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In a world full of uncertainty, thankfully some things just remain the same. Take The Dandy Warhols for instance. Wherever they are and whatever they’re doing,  they are innately one of the coolest bands on the planet. Since emerging out of the Portland bar scene in the early nineties, The Dandys have continued to permeate our brains with their infectious rhythms and free-spirited conviction, all of which has been captured in perpetuity on classic albums such as Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia and Welcome to The Monkey House. The award-winning 2004 documentary Dig!, which followed the lives of the Dandy Warhols and their friends, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, further added to the folklore of the avant-garde pop collective. The band recently released Distortland, their 10th album and at the end of the month will be embarking on a national Australian tour. The Dandy’s drummer Brent DeBoer, who relocated to Melbourne several years ago and also fronts local band Immigrant Union, was keen to chat to Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips about the upcoming tour and all things Dandy Warhols.

Before you recorded Distortland, was there a band discussion about what kind of album you guys wanted to make or was it more a matter of just dealing with a bunch of new songs?
I think it was similar to how we always work. Just take a bunch of songs you have, narrow them down to the ones people are most interested in tracking and everyone feels they have something really cool to contribute. Then just track away until there are tons of options and then start whittling it down until there are the best sounds and that’s kind of how we have always worked. We always take our time too. We take a good two years to get it all tidy.

The songs on this album are very groove-based, was there a lot of jamming them into shape?
Maybe for a few of them in soundchecks around the world I guess. For the most part the songs were just written. I don’t think anybody really saw these as any large departure from what we have done previously. They’re all similar melodies and chords and rhythms and such. I think the character comes out in the mix when you start whittling it down. Bring one more thing in and it changes the vibe completely. Remove it and it changes to something else. As far as tracking goes, it’s always been similar with us … just throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.

When I was talking about groove-based songs I was referring to songs on the new album like Doves, Styggo and Semper Fidelis. Do you get the impression that some of these new songs will develop and take on a new life on stage after you’ve played them for a while?
I would say they already have. Most of our songs do. Our live set, we treat that like a whole separate art project. We are never too concerned about whether it sounds just like the album or not. We would probably need about 8 more hands and 4 more feet to make it sound exactly like the record. We do quite a bit of layering and go quite deep with the layering of sounds. When it comes to live we will try anything really. We’ll strip it right down or completely change the tempo, the vibe. There are a couple of songs off the album we just do acapella.

Is there any triggering of sounds on stage or is it all organic?
It’s all organic. I think we are one of the last bands to do that. We don’t even have any in-ears. We played this festival recently where they had to drag out all these (floor) monitors for us and for the rest of the day nobody else used them. They only had them for us. We’re  wondering if we are going to show up at a festival some day and be like, um where are the monitors? Aren’t they in your ears?

Do you think Distortland would have been a different record if you were all living in same part of the world?
You never know. You take your influence from your environment, so I suppose you wouldn’t be able to help it. The only real difference is when I am in Portland and we go into the studio, we are a little bit more focussed than we had been in the previous decade. Back then we just had access to our studio 24/7 and could take our time and drink a ton of wine and listen to the songs over and over. Now when I am there, it is a little bit more focussed and I have to go in with a better idea of what it is we want to accomplish, so we don’t waste any time with indecision. So I imagine that effects the overall outcome but I don’t think in a negative way at all. In fact I think the opposite. It’s worked really well. I did a little bit of tracking here in Melbourne on this album but 90 percent of it was in the studio in Portland.

The Dandy Warhols
Once you have the basics of a Dandy Warhols song down, how much time do you spend on your own, playing different drum fills and coming up with different percussion ideas for a song?
I guess just as long as it takes. Sometimes it really takes a long time and you have to put the song away because nothing works and then open it up again with completely fresh ears where you have completely forgotten what you were supposed to do before and hope that something radically different takes shape, so that the song works. Sometimes it just never does. So somewhere between ‘one take and everything is just perfect’ and a year… somewhere in there. We certainly don’t have any inclination ever to just go, well it’s not really perfect but it is good enough.  We are pretty serious about making sure we get it just right.

Do you vary drum  sticks and different kits on songs, going for different drum tones to see what works best?
Yeah. I think I have about 7 kits now. I keep one here, one in Europe and one in Portland and they are all identical 66 Ludwigs. You can’t even tell the difference between the 3. Then I have 3 or 4 more that are mix and matched at the auditorium. Most of the time when we are tracking,  there will be a drum kit  set up that consists of maybe 3 or 4 different brands. Mainly what we are switching out is the bass drum and the snare. I guess we’ll swap out the hats too. I have an incredible amount of cymbals and if they are just a little bit annoying and bright but the overhead mics are just perfect on all the other drums and we don’t want to mess with it, we’ll generally just start switching hats and getting warmer ones or quieter ones or cutting a compact disc size circle of material, poke a hole through it and drop it down to rest it on the bell to warm it up. All that kind of stuff because it’s kind of hard to get every drum to sound perfect with the mics but if you get 3 of the 4 sounds sounding really good and one is bugging you, rather than move a mic, we will just detune it or have a different snare. I don’t care what colour the drum is, we’ll just grab something and try it.

Are you into music history and the way other bands have used recording tricks in the studio? Do you like reading about that sort of stuff?
More often it comes from our engineer, who might say, this is the Bonham method or whatever. In the past , if it’s a slow tempo and you want a big resonate bass drum with a bit of sustain, we will put another bass drum up against that bass drum, one that doesn’t have any padding in it at all. We’ll stick a mic in there and let it resonate, almost like an 808… turn that mic up really hot and let that second bass drum be the sustaining 808 and then the bass drum that you actually hit can be the tight, low, quick attack. We laid a massive thick packing blanket over the outside of both those drums too. Once again, it was the engineer saying, like this is what Phil Spector used to do and I’d be like, that’s cool, let’s do it! I don’t have that schooling but most of the engineers we work with have spent quite a bit of time in school learning the craft. I just beat things with wood and we have been fortunate to have really knowledgeable engineers that have a lot of tricks up their sleeve and we like to try all of them. We don’t set up a kit, set the mics and just leave it for the whole album, we never do that. It’s always different. A lot of times it’s because we need to use those mics to do other things, so they can’t stay there. I remember on that song Nietzche, from 13 Tales, we recorded the drums in a gigantic concrete … almost like a parking garage style room at this gym that we had rented out. They stuck a couple of stereo mics up in the corner of the room to get the reverb and then stuck a whole lot of baffling around the drums to get the close up sound but then cranked the mics from a distance. You can hear the traffic outside when you solo them to get the natural reverb.  I thought it sounded really cool, especially at the very end of that song when it breaks down and it’s just the drums, you can totally hear that big concrete room.

You play guitar in the Melbourne-based band Immigrant Union too, did you play any other instruments on Distortland?
I played some bass. I wrote that song Catcher In The Rye and Courtney and I worked up the lyrics together. When I was first in the studio laying down the foundations for it, I didn’t have a bass with me so I detuned a guitar, the low E string down to C or something and played the bass on that. In the final mix it ended up being the main hook to Catcher In The Rye. Then we used Zia’s Korg keybass to pack it out and give it a little more warmth in the bottom end. On Earth To The Dandy Warhols, all the bass is me. I think pretty much every song has  a fretted bass on that record.  Whoever has got something can kind of go ahead and do it. If Courtney has a drum thing and he wants to try it and I’m not really gettin’ it or understanding what he is talking about, he’ll just go in and give it a go. We don’t have any rules when it comes to that sort of thing.

What’s the best thing about a Dandy Warhols tour for you?
Well besides the shows, that’s obviously what I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life .. I love every concert. It is so fun to do. Other than that it is hands down definitely meeting people and hanging out with them and having them invite you to their favourite bars and restaurants, showing you around the city, checking out their apartments, seeing how people live in Portugal or wherever. In this job it is really cool because you do get to meet a lot of people and you get invited places. I’ve been walking down the street and have somebody yell out the window, in Antwerp Belgium. Somebody is yelling Brent, Brent and it is someone I don’t know and they say wait there. They ran down and we ended up hanging out the whole afternoon up on the balcony of this guy’s apartment. That’s the kind of thing  that doesn’t happen for people when they travel the world when you are not in a band. People trust you and invite you into their home and it’s amazing to be sitting having dinner in someone’s home in Bucharest Romania or somewhere, it’s mind blowing.

The Dandy Warhols Distortland tour dates
Wednesday, 26th October
   Metro City, Perth
Thursday, 27th October
   HQ, Adelaide
Saturday, 29th October
   Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane
Sunday, 30th October
   Parkwood Tavern, Gold Coast
Thursday, 3rd November
   ANU Bar, Canberra
Friday, 4th November 
  Big Top, Sydney
Saturday, 5th November 
  Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Ticket info here

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