- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Some bands try to bury their influences. The Dandy Warhols put one of their biggest inspirations in their name.

But instead of making avant-garde art and esoteric films, the band has gained fans by doing something Mr. Warhol knew a lot about: following their own impulses. The group doesn’t dominate the rock charts, but it has gained the respect of many music fans and critics by doing its own thing. For the first time in three years, the band is touring the country and will make a stop at the 9:30 Club tomorrow.

The Warhols’ last record, 2000’s “13 Tales From Urban Bohemia,” managed to propel them from cult status into the big time, especially in Europe, where one of the tunes was used in a cell phone commercial.

Thankfully for the band, they had already gone into the studio to record the followup, which meant that commercial pressures had little weight on their songwriting.

“The studio is like its own little world,” muses lead guitarist Peter Loew, calling from San Francisco on the week of the record’s release. “You lose track of things.”

On the band’s new album, “Welcome to the Monkey House” they put synthesizers front-and-center over guitars and get a helping hand from Nick Rhodes, of Duran Duran fame, in the studio.

In addition to Mr. Loew, the band features Brent DeBoer on drums, Zia McCabe on keyboards and Courtney Taylor-Taylor on lead vocals, keyboards and guitar. Mr. Taylor-Taylor continues to be able to switch between whiny croon and breathy tones, making him one of the more unusual frontmen in rock today.

The result still sounds like the Dandy Warhols, even as it tweaks the group’s formula by bringing songs straight to the dance hall.

“We approached this record with the goal of having bass lines that actually did something,” says Mr. Loew. “We wanted the drums to be really really tight.”

That’s quite apparent on the first single, “We Used to Be Friends,” which starts with a jarring, electronic riff that repeats throughout the song and announces the start of the catchy chorus “C’mon now sugar/bring it on” before segueing into the repeated refrain “A long time ago/we used to be friends.”

“It was definitely a bandwide effort, drawn out over a year,” says Mr. Loew.

One of the best examples of the new sound is “You Come in Burned,” which began life as a simple acoustic tune, Mr. Loew says. In its current incarnation, a meandering guitar melody seems to float in from outer space, until a heavy bass line kicks in and Mr. Taylor-Taylor begins to sing menacingly over the beat, until his voice turns into a pleading haunt.

The acoustic approach had already been explored to death, Mr. Loew says.

“We’d done that already and we wanted to try something else,” he says. “We can’t do the same thing. We’re trying to do new things.”

The album’s cover essentially explains the musical approach of mashing styles together. It shows a banana peel being split down the middle with a zipper, a melding of the covers from the Velvet Underground’s debut record and the Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers.”

After the U.S. tour, the band will head to Europe to support David Bowie, with whom the band has played before, on the Meltdown Festival.

Like the artist they’re named for, the Warhols have also set up their own version of Mr. Warhol’s infamous Factory. The Odditorium, set up in Portland, Ore., is an all-purpose arts warehouse that the band hopes to use one day as its own recording studio. Everything would happen there, from recording to video shoots and graphic design.

“We’d really like to make a record without any outside help,” Mr. Loew says.

On its current tour, fans can expect to see a lot more than just the band playing through the album. Because they did not want to bring studio effects on tour with them, many of the songs will sound different live, Mr. Loew says. What’s more, no one will open for them, giving the band the whole night — usually about three hours — to play. Having a longer set time was something the band has always wanted to do, and it turns out to be surprisingly easy, he says.

“Playing an hour and a half is never enough,” Mr. Loew says. “We’re looking forward to it.”

• • •

Speaking of bands with influences, Kings of Leon is the kind of group that makes people wonder whether an entire genre of music is on its way back. That’s because the band manages to inject life into “Southern rock,” that blend of country, folk and hard rock music that Lynrd Skynrd best exemplified.

The band’s back story is almost mythical — the three brothers who formed the band grew up with an evangelist father who trekked through the South spreading the Gospel. They first got a taste of rock on the radio during car trips with dad, and have spent the past few years perfecting their sound for their debut, “Youth and Young Manhood,” released in July.

They play the 9:30 Club tonight, giving music fans a chance to see whether Southern rock is indeed back, or whether the Kings are just a flash in the pan.



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