The Dandy Warhols focus on the riffs with “Rockmaker”

Since emerging in the mid-’90s, The Dandy Warhols have been known to explore different music directions from album to album. For their latest release, Rockmaker, the group decided to bring harder guitar riffs into their sound. Initially, the idea was not unanimously accepted within the band, but as work began on the music, things fell into place.

The Dandy Warhols were formed in 1994 by singer-guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor and guitarist Peter Holmström. Keyboardist Zia McCabe and drummer Eric Hedford joined to round out the lineup, with Hedford departing in 1998 and replaced by Brent DeBoer. Their best-known singles are “Bohemian Like You,” “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth,” and “We Used to Be Friends.” While The Dandy Warhols have remained consistently active over the years, all the members have been involved with various side projects.

Their twelfth album, Rockmaker, features several notable guest contributors. In the following interview, Holmström discussed the making of the album.

Going into making Rockmaker, did you have a strong sense of the approach and sound you were looking for?

Peter Holmström: So, initially this was something that Courtney and Brent wanted to do. Kind of like a harder rock metal type record, and I think both Zia and I were pretty not interested in that, didn’t get the concept at all. But I’ve just sat around trying to come up with riffs, and once I got a good one, the first one that was worthy of bringing in, it just sort of opened up the floodgates and I just kind of kept creating more and more riffs and more and more songs. So yeah, once I got it, I was in fully, but it took a bit.

What were the first songs you came up with riffs for?

Peter Holmström: The first riff that I brought in was ‘The Cross.’ And once I figured out that I could do… it didn’t have to be metal, really, in my mind, it just had to be maybe a gothic dance floor kind of thing. I just had to change my perception of what they were talking about and sort of fit into my style or my music tastes. And that was the first one, I think ‘Summer of Hate’ followed really quickly. I came up with that after watching a Damned documentary and was like, ‘I want to write something like New Rose or something, one of those sort of super fun songs’ and then they just kept coming.

Do you feel that might have changed their perception at all as to what a heavy sound means within the context of the band?

Peter Holmström: I think so. I think it just sort of broadened the spectrum a little bit and made it just less narrow, from kind of ‘we’re just doing this one thing’ to ‘okay, it’s just going to be songs that start with a heavier riff as opposed to what we’ve done in the past.’ I mean, everything normally starts with a chord change and a melody, and the riffs come afterwards. This time we’re starting with the riffs. So I do think when I started bringing things in, it changed it a bit, because it did kind of go all over the place.

It’s not unusual for your albums to each have their unique sound to them. Do you think it impacts how you present the older material or what older material you choose to do on a particular tour?

Peter Holmström: Not a huge amount. We’ve always tried to just cover songs from all the records or at least the ones that people want to hear the most. We kind of do the set list to try and make it all fit together. So, in this case, we might be picking out some of the kind of heavier ones from the past to fit in. But, I mean, it’s not like we’re adding songs that we haven’t played in a long time. It’s just sort of maybe dropping a few of the ones that don’t fit.

Having been on a major label early on and being established now, do you feel that your approach to making an album differs now to it did earlier in your career?

Peter Holmström: Not at all. If anything, there was maybe a little bit of pressure that kind of came after having a few minor and then slightly more major hits. And since that is far enough in the past and you don’t worry about having a big MTV video anymore, radio doesn’t make the same impact it used to. It’s like you just don’t worry about that stuff anymore. You just try and make cool music and we always set these little sort of guidelines to sort of help us get inspired or have a direction. and then we tend to break those rules almost immediately, but at least it’s a starting point. But I kind of think we are back to kind of more how we made records like the first few.

Could you discuss the guest contributors featured on the album?

Peter Holmström: Yeah, well we got three major big names. Slash played some smoking leads on, “I’d Like To Help You With Your Problem” – I’m still kind of pinching myself on that one. Never thought that could happen. On that song pretty much he was the only guitar player that made sense to even reach out to and ask. Maybe Tony Iommi would’ve made sense, but Slash a little bit more. And yeah, phenomenal. Frank Black on “Danzig With Myself”. Again, another perfect little thing that he added. I had put a lot of effort into trying to come up with a guitar part to fit into that song and kind of failed. He came up with something that was perfect.

And then the one that just blows me away more than anything is that Debbie Harry agreed to sing on a song that I wrote the music to [‘I Will Never Stop Loving You’], and that is something I did not know I had on my bucket list and am just truly honored to have her be a part of this record.

How did these come about?

Peter Holmström: Courtney knows Frank Black, so that’s how that came about. I had no idea that they’d ever met, so that was a little bit of a surprise. Courtney also has a little bit of history with Slash and, I guess, had met him a few times, and I think we had the same management at that time when the recording happened. So I think that probably helped. Debbie, we just sent the song to her; she reached out to her people and she heard it and agreed to do it. I think Chris Stein heard the song too and told her she should do it, but I don’t know that that’s actually true. That would be another thing that made me very happy if he had heard it and thought it was worthy. It never hurts to ask. You don’t know who’s going to say yes. It’s kind of amazing.

I’m curious about your use of AI for music videos. What made you do that, and what are your thoughts on the overall process?

Peter Holmström: So this is really a Courtney thing. He got into it, I don’t even really know how, somebody maybe showed him some stuff and he was kind of fascinated by it. I don’t even know what I think about the whole AI in the arts thing yet. It certainly has cool results. I don’t know enough about the ethics of it to be completely okay with it I guess, but it certainly looks cool.

It is a constantly evolving thing, and current work kind of represents a point in time in the development of AI. Somebody could probably look at it in 20 years and say, “Oh yeah, that was made in 2024.” What are your thoughts about that? How it is on the cutting edge, but it also will associate you with a time period.

Peter Holmström: You can’t help stuff like that. And there’s certain technologies just within music recording that will become very obvious to people 20 years from now, and they’ll be able to go ‘That record was from this time because they chose to do whatever it was,’ or ‘That effect was the new cool thing so everybody was using it.’ It’s just what it is, you use what’s available to you and you don’t think too much about it. I mean, for us, aesthetically we’ve always chosen to kind of make our sound a certain thing, which has worked in our favor. Certain records of ours are a little bit more timeless than others because of that, but I think that’s more purely chance than anything else.

For more info, visit