Brent DeBoer (Portland) talks about The Dandy Warhols’ latest release, Distortland

The Dandy Warhols have been making music for over twenty years and have just released Distortland. Brent DeBoer chats to John Goodridge about the making of the album, cassettes and touring.

Hey Brent, how are you doing?

Yeah, I’m all right. I’m a little bit tuckered out, but I’m in a really cool space here. I’m at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, which is always a good time.

That sounds pretty cool. I see you have a couple of sold out shows coming up in New York.

Yeah, we’re playing one tonight actually, just downstairs in the lobby of the Gramercy Park; we’re doing a short, stripped back gig, which should be pretty fun.

Sounds chill. Congratulations on the release of your new album, Distortland too, that seems to be doing really well.

Yeah, people seem to like it. It’s a big old trippy beast of a record, I think.

Obviously, Distortland is homage to distortion and that style of music – did the title come first or did it come after the music was made?

The title came later. We had that image of Portland, Oregon, for the album cover. You know, that’s where we’re from and that’s where we make our records and Portland, at the moment, is being completely decimated and bowled over. They’re just kicking out all the artists and everything that made Portland cool, where we created our sound, the sound of Portland rock and roll and the arts scene. I mean, in the next five or six years, it will be unrecognisable.

Any building that’s cool and has a good history with rock and roll bands, or a good place for artists, anything with even the slightest element of grit is being knocked over for an apartment building. In 2015, six hundred demolition petitions were signed off on. So probably in the next year or so, six hundred buildings are going to get knocked over. It’s just really weird. So that’s part of the name. It’s like, it’s Portland, but a distorted version of it. Portland’s a changing place and it’s a bit of a reference to that.

Did you ever see that movie called Up? It’s where that little old man’s got his little old house and the city is just squeezing him in and they’re trying to kick him out and finally he gives up and puts a bunch of balloons up the chimney and flies away. That’s sort of like our studio, The Auditorium, which is just surrounded by these glass towers; hulking, brand new, ready to go with retail on the bottom, apartments on the top, underground parking with BMW’s pulling in and out of them all of the time and there’s our little stink-bomb studio just hanging in there, just hanging in there, between the Starbucks and the climbing facility and the gym. Pretty soon, we’re gonna have to send some balloons up the chimney and fly away.

I heard that the roof fell in while you were recording.

We had this deluge of rain, this biblical storm while we were gone and when we got back and walked into the main control room, which is where the most expensive gear is and up on the roof, when it was raining so hard, something got stuck.

It’s kind of a stupid design, because it’s a flat roof and if you know anything about Oregon, it rains every day, all day, so a flat roof is not the smartest thing in the world. But it is a flat roof, with a nice thick sturdy white tarp, which funnels the water out into the corner into a drain.

Well, that drain clogged while we were gone, so basically we had an 80,000-gallon pool forming on the roof and finally it just smashed through. The tarp held, but it smashed all the beams and the beams crashed down on top of everything and when we walked in it was this stretched out balloon – it looked like this gigantic yoga ball heading down through the cracked beams, holding all that water.

Pete actually risked his life, like literally, if it came down while he was in there it would have been bad – there was wiring and electricity. He ran in there under that and dug out all the guitars and got the board out and the hard drives and the compressors and microphones and everything. He saved it! We got the Fire Department in there and they drained all the water off the roof, but beside the roof, there was not a whole ton of damage and it was all covered under insurance, so we’re getting it all redone at the moment.

In the bright new Portland style?

Oh yeah! We got the insurance money, we’re gonna make a real nice, real nice update to the building; all glass, floor to ceiling. We’re gonna put a Subway sandwich shop on the bottom floor. It’ll be great.

So tell me about the latest video with Joe Dallesandro, “You’re Killing Me”. How did that come about?

Courtney got Mark Helfrich on the phone – he’s done videos with us before and he’s a filmmaker; he did the video for “Talk Radio” and for “And Then I Dreamt of Yes” and we thought that they came out really nice. Especially “And Then I Dreamt of Yes”, with the Film Noir and the tripped out water pouring everywhere.

So Courtney just got him on the phone and just started talking to him and his name just popped up if I remember right and it turns out, Joe is a fan of The Dandy Warhols and was way into it and fortunately is really happy with the final product. He did a great job.

I find it interesting that some bands I’ve spoken to consider the video not really part of their music – almost a necessary evil, whereas The Dandy Warhols seem to really embrace that aspect.

Yeah, we get into all aspects of the whole thing. We love going on TV and we’ve always loved that element. Wasn’t it Weird Al who said, “If you’re ever asked to go on television, say yes”? We’re all fans of film and the fact that there’s an element of that in playing music is just a bonus, I think.

Courtney’s directed most of them and other film directors that we respect, fortunately also like our band and are excited to work with us. We’ve had a great time over the years with videos and I think we have quite a cool collection of music videos that we’ve made. I really like them and I like the process.

I don’t really like acting in them, because I’m a terrible actor. It’s always embarrassing to see; “Alright guys just walk in the room and have a look around. Easy done. Three, two one, roll camera!” I look at it later and I look like some deranged ice addict walking into the room, gnashing his teeth and rolling his eyes around in his head. I have no idea how people do this; I’m really not much of a thespian.

We love film and we get involved in every aspect, from our t-shirts and poster design; always taking a look at this artist or that artist. There’s so much more than just the song writing and the recording and the concerts.

I was really intrigued that you released Distortland on cassette as well as CD and LP. Was that to suit the style of the album or is it part of a greater retro movement? Are you selling many cassettes?

Yeah, well we’ve already sold 1.7 million of them.

Far out!

No, I’m kidding man! I think we’ve sold 1.7 of them! I think it’s just something to do. I think that there might be a handful of people out there who do; I know I grabbed one for my cassette player. I love the way cassettes sound.

I think what the deal is, if you listen to cassettes and you have a cassette player at your house or your car, I think there’s an element of the new anti-shuffle movement; people getting back into albums, listening to an entire album, back when you’d put on Dark Side of the Moon and just listen to it as one big piece. A cassette is the polar opposite of that iPod shuffle, DJ, “Check out this song, check out the first three seconds of this song.” You just can’t do that; you snap the cassette in, have a big toke, pour yourself a drink and let the thing go.

Cassettes are so durable; cassettes are so much better than CDs. If you’re the type of person that likes to listen to a whole LP, you’re better off getting a cassette player for your car anyway. Reason one, the cassettes just sound a little better. Secondly, they’re really durable, you can take them out of the case and throw them on the floor of your car. Like, there’s Burger King wrappers on the floor of your car, you dig up a cassette and snap it in and it plays good. They’re less expensive; I’m pretty sure they’re just $7.99. You know what the most important part is?

No, what?

It means that you’re really cool. (Laughs) I sat there for twenty minutes holding it, the last time any of my music was on a cassette is when I was in high school and was the drummer for Rick Bain and we used to actually dub the cassettes ourselves. We used our parents printer, an early dot matrix printer and we’d take pens and colour in the design to make it a colour cover, then fold it carefully, cut it with scissors and sell it in high school. That’s the last time anything I ever played or drummed on was in a cassette. It was pretty exciting to see.

You live in Melbourne now, what prompted your move to Australia?

Well, when we were on that Big Day Out Tour, maybe one of the most epic Big Day Outs there was, with the Dandys, King of Leon, The Strokes, Metallica, The Darkness, Peaches… It was just an epic year, but a dangerous three weeks, let me tell you. I was there and I was invited to a BBQ, met this stunningly beautiful woman and couldn’t really get her off my mind as hard as I tried. Now I live in Melbourne and we have two kids.

How does that go with fitting in The Dandy Warhols?

Time wise, it really hasn’t changed all that much from when I lived four blocks away from the Auditorium. Out of every three months straight in the studio, I would personally track about nine hours in twenty or thirty minute slots, here and there. You lay around and drink some beers and listen to stuff. “Let’s mic up those drums” and forty minutes later, the drums are still not micked up. A couple of years, later the record’s done and you’re really happy with it, but you take your time because you have your own studio and you sort of relax with the thing.

Now, being away, I get to Portland about a week ahead of the tour or stay a week after the tour, and because I know I only have these eight or nine days; we just get focused and I get prepared ahead of time, listening to everything we’ve already done, so at that moment I know exactly what I gotta do, with a list written out of everything I need to do, and we bang that out in just a few days. We then have three or four more days to turn that up, mix it and because of that time constraint, I end up doing more and putting more into it as far as tracking and mixing goes. You’re forced to be more disciplined and it’s worked out pretty well.

As far as touring goes, you just have to fly a lot, so four or five times a year I fly over to Europe or North America or South America to wherever we’re playing concerts. Usually with the shows, the week before we get the rehearsing done before we head out on the tour. So right now, I’m in New York and we did the same thing. We rehearsed for a week before we did the trip and now we’re about halfway through it.

Your European schedule looks pretty intense.

From the end of this tour I fly back to Melbourne and I’m home for seven days, then turn around and fly straight to Amsterdam for the next month. So it is pretty hectic, but the seven days is really important to me with the kids, I don’t want them to forget that they have a dad.

So is there any news about an Australian tour coming up?

Towards the end of the year, last I heard. Nothing’s set in stone yet, but we want to do it. We’ve been talking to our management. We always like touring Australia because Australia’s been such a great place to play, so I don’t think we’ll miss it.

Photo: Chad Kamenshine

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