Rock stardom used to be so linear: Start band. Get signed. Meet girls. Make money. Buy drugs. Crash. Burn. Maintain a mystique, and live legendarily in the hearts and minds of your legions of fans.
Somewhere in the last decade or so, however, a few distractions have curbed that dream. Celebrity rehab, the paparazzi and the Internet, among other things, have turned some of the greatest contemporary rockers into buffoons.
Disagree? Try sitting through 2004’s “Some Kind of Monster,” a documentary about the group therapy and rehab conflicts that were the making of Metallica’s “St. Anger.” Then try listening to “Master of Puppets” without at least cracking a smile.
Enter The Dandy Warhols, a Portland, Ore.-based foursome filled out by front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor, guitarist Peter Holmström, keyboard player Zia McCabe and drummer Brent DeBoer ” a band perhaps best known for the 1997 single “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” from the Capitol Records release “”¦ The Dandy Warhols Come Down.”
With a slew of moderately successful releases following, it’s unfortunate that the group’s measurable achievement has been largely shadowed by 2004’s “DiG!,” a film chronicling the Warhols’ early successes parallel to their obsessive, often destructive friendship with surreal San Francisco psych-rockers The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Throughout the documentary, the band very openly discusses its struggle between artistry and consumerism, its image in the media and, very glibly, the members’ drug use. The final edit renders The Dandy Warhols something of a hard-partying band of sellouts ” a stigma that, while not entirely relevant, hasn’t been shed years after the film’s release.
“I think the major thing is that nobody has a (drug) problem,” said Holmström. “In fact, I’m probably the only person who may have had a problem, and I quit doing everything over 10 years ago. I don’t even drink anymore.
“To me, the whole reputation has been really funny, because the whole time, I’ve been sober. I know bands without the reputation that have actual, serious problems, and it doesn’t get talked about. For some reason, it just got attached to us in a big way. Part of it definitely was our refusal to not talk about anything. We were very open initially. We certainly aren’t anymore. We’ve learned that lesson.”
Another public lesson the Warhols had to learn was their place in the functionality of a major record label regime. The band signed to Capitol prior to the release of “Come Down” in 1997 and shortly afterward, filmed a glam, flashy, big-budget video that, according to “DiG!,” left the band unhappy with its depiction. Dismal radio play and promotion on the group’s following records led to greater label tension, which perhaps culminated when Capitol rejected the Warhols’ preferred mix for 2003’s “Welcome to the Monkey House,” instead choosing to hire an outside producer to mix a slicker, poppier version.
“The guy that was used (Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes) was somebody that we kind of picked. It was somebody we were OK with in theory,” Holmström said, “but that was the first time no band members had been in for the mixing. Anything can happen during mixing, and when it came back, there was the initial shock of, ‘That’s not what we want.’ We grew to appreciate what it is, but we still really liked our initial attempt.”
That original mix, titled “The Dandy Warhols Are Sound,” was released on June 14 by Beat the World Records, an imprint founded by the band prior to independently releasing “… Earth to The Dandy Warhols” in 2008. The process of starting a label, although welcome, was unexpectedly challenging, particularly for an act whose business affairs until then had been micromanaged by Capitol Records.
“You have to make all the decisions,” Holmström said. “It was ridiculous. I was being shown variations of designs for advertisements, and I couldn’t even tell the difference. It makes you appreciate what a major label can offer you, with tons of connections and seemingly endless supplies of money. When you don’t have that at your disposal, it shows, and we definitely had to take a few steps back from what we were used to.”
Continuing in this back-to-basics spirit, The Dandy Warhols are focusing their current tour on the Midwest, a region of the country the group’s largely ignored over the past several years. The band will take the stage 9 p.m. Saturday at the Diamond Ballroom with Los Angeles’ Spindrift.
“You start feeling like you’re doing the same damn thing every time you play just the big cities,” Holmström said. “When we were younger and had the energy to do multiple tours on a record, you’d do the major markets, then Europe, and then come back and do secondary markets. To me, those were always the fun ones, because there are no media people, really. No label people. It’s just kids that want to see the band, that want to have fun. We’re trying to get back to that and play places we haven’t been in a while. It’s been since 1997 that we were in Oklahoma.”
What follows the month-long Midwest jaunt, however, is up in the air for the time being.
“For me, it was always the next thing in line,” Holmström said. “I don’t know what our goal is now, and we’re maybe struggling with that a little bit, trying to figure out what we’re supposed to do. We don’t have the same focus we did as kids. Then, nothing was as important as the band, but now we all have families, so we’ll see. It’s kind of become a job, and we need to figure out where we want to go. None of us want to stop, though. This is the best job.”
The Dandy Warhols with Spindrift perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern. Tickets are $14 advance, $16 door. “Becky Carman