By Steve Stav, for Pandomag, Seattle, 2000.
After a two-day marathon bus ride from Michigan to the Coast, Courtney Taylor is exhausted. The bus parked outside Seattle's Catwalk Club (the band's been bumped from the Showbox, in favor of a surprise Snoop Doggy Dogg concert) looks like it's been driven through hell, and the pensive Dandy Warhols frontman feels like he just emerged from Hades itself.
Ensconced in a restaurant-turned Green Room, Taylor is getting his second, or rather, umpteenth, wind. Like a shell-shocked soldier on the eve of a much-needed furlough, this head hedonist of a band of modern-day Merry Pranksters is as giddy as I think it's possible for him to be. After a tour that's consumed most of the year, home -- Portland, Ore. -- is just a night away.
SS: What did you read between Detroit and Vancouver?
Taylor: I started David Copperfield, but for some reason I just couldn't focus...I just tried to sleep alot. I just OD’d on Tylenol PM, we've all been sick, our bus is like the plague ship. It smells godawful, our bus driver is the craziest, most bitter, resentful, passive-aggressive psychopath ever. It's just awful in there, it's hell.
SS: How was the Midwest leg of the tour?
Taylor: It was...great. We've been on the road too long, (with) all the weird cycles of emotional and psychological trips you go through as a unit, as an organism.
SS: Who's the peacemaker on the bus?
Taylor: Everybody. We're like a fuckin' bunch of comedians -- very witty, mildly alcoholic. It's not like we have any tensions or any weird shit, it's just when people like this bus driver enter into it that there's tensions.
SS: Have you seen Almost Famous?
Taylor: No, I really don't watch movies. I own Doctor Zhivago, I watch that a lot...it's my favorite movie.
SS: That's my mom's favorite movie.
Taylor: It's my parents favorite movie.
SS: I think Doctor Zhivago was a big "date movie" back in the 60's.
Taylor: Probably because the men wanted women to know it was possible to have a dual relationship -- that no one woman has everything a man needs...like petite, frail, sensitive, dark-haired; and then blonde, strong, chiseled, that whole powerful, independent thing -- that's the underlying crux of the story. The man, Yuri, he's so well-balanced up until the end -- he's so childlike in his innocence and his joyful approach to the world. It's fucking great, it's just an incredible movie.
SS: And a long one.
Taylor: Thank God. (Watching that) was the last thing I was doing. I was kind of on a strange, every-night coke bender. I was drinking and snorting coke at the bar I do those things at. We only had six days off -- three months ago. I spent six days getting wasted, chain-smoking cigarettes every night. We have three months off, now, so we're going to try to get relatively healthy. I'm gonna hang out with my parents, go on a cruise -- one of those grandma cruises to the Bahamas, the Caribbean.
SS: What's a better environment for you -- Europe, where everyone is into you, or touring through Lubbock, Texas...
Taylor: Everyone's into us in Texas. Everybody's into us everywhere...though people don't show up to our gigs. It's not like we're huge, we're kind of a cult band. We have certain kinds of fans...at least fifty percent of them wear glasses, they generally have pretty good haircuts, but they're not so obsessively hip that they don't have social skills. They're nice people, probably went to college and got good grades. They resent that most people are too stupid to understand them. And we're this classic, deviant, intellectual, kind of spaz-arrogant-geek band. Nobody gets it, except our people. We get it. There's a couple hundred thousand of us in the world... I think we provide affirmation and comfort for these people. Put on our record, and you have things you think and feel affirmed. When we make a record, in our minds we're making it us, because we need them, some other people need them. And then to try and translate that to a record label who's more concerned with chart position...why would you release "Bohemian Like You" as a single? 'Cause it's catchy? So what, people don't need "catchy.”
We're not fooling anybody that we're some "smokin' pot" band. We're just art weirdos who are into folk harmonies and melodies -- Simon and Garfunkel -- and we like the Spacemen 3, so that's what you get -- Simon and Garfunkel harmonies over Spacemen 3 repetition. And then our label is supposed to understand that, and of course, they don't. You explain it to them, and they get it, and two days later, they don't get it. So they don't release "Godless" or "Good Morning" or songs like that. Instead, they release "Bohemian Like You" or "Last Junkie On Earth." Like it matters to anybody...those songs are just fun, just a release valve from being wrapped up in wondering what decisions to make in your day.
SS: The one thing about 13 Tales is that the music is really strong, you don't really even need lyrics to get the mood and message of the songs.
Taylor: The lyrics are just me showing off, or having a good time playing around with words...no, they're really not necessary to convey the mood.
SS: I read that you did some recording with Massive Attack recently. Is there going to be a new musical direction for your next album?
Taylor: Yeah, it was fun working with those guys. Pete and I got into the "digital world" a couple of years ago, right before we started on this record. We were really excited about going hardcore into "digital land," and then everybody was doing it, it kinda seemed like no one was ever going to make a record without loops and Protools stuff again; we get mostly ignored by our label -- at least at that time, that previous regime of weirdos, psychopaths and liars that was Capitol Records when we signed with them. So we said, "Let's not," and our Protools rigs have been sitting idle for a couple of years now, (we've) just been home-recording and noodling. So we said, "Yeah, let's do it" -- somebody's got to do it right -- actually, some people have -- Tricky did some stuff that's pretty good.
Pando (photographer Justin Renney): What do you think of Primal Scream?
Taylor: Pete loves it, I don't even notice Primal Scream that much...all my friends are really into them. I heard a couple of remixes from Kevin Shields, and they were a little too smarty-pants, too noise-messy. I like Simon and Garfunkel...
SS: On those two-day bus rides through the dreary rain, do you ever stare out the window and start humming "America"?
Taylor: That one is not on any of the Simon and Garfunkel records we have on the bus, but yeah, it comes to my head a lot -- that and "Homeward Bound." Amazing.
SS: Back in the 60's, it was like lightning hit Paul Simon for a few years...
Taylor: We listen to Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Freewheelin', the White Album, Plastic Ono Band... even those guys, who are revered so far beyond Simon -- I don't think they ever touched him at his peak. I operate under the impression that the most people you can touch in the deepest way as an artist, that's the only thing that matters. I tend to think that people are the only thing that matters -- cars and dogs and soup cans, they don't matter -- they're trivial compared to the "We are here as a species.”.. and we're freaked out and lonely all the time.
Paul Simon was just a lot deeper and more poignant than Dylan or Lennon was; he just wasn't as consistent, he wasn't a "tough guy," or cocky...Bob Dylan was a fuckin' asshole, he was crazy, he liked to be mean to people. We watch Don't Look Back every now and then, and now it just makes me sick to my stomach to look at that little fuckin' brat, that little shit...he had pretty much used Joan Baez to get his credibility, so she walks around and sings -- and he doesn't speak to her, he makes these mean, bitter jokes, hurts people's feelings. There's that famous scene with him and a journalist, he's got a harmonica and a guitar...(proceeds to re-enact Dylan's antics with some flair)...he was being a dick to this guy, showing off for the camera. Yet that guy wrote all of those incredible songs. Dylan and Lennon seemed uptight, bitter, really focused on themselves in a big way...they were all telling great stories, I don't know what the difference is...(Simon's work) is just so touching, comforting.
SS: I think Paul Simon has always been this guy that anyone can relate to. He's not particularly good-looking -- no pin-up, he's this regular little guy...
Taylor: But they looked good, they were hip, with pegged trousers and Beatle boots...they weren't hyperactive...Dylan and Lennon were hyperactive, mentally.
That Yoko thing that she just released, with those two at their house, and George comes over and it's just a zoo, with all of the press there. (Taylor comes to life again) Lennon is singing, "I was feeling insecure..." and his eyes are furtively darting around the room, seeing that everyone's doing what they're supposed to do. He's being honest, expressing his genuine insecurities about Yoko, in between making sure that everyone's in their place, everyone's paying attention, no one's fucking off!
Paul Simon is probably a fuckin' sweetheart.
SS: Do you ever listen to Carole King?
Taylor: No...I was hanging out in Austin once with my girlfriend there -- she's really cool, an ultra-hipster -- we were having a cigarette with her next-door neighbor, and he said, "I have to go listen to this Carole King song." We were going to go in and listen, but we realized that we had to get up in six hours, and we needed to have some serious sex, so we said, "Fuck it." I've yet to have the Carole King experience.
SS: I know you love Portland, but have you ever considered buying a house in Europe to record in, like the Beach Boys did for their Holland album?
Taylor: Greece. I think I'm actually going to go to Greece to finish some songs before we record the next album. It's just amazing there...we're huge in Greece, we're bigger than 'N' Sync there. Greece is the hippest place in the world right now -- their Top Ten is like Mogwai, Nick Cave, the Dandy Warhols...they have no corporate money, no corporation has bothered to spend money there, so they're making decisions by themselves as to what they are as a culture. Their DJ's get hired for their taste -- so if you're a DJ that's playing music that people like, you keep your job, if people don't like the music you pick, you get fired, because people aren't listening to your fuckin' show. So it really is an honest system there. We played for like 12,000 people in Athens...they knew every word. Chumbawumba opened for us in Athens...they got stoned -- people were throwing rocks at them. It was fucking awful, scary...and then we went on and the crowd went "Yeah!.”..we were scared shitless.
We went to this tiny island that had nobody on it -- Syphnos -- we made a lot of money in Greece, so we gave ourselves a week's vacation on this little island. We would fish...this guy Costa, we would trade him fish for booze. (Taylor takes a break to call Seattle's notorious Friehl brothers).
SS: Can you get drugs in Greece?
Taylor (to Mark, the band's British tour manager): Did we get any grass in Greece? We didn't get any on Syphnos, did we?
Mark: Uhh... we did in Athens. We got particularly baked in Athens. The last night... remember that girl?
Taylor: Oh, fuck! The last night we were there, I was gakked out of my head...in that car, she was pulling her skirt up...
Mark (to me): Are you taping this?
(Mark strolls by and gives a condom to Courtney, informing him that there's a whole jar of them in the bathroom.)
Taylor (as he's putting it away in his bag): I love women who carry condoms in their purses.
SS: You see it as a sign of confidence or something?
Taylor: No, it just makes everything easier... maybe it is confidence -- "Oh, you like sex? Me, too" -- I love women.
SS: There's something about latex, though. Those cats back in the 70's weren't too preoccupied with it.
Taylor (rolling his eyes): Ohh, I know... I'm so envious.
SS: Now that you're stars, do you think you can persuade Capitol to release the Black Album?
Taylor: I don't know if they even know about it. There's only two people or so there that were at Capitol when we made it. That record was made with the remainder of our Come Down budget... out of a $125,000 budget, me made that with $30,000. I don't know... our first record, that was ours. T/K (Tim Kerr), they fucked up the contract, they owed us tons of money, we just took the record. Capitol, I don't think they know it exists, they don't pay attention.
I want to finish up some harmonies, and just release the fuckin' thing.
SS: This has turned into something like Smile. A lost album.
Taylor: It has...it is really cool.
SS: What is the craziest thing a fan has done for you -- or to you? (Renney: And were you aware of it at the time?)
Taylor: (Laughing) I don't know, it depends on your definition of "crazy.”
Taylor: Probably the best thing is... I like the women who are six feet tall, smart, artsy, beautiful, comfortable -- a couple of my girlfriends have been like that -- who say, "You're amazing, I want you." That's about as stupefying as it gets. Generally, those are the ones that... we have an amazing relationship for a year, and then they dump me for... Alice In Chains. I got dumped for Alice In Chains, I got dumped for Guns 'N' Roses... I got dumped for big bands...
SS: At least that's a consolation...
Taylor: ...Trent Reznor... Yeah, kind of, but it's also a little insulting. It's like, "Am I dumb?" Then I write "Godless.”.. it just keeps happening to me.
SS: Are you the type of man who can trust a woman?
Taylor: I actually feel like that, yeah. I never have open relationships, I don't do that. Whenever I start to get jealous, I think, "Fine, whatever, what is she going to do? She'll find someone that's more caring, that will take care of her when she's sick, the way I do? Someone that flies her to Manchester on our two days off, rents a car, drives to Wales, sleep in the car, get really stoned and run around that village where they shot The Prisoner -- you know, the TV show -- go white-water rafting with my uncles and cousins in Idaho? Are they going to find somebody like that? Are you kidding?" And then, of course, they do.
SS: Women can wake up one morning and change their minds.
Taylor: Well, they don't tell you... they start not being home and stuff, and you know what's going on. When you tell them, they say, "You're crazy, I don't want to talk to you." You call her house, and her roommate says, "I haven't seen her, she hasn't slept here in five days." Then she finally calls and says, "I have to move along, I can't see you anymore, you're going crazy." And you say, "I know what's going on, you don't have to lie to me -- don't insult me... whatever, goodbye." And then you see it in some gossip column in the back of Rolling Stone or some shit like that. I think, "All that time we went out, and she thought I was stupid, an idiot." That's sad (sighs).
SS: Have you ever gone through periods of paranoia about women's attraction to you, because you're a rock star?
Taylor: Yeah, a lot. Paranoia? Fuck, yeah. I've thought -- me being absolutely beautiful as a human -- that maybe they thought they were falling in love with this rock-star, glamourous thing...and there's almost nothing glamourous about this job. It's non-stop insults, it's filthy, it's smelly -- and it doesn't get any better. It's not any better for David Bowie. It's fucking disgusting, it's a white-trash mistress. Any girl that wants the glamourous rock-star thing had better fall in love with the man that's doing it. So you just try to be a lovely...man, I guess, and then they'll love you...and then they don't (laughs).
I'll meet somebody, it'll be good. I was stalking Parker Posey for awhile. She's perfect, she knows the "un-glamourousness" of it, she knows what it's like to be a cult figure -- how you're the whole world for certain people, and then other people have never heard of you. We feel alienated in the same places -- we feel good here. We go to a club -- we feel like we don't fit in. So we go for a walk across Manhattan, bouncing a rubber ball and laughing. Perfect -- except that she's got a boyfriend (laughs). But we call each on the phone and do that whole thing. I keep stalking her, but I can't have her.
I'll find the one... maybe in the grand scheme of things, I still have work to do, in my tiny little Christ-like way. Comforting people, keeping people from becoming serial killers, helping them exorcise their demons, in the comfort and security of our records. Maybe that's what I'm supposed to do for now -- make about a zillion dollars and then meet somebody and then... I'm tired of traveling...it's a lovely thing to be 30 and be tired of traveling. My parents are like 60 and are really into traveling... fuck that. I want to hang out on my ranch when I'm 60...get on my horse, not get on an airplane. When I'm 60, there'll be a river by my house, and there'll be horses, and my kids and grandkids will come over... my wife will be writing a novel, and I'll be writing children's stories, and making soundtracks for movies that I like.
I'll be playing $180-a-plate dinners, Brent and I in our tuxedos or sharkskin suits, with my silver bowl haircut and him with his huge white Garfunkel afro, singing harmony, playing acoustic guitar, covering Simon and Garfunkel songs or something. (Cocking his head to one side) Listen to that, isn't that amazing? (we hear the Dandy Warhols' opener, SF's brilliant Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, begin their soundcheck).
Originally published in Pandomag, Seattle, 2000.
copyright 1997-2011, Steve Stav