Zia McCabe – The Dandy Warhols
By Claire Antagonym
You gotta love a girl who plays multiple instruments and, during a conversation about censorship, says fuck no less than five times.
The Dandy Warhols are soon tour to Aus on the back of their latest release Distortland. I caught up with the band’s fiery keyboardist Zia McCabe for a cathartic rant on freedom of speech, public nudity and hillbilly music.
The Dandy Warhols were famously quoted saying the band formed because they wanted music to drink to. If that’s the case they must feel quite at home in Australia.
“That is one of the answers about why we got together. We weren’t really enjoying the post-grunge angst. We wanted something that could work in a more vibey, loungier setting.”
That’s where the fusion of psychedelic rock with Britpop elements comes into it. There is something essentially uplifting about the noise made by the Dandies; it’s not as doomy as other stuff that started around the same time, and “none of us hate our parents.”
Music production has developed at an unprecedented rate. There’s so many things that you can do now and the technology is much more accessible. So people are going to town using things like Auto-Tune to digitally manipulate their work. I wanted to hear Zia’s perspective as a bass player, percussionist, keyboardist and DJ about the tension between digital and analog technology.
“I think the digital stuff is amazing. I think there are a lot of people qualified to use it and do really cool stuff with it, and I like working with them. Personally, I don’t want anything to do with the digital stuff. I’m an analog girl. I like knobs and faders, I like being able to see what I’m doing.”
My friend’s band use a Moog synth from the 70s, and there’s something so lovely about the quality of the sound that you can draw out of something like that.
“It’s beautiful. The sounds I get on my digital Moog are a sad, sad, second place to what I could get on the vintage ones. But the old Moogs break all the time, they’re unreliable on the road. So I figure second best digital sounds are better than the best sounds if there’s no sound.”
It’s like having a gorgeous vintage car. It’s a beautiful thing to have and drive around in, but it’s a bitch when it breaks down.
“Old cars break your heart, gear breaks your heart. Old houses break your heart.”
It’s the equivalent of having a sexy Mustang from the 70s.
“Totally, and I’ve had an old Cadillac, I own an old home, I love old stuff. But man is it a bitch to keep maintained.”
Portland has been a creative hub for musicians, artists and photographers for some time now. It’s where the Suicide Girls movement started and the burlesque revival got momentum. It was a setting that was formative in shaping the garage rock side to The Dandy Warhols music.
“The way that you see Portland now isn’t the way that we saw it when we formed the band. It was an overlooked city as far as cultural relevance goes globally. To us it was special, but we felt like we’d gone largely unnoticed. But we’re all from there, and it absolutely shaped our sound and our attitude towards music and art. Now we’re just trying to keep that, even though it has grown and changed so much around us. Hence the name of the album; Distortland, is Portland, distorted.”
If Portland’s trajectory has been characterised by distortion and cultural neglect, there is a period in history in art and music that Zia will continually return to.
“The 60s and 70s. I grew up listening to 70s rock ‘n roll…”
Me too. Zeppelin. Sabbath.
“…and reading 60s and 70s science fiction, most of my vintage wardrobe is from that era. Of course I go back into the 50s and 40s, but I the 60s and 70s is where most of my cultural references come from.”
Zia’s other project is Brush Prairie, which genre wise wades the swamp-like waters of alternative country. There are some unique bands playing around with this genre, in bluesy ways, in folky ways, in hobo ways (hobo folk). Bands are starting to experiment with the form and produce a kind of country music not as it has been known (and judged) forever, but that is potent, raw, and uplifting.
“I grew up in a log cabin, I was born in Brush Prairie, the albums that I was raised on ranged from Willie Nelson to Pink Floyd. So it really makes sense that I would have a psychedelic rock ‘n roll band and a psychedelic honky tonk band. Covers all bases.”
I seem to really resonate with hillbilly stuff. In all its forms.
“Yeah, I love it. I love it.”
The idea of being an urban bohemian is part of the name of the Dandies previous albums and is the moniker behind one of their most played tracks. It makes me wonder whether there is something essential about living in a bohemian way that doesn’t change, even as culture and fashion change over time.
“I was raised I guess as a rural bohemian, so switching to an urban bohemian wasn’t such a big thing for me. But the difference that I see is the access to bohemian fashion. You can buy the look. You can play the part of the urban bohemian, but all the components that you could buy are in a mall now. There’s this sort of imitation bohemian thing that you can be, which I think is funny because I can’t even help it, even if I tried to have a different lifestyle it’s still bohemian, for real.”
The Dandy Warhols are known for their lairy and fabulously wild onstage antics. In the week I was preparing for this interview I was informed by Facebook that they are going to delete my account because my name is the name I write under; they’re saying it’s a fake name and I have to provide them with all sorts of scary ID because “we want to be sure it’s really YOU.” So I’ve been thinking a lot about censorship and freedom of expression this week.
“I haven’t really experienced censorship onstage, I’ve always said what I wanted or wore what I wanted. Or not wore what I wanted. Facebook is where I have experienced more censorship than anywhere else in my life. They’ve punished me for nudity, the free the nipple thing, there’s somebody on there who flags me every possible chance they can to have me kicked off, I don’t know who it is…”
That’s what happened to me. I was reported anonymously.
“That’s what happens, you have frenemies that have befriended you that you think is a fan or a friend, and then any time they see anything they get pissed off and they flag you. It got so bad that they said if they ever take me down again it would be permanent. Our lives are now dependent on social media outlets like Facebook. Then it turns out more restrictive and controlling. For what benefit I don’t know. What’s the fucking problem. Who gives a shit what name you have on Facebook? Who gives a shit how many friends I have on Facebook? Because I’m at the 5000 friend limit. Who gives a shit if there’s a nipple on my page? What the fuck do you care. And stifling what posts go out. Not letting me advertise a show if there are too many letters on my flyer. Fuck off Facebook. In terms of censorship it makes me so frustrated.”
I feel like some of the things they censor, things like menstruation which is just, it happens, get over it, the stuff that is actually allowed to exist there can be really hateful.
“Extreme violence. Extreme violence and hate.”
And extreme misogyny, extreme racism. Women have had to write under pseudonyms for hundreds of years, forever. It should be a right, to write under your writing name.
“And what if your pseudonym is protecting you? What the fuck is it up to Facebook for. I have friends that can’t put their names up there because Facebook says it’s not a real name. My friend Shining Mountain Adams, that’s his name, and they say that’s not your name. My friend California Walsh, that’s her real name and they won’t let her put it on there. I’ve had to send copies of my ID with my address blocked off to prove to Facebook who I was. What the fuck.”
They won’t acknowledge a lot of Native American names…
“I’m sure there’s plenty of African American names that they won’t acknowledge either. Or Chinese names. The Facebook thing is weird, especially the more we depend on it as we go on with our lives. Every extra thing that you got to sign in to get into it wants you to sign in through Facebook. You are slowly being strapped down, one click of Agree at a time.”
Yeah. I do feel better though, having got that rant off my chest.
The Dandy Warhols are touring Australia October and November through Metropolis Touring.
Tickets from: http://www.metropolistouring.com/thedandywarhols
Zia’s DJ sets:
4 November – The Bank Hotel, Newtown, NSW
5 November – The Vineyard, St Kilda, VIC
6 November – The Vineyard, St Kilda, VIC
10 November – Playground Sounds & Soda Factory, Surry Hills, NSW
11 November – The Record Crate, Glebe NSW
12 November – The Oxford Circus, Darlinghurst, NSW
13 November – The Oxford Circus, Darlinghurst NSW
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