Whilst touring the world for the last year, Portland’s favorite drone/psych-pop band, The Dandy Warhols, has also been working on new music. The quartet – who have dropped nine albums since their debut release, Dandys Rule OK, in 1995 — kick off two weeks’ worth of West Coast dates this week with appearances at the Great American Music Hall, December 1st and 2nd, alongside longtime sonic compatriots, Joel Gion and Miranda Lee Richards. Last week, guitarist Peter Holmström took time to chat with us about the touring life and what to expect from them in the near future.
All Shook Down: It seemed like you were moving out of a bit of a retrospective phase, with the live version of (2000’s breakout album) Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia and the tours with that. On your website, you’ve mentioned the band has completed a lot of recording. What are you guys thinking of for this tour?
Peter Holmström: It’s not a tour to road test new songs. There will be some, hopefully about three, maybe four. But we’re doing this tour because we like playing shows. We don’t seem to be able to make records more than once every three years, so we have to keep ourselves out there.
[jump] And (drummer) Brent (deBoer)’s still living in Australia?
Yep, still living in Australia. That does impact the process.
I can only imagine. Do you find now that the band doesn’t need to talk beforehand about what they’re going to do before a show?
Absolutely, yeah. There was something like that from the beginning anyway, but as we’ve all gotten better at our instruments over the years, and spent so much time playing together, it’s all so much easier. Even when it’s going a different direction, we all seem to follow pretty easily, pretty quickly. If something goes horribly wrong, we all cover for each other pretty well, too.
You mentioned getting better at your instruments. What, in recent years for you, has been what you’ve learned or explored more? Or is it easily put into words?
For me, I never felt like I was a very good guitar player, so part of it is trying to get better. I’ve been obsessing on different fingerpicking styles the last few years, which doesn’t really come in all that handy with the band, but maybe it will in the future. It’s just learning your instrument. It all helps and can’t hurt.
Of your most recent albums, the one that really stuck with me was 2010’s Earth to the Dandy Warhols. Do you find as songwriters that the process has changed much in terms of what you bring to the studio, or is it a continuation of paths you were already on?
The way the songwriting seems to happen these days is that it’s all based on ProTools, where somebody brings in a demo, it sits in a pile, and we’ll slowly add to it — sometimes over the years. It’s weird. The original idea is still there, but sometimes it’s so long in the past that you don’t really realize where it started. It used to be that we’d work it up, learn how to play them and then go record. Now it can be really basic, sometimes just a guitar riff or some mumbled lyric, and a few years later it’s a song.
Do you find in playing older songs that there’s a chance to try things out with them — not necessarily to rearrange a song, but to try other elements or approaches?
Some songs just work the first time we try and play them live and stay that way. Other songs go through phases where they’re not working — we either don’t play them for a while, or change them. That’s something we’ve always been doing, and I think it’s fun. The songs shouldn’t ever be the same — you can change the instrumentation into almost a completely different song, slow it down, speed it up.
As a now-veteran band, do you find touring easier? Are you used to a particular routine, do you find ways to vary it up?
It’s gotten a little easier simply because we take care of ourselves a little bit more. There’s not the crazy rock and roll lifestyle that we used to all embrace. In that sense, none of us really gets sick with a cold or flu on tour anymore. But I don’t know if anything else has changed all that much — we’re just getting a little older and a little more sane.
I hear complaints about Portland being too expensive, too congested. Is that something that seeps into the band’s work or is that not even a factor?
I’m sure it does blend in somehow because it’s unavoidable. It takes longer to get to rehearsal because of traffic or all the buildings are built up around our rehearsal spot, so it’s hard to find parking. The thing about music is that it’s an escape from a lot of that. I don’t know that I really think about it much, but I’m sure it’s there.
Finally, is there anything in particular, whether it’s you yourself or the band as a whole, that you would really like to do that you haven’t done before in the next couple of years?
The band has never been to Japan and that is definitely one of the things we really really want to do. Hopefully, that does happen. I’m always interested in playing anywhere we’ve never played before — any opportunity to go to a new place is exciting.
The Dandy Warhols are playing at The Great American Music Hall on Dec. 1 and 2. Get tickets here.