The Dandy Warhols' Courtney Taylor-Taylor Passionately Ranks the Band's LPs
Ahead of the band's new album, 'Why You So Crazy,' the frontman puts his records in order, from least amazing to most amazing.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
“We’re one of the only bands I know of who, once we stop making a record, can’t stop fucking bonging and listening to it. I need to listen to it. I turn my phone off, because I have to bong and listen to it again.”
Courtney Taylor-Taylor thinks the new Dandy Warhols album, Why You So Crazy, is the best one his band has released in their 25-year career. We’re only discussing the first eight albums that came before it, but he wants the world to know that their latest effort is “such an amazing trip.”
There is a reason why Taylor-Taylor looks back on his music fondly: he’s rarely had to compromise. For the last quarter-century, the Dandys frontman and his band have been doing pretty much whatever the fuck they want. They did retro rock when no one gave a shit about it, and eventually managed to score their biggest hit ever. Then, after that, just as retro rock became all anyone gave a shit about, they went new wave when no one gave a shit about that, and scored another hit.
The Dandy Warhols have spent their career making music that isn’t hip, hip. And while not every one of their albums has been as successful as some others, they’ve continued to make albums on their own terms, the way it should and has to be. Why You So Crazy might be their weirdest one yet, though to Taylor-Taylor, what sets it apart from the rest—aside from it being their best-—is… the snares?
“I said, ‘I don’t want one professional snare sound, ever.’ Whatever song is up, if I listen to it and think Sheryl Crow wouldn’t fire me for that snare sound, then it’s not done yet. Every snare sound has to be so fucked up that you’d be fired as an engineer by a successful, professional recording artist.”
Although he considers all of his albums “amazing” to some extent, Taylor-Taylor was nice enough to put them in order, from least amazing to most amazing.
Noisey: Why is this your least favorite?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: It’s a collection of songs, and a couple of mixes and remixes that don’t really work. It’s more of a social experiment record. It’s not as much of a trip as every single other record we’ve made. It’s a collection of great songs that doesn’t kill me the way other records do, like Pink Floyd or a classic Dandys record. Incidentally, I tried to make our new record a collection of songs, too, and still have it be a trip like Sgt. Pepper is, and it somehow worked.
Would it have mattered if you’d instead released the original version, which you later put out as The Dandy Warhols Are Sound?
No, I’d still prefer this one. [The Dandy Warhols Are Sound] is a deeper trip, although it would never have the commercial appeal, which this one had. I definitely wanted to keep working on it, but it was taken away from us. The label just said to us, “Okay, it’s done! We finished it for you.” There are a couple of Nick Rhodes mixes on there that are just so disappointing, and then there are some like “Last High” and “It’s Over,” which are incredible. With the exception of the version of “The Scientist” from Are Sound; that is the single most superb, the ultimate sonic achievement, the sonic pinnacle of our entire career, of our entire fucking lives. That record is a cooler vibe, but the version of “We Used To Be Friends” is just this not-completely-finished, Gary Numan pastiche, filler track. Those records have strengths and weaknesses, but I prefer the Russell Elevado mixes we did in New York. And we did it in Jimi Hendrix’s studio, for chrissakes. That was an emotional experience.
So what exactly happened? The label wanted to remix it and you chose Nick Rhodes [Duran Duran] to do it?
It was their idea to mix it with Nick Rhodes, and I had chosen Jeremy Wheatley, because he had mixed Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At.” I loved the sound of that and how sticky, icky the Gary Numan sample was in that. Well, the label went in with Nick and mixed it without us, when then, of course, it’s going to lose some part of its soul for sonic, whiz-bang superiority. But I chose the people right, so Monkey House turned out to be an amazing record without me having to be there. But I wanted to be there. I was lied to and tricked, but at least we knew that about them and knew we picked the right fucking people so they didn’t completely ruin us.
Around this time, David Bowie said to you, “Courtney, why do you always have to be the first at doing everything? It is so much more profitable to be the second.” What did you make of that advice?
Well, cool bands are always looking for something to be inspired by. So it was always easy for us to be the first and at least ensure that other bands would dig us. We went in this direction because the White Stripes, the Strokes, Jet, the Vines, all of these amazing guitar bands were just thundering, just huge, and I thought, “Jeez, why would we make another guitar record?” For me, emotional singularity or emotional power is more important than all of the other things. Anything that really sounds like another band or record, unless you’re doing it well, I find it detracts from your emotional power. You have to be pretty fucking amazing to use pastiche to strengthen your hand, otherwise it dulls your sword. You might like it but it blunts your emotional fucking power of being transportive and emotionally transcending someone who hears it at that moment. So I felt that being outside of current trends made our music more emotionally powerful and clearer for people looking for that. That’s all I want is for people looking for emotional salvation to find us. I only want those people in front us when we travel across the world and play our music. I don’t really care about anybody else.
So that’s why I did it. I didn’t really have the wherewithal to tell David that when he asked me that. I had never really thought that. For me, the Cure or Bauhaus were more powerful than anybody else because they were fucking completely unique. There’s no other Bauhaus! Not even close to Bauhaus. They were so whacked out and emotionally powerful, transportive.
Why does your debut rank so low?
Technically, it requires certain kinds of stereos because its been remastered from CD and the master tapes were lost. The label [Tim/Kerr] was such a schlep job of crack and coke. It was just a big mess, so that album has now deteriorated and been tweaked sonically that it really doesn’t deliver on every stereo. Almost no record really does, maybe Neil Young’s Harvest does, but this one works the least, which is sad because it’s such an amazing record.
You were signed by Tim/Kerr after your first gig?
I think [co-founder Thor Lindsay] was coming to see us at practice because I knew him. I was the doorman at a blues bar. So this guy had the label and ran gigs for this club, and he’d put cool bands like Joan Jett in this bar every now and then. And so I’d see this crazy cat who was just chain-smoking and talking really fast, wearing button down shirts with torn sleeves and pants from a sharkskin suit from the late 50s. He was this hip, crazy, greaser character who loved rock. He knew all of the indie bands and had this label. I invited him to see us play in this laundry room where we practiced, and he thought we were amazing. I don’t know if we’d ever played a gig before we invited him down to the basement.
Do you ever call it The White Album, like some people do?
No, but I surely must have at some point. Not in a long time, though. It does ring a bell, and I think we’ve had a chuckle at that, especially when we made The Black Album, our B-sides thing.
That one is so big, such a huge record that it’s so ubiquitous. I have a hard time thinking of it right now and going, “Awww, God I’d love to crawl inside that record.” But the last time I remember listening to it, about a year ago, I remember saying, “God, this is amazing!” But I don’t generally think of it as amazing because it’s such a big thing. It’s become a different thing.
You said at the time, “We felt like we needed to make the last classic rock album.”
Yeah, definitely. It was 1999 and the music was terrible: misogynist rap-rock, and rap wasn’t even good back then. Nobody was doing anything cool. Grunge was so blown out by the year 1999, so ugly and commercial and cheap. It was disgusting and everything sucked. The only thing that we could really listen to was classic rock, like Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. It was absurd. Fathead pulled out Workingman’s Dead or American Beauty, neither of which I’d really listened to. We listened to the fuck out of those on tour for two years before we started working on that record. Back then, we were getting stoned and drone on with big, fat acoustic guitars and harmonizing over top of them. We had rediscovered classic rock, like Deep Purple and shit. The 70s weren’t cool by 1999, at all. There’s nothing better to do than engage with something that is uncool. I had learned that from Dr. Dre around that time. Like, God, he just gets these cheesy, cheesy samples—they’re horrible! And he turns them around until they’re cool. So I was turned on to that idea.
We never felt like we needed to make anyone think that we were cool. Who would be cooler than us? Who could possibly be cooler than us? Nobody! We didn’t give a fuck. Everybody wanted to hang out with us like the Cure, Joe Strummer, Bowie. We did completely whatever the fuck we were, and that was such a wonderful thing to be. We still are, but back then we were on a major label and had that MTV thing, so it was just fun. You could meet everyone back then. All you needed to do was make the coolest records that you loved, and you would get to hang out with the Cure and play pool! Robert [Smith] showed me how to play pool in this fuckhole bar in Boston. God, those were really fun times. So yeah, we weren’t afraid of making classic rock.
Obviously “Bohemian Like You” took off.
But when we released it, though, it was the lowest charting single we had put out to date. It took a year. One year later, that thing got into commercials and movie soundtracks it became this sensation. Then after that happened, all of the cool bands got signed to majors, like Jet and all of those bands. It was a great time for rock. Having the Strokes, the White Stripes, Jet, and the Vines all in the modern rock charts at the same time was fantastic! We weren’t nearly as big as any of those bands because we had done it at the wrong time. Who knows? Maybe things would have gone differently if we hadn’t released that record.
It was similar to how you released Monkey House, a new wave record, when no one else was doing it.
I know, right? That was funny. It just got so bad-mouthed and lambasted! It was horrible. Everyone—Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Spin—were like, “I knew they actually sucked the whole time! They’re so dumb! The 80s are dumb!” And then two years later you had the Killers and the Bravery, both awesome bands. Yeah. We weren’t even the first ones to do it. We were just the first on a major label. The Faint were the pre-eminent badass synthesizer band before us. We loved them. Only because one jukebox in America had them on it did we hear them. And we happened to go to that bar.
Were you a fan of Mousse T’s “Horny As A Dandy” mash-up?
Yeah, that was awesome. It was exciting, particularly the timing, because the momentum of “Bohemian” had kinda faded and music was more into the new wave thing. We had no record at the time and it gave us new life. It was fun when it came out and hearing a chick sing “Horny” was campy and fun. If we did that we would’ve been poo-pooed for being misogynist.
God, what a beautiful record. It’s just so beautiful. I don’t love the EQ on my voice, which is why it’s not number one, but what an absolutely heroic guitar record. It is so good. Just guitars. It was our experiment to see at what point the law of diminishing returns comes in on how many guitars you can layer on one song. That record was just experimenting in what we could do with guitars. How to get the thickest, biggest most beautiful sound and then not have to make the drums tiny to maintain the hugeness of the guitars. That one we had infinite time and infinite resources. We made the first record for five grand in two days of studio time, and then two months in my bedroom with an eight-track. Now we had a $150,000 budget and we recorded for two years, which set the standard of how we would record.
And this was the second version of the album you submitted to Capitol. What was wrong with the original one [later released as The Black Album]?
That was not only an interesting experiment in sonics but also in brain chemistry. We were constantly experimenting with narcotics and sleep deprivation and probably malnutrition. It was like the Pied Piper led us to an island where we ran amok and ate candy all the time. So that was the first half in what we gave them, which is what I think ended up being The Black Album. It was just on its way. So then we started a bunch of it over again with Tony Lash rather than Clark Styles, and Tony was just a machine. He brings it on home. It was so emotional and I was so in love with this model from San Diego that was living in LA. God, she was spectacular, so groovy and sweet and smart and funny. I wrote half of that record about her, but then she ended up marrying Duff McKagan. [Laughs] I would just go visit her sometimes and sit there listening to her talk. God, I was so in love with this chick. She was so amazing. But it was too overwhelming, she was too much and I just got scared. We’d go and get coffee in LA during the day, and then I’d just lay there at night with my heart bleeding into my stomach. So I wrote songs instead of trying to have a relationship with her.
Do you think the record label made the right choice in rejecting what would become The Black Album?
Or not spending money to mix it? Yeah, and we didn’t really have anyone to bring it home either. So I think that was smart of them. It wasn’t as beautiful. Technically it only worked on certain stereos, whereas Come Down achieved maximum, emotional, engaging power and beauty more frequently on more different kinds of listening situations than most of The Black Album does.
Do you know where the giant syringe costumes are from the “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth” video?
That is a good question. Wow. That is an amazing question! Thank you. I wish I had one. That is funny that I do not have a giant piece of junk sitting in my giant studio sitting with other junk. David LaChapelle, Madonna’s makeup artist, and I threw a series after-hours in a hotel, bungalow and Chateau Marmont, came up with that idea for the video. But I was not involved at all in executing it until editing. And then Capitol took it and seized the footage and edited it a number of times. It was the David LaChapelle Show though. He was fucking amazing. He was the most important photographer in the world at the time and it was such a privilege to work with him. He loved the song, loved the idea and the sentiment that heroin as fashion is fucking gross. It turns you into Gollum. It’s sad. So he wanted to do it and we let him do it. I wish we could do that today. Just let some giant visionary genius do all the work.
This Machine is an oddball. It’s really clean and woody and organic. It’s everything I loved about well-produced grunge, like In Utero. But at that same time it also has this My Bloody Valentine thing or this 1989, Jesus & Mary Chain-meets-Nirvana thing.
I read that Sisters of Mercy were also a big influence on this record.
Yeah. God, I just love the shit out of their record Floodland. That is one of the greatest records ever made. I’ve gotta remember that when people ask me, “What record do you consider to be way unsung?” Andrew Eldritch is maybe my favorite rock singer. We played with them several years ago. Gosh, what a cool, smart, little Tolkien-ish wizard he is. I get the feeling that he tried to affect this school, posh, educated character. And his new shtick is paramilitary. He’s not goth. He wears combat fatigues tucked into military boots, a white hooded sweatshirt, and he has these super-asshole wraparound shades, like the Terminator, shitbag, right-wing shades. It’s amazing. And his head is shaved completely bald and he just points his fist at people in the crowd for a long time while he sings in that deep voice. Fuck, it was the coolest thing. He figured out how to age, not gracefully but mind-blowingly.
Apparently the stripped down approach to this record was a reaction to using too many ideas on Earth To?
Yeah. Earth To was a beast! So many parts, so many instruments. Now we all listen to that one now and go, “What the fuck! Who made this? This is incredible! It is the most incredible record.” But for this one we wanted a clearer, simpler, four-piece band that happens to be trippy. Trippy for an indie rock band, not indie rock for a trippy band. Again that’s the headspace I was in. I needed that in my life at the time.
That is just such an awesome record. Again, that one doesn’t work on big club systems. I had the terrible misfortune of being in a club in Florida when “You Are Killing Me” came on and it was a fucking ass-handing. I think they played one of the big MGMT songs, one of the bangers and then ours. The bottom end isn’t organized for that kind of thing, it’s a very quiet record. I felt like I had to crawl under the bar and wait it out. But it sounds sick on the radio.
You’ve said “this the closest I’ve ever come to making a perfect record.” Do you still feel that way?
No, because we did that with the new record. Why You So Crazy is closer to perfection. But Distortland is real close to perfect, though. I don’t know if it could be fixed in mastering, pumped up a little bit? I don’t know. But on headphones, home speakers, and the radio, God, it’s just overwhelming how gorgeous and cool and sexy and fucking smart and physically masculine and melodically feminine. It’s fucking amazing! I listened to the shit out of that record. Still do. And I can’t stop when I start it. I have to take time off of life to do it.
You’ve also called this your shoegaze album. The first album also had a big shoegaze influence too.
And Come Down. I used to say that Come Down was the last shoegaze record because it was so uncool to be a shoegazer in 1996. But Pete [Holmström] and I weren’t done with shoegaze. “You can’t take this away from us!” So we made the last shoegaze record. Now it’s real hip, and five years ago there were a million shoegaze bands. I don’t think most of them understand the depth of feeling that the original, first generation bands had, though. I just wanted to capture the actual feel of those days as much as I could on that without being a pastiche. I wanted to swoon and be taken to those times.
You’ve called this your “fuck you record.”
We wanted to get off Capitol Records. I have been recording on a cassette four-track since I was a teenager in my room. The sound of those recordings is very special. Sonically, you’re not gonna make a hit with a four-track, but there’s something about the sound of it that’s fucking incredible—the noise, the imperfection of it. So that record was an experiment in how ugly the cobbled together sounds could be, at what point does it make it more emotionally powerful, and at what point is it too ugly? That’s from a mix ethic. For us as a band, it was the most freed up experience. There was no concept, really, but just lay stuff down, start with long droning jams, take the songs and melodies and mix it into a record so this uncool, control freak president of our label gets the message that we’re not happy and we’re not gonna play ball. “We’re not gonna give you hits, we’re not gonna get touched up with spray tan for our publicity photos. No, no.”
The label at this point wanted you to become this controllable pop band.
We weren’t a band, just a commodity. Our only value was to create a commercial zeitgeist or shazam and sell records. They weren’t going, “God, this band is really cool. I love their records.” They’re going, “They had a pretty big hit a few years ago. Let’s get another one of those!” This was just our moment where we said, “Wow, we’ve got a shit-ton of money coming in, we own our own studio, we don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do. Fuck these guys! Let’s just see how far we can go.” So we went in a number of directions to make ourselves even a little happier. There are a bunch of tricks in there that I think are great, and then the record is a deep, deep trip. I think there are some songs like “Down Like Disco” and “All the Money In A Simple Life Honey,” where if we’d taken money out of the budget and hired a slick mixer we may have come out of that whole experience with some really successful singles. But we didn’t. We weren’t interested at all in interacting with these label guys at all. So we were just a Portland band for a few years. We didn’t go to LA or do publicity when we toured, or work with the industry at all. We were just an overfunded art project from a small city. So that was such a special time and such a cool record. All of my rocker friends say that’s their favorite record of ours.
Did you know this would be your last album for Capitol?
No. We had hoped it would, though. We just thought some other major label would pick us up and we’d have a better time again, which didn’t happen. So we said, “Fuck it, let’s just start our own record label and do it over the internet.” And that was one of the worst mistakes we ever made. But we quickly found out that we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. We ran our own lives, but we need management and a label to do all of that work for us.
You named this album after the Odditorium studio.
Yes, that was the first record we made there. I built the Odditorium and away we went. We were like, “This studio is proof that we were right. Or we were completely wrong and just kinda dumb and complete self-congratulating, narcissistic, blind-as-fuck idiots.” It really felt like it was one or the other. When Paige Powell came and brought Duran Duran and Gus Van Sant for dinner one night, she said, “This is an amazing place you have here.” Pete said, “Yeah, it’s our Factory,” because Paige was Andy Warhol’s assistant back in the day. And she goes, “Oh, Andy never had anything like this!” I blew so much time and effort and money for this to be just an amazing place to be in, to just walk through or sit in or work in.
The documentary DIG! came out the year before this record. That film introduced a lot of people to your music but it wasn’t too flattering. Was that film more a gift or a curse for the Dandy Warhols?
Well, it ended people’s understanding of us. They thought we were shitty people after seeing it. Truly nice people thought it was weird, but the press actually believed it was an actual documentary. Like, I just wake up all hung over and call Capitol Records and just moan and groan about what’s happening with the single. No, that’s somebody really making a movie and using two bands to do it. It killed us. It basically ended everything we had built, except the four of us and our music.
People thought we were some bizarre, scumbaggy, put-together, Hollywood bullshit band. It was really such a gross, sad thing. We were sent these papers to sign from this lady. We thought, “What could she possibly do to us?” We’re very honest people who don’t mind laughing or apologizing when we’re shitty or self-centered. But this was a whole other thing that we’re not. We didn’t know you could do such a thing making a film. Just editing out the part where she’s talking us into going to their house or bringing the phone in and waking me up to tell me she has some label rep on the line. The only scene that isn’t set up is when the French police come onboard, but our drummer Fathead isn’t really in the movie because he noticed that when we were having actual conversations about our music, she had the camera sitting next to her just waiting to get us to do something, so he said he didn’t want to be a part of it. The rest of us didn’t really notice this.
Why is this your favorite?
“Welcome to the Third World” is on it for fuck’s sake. “Mission Control,” “The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers,” the breadth of style, the strength of the thing, the fucking… God, it’s so good! All of those layers together! We had never somehow managed to fit all of those layers together. There is so much swirl and delay but it never gets mushy. I mean, it is so powerful. I trip balls, man. I fucking love it. And we all just rediscovered it a few years ago. It’s got “Beast of All Saints,” it’s got “Talk Radio”! God, it’s got such depth! That is unbelievable. So many ideas emotionally melded together, gelled and layered for the perfect psycho-emotional experience. In order, going through it, oh, the mind reels! It’s overwhelming.
You once described this as “the single most overlooked genius record probably in the history of rock.” So I guess you feel this album didn’t get what it deserved?
Of course not! We threw our lot in with a label that lasted for two months [World’s Fair] and was a joke. “Big ideas idea on the internet horizon! We’ve got this new idea!” And it was just gone. That was a big lesson for us. We made this fucking masterpiece that took us forever. God, it was an amazing journey! It was so wonderful! And yeah, it was like we didn’t even release it. Just some of our fans got it and that was it.
Christ, we did good work on that fucking record, man. Actually, that A&R guy from the douchebag era came into the studio several years later after the Welcome to the Monkey House debacle, and he heard “Welcome to the Third World” and was like, “Jesus, you fucking guys! This is a huge hit! If I was at Warner Bros. I would make this a huge hit. In a year, everyone would be making songs that sound like this.” I mean, look at the fucking video, man! So badass. Top-notch fucking beauty. Beyond a human’s ability to make. Only a group effort could possibly ever make something like that. It is so fucking beyond the beyond.
I believe three of these songs were supposed to be Massive Attack collaborations, correct?
Yeah. “And Then I Dreamt of Yes” was one of them. That was from the Massive Attack sessions. I don’t remember the other ones. That one, we used all of the Massive Attack stuff. The other ones may have just used some sounds. Like, I think the opening of “Talk Radio” was from Massive Attack. Oh God, this album has “Valerie Yum,” unbelievable, dude! Oh my God, that’s so good.
What happened with that collaboration?
We were just too busy. We were friends and we party when we see each other on the road. We just happened to have some time to go to Bristol for a couple of days. We shacked up in a place down the street from the studio and took turns drinking at the Cider House, which was a fucking crazy ride. They were working with Neil Davidge, who was the taste and texture of Massive Attack. He was a full tweaker. He would tweak whatever sounds you’d lay down, and 40 minutes later you’d go, “That does not resemble a guitar at all.” He was amazing.