Alt-rock darlings The Dandy Warhols have amassed superstar fans, released eight studio albums, and are currently enjoying their 20th year in the music business.
On the eve of their new UK tour, drummer Brent DeBoer spoke to Mark Butler about apocalyptic live shows, notorious documentary Dig!, and being called “fat-head” by David Bowie.
Hi Brent. How’s it going?
“Pretty good. I just flew over from Australia a few days ago so I feel a bit out of it. I’m a bit dizzy – but other than that I’m fine!”
You’re about to kick off your UK tour at The Garage in Glasgow tonight. How’s everyone feeling ahead of the gig?
“It should be pretty awesome. We’re actually just about to soundcheck now. We’re pretty happy. We’re just glad all the gear made it in one piece, and nothing got lost.
“We’re always excited to play a gig. Particularly at a venue as iconic as this.”
You released your first ever live album earlier this year. Why now?
“We hadn’t really had time before. We’re always writing new songs and doing new stuff. Other shows we’ve recorded have been two and a half hours long, and that takes an incredible amount of time to mix.
“But when we did the Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia tour and played that album in its entirety, it was perfect. We recorded the show in Portland. It was 55 minutes long, and when we listened back we found out we’d played quite nicely. That helped.”
What have been the most memorable shows you’ve ever played as a band – for better, or for worse?
“I tend to block the really bad ones out of my mind. After lying in a bunk crying for a couple of hours, you try to forget.
“As for the really, really great ones, the whole Glastonbury experience was incredible. And we played a festival in Holland which was really quite something. We started the concert with ‘Godless’, the six-string bass intro started up, and just as the drums kicked in the heavens opened and more rain than I’ve ever seen in my life just suddenly poured from the sky.
“It was biblical. The crowd went crazy. And then, right as we finished the song, the rain just stopped as quickly as it had started, this window in the sky opened up, and a beam of sun shone down on everyone.
“The timing was perfect. It was like an amazing effect you could never pay for. God was looking after us I guess.”
What can fans expect from the new shows?
“We’re gonna play a bit of everything. There’ll be at least two or three songs from every record.
“We build our sets in waves. Our music builds up and down and meanders back and forth. It builds in a trippy style and grows into classic rock and roll, before coming back down again.
“We just try to make a whole experience: like one big grand song with 20 different movements.”
It’s the 20th anniversary of the Dandy Warhols this year. Congratulations!
What have been your biggest highlights from the story so far?
“For me, I’d say it’s been fulfilling that dream of your childhood heroes becoming, at some point, almost your peers in the rock business. I think about the day I was tracking drums with Tony Visconti, and David Bowie walks in with his laptop and shows me the new studio he’s working on.
“Smoking a J with Keith Richards while on the road. Feeling like you’re part of the whole rock world. That’s a dream.
“To have Bowie coming to your shows – which he’s done on numerous occasions – and the fact that he stays for the whole concert, is amazing. And then it’s kind of freaky that this superhero calls you ‘fat-head’, and goes ‘ah, I see you haven’t changed your clothes this tour!’
“To be around them is the most mind-blowing thing ever. There’s nothing greater in this world than music for me, so it’s just overwhelming at times.”
You toured with Bowie of course. What’s the most memorable thing he ever said to you?
“The first time I ever saw him was when he played at Glastonbury in 2000. It was a very special occasion, and our manager received a phone call saying David and his band wanted to come and see us play.
“He never told us about it, we’d never ever met Bowie before, and during our set I remember looking over and seeing this well-dressed, distinguished looking gentleman standing at the side of the stage. We found out later that it was him, with all his friends from the Factory days.
“They asked him afterwards in Mojo who he’d watched at the festival that year, and apparently we were the only band he saw. I couldn’t believe that.
“We got to watch his show from the side of the stage in return. Afterwards, just as the second encore finished, I walked down the stairs to this area with all these bottles of water, just on the off-chance he might come by.
“Before I knew it, he was there. He came bounding up to me, looked me straight in the eye, shook my hand and said ‘great show!’ I was a little scared, and in my nervousness I started agreeing with him, thinking he was talking about his own show. But he was talking about ours.
“Then he took off back towards his entourage, paused, came bounding back, and yelled: ‘I fucking mean it mate!’ It was the classiest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Going back to the subject of your 20th anniversary, two decades is an awful long time to spend in such close proximity with a bunch of other people. What’s the secret to your longevity?
“I think being incredibly considerate is key. Knowing the right time to say something, or not say something.
“How do I put this? With all my bandmates, there’s no element of destructive dumb, dumb rock. We don’t flip tables or anything like that. We just hang out and talk about things we enjoy.
“It’s a family. Everybody is well adjusted and we’re fortunate to not have any major drug problems, or the other kinds of massive issues that so often takes down a band. We’re considerate of our own bodies, as well as each other’s…”
One thing I really wanted to ask you about is Dig!, and the way the band was portrayed in that. It’s widely considered to be one of the greatest music documentaries ever made, but it was also quite controversial. How do you feel about the film now, and have your feelings on it changed since its release?
“My feelings have remained the same. It’s rock footage, $2,000 over seven years, cobbled together to make a professional story. It’s a Yale film grad movie.
“The themes aren’t real to life. It’s cobbled together to make Anton [Newcombe, frontman of The Brian Jonestown Massacre] look far crazier and drugged-up then he ever was. The footage is real, but it’s edited to portray a certain story.
“If you watch the movie, you think our singer Courtney [Taylor-Taylor] only ever talks about record labels, and Anton only kicks people in the face. It’s made to seem like ‘this is the less talented villain of the movie’, and ‘this guy is the real artist who’s a drug addict’.
“What’s actually going on is two bands working hard to be as good as possible, and doing it out of love for the music. But there’s some sort of bigger scenario that’s concocted.
“It’s a great, great film. But it’s not very true to life.”
Are there plans for a new studio album at some point soon?
“Oh yeah. We’re working on it right now.”
What can you tell me about it?
“It kind of sounds like classic Dandy’s rock. It’s a mish-mash of everything we’ve created over the years. But we won’t know exactly where it’s going for a while yet. We always have epiphanies here and there.
“We’ve got three or four tracks set. I may take another year or so before it’s finished.”
Glastonbury takes place this weekend of course. Away from the Warhols, your keyboardist Zia plays with a country band called Brush Prairie. Does that mean you’ll all be keeping a keen eye on Dolly Parton’s set on TV?
“Yeah! It’s unfortunate we won’t be there in person, but we’ll watch it. We love all things Dolly.”
Any chance of a Dolly and Dandy’s duet at some point?
“Ha! That’d be fun. I’d be up for that. If she wants to swing by the auditorium, we’ll throw the doors wide open for her.”
The Dandy Warhols are on tour now:
Jun 29: Manchester, Ritz
Jun 30: Leeds, Cockpit
Jul 1: Nottingham, Rescue Rooms
Jul 3: Leicester, O2 Acamdey
Jul 4-5: London, Brooklyn Bowl
Jul 7: Brighton, Concord 2
Jul 8: Bristol, Anson Arms
Jul 9: Oxford, Academy 1