How Buying a Party Palace Helped the Dandy Warhols Survive

Without their 10,000-square-foot Odditorium in Northwest Portland, would the band have become elder statesmen of this city’s music scene?

By Aaron Scott May 19, 2016 Published in the June 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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From left: Keyboardist Zia McCabe, drummer Brent DeBoer, lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor, and guitarist Peter Holmström 

"We had a little rager with Wolfmother last night,” says Dandy Warhols bandleader Courtney Taylor-Taylor, as he clears empty wine glasses from the large dining table. His bandmate Zia McCabe suns on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette in the unseasonably hot March sun as a symphony of construction fills the air. The Odditorium, the band’s longtime studio/party palace, sits in the thick of one of Northwest Portland’s building boomlets.

The day before the band heads out to tour behind Distortland, its first album in four years, Taylor-Taylor is moving slowly. “It was a nice dinner with lots of wine. It’s what I love to do.” Naturally. Raging made “the Dandys” legendary in the first place. Their tumultuous first decade of brash, artsy power-indie-pop culminated in Dig, a 2004 documentary that portrayed the band as poster children for rock decadence. The Odditorium has long served as a tour stopover for the likes of David Bowie and Tommy Lee, the Mötley Crüe drummer and noted party Olympian.

But the Dandys’ ambition has always burned as bright as their debauchery, sometimes (OK, often) to the disdain of ambition-loathing Portlanders. After 22 years of tireless recording and touring, the band has ascended to unlikely elder-statesman status within Portland’s music scene—a “heritage band,” as McCabe puts it. A staple of their success: the forward-thinking 2002 purchase of the 10,000-square-foot Odditorium with $635,000 harvested from the success of their album Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia. Today, the property is worth, according to one online source, $1.1 million.

“I felt that if I didn’t spend it on something massive, it was going to get stolen by who knows who: the people in ‘the biz,’” says Taylor-Taylor. “I said, ‘You guys, I’m going to buy our freedom.’” Freedom meant many things. The band can record at their own pace, in their own studio. They can be their contrarian Dandy selves—for example, loading Distortland onto the jukebox at the West Burnside dive Tony’s Tavern two weeks before its release because they wanted to host a listening party. Most especially, the joys of ownership include protection against the rising rents.

“It provides us an anchor,” says Taylor-Taylor. “There’s a good chance we might’ve just blown [the band] off had we not had a clubhouse.”

Now that clubhouse seems one of the last vestiges of the gritty city that birthed the band. Places like X-Ray Café and Satyricon, where the group played 30-minute songs in negligees, shuttered long ago. Even their regular bar Slabtown closed in 2014.

“You can’t just make an art space for a year and fail and leave anymore,” says Taylor-Taylor of today’s higher brow scene. “You’ve got to have pancetta on your burger and serve a $17 bottle of beer.” 

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