“So technically this is our second date,” drawls Courtney Taylor-Taylor, sitting opposite me at Lovely Day, a little Thai spot in the Lower East Side. I’ve just told him we’ve met before, that The Dandy Warhols popped my interview cherry back in the summer of 2000, in Brighton, England. The Portland band were my first proper story and official interview as the music editor of my college’s esteemed student paper, The Badger. Imagine having to tell bands you worked for a publication called The Badger—named thus because there was an impressive badger population on the university campus. Cool.
“Our meeting was a disaster,” I tell him.
“Was I wasted?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “It’s actually a funny story though. Do you want to hear it?”
“Not at all, I actually don't,” he says without missing a beat, and then I laugh. Courtney Taylor-Taylor may have grown out his pixie crop for long brown braids, but he hasn’t changed an iota. During the aforementioned interview some 16 years ago, he definitely told me, without a trace of irony: “I’m the most intelligent person you’ll ever meet”—a statement I remember to this day because while I silently scoffed at his audacity, I was impressed by it too. This is how you want rock stars to behave: full of it and unapologetic and bolder than you could ever muster. Courtney is still acerbic and he still doesn’t suffer fools, but he’s distinctly more mellow. I’m also not so green as to ask how he met the rest of the band, which was the savvy question I served up on the tour bus, prompting Courtney to respond: “Oh come on, is that really a question?” Although he warmed up eventually, I still spent most of the interview wishing I could be beamed to another dimension.
In 2000 The Dandy Warhols were peaking. Their first two records The Dandy’s Rule OK? and 1997’s The Dandy Warhols Come Down—their first for a major—remain superlative collections of indie rock: the perfect ratio of jangly guitar cool, 60s-leaning organ riffs, and sun-blasted melodies. They veered from stoned psych workouts to pop songs svelte like a pair of perfect denim flares. With its David LaChapelle-directed art-pop music video, “Not If You Were the Last Junky on Earth” displayed Courtney’s knack for penning sardonic but astute lyrics, a reputation cemented with their third album’s banner song “Bohemian Like You.” It’s a knowing nod of a song that pinched The Stones’ riff from “Brown Sugar" and threw in some giddy “Woa ho woos”—great for shouting when you're tanked. It gently mocked hipsters (vegan food! Waiting tables to subsidize your slacker-pop pipe dream), while acknowledging they too were part of the scene they were sending up. UK phone company Vodaphone laid down the big bucks for the song to soundtrack a commercial and The Dandy Warhols became very much a mainstream concern. When I interviewed them that summer they were utterly inescapable and Courtney was the rail thin, heavy-lidded, pouty-mouthed alt pin-up to pine for.
“I can't believe how much I partied,” he tells me today. “I was either drunk or hungover for like 15 years—there was no in between. And if I wasn't hungover, I was like, 'I feel pretty great, let's go get a drink.'” Courtney gave up drinking four years ago, mostly so he could give up smoking. Although he maintains a weakness for nice champagne, today, on our sedate date, he’s sipping ginger tea with honey and lemon to preserve his already strained voice ahead of The Dandy Warhol’s headline show at Bowery Ballroom later that night. The band are in town promoting Distortland, their ninth LP and their first in four years. But after 22 years of talking music and no doubt being asked how he met the rest of the band more times than he’d care to count, Courtney’s down to talk about everything but. Modern romance and relationships, all kinds of drugs and losing his virginity are just some of the topics we touch on, including kale. He might not want to hear about my formative first encounter with him way back when—“Can you imagine how many times people tell me stories about meeting me? I don’t want to hear this! I don’t care!”—but it turns out he’s a real softie and his quick quick wit is still very much intact. I don’t think we're destined to walk down the aisle, but that’s just as well because changing my name to Kim Taylor-Taylor-Taylor Bennett seems like a bad idea.
Noisey: Do you consider yourself a romantic?
Courtney Taylor-Taylor: Of course. Definitely. I wear blouses and shit.
Ha! That's the signifier of being a romantic?
Fuck yeah. Well, it sort of says it all, doesn't it?
Have you ever written a song to get a girl?
I've never written a song not to get a girl. All art is advertising of a sort.
I hadn't thought about it that way. Do you believe in monogamy?
Absolutely. Of course. Because I would die if I didn't. I wouldn't exist. I mean, if you're with somebody, you should just be hooked up and then if you don't want to be with him, if you're hot for someone else, then you shouldn't have a committed relationship. You should always be honest, right? I would have girlfriends for eight, nine months at a time. It was cool. When it got inconvenient, and got in the way of hooking up with other chicks, it had to end. Actually, I always got dumped, that was my thing. You know our song "Not If You're the Last Junkie on Earth?"
It’s one of my favorites.
Really? That's a rather jangly song to be someone's favorite. Usually I hear the favorites are like, "Good Morning" or "Holding Me Up," or those kind of like, "I was suicidally depressed and this song got me through it"-songs. That's what I hear are favorites. They're never the janglers.
Well I love that one. It's kind of snarly and snarky and that was my introduction to you guys.
I went on the first Dandys tour and when I got home, my girlfriend of three and a half years, she'd shot dope once with the singer of my previous band (who I was a drummer in) she shot up once, and boom: complete junkie. Full-on, down under the Burnside Bridge with the Mexican heroin dealers. That singer, James, I ran into him in San Francisco and he goes, "Hey by the way we shot dope with [your girlfriend] and I think she liked it a little too much." And sure enough, when I got home, she showed up at my apartment a few days later, a drowned rat in the rain with a brown paper bag with her rig in it. And a Snickers king size for her sugar fix. It just was a horrible experience because she was crazy at that point, screaming and yelling at me, about how I'll never understand her pain, and telling me v-neck sweaters are so not even cool anymore. Manic, crazy as hell.
First of all v-necks are always cool.
It was the 50s kind that had the wide stripes doing the V, like this. It was tan, brown, and off-white. It was extra cool, mod as fuck! I was just, oh my God. How am I gonna get this crazed animal out of my house. First she had to storm into the bathroom to pump her veins full of fucking junk, and then get sugared up, and then come back out with renewed vigor. It was one of the saddest and most disgusting examples of human degradation I've ever seen. And I couldn't actually do anything about it. I had to just get her out. Somehow I manipulated her into wanting to leave and I got back in that living room of the apartment Peter and I lived, the apartment we started the band in, and I picked up the guitar and it just started coming out. I had the digital recorder set up in the living room, and the whole thing just came out of me in one go.
Wow. I've never heard that story before. That's cool, I mean, it's not cool, it's awful, but it's something. A good tale.
I wish that was all it was, just about my goofball junkie friends. The junkies that actually survived…
I hear she is still alive. But also the Jonestown Massacre are junkies and they survived and people don't really survive heroin. They used to say William S. Burroughs was the only living junkie, everyone else is a junkie in the grave or on their way to it. Heroin was considered so cool in the 90s that I was actually afraid to have a song dissing junkies. But who's gonna bitch about that? Junkies? They don't read. [Laughs.] The junkies are fucking losers, they just crawl into a hole.
They don't buy records, that's for sure.
They don't buy records, they don't interact, they're not cool, they're not part of the real world, they're fuckin’ junkies. They just become little animals, vermin. Back in the old days, they'd just steal your CDs and sell it for dope. You know, the difference between a junkie and a meth-head? A junkie will steal all your CDs. A meth-head will steal all your CDs then come back and help you look for them. That's a very 90s joke.
To me, growing up in the 90s, I can't even imagine that heroin was cool because Kurt seemed like the ultimate cautionary tale. It didn't seem glamorous, it seemed like the most horrific thing ever.
Then you must have missed the Vogue spread called "Heroin Chic."
I heard about that subsequently.
Fourteen year old very pasty girls, made more pasty with makeup, wearing torn, $1400 dollar lacy designer dresses out in the woods. It was awful. And I’d had enough. When I met the singer from Cake after that song came out he said, "I can't believe you did it. I've been trying to write that song for two years, but it's always, you know, 'Oh, when you stick that spike into your vein, you stick a spike into my heart.' I can't believe how absolutely condescending you are about it." There's a lot of pain involved in that, but fortunately I'm just a shitty guy to just be fucking rude about it, you know.
So that was never your poison.
No. I've tried every drug, but I would never cross the border of my skin. I've ingested things knowing that if something goes wrong, I'm gonna throw it up, and I'm gonna be throwing up and convulsing for maybe a day. I'm fine with snorting, smoking, drinking, and eating weird mushrooms and shit that grows in the ground, but puncturing your skin and sticking it straight into your bloodstream… I'm not really sure how anyone thinks that's a good idea.
I'm too much of a pussy to even ever do that. I've never even done LSD.
Really? I haven't done any in a decade, but you know, I hold onto anger and grudges more than I used to and that's a big part of what LSD is made for, is to really help you come clean of yourself and give you more of a clean head.
It feels like such a commitment.
Just go, the weather's getting nice, go on a hike with a friend who's an experienced LSD-taker and someone you admire for their sense. I need to [do it]. I'm just becoming a darker and angrier person, you know.
I thought people were supposed to mellow with age, and let go of their grudges. What's going on with you?
I don't know. I could tell you and it would just seem very bougie. The condos in Portland! The traffic jams! I can't go anywhere! I'm trapped! This record is creating a lot of work for me, it's getting a lot of attention, a lot of interviews. I don't get to go wander around New York City and have days off. I have to work all day.
That's a good thing!
Is it? At what price, success, you know? Like, where is the quality of life? We need it, we need it right now. We need to really insert our reality. We fucked off for 10 years: we just lived off our past and enjoyed it and we had a great time. Lots of people in the band have families and raised kids and a couple years ago the money ran out. And when the money runs out it's rats leaving a sinking ship. Everybody ditched us, everybody dumped us. So when you're in business, don't ever think these are your friends, unless they were your friends way before, and even then they might not make it through business. We had to really sit down and look at each other and go—
We gotta get back in there.
Or, we don't. We kicked around, lets just make records and put ‘em out and not tour.
But the money's in touring.
Yeah. But we could have jobs. I enjoy a lot of things in life, I've done a lot of interior design and architecture, I was a mechanic on Volkswagens and old BMWs before we got signed to Capitol Records. Working on engines is a really chill ass sexy job and it's high-paying. I produce other bands, I could do lots of things and be very, very happy, but I would miss touring.
So here we are talking about modern romance.
[Laughs.] So here we are.
Are you in love right now?
Absolutely. But I really don't want to talk about that because, you know, we're having a date.
OK, so what's your ideal date?
Drop acid and go hiking. I like the idea of finding a place neither of you've ever been to. Or go to the theater, get the cheapest ticket price, go for 20 minutes and see if you can escape without anyone onstage seeing you leave. If you can do that then you've got somebody who's fun and game. I'd say date in the afternoon, not at night. Get a light meal at some place that neither of you have ever been, sneak out of a play, go get a dessert. Go get cheesecake. Just to establish that no one's on any kind of fucked up diet. That's a rough one.
Picky eaters are my worst nightmare. Food is one of the most pleasurable things in life. I want to be able to consume freely.
Ab-so-lutely. What do you like to cook? Say we were gonna go on a third date and you thought: "I'm gonna cook for this guy. He's the one. Wow, what a catch." I've been very into making black and white sesame-covered prawn tacos.
Ooh, that's a little fusion.
I am fusion.
Are you Mexi-asian?
No I'm Italian-Filipino, but I'm not cooking my ethnicity. Anyway, I would make a really yummy salad to go alongside that.
What do you think a yummy salad is? And I'm gonna warn you, I keep threatening to make t-shirts that say, "Salad is a joke." So what's in your salad that's yummy?
Kale and some avocado.
You gotta shred it really finely though, otherwise there's not gonna be any talking, you're just gonna be chewing.
True. So, finely chopped kale and then some very thinly sliced watermelon radish, because it looks pretty.
Very good, very good. And I really like prosciutto, so there you go, there's my Italian. So we'd have some prosciutto in there. That's what makes it yummy. You gotta have some cured meat in there.
Salty cured meat. What about dessert?
I like eating it, but making it is such a thing. So much weighing involved. I’m more a pinch of this, a pinch of that. I think we’d go out for dessert, and have a digestif.
Very good. And your favorite digestif is?
I like fernet.
Earwax! You know—you make out and you get your tongue right in that ear—you're that kind of girl? [Laughs.] Is that what fernet says about me?
You've been doing that since high school. You're like, "God, I just really like this. That one time I made out with Jeff or whatever."
I've never made out with a Jeff. What do you look for in a partner?
Brains, brains, brains. That's the thing. And some things that come with real brains are not being a person who is mean, or offensive, and also a person who doesn't easily get offended. Self-awareness and an interest in personal growth, and learning to not be a fucking dick, you know? Nobody's perfect, but you should really be able to admit [that], and you should be able to apologize. All these basic things. Don’t get defensive about shit. Know when to choose your battles. Physical beauty is obviously super, super important. Confidence. Somebody who's been through some shit and can deal and is fine.
Do you think you've been lucky in love?
Yeah, definitely. Half-brains half-luck. I make smart decisions. I made very stupid decisions early in life, but at least I made a lot of them in a short amount of time. Just out of high school, there was a lot of action. Although I did graduate a virgin.
I was playing in bands in punk clubs since I was 14 or 15 and I was definitely a pretty, pretty guy, wearing my mom's blouses and my dad's army boots, like a new wave punk romantic weirdo. So there was a lot of dirty, naughty rock behavior. I learned about dates at 15 years old: you get your coffee, you go to the record store, somebody that dropped out of high school, has an apartment and plays in some lame band—you go to their apartment and smoke pot. You can go on dates very young in a small, empty town if you're in the rock scene.
But then why didn't you have sex for so long? That's unusual, especially for a guy.
Well, it just seems a little much. A little, little much. You don't know what's in there. It's inside a body. [Laughs.] I have never heard anybody describe it as such!
It's in there with the kidneys…
It is not near the kidneys!
The colons and stuff. I was in a rock scene, a dirty, downtown rock scene of kids that didn't necessarily even have parents, they don't wash, you don't know what you're getting into. I was like, “Uh uh. Yeah, no.”
So how was it when it finally happened?
No, I basically got raped.
Yeah, it was terrible. And I had some sort of… I had to get antibiotics. I didn't get herpes or anything you can't just get rid of by drinking a lot of water and taking antibiotics. It was fucking terrible. It was after high school and I was hammered.
That's the way it happens, generally. Actually, I wasn't hammered when I lost mine, but we did it after seeing Titanic, so for me those two things are inextricably linked, which is truly awful.
Titanic is a pretty terrible movie. It's so bad, but we knew it was bad at the time—we were laughing as Jack was drowning. At least there was that.
I still would watch it if it was on.
Ugh. I wouldn't! That aside how do you our date is going?
Oh, it's great. It's great. I think we have a real future.
Kim Taylor Bennett is happy The Dandy Warhols were her first ever interview. She’s on Twitter.