After forming in the mid-'90s, The Dandy Warhols gained prominence in the early 2000s, with help from a major British commercial placement. The band is currently on a tour playing the entirety of its 2000 breakthrough album, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. CP spoke with keyboardist Zia McCabe.
Gaining commercial success as an artist has its perils. It can seem, to certain fans, like you're selling out. But a commercial actually launched the Dandys into great success. Can you tell me about that roller-coaster ride?
[Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia] had come out, but it didn't really hit the way that we thought it was going to. It just made a sort of soft thud in Europe. And then [British telecom company] Vodafone decided to use it in that ad. It's like they made us a music video and put a million-dollar ad campaign behind it to make sure that everybody saw it. It was like the best thing that could happen to a band. So the album was re-released because of that ad. And then we were off and running.
It was surreal to understand that advertising was breaking a band instead of a traditional method, because that hadn't really happened. There was a lot of confusion about whether it was ethical for an artist to get paid for their music to be in advertising. And I couldn't really see the harm in it. We were just getting paid for what we do. People wanted to use our music in a really cool commercial. I guess it was a little ironic, but it was just neat. It was neat to finally have the career that we had been working towards.
We survive because of licensing. We don't make a ton of money on touring. Nobody makes money from record sales anymore. But because we were able to transition into licensing so easily, it's what secured a future for us.
From your experience with Capitol Records, would you say that a big label made your career easier or more difficult in the long run?
It depends on your experience. We were lucky with big labels. We were very stubborn with them trying to tell us what to do. We weren't extremely cooperative. But because of that we ended up not going into huge debt. Most people on major labels overspent so much that they almost become indentured to the label with no hope for paying them back. Since we didn't cooperate, in turn, they didn't dump all that money on us the way that they normally would. We came out OK with the major-label thing.
Several reviews said that Thirteen Tales was a shockingly mature album for such a young band. The subjects within it are very steeped in youth culture, but the lyrics can be so sarcastic. Where did all the snark come from?
I think the way that [frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor] deals with any sort of emotional turmoil or conflict is through sarcasm and wit. It's a great advantage that that's the way that he processes, because it's very lyrical. And that's the way he talks. He's not sitting down and turning into a poet for these lyrics. This is what he sounds like when he's communicating. He has the cynicism, and he's very articulate and very pointed and can also be intense. I think that, in turn, it becomes very relatable. It's not so serious. He doesn't take it too seriously.