There’s a clamor in the background when I reach the Dandy Warhols’ frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor by phone at his Portland home.
“Sorry,” he says, even though he was warned beforehand that I’d be calling. “[I’m] doing some recycling.”
For someone who has been living in the Beaver State for the last 22 years, his response is so cliché that I could almost imagine it being used as a skit on Portlandia.
When Taylor-Taylor is finally done sorting the paper from the plastics, he turns his attention back to me, speaking slowly, in a low drawl roughed up by several decades’ worth of bong rips and world tours. He’s currently finishing construction on a wine shop for the band’s personal use in their studio-slash-hangout-space called the Odditorium. An amateur sommelier, the 49-year-old regales me with tales of drinking old Bordeaux with Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran, who apparently bought $20,000 worth of the stuff while on the road.
He’s just as committed to talking about wine as he is recycling, so he can’t help waxing poetic on the beverage’s ethereal qualities.
“Wine is a magical thing. It’s not only a lovely sensory experience, but the high is not a sloppy drunk. It’s a high. It’s the poet’s high,” he says. “That’s why it’s spoken of in literature the way it is.”
Fifteen minutes into our interview, music has still not come up, mainly because neither of us seem to want to discuss it. Bordeaux and, later on, the election of a xenophobic demagogue have us otherwise occupied. He describes the powers that be — aka oil and pharmaceutical companies and “international banking scum” — as “this whole other level that’s beyond douchebaggery.” He disparages the Electoral College — “That’s how they get us. That’s how [George W.] Bush got us.” — and decries the President-elect’s cabinet choices as “creepazoids” and “cronies.”
Electing Trump is “usually good for music, and it’s always good for Saturday Night Live,” he says, clearly grasping for a silver lining. And he’s not wrong. Conservative world leaders have a knack for giving musicians something to fight and sing against. It’s no coincidence that Ronald Reagan’s two terms coincided with the rise of the punk and hardcore scenes in Washington, D.C. Simply put, without Reagan, there would be no Fugazi or Minor Threat. And who would The Smiths be without their sworn enemy, Margaret Thatcher?
But contemporary protest music has its cons, too, Taylor-Taylor claims, and more often than not is used as a way for bands who would have otherwise never made it to break through. Though it’s not like their songs will matter in the grand scheme of things: Musicians, he says, are virtually useless in creating social and political change.
“Artists have never drummed anyone out of office, except for when MTV spearheaded the anti-apartheid [campaign] in South Africa,” he says. “But that wasn’t Bruce Springsteen and Bono. That was MTV.”
For all his musings, Taylor-Taylor claims he’s not a political artist. To him, music acts as a release for the pressure valve of his daily personal and social traumas, and he’s careful not to confuse those with his political outrage. The band’s keyboardist, Zia McCabe, may be an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter and part of the Portland activist community, but Taylor-Taylor makes it clear that the quartet’s music won’t air any political or social frustrations anytime soon.
As the conversation progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that we won’t be speaking in depth about Distortland, the band’s idiosyncratic ninth album released in April of this year. The same goes for 2000’s 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia, now regarded as a modern indie classic, albeit one that did not receive the same breathless adulation of its early aughts contemporaries, like The Strokes’ Is This It? and Radiohead’s Kid A.
To be fair, the Dandy Warhols’ decade-long run of albums — which started in 1995 with Dandys Rule OK! and finished with 2005’s Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars — never truly got its due. Amid the constantly changing musical zeitgeist (which included post-grunge, the garage rock revival, dance rock, and pop-punk), the group made consistently great albums that whizzed between psych-rock, shoegaze, indie, and power-pop.
“We came out of an era where Limp Bizkit was the biggest band in the world,” Taylor-Taylor says. “That’s just not a world for us. We existed to be anti-misogynist, anti-rap-rock, anti-cock-rock, anti-pop-grunge, anti-grunge radio. It was a pretty ugly time we came out of.”
Still, Taylor-Taylor thinks history will ultimately treat his band quite kindly.
“I think the people who know who we are and realize what we’ve done, they are all like, ‘Holy shit, that’s a real band. That is one of the last real fucking bands,’ ” he says.
These days, the Dandy Warhols have cut the majority of their ties to the music industry. They left Capitol Records in 2007 and started releasing music through their own label, Beat the World Records, and smaller indie outfits, like Dine Alone Records.
In fact, after 10 studio albums and numerous world tours, Taylor-Taylor doesn’t even feel all that compelled to release new music anymore.
“I’m perfectly happy not releasing my music,” he says. “I write songs so that I don’t kill myself … Just getting it off my chest, enjoying it by myself, having it there for me when I need it — I am perfectly happy with that.”
The Dandy Warhols play with Telegram and Warbly Jets at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17, at the Fillmore. $27.50; thefillmore.com