It's fitting that Portland, Ore.'s The Dandy Warhols titled their 2009 studio album …Earth to The Dandy Warhols... Four years after its release, 2012's This Machine finds the upbeat alt-rock outfit crashing hard into terra firma.
The carefree psychedelia and snarky synth-pop of old is gone, replaced by stripped down gloom rock instead. It's as if after 18 years of partying, The Dandy Warhols have finally sobered up. Speaking via phone with founding guitarist Peter Holmström, I tried finding out if The Dandy Warhols are any older and wiser after their latest adventure.
Mark Hensch of antiMusic: You helped start The Dandy Warhols 18 years ago. What is your fondest memory since then?
Peter Holmström (guitars): We once got to open for the Rolling Stones in Portugal. We had a whole bunch of stuff going against us that day. When we finally made it to the stage, we got an incredible response and that's something I feel is unusual for bands opening for the Stones. It felt like we couldn't get any higher than that.
antiMusic: Your latest album is This Machine. What's that title's significance to you?
Holmström: It's one of those things where it seemed appropriate for how the record was sounding. Woody Guthrie used to put 'This Machine Kills Fascists' on his guitar and later on Donovan had "This Machine Kills" on his. Eventually we shortened it to 'This Machine' during a music video shoot for Odditorium or Warlords of Mars when I had that on my guitar. It's been there ever since. We wanted something that described the record, and the record sounds overcast and a little gothic.
antiMusic: Going off that, This Machine seems much darker, minimalist and pensive than your previous albums. What experiences led The Dandy Warhols to that sound?
Holmström: While making our last record …Earth To The Dandy Warhols… we put way too many ideas into every single song. We got carried away with Pro Tools and using them too often too.
The new record is a reaction to that. When we began recording we made a big effort to use say one guitar part per song. If it was used for a chorus, we'd find something to fill in the verse. If it was the verse, we'd find a little change for the chorus or give it a simple lead. We wanted to make things much simpler.
antiMusic: Do you have a favorite song on This Machine, and if so, why?
Holmström: I really like "Sad Vacation." That's the one that jumps out at me at least. I also like "Well They're Gone" and "The Autumn Carnival."
antiMusic: "Sad Vacation" is one of my favorite songs on the new record too. I feel like it expresses wanderlust and a yearning for escapism. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be, and why?
Holmström: I'm partial to the Maldives as that's where I went on my honeymoon. The experience of being on the ocean like that is spectacular. They're resort islands and the culture is something that is kept largely separate from visitors. You don't really get to interact with the people.
antiMusic: The album art for This Machine was painted by Hickory Mertsching, an artist living in your band's hometown of Portland, Ore. How do you think it captures the mood of This Machine?
Holmström: I saw his art in a bazaar in Portland and thought it would be a great idea to have him do a painting for us. His normal works are still life paintings with a couple mundane objects just sitting there.
We wanted something that looked like Oregon. He painted it in about a month and he did an awesome job.
antiMusic: The Dandy Warhols also teamed up with sci-fi author Richard Morgan to pen band bios for This Machine. How did your collaboration with Morgan come about, and what did you think of what he wrote?
Holmström: It's a variation on something we've been doing all along. When we first came up with a band bio we found that most other bands' bios were really boring. We wanted to make something interesting to read. We started making stuff up as we went along.
For this record, Richard Morgan is someone I bumped into in Portland and we became friends off a mutual interest in the band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The short stories are great and I want to read the book they come from, but unfortunately it doesn't exist.
antiMusic: You recorded a cover of Merle Travis' "16 Tons' on This Machine. Why did you want to play that song?
Holmström: Merle Travis is one of the people who may or may not have written that song. There's some dispute. It's an older song about the life of a coal miner.
I originally didn't want to play "16 Tons" as it's a cover and I like doing our own thing. When I heard the final version I was blown away. I think it's incredible the way it turned out but I wasn't sold on it for a long time.
antiMusic: Outside of The Dandy Warhols, you play in a band called Pete International Airport. Given your last album with them came out in 2010, what future plans do you have for that project?
Holmström: It took me 11 years for the first record and hopefully it won't take another 11 for the next one.
The idea of the project is to record stuff that has never found a home in The Dandy Warhols. It's all my spare guitar licks and leftover parts. I have at least one record full of ideas for the next one.
I really try to push the extremes of both projects and go in directions the other one isn't willing to go. No matter what, though, Pete International Airport will always sound a bit like the Dandy Warhols as I play with them too but it stands on its own merits.
antiMusic: What's next for you and The Dandy Warhols once This Machine is released?
Holmström: We'll be doing a bunch of touring that should take up the rest of the year if all goes to plan. In 2013, it will be the 13th anniversary of 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia and we'll have to do something special for that. After that, it's our 20th anniversary as a band in 2014. We're definitely going to do something special for that.