An Interview with Brent DeBoer of the Dandy Warhols

Paul Caparotta
The Dandy Warhols (Zia McCabe, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Peter Holmström & Brent DeBoer)
The Dandy Warhols are a force of nature. Over twenty five years they've spun together a catalog of sounds that are funny and magnetic. They hit The Fillmore this Saturday and we were lucky enough to catch drummer Brent DeBoer before heading out on this 25th anniversary tour and to find out what it means to be a Dandy in 2019. At the current time, tickets can still be found here, and you can catch our full interview with Brent below!

SFBayAreaConcerts: Thanks for making time for us today. One of the things we’ve loved about the Dandy’s is the group’s sense of humor. "Fred 'n' Ginger" is a nice, fizzy way to start off Why You so Crazy (iTunes) — can you tell us a bit more about the song and how it fits into the album?

Brent DeBoer: It’s basically a very, very short song that Courtney had. Every song we have we treat completely different—we’re not thinking about the rest of the record when we’re working on a particular song. We just give that song whatever beat and sound it needs; We don’t think at all about the cohesiveness of the album until the end when we are piecing it together. That one just had that ol’ timey sound, so we just gave in to that. We gave it that old antique-y vibe. For a little while it was the third song and I really liked it there. I think originally it started with "Thee Elegant Bum", and then the second song was "Next Thing I Know," and then it went "Fred 'n' Ginger." I thought that was a really cool transition. In the end it seemed like a cool way to start the record off.

SFBAC: Speaking of "Thee Elegant Bum", I think that has some of the most interesting percussion on the album.

Brent DeBoer: Yeah, I think that’s up there for me too. We set up the drum set in the drum room, which is a very dead room all covered in sound dampening material. That is one thing that stayed consistent through the record: We kept that same drum set set-up with the same mics. We stacked two snare drums on top of each other. The top one had a big cut with a razor blade down the middle of it—then we just gas taped it all up. And also we duct-taped a tee shirt to it. Finally we tightened up the head of the bottom snare as tight as possible. So when you’d hit it, there would be a real dead “bap!” Right beneath that sound, a little tiny hint of snare would come underneath it. It was a great combination; Like a cardboard box being hit with the tiniest little bit of snare indication down at the bottom. There were songs that just didn’t want or need any high hats. We kept that up on pretty much every song. I had a dishcloth rolled up and taped to the top of the bass drum. Just to keep time I’d hit that with my right hand as if it was a high hat. You can faintly hear the stick hitting that tape on a few songs—that dish towel. It’s just a bass drum, sort of a snare, and no high hats—pretty much none on the entire album. So I would just do that. The cymbals we worked out later on. You’ll hear that now when you listen to it back again. I’ve read a few articles, and I’ve heard people talking about it: The drum machine on the album! I laugh—what we did was the polar opposite of that. It’s the most raw and rough drum set—I mean there is no drum machine!

SFBAC: Make sure the duct tape and dish towel are included on your instrument list for the remaster!

Brent DeBoer: 'Brent DeBoer, drums, snare and tea towel!'

SFBAC: The new album digs again into religion—familiar territory for you guys. On Why You so Crazy, there’s "Sins are Forgiven" and "To The Church", and on Distortland (iTunes) the great "Pope Reverend Jim." You have a history of talking about religion—most strikingly on the "Godless" suite on Urban Bohemia (iTunes). 25 years in, what does this mean to you?

Brent DeBoer: None of us are religious really. It’s just so pervasive in society and causes so much pain, death and destruction—as well as making people feel good. So it’s good, and it’s very bad, and I think it’s more bad than it is good. It seems to cause more harm than good. People arguing over who’s imaginary friend in the sky is better seems like a pretty ridiculous way to live your life. It’s a big part of the world, so it turns up in our music every once in a while.

SFBAC: The mysticism—the tension of belief—that echoes some of the push and pull, the psychedelic of the Dandy’s sound.

Brent DeBoer: I suppose so. Music is the last unexplained magic in the world. It’s difficult to put your finger on how and why it does what it does. Music is pressure, tension and then release. For every style of music you’re anticipating this release. There was this queen who I believe banned a dominant twelfth chord. [ed. note: The augmented fourth—the devil’s chord] There was another king or queen who would only allow live music to be played that resolved. [Sings an arpeggio] That was a requirement! You’d get your finger cut off if you didn’t resolve. [Laughs] If I were king today, I’d give you an idea of what I would ban! [Laughs]

SFBAC: Losing fingers! Strong emotions! Looking back, how do you feel about The Dandy Warhols Are Sound (iTunes) versus Welcome To the Monkey House (iTunes)?

Brent DeBoer: No, not really. My wife has Spotify in her car, which is useful. I’ve never been able to switch from one album to the other quickly before, but I can now in her car with that technology. It does paint a different picture when you’re rapidly cycling between records. I think after doing that, I have my opinions on what songs are sonically more pleasing to me. The overall texture of both albums, the space in them…But I don’t have a favorite really in terms of specific songs on that album. In terms of favorite albums, one of my favorite for years was Earth to the Dandy Warhols (iTunes) — a pretty underrated record.

SFBAC: Great album!

Brent DeBoer: Love it. Good. I just think it’s a really, really special work. You know, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia probably ranks up there too. It has a timeless, classic rock-type appeal to it. And the songs are just so top notch. I’d say one of those two probably. But then again, when I put the new one on it becomes my favorite pretty quickly. [Laughs] I don’t know!

SFBAC: You mentioned Thirteen Tales of Urban Bohemia—nineteen years in it still feels fresh; it’s very funny. Are we going to see more of those tracks on the 25th anniversary tour, or are you going to bring out some deeper cuts?

Brent DeBoer: We toured Europe and played a mix/mash of all the albums. We’ve been changing up a little bit here, but it’s also been similar. We play a few tunes off pretty much every record. Starting with "Ride", on the first album, it’s all over the place. It’s a setlist that flows like one of our albums. And on this 25 year anniversary journey around the world it just makes sense to play a little bit off every album. We have a few fun theatrical stunts that we do toward the end of the gig—like any good birthday party I guess!

SFBAC: Obviously there’s a sisterly connection between Portland and San Francisco—anything special we can expect in San Francisco? Anything you’re looking forward to while in the Bay?

Brent DeBoer: My buddy Scotty, who does the lights for us, we usually go to our favorite banh mi sandwich place. So I’m sure we’ll be grabbing one of those. Playing the Fillmore just feels so cool! It’s such a legendary venue—we’ve always had a good time in there; good room, good stage, good sound. I love wandering around and looking at all the iconic posters. They always serve up good food backstage. And, we have all these friends in San Francisco, it’s always nice to see everybody. Yeah, it does feel like a sister city to Portland with all its activism and hippie madness. Hell, we’re really looking forward to it. Love that city.

SFBAC: Awesome, thanks for being so generous with your time, and we’ll see you soon. Love the new album.

Brent DeBoer: You’re welcome—thanks for cranking it up!

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