Preview: Thirteen years later, The Dandy Warhols celebrate 'Thirteen Tales'


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What's in a name?

For The Dandy Warhols, the jokey moniker relayed a few things about its hipster vibe, Velvet Underground sonics and a long-running Warholian struggle between art and commerce.

The band rose from the Portland, Ore., underground with a DIY debut in 1995, and a mere two years later, The Dandy Warhols were plucked by Capitol Records and splashed with money to groom pretty-boy frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor and the band for pop stardom.

In the 2004 rock documentary "Dig!," chronicling the band's bitter rivalry with the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Warhols are shown squandering $400,000 on an absurdly indulgent video for a single, "Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth," that fell flat.

The Dandy Warhols

With: The Shivas.

Where: Mr. Smalls, Millvale.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Tickets: $35; mrsmalls.com.

A label rep from TVT, who signed Brian Jonestown Massacre, says in that film, "Dandy Warhols are a very popular band among A&R people. ... Dandy Warhols are the reason people get laid off of record labels. People spend so much money on these bands, and they make ridiculous videos, and when they don't pan out, somebody's got to pay for it, right?"

But The Dandy Warhols did get a second chance. In 2000, the band released "Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia," a minor indie classic it is now celebrating with a 13-year-anniversary tour that starts Tuesday at Mr. Smalls.

It was "recorded above a parking garage all the bums would urinate in," the band notes in "Dig!," with guitarist Peter Holstrom adding, "The level of creativity was really intense. Every single day a lot got done."

"I remember there being a lot of talk about it being the last guitar album because keyboards were coming on so strong," keyboardist Zia McCabe said in a phone interview last week. "The synth sound was becoming more prominent, and so we were really dedicated to having an album that was really guitar heavy. It seems like we were listening to a lot of Kiss actually in the studio."

Mr. Taylor-Taylor has said they wanted to make "the last classic rock album, a record that would be (sonically) shaped somewhere in between 'All Things Must Pass' and 'Workingman's Dead' " with a definite jolt of alternative rock. It opens with some shoegazer feedback before launching into the chords for "My Sweet Lord," introducing a record brimming over with lush melodies and layered electro-acoustic guitars. The influences are obvious, not only Harrison but The Troggs, The Stooges, The Stones and VU, right on up to Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins.

Asked about some of those familiar riffs, Ms. McCabe said, "Oh, I never know what those guys are up to with the guitars. I never know how much was intentional and how much was accidental. The thing with us is, we'll be inspired by something, but we're not skilled or rehearsed enough to actually imitate anything accurately. Even if we were intentionally trying to do something like that, it usually comes out pretty different, so that saves us from never coming to close to the mark. And then I think when we sound like we actually do imitate something accurately, it's by accident."

"Thirteen Tales" was released to positive reviews and cracked the Top 200, but it still wasn't the bona fide hit they had hoped it would be.

"We released a psychedelic rock record during the heyday of boy bands, so naturally radio and our record label disregarded us completely," the singer says in "Dig!" "A year and a half later, a cellphone commercial put 'Bohemian Like You' into households all across Europe. We went there and it was huge."

"Bohemian Like You," a withering take on hipsters, was a pure Stones send-up, complete with a "Brown Sugar" riff and Jagger-like woo-hoos. The Vodaphone commercial made the Warhols headline stars on the European festival circuit.

"We think every song we make is going to be the biggest song while we're making it," Ms. McCabe said of the band's expectations of the song. "You fall in love with the pieces of music and you do everything you can to make it perfect, and you can't really think about how it's going to come across to people because there's just no predicting that. It's a great song that tells a great story. I think we knew it was one of our stronger pieces, but we certainly didn't know that Vodaphone was going to use it for a million dollar ad campaign and that it was going to be the summer hit of that year."

Playing the record straight through on this tour will provide some challenges as some of songs were rarely played live much and others were re-arranged.

"We knew how to play all of them at the beginning, but the ones that don't work right away get taken out pretty quick to make room for songs from the previous albums on the set list," the keyboardist said. "Those songs have been easier to learn because we don't have any different habits. What's been really tricky is the songs that we've been playing at every show for the last 13 years with a different arrangement than is on the album. Like 'Shakin',' for example, we took out a whole guitar solo, like the whole length of a verse, and every time, I go straight to the chorus and mess that part up, because in 13 years of playing it one way now we're learning the album version, so that's tricky."

The Dandy Warhols did switch things up with the next album, venturing more into a synth-pop band with Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes at the helm of 2003's "Welcome to the Monkey House."

A year later came the acclaimed movie, which portrayed The Dandy Warhols as more careerist and playing catch-up creatively to the BJM.

"Well, it definitely got our name out there," she said of "Dig!" "I think it was sort of mixed emotions about whether we were in a positive or negative light, but it's a hilarious movie, and I'm glad that that part of my life was documented. And I think it solidifies us as part of the rock 'n' roll family tree. We're one of the branches of that tree and we've got a firm place because of that, which is really cool."

The band did one last major label record, the guitar-driven "Odditorium or Warlords of Mars" before founding its own label, Beat the World, for three more releases, including last year's "This Machine."

On June 11, the band will issue a newly remastered 13th anniversary edition of "Thirteen Tales" that will include outtakes, early and alternate mixes and home demos of songs.

After that, they hope to jump right into the next project.

"Courtney has a bunch of songs started, which is really exciting," Ms. McCabe said. "He's been really inspired and he's been working demos with Pete for that, and I'll probably jump in on that when we get back from this tour. So, it looks like we have another record in the works. I wasn't sure when we were going to start in on that, but Courtney's been noodling around for a while, so it's exciting to know we've got more to do. We've got the 'Thirteen Tales' anniversary to celebrate and the following year is our 20-year anniversary, so there's a lot to do with that."

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Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: scottmervis_pg.


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