Tag Archives: Dandy Warhols

Dandys and Brian Jonestown Massacre – both huge successes in my book

How do you define musical success? Lots of money? Lots of fans? Most dedicated cult following? Major label deal? It just keeps getting trickier and trickier.

A few weeks ago a friend loaned me his copy of Dig!, a documentary about the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols. Two very talented and trippy groups that had very different career paths – the Dandys got a major label deal and got really popular, especially in Europe; the BJM got more and more dysfunctional over time, with rampant drug use and constant fighting.

It also follows the changing relationship between BJM’s volatile singer Anton Newcombe and the Dandys’ Courtney Taylor, who started out as great friends and ended up as bitter rivals.

I recently saw both bands at Emo’s in Austin. The Brian Jonestown Massacre played at Psych Fest and The Dandy Warhols played later at their own show. I loved both bands, but I think I would’ve appreciated them a lot more if I had seen Dig! beforehand. I didn’t realize how awesome it is that Anton is keeping it together as well as he is right now, or that tambourinist Joel Gion still tours with the band after quitting/getting fired/getting in fights, etc. so many times. (BTW, Joel was my favorite “character” in Dig!, just laughing and clowning and partying through it all, the quintessential stoner.)

So which band succeeded? I would have to say both. The Dandys had more commercial success (Although Capitol has since downsized, dropping them from the label and turning them back into a “true indie” band). Their songs are catchier.

Brian Jonestown Massacre make consistently great music that will stand the test of time. They’re like some of the great psychedelic bands from the ’60s before they got big and lost their edge.

I think the Anton and Courtney love/hate relationship is fascinating. Anton envies Courtney’s success with the Dandys and Courtney loves and envies Anton’s songwriting ability. Here’s hoping they get back to the point where they can hang out and perform together again.

If you’re a fan of either of these bands and haven’t seen Dig!, you owe it to yourself to watch it. Even if you never heard of either band, watch it. Best documentary and in fact best movie I’ve seen in a long time.

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Dandy Warhols rock Emo’s Austin

Last week I finally got a chance to see the Dandy Warhols, one of my all-time favorite bands. Avant garde yet catchy, nice and psychedelic. I saw them at Emo’s in Austin in the company of some good friends.

One of my friends referred to them as the coolest-looking band on the planet, and he could be right. They don’t do a lot of jumping around on stage, they just look really cool. As cool as they sound. I sort of get the impression of lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor as someone who’s been around and seen and done pretty much everything, kinda  sleazy, druggy and wise.

The Dandy Warhols are still on tour. Check here to see if they’re coming to a town near you.

Didn’t manage to get a decent photo with my cellphone, alas, but check out this video of my favorite Dandy Warhols song. They killed on this one.

 

They also had some really kickass songs that I hadn’t heard before, many from their new album, This Machine.

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How ‘indie’ are your favorite tunes?

I guess it was around 2002 when I got bitten by the indie bug. I was pissed at the way the major labels sued consumers and cheated artists – and I had discovered the wonders of college radio. Back then I listened to KTSW from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas (then known as Southwest Texas State University), which turned me onto so many great bands & artists: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Cornelius, McLusky, Elliott Smith, Interpol…

I figured who needs the majors? I started paying really close attention to an artist’s record label and if they were on a major label, I would avoid their album or try to get it used. I wouldn’t even download it. Eventually I found out it wasn’t as simple as I thought. I knew who the major labels were, but a lot of times what seemed like a small label turned out to be a one-off, owned by a major. At some point I discovered a tool called the RIAA Radar, which will tell you if any artist or label is affiliated with the RIAA.

There was a period of more than a year when I wouldn’t buy any CD without first running it through the RIAA Radar to make sure it was truly indie. I’ve since gotten over that. Too many of my favorite artists are on major labels and one-off labels. Am I going to give up The Dandy Warhols? I don’t think so. I also don’t blame artists who sign to major labels. There are certain services a large label can provide that an artist can’t always get on a smaller indie or by going it alone, services like promotion and tour support. I totally understand why The Decemberists signed to Capitol (I still liked them better when they were on Hush Records though). It’s a risk though. A band might lose artistic control, or might find that it can never recoup the money the label puts in.

That old attitude I used to have, of “they signed to a major, they’re dead to me now” just isn’t practical or fair. Artists have to do what they have to do. It would be nice to stay in a hotel room instead of sleeping on floors while on tour. I get it.

However, it still makes sense to use the RIAA Radar. It can show you things about the music you love. Years ago when I used it, I was surprised at how many bands I thought were on indies were actually not. For example, Built to Spill used to be on Up, a true indie, but they later went to Warner, obviously one of the majors. Trail of Dead used to be on Merge, one of the big indies, but later went to Interscope, which is part of Universal Music Group.  (BTW, in the ’90s, there were six major labels. The majors currently consist of the “Big Four” – Warner, EMI, Sony, Universal. I understand EMI is having trouble, so we may be down to a “Big Three” before too long. The Wikipedia article on record labels is pretty informative if you want to learn more.)

Now when I use it, what strikes me most is how many high profile artists are self-released or on independent labels. For example, I felt a little twinge of conscience when I posted that Vampire Weekend video early on. They’re high profile enough, I was sure they must’ve been on a major, but they’re not. Totally indie. Beggars Banquet, which put out so many great postpunk albums and 4AD, which put out albums by bands like Dead Can Dance and  His Name is Alive, are RIAA safe. I kinda thought those might be sub-labels of some major label. Daptone Records (featuring Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings) and Truth & Soul Records (Lee Fields) are straight up indies.

And thanks to the distribution possibilities of the internet, a lot of artists are simply doing it on their own, without even small label support. It’s pretty exciting to see that change unfold.

And BTW, if you’re interested in independent record labels and the DIY spirit, you should read Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, about the American indie underground in the 1980s. I have a lot of respect for those artists and their labels, which include: SST, Sub Pop, Dischord, Touch & Go and K Records.

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