Where were the Dandy Warhols when the lights went out on Aug. 14 during the Great American Blackout 2003?
Drummer Brent DeBoer, for one, was just 20 seconds away from stepping onto an elevator at Rockefeller Center in New York City, ready to join his band mates for their scheduled performance on NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” to promote their fourth Capitol album, “Welcome to the Monkey House” (released Aug. 19).
He thanks his lucky stars he didn’t get on the elevator (he’s scared of them anyway), and he’s especially glad he wasn’t trapped on a subway train.
“I was standing outside the front door of Rockefeller Center and half of the band was inside, and (keyboardist) Zia (McCabe) was up the street shopping,” DeBoer said recently. “Right as we were heading for the door, the lights went out. As it started to hit people, I saw some tears; people there have experienced so much (since Sept. 11, 2001). But there were people with radios and headphones on and they were telling people on the streets what was going on.”
The Portland, Ore., native can attest to the resiliency of New Yorkers. He felt a beautiful, reaffirming vibe throughout the city, in spite of the maddening ordeal.
“I didn’t even feel the slightest hint that anything bad was going to happen,” he said, “and believe me, it was pitch black out there. Everybody was helping everyone out, handing out free ice cream, cooking perishable foods on the sidewalk.
“I’ve never seen so many people in the streets in any city in the world. It was a sea of humans. Middle-class families who were kicked out of their hotels were sleeping on the street, but they had no choice. Our hotel, for whatever reason, let us stay.”
The rooms were intolerably hot, so DeBoer, McCabe, vocalist-guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor and lead guitarist Peter Holmstrom made the best of the situation by heading out on foot, looking to soak in the not-so-once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“We walked up the street to a table set up by a guy who was selling flashlights that you strap to your forehead,” DeBoer said. “We got a couple of those and just walked all over New York. We checked out Times Square with all the lights out. It was so odd.
“Then we went back to Rockefeller Center because we left a half bottle of tequila in our dressing room; we still had our passes, so they let us in. We hung out there till like 3 or 3:30 in the morning, when they finally kicked us out.”
The Dandys stayed another night for their rescheduled “Late Night” performance.
After surviving the power-grid failure with millions of others, DeBoer has a new respect for New Yorkers.
“They were so cool,” he said. “There’s a great quote I remember about New York. There was some famous actress from the ’40s, and they were asking her, ‘Why have you always lived in New York?’ She said, ‘It’s the only place where I can be alone.’ It makes perfect sense.
“When (David) Bowie came to hang out with us in the studio, he just walked from his apartment … that’s so cool.”
Counting Bowie as a fan is even cooler. He selected the Dandys to support his European tour, which opens Oct. 7 in Copenhagen and ends Nov. 26 at London’s Wembley Arena. And his longtime collaborator, Tony Visconti, produced “Welcome to the Monkey House” with Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes.
“Meeting Bowie just affirms things that you believe that some people didn’t,” DeBoer said of the psychedelic-pop quartet’s early nay sayers. “It makes you want to call them up and say, ‘Yeah, right. Yep.’ “
Other big names were involved in the project: Duran Duran frontman Simon LeBon sings backup on “Plan A,” Chic legend Nile Rodgers plays guitar on “I Am a Scientist,” and former Lemonhead Evan Dando co-wrote and performs on “You Were the Last High.”
All that star power doesn’t faze the Dandys.
“It’s weird how when you’re making music and you’re so confident in what you do, your ego can handle it,” he said. “Half the reason you start playing music like when you’re 10 years old is the dream of meeting your peers, or having legendary artists be in your peer group.
“I’m not saying we’re as good as Bowie or legendary or anything like that, but having him dig our band is great. You dream about that the day you track your first four-track in your basement. You finish it and wonder what Lennon would think of it. With the last record, we wondered if George Harrison got a chance to hear it before he died.”
Chances are Lennon would be a Dandys fan, too. They’re boldly going where few bands tread these days, experimenting with sounds not unlike Duran Duran in the 1980s.
“If you stripped all the guitars out of the second Dandys record, ‘Come Down,’ people would say, ‘Oh, it sounds like an ’80s record,’ because there’s the same kind of keyboards and keyboard lines,” DeBoer said. “There’s so much space now between all the sounds because the guitars are so huge. You have to be careful if you want to create space to put your head inside the mix.
“When we started working on this record, we had been listening to so much hip-hop. We were so impressed by how loud the dead space between the sounds can be and how beautiful it is. We wanted to mix that in to the sound.”
And clearly, DeBoer says, they had an unusually amount of fun making the album.
“The more we worked on the record, the more it was getting us off,” he said. “At one point, it sounded like a dub record, just drums and bass and Courtney’s voice. Then we started texturing and coloring the sound with guitars and keyboards and little ‘bloop-bloop-bloop’ sounds until the music supported the lyrics and the melodies.”
What path they take with the next album is anyone’s guess, DeBoer says, “but it’ll depend on what experiences we encounter over the next couple of years touring this record, because that seems to be the big influence on this record, traveling the world and meeting people.
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I think it was Van Halen’s ‘1984.’ I can’t even remember why I bought it; I was never a big Van Halen fan. I probably just heard it and wanted to get it. Growing up, my dad had a huge record collection, so I never had to buy anything. I just went through and listened to Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles – playing my drums along with whatever.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “The Beach Boys, when I was like 6, at the Baseball Arena in Portland. That show was what put the fantasy in my head – that changed my whole perspective of the cul-de-sac in front of my house. From then on, listening to records, that cul-de-sac was filled with people and I was on stage.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “The worst job I had was also the most fun I had because I worked my friend, Joe. We made smoke detectors, just sitting there soldering, clipping wires on at a table and gabbing with these old-school factory workers over the summer.”
ON THE WEB: thedandywarhols.com.
BWF (before we forget): The Dandys recently shot a scene for the Walt Disney Pictures film “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen,” in which they perform the “Welcome to the Monkey House” track “The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone.” The movie, which stars Lindsay Lohan (“Freaky Friday,” “The Parent Trap”), is set for a spring 2004 release.
The Dandy Warhols album discography – “Dandys Rule OK” (Tim-Kerr/Capitol, 1995); “The Dandy Warhols … Come Down” (Capitol, 1997); “Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia” (2000); “Welcome to the Monkey House” (2003).
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc