Jesse Valencia interviews Zia McCabe of seminal band The Dandy Warhols, celebrating their 25th anniversary and the release of their latest album Why You So Crazy.
I’ve always admired the music of The Dandy Warhols, and they’ve delivered again with their new record Why You So Crazy, out now on Dine Alone Records, a solid 40 minutes of what, to me, sounds overall like avant garde goth pop in the best ways, the perfect record for the band to kick off their 25th anniversary.
The Dandy Warhols. Photos by Mike Morgan.
The intro track, “Fred n Ginger,” has a definite vaudeville vibe going for it. There’s the dark synthpop of “Terraform” and “Forever,” with the ghostly vocals and existential lyrics, and then “Highlife” swings like a postmodern country jam with rockabilly flair. There’s the driving rock ’n’ roll of “Be Alright,” and I can definitely hear the krautrock on “Thee Elegant Bum,” and then we venture into country territory again on “Sins Are Forgiven” and later the earworm “Motor City Steel.” “Small Town Girls” feels a bit punk to me, a bit lethargic, in the same narrative vein as “Motor City Steel.” “To the Church” and “Next Thing I Know” are weird and experimental in all the best ways. I absolutely love those tracks. And then “Ondine” really completes the record with the beautiful piano lines mirroring the somber mood of the very vaudeville intro.
In addition to making music with The Dandys and spinning tracks as DJ Rescue, Portland, Oregon’s Zia McCabe is also a realtor (check her out at http://atoziarealestate.com/), sings in the country band Brush Prairie, and is a visible activist both for her community and the greater good. We’ve been pals for a while and I caught up with her recently to chat about things, not least among them the stellar new Dandys album.
The Dandy Warhols are celebrating 25 years together this year. Congratulations! How do you feel about it, looking back on everything you and the band has accomplished?
Immense pride and a deep sense of accomplishment. Also, Wow! That went by kinda fast! I wish I remembered more of it.
What was the creative process behind choosing the songs for this record? There is a lot of balance throughout the tracks, the way you’ve spaced them out throughout the album.
[laughs] Well, those were the songs we had. We realized it was enough for an album, so we ran with it. Having a song I wrote for my country band (with an old bandmate of Brush Prairie, Eric Shanafelt of The Shivas) end up on the record was very exciting for me. Reinventing it to be a better fit for The Dandys was an exciting challenge.
The Dandy Warhols’ “Highlife,” featuring Zia McCabe on lead vocals:
PopMatters recent review of the record championed it as being “defiant” in many ways: adversarial towards the music industry, irreverent towards people who only want to hear songs in the vein of “Bohemian Like You,” sticking a thumb up at naysaying critics. I hear that defiance in the richness of the record’s textures, which Paste described as both “weird” and “fun.” How would you define that balance between defiance and fun with regards to the band’s current creative mode?
I’m totally down with it being interpreted as defiant, but, in reality, I see it more as indulgent. We’re doing what we’ve always done. Which is making music for ourselves. Turning ourselves on, tripping each other out. It happens to be there are a lot of people scattered around the planet that are on our same wavelength and dig our self-indulgent musical efforts.
You made a Spotify playlist recently called “Why You So Crazy and Its Rock, Goth, Electroclash and New Wave Roots.” I love the wide range of influences on there. A lot of Iggy Pop and The Velvet Underground on there and Tones on Tail and Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army feature prominently. Was it a conscious decision on the part of the band to reach back into the past and make what is really, for as fun as the record is, in other ways a sort of melancholy and nostalgic record?
I had no idea which songs would make sense in a playlist with Why You So Crazy. In fact, it felt almost impossible at first. Once it started to come together, the album actually made a lot more sense to me. It becomes clear how this album very creatively and experimentally reflects a huge array of our influences. Aladdin Sane connecting to “Ondine?” I thought that was the biggest victory of the playlist.
“Why You So Crazy and Its Rock, Goth, Electroclash and New Wave Roots” Spotify Playlist:
A lot of listeners, myself included, have taken note of the album’s country, blues, and Americana vibe juxtaposed against that more dominant goth/new wave aesthetic. If you were to add any country, blues, or other super old-school artists to that playlist, who would you add? Or, would you associate that critical perception with the more ’50s-retro aesthetic that was happening with the New Wave movement?
[laughs] This is too deep, man. I’m trying to enjoy my smoothie and answer some easy questions.
It’s just come out that in the recent PledgeMusic debacle, Dandys fans were screwed out of $50,000 by that company. You guys took swift action to inform your fans who’d contributed to the campaign, more than a lot of bands would do for their supporters and which is totally awesome of you. As of right now, is there any light at the end of that tunnel?
What a fiasco! I think whoever can get their money bank via credit card companies/banks have done so by now. Fingers crossed that the rest will eventually get theirs back from PledgeMusic. Our next step is to re-offer the bundles on a platform of our own, which I believe we’ve started the process to be built.
We’ll continue to do everything we can to make it up to our fans. I have a few ideas, but nothing I can mention.
While this whole thing, which you’ve accurately compared to the failed Fyre Festival, has been a total drag, the kickbacks were still such a cool idea. It’s been said that you guys might create your own pledging platform in the future, direct to your base, or offer exclusive downloads to those who gave to the aborted campaign. Has there been any movement towards those ideas?
[see above] : )
In addition to the Dandys, you also tour as DJ Rescue, have recently entered the Real Estate business, and have your own musical project Brush Prairie. Is there any new music on the horizon from Brush Prairie?
The Dandys, parenting, A to Zia Real Estate, and DJ Rescue all keeps me quite busy.
Brush Prairie gets the least attention out of everything, but we do a few gigs a year. I’m happy to play little Honky Tonks on occasion. I’m not all that ambitious with the writing/recording at this time. I’m so dang busy!
Brush Prairie – “Carry Yourself Back to Me”
You gave a rousing warm-up speech for Bernie Sanders in Portland leading up to the last Democratic presidential primary. Are you feeling the Bern yet for this coming election season?
That speech was one of the proudest moments for me. I’d never done anything like it. Playing music for a huge festival audience is nothing like giving a speech to 26,000 people in an arena. I love Bernie! But I’m undecided at the moment. I think no matter what, him running will have a good influence on whoever becomes the primary candidate.
“Zia McCabe Introduces Bernie Sanders”
All photos in this article are courtesy of Mike Morgan.
Jesse Valencia is the author of Keep Music Evil: The Brian Jonestown Massacre Story, published by Jawbone Press.