The last thing Pete Holmström expected — back when he and his Portland, Ore., pals Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Zia McCabe formed their celebrated psych-pop band the Dandy Warhols — is that they'd still be doing it together nearly 20 years later.
"I just figured five years, because that was longer than anything I'd ever done at that point," says the guitarist of what would become one of the Pacific Northwest's best pop exports. "Back then, relationships lasted six months, if they were long ones. And college, that was four years. So, you know, a band? Five years, maybe, who knows? By then I'd have figured out what to do when I settled down."
Guess again. Apart from original drummer Eric Hedford's departure not long after the band's 1995 signing to Capitol, the Warhols lineup has remained remarkably stable while producing such wry classics as "Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" and "Bohemian Like You."
Along the way, further notoriety came via DIG!, a 2004 documentary about the band's alleged love-hate relationship with the Brian Jonestown Massacre. While the film won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, its subjects dismissed it as "a series of punch-ups and mishaps taken out of context."
In 2007, the Warhols split with Capitol and this past April released their eighth studio album, This Machine, on The End Records. It ranges from dream-pop gems like "The Autumn Carnival" and "Well They're Gone" to the Iggy-esque "Enjoy Yourself" and an unlikely cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford's hit, "16 Tons."
Below, Holmström surveys the band's strange musical trajectory and what may, or may not, come next.
Indy: I see that the new album actually charted higher than any of your major-label albums ...
Pete Holmström: It did? That was the goal of Andrea [Katsambas], the guy who owns The End Records. That's what he wanted to do, but I didn't know that he had actually achieved that. That's fucking awesome.
Indy: So do you think that's because it's selling more than your previous ones, or is everyone else just selling less?
PH: Well, everybody's selling less. I don't know what the figures are, because I just don't want to know any of that.
Indy: When Capitol Records insisted on shelving Russell Elevado's original mix of Welcome to the Monkey House — which you later released independently — they commissioned one that more prominently features [Duran Duran keyboardist] Nick Rhodes. Was that the beginning of the end of your relationship with the label?
PH: Yes, it was. But Nick Rhodes was actually involved before Russell Elevado, so all his keyboard tracks are on Elevado's mixes. And Nick Rhodes was our idea. We definitely wanted to use him. It started with just one track, and it was really cool, so he ended up playing on half to three-quarters of the album.
Indy: And then the album after [Odditorium or Warlords of Mars] was a real swing back to guitar ...
PH: Yeah, definitely. We just tend to react to what we've just done, or what there's too much of that we're hearing. So it's like, after Thirteen Tales [from Urban Bohemia], the last thing we wanted to do was make another guitar record. After Monkey House, the last thing we wanted to do was have a keyboard record with pop songs. You know, we wanted to spread out and have crazy, weird experimental jams and try our best to turn them into songs.
... Earth to the Dandy Warhols ... was an experiment with how many layers of things we could put into each song. And you know, the reaction to that is This Machine, which is as stripped-down as we've ever been.
Indy: One critic described This Machine as the band's most irony-free album. Is it? Are you guys post-irony now? Are you feeling sincere at this very moment?
PH: Let's see, yeah, most of the time. [Laughs.] I agree with that comment, and I don't know that it was really intentional. It's like, those were the songs, and that's kind of where our heads were when we were doing it. You know, a lot of the irony in the past has maybe been more just in the song titles than the actual songs.
Indy: But then there are songs like "Heroin Is So Passe," where the irony kind of goes throughout the whole song, doesn't it?
PH: Yes. [Laughs.] I don't know. I mean, that one was such a tough one, because that was Courtney's brief little immature way of dealing with a very serious subject, you know, actual things that were happening to people that he knew, or that we all knew.
Indy: You've recorded with the Brian Jonestown Massacre's bassist in your side project [Pete International Airport], and obviously the two bands are going to have their names associated with each other forever. Had it not been for the documentary, do you think that would still have been the case?
PH: I think it was gonna be the case, no matter what.
Indy: Why is that?
PH: Because we've been friends since the beginning. The reason we don't play shows together anymore, is because we make more money playing shows on our own, and if we played together, each band would get like half as much. So our managers don't let us tour together. But I've been friends with all of them for a long time, so I hate that the movie made it seem like we weren't.
Indy: I guess if you're doing a film, you need a story arc.
PH: Yeah, you know, as much as I'm kind of unhappy with the way that DIG! turned out, it is a good movie. And if it hadn't been told the way it was, it would not have had a story that captivated people. It would just be like, "Oh, they were friends and they continued making music." But I hate the fact that you need drama to sell movies or whatever.
Indy: Listening to new songs like "Autumn Carnival," it seems like you have as much or more in common with bands from the U.K. as you do with contemporary American indie bands. Do you feel a kinship with that scene?
PH: Yeah, growing up, I actually spent three years living in England. Plus, it does seem like a lot of the music I like comes from there. I don't know, there's more aggression, kind of, in American music, and I tend to like things that are a little prettier. And the English seem to do that pretty damn well.
Indy: So you've got an anniversary coming up.
PH: A couple, actually. 2013 is the 13th anniversary of Thirteen Tales, so I think we've gotta do something for that. And right after is the 20th anniversary, so we'll have to do something for that, too. We've also got to figure out how to put out another record, and what that record's gonna sound like.
Indy: What will you be reacting against this time?
PH: Well, at the moment I really want to make like a super keyboard-heavy dance music record. I would really like to put our spin on something like that. But you know, by the time we record it, I don't know what we're going to be reacting against, or to, or whatever. I know that after Monkey House came out, we were saying that the next record was gonna be a grunge record, which I think was just us being silly.
Indy: But part of you did think that at the time?
PH: Well, yeah, because it was so clean and polished, it was like, "The next thing we wanna do is gonna be the exact opposite." But it ended up being a different exact opposite.