When the Dandy Warhols debuted in mid-'90s, pre-Portlandia Portland, they were able to survive on relatively little involvement with the working world that existed outside of their creative one. A couple of odd jobs here, a gig or two there — not a 40-plus hour grind of nine-to-fives and hospitality work — is how they paid the bills. "I was partially living off a credit card and then some really small jobs, like I worked at a coffee cart for a couple days a week for a while," says guitarist Peter Holmström. "And I was a roadie for a band that played for weddings and corporate parties, which was only on weekends. And that worked well in the beginning, because we weren't playing weekends. And then when we started playing weekends — Courtney [Taylor-Taylor, frontman] had this job, too — we would go set up the band at a wedding or wherever, come back, get our gear, do a soundcheck, play a show, load our gear out, then go back and pick up the gear from the other band. And then do pretty much the same thing the next night."
But these days, both vets and beginners have to hustle hard outside of their art in order to meet the rising costs of living. "The fact that I could pay rent on working three nights a week is amazing. I really don't know how I managed to eat, but somehow it worked. And we all did it, and we rehearsed like three or four times a week and it was never an issue," Holmström says, noting that the band's workweek freedom is what enabled them to create so much back then, as opposed to bands that currently have more scheduling conflicts. "I think it would have been a lot harder to get people to commit the time to make it happen now," he says. What's become of the Dandys' hometown — the gentrification, the $6 lattes — has inspired their new album, Distortland. "It's a play on Portland, of course, and just the changes that we've seen happen here over the course of the life of the band, and even before that, since we're all essentially natives," Holmström says. "We've seen it grow from sort of a backwater little town into a hip place to move to. And we have our own TV show."
But Distortland isn't just about PDX. City expansion is everywhere, and simpler times are in the rearview mirror. "I think it's everywhere — I don't think this is exclusively Portland or Seattle or Austin or one of the towns that gets talked about," Holmström says. "This is happening everywhere and it always has. It's just the way things seem to work, you know?"
Holmström saw the same sort of transformations when he went to college in New York City. "The East Village was pretty rough, and that's where I ended up living because that's where I could afford to live," he says. "Not now — there's no way I could afford to live there right now, which is too bad. So I'm not fine with it, but I don't really see a way around it. There's obviously money to be made, and there's people who are going to do whatever it takes to make money. And that's just the way it is."
But what does Holmström long for the most about his old stomping grounds? "It's not even just Portland," he says, pointing out that it's essentially a feeling that's been left behind: the journey of getting lost, the sacredness of a new CD. "What I miss is just the pre-internet age, where things were just a little harder to find so you had to be really dedicated to things," he says. "So it's like if you wanted to look a certain way, you had to go scour thrift stores and stuff to find items of clothing or certain records — and, for some reason, it seemed like the whole record was better — and books and all that. And it seemed to mean a little bit more. I mean, believe me, I love having everything at my fingertips, but it just was a little more exciting. So that's Portland, that's everywhere."
But the Dandy Warhols beckon simpler days in the way they compose their music — always have. When Taylor-Taylor begins any demo, he does so on a four-track, and almost every record, from 1995's Dandys Rule OK? to Distortland, has gotten the analogue treatment for songs in need of a sound or a feel that the latest recording gear can't replicate. "There was a ProTools rig that Courtney had for a moment — Monkey House, I think, was all done on ProTools — but he dabbled in that and went back to his four-track," says Holmström. "I think he finds it faster. And you just touch 'record' and start — not like having to open a session and go through all that nonsense. That's just part of his process."
As a result, Distortland, which is the Dandys' 10th studio album since 1995, is a collection of pop-garage that will appeal, ironically, to hipsters with a modern ear, who desperately want to experience the '90s, but also to fans who've identified with the Dandys' brand of shoegaze rock since the start. Holmström says, "We sound like us, but stylistically we're always trying to keep ourselves entertained — and hopefully everybody else, too."