingers of a new spin on psychedelia when the genre was largely dormant in the late 1990s – something which seems scarcely believable now that the form has resurfaced to dazzling effect. “It makes me happy, there’s so much more new music for me to listen to. I used to have to hunt around for good, cool new music; there’s quite a bit of it now,” Holmström enthuses, citing Night Beats and Suuns as current listening choices.
Turning to the new LP, one of the album’s highlights, Catcher In The Rye, is unlikely to have been permitted during the lifetime of the novel’s infamously protective author J.D. Salinger. “It was definitely one of the books that connected with me as an early teenager,” Holmström explains. “We were all slight outsiders in high school. I wanna get that song down live. My parts on that are studio tricks, so I don’t know how I’m gonna create them live the same way.”
Another standout, meanwhile, is Pope Reverend Jim, which hinges on one of the Dandies’ infectious choruses. Although on first impression referencing Reverend Jim Jones, leader of the People’s Temple which committed the notorious 1978 mass murder-suicide in Jonestown Guyana (inspiring half of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s band name), the inspiration behind the track is vastly different, as Holmström tells us. “It’s about a character from the TV show [1970s US sitcom] Taxi; there’s a character named Reverend Jim played by Christopher Lloyd, and Courtney was just thinking that he’d make a good Pope. The whole Jim Jones thing; I was asked that in an interview a few weeks ago and I went, ‘Oh wow, that’s kind of interesting!’”
Looking forward to the next tranche of dates across the Pond, the guitarist hopes that the band’s touring increases over the next few years. “It seems that the only way for bands to actually make a living nowadays is to keep running around the world, so fine by me. The tour’s a little longer than the ones we’ve normally been doing, everybody’s going home between the Liverpool show and one in Spain, but I’m gonna stick around and hang out, cause some trouble somewhere.” So if you sight a familiar-looking member of a notable US alt rock band holidaying on Merseyside over the next few months, you’ll know who it is.
The Dandy Warhols play The Atlantic Stage on Sunday 29th May / Onstage at 19:45