The last time we talked to Portland’s Zia McCabe, the synth/bass/percussion player for the Dandy Warhols, we barely talked about music. That was because as the band turns 25 years old, in the last few of them, McCabe has pivoted to a new career in real estate.
But while she loves her new job, McCabe is still rocking, and the Dandy’s are now touring in support of their new album, "You So Crazy." On May 11, the band comes to the Metro in Chicago, which is as close as they’ll get to Milwaukee this time around.
We caught up with McCabe to talk about hitting the road after their European tour, their new record, and of course, striking a balance between her day job and rock and roll.
OnMilwaukee: After your European tour, you’re back on the road in the States. This isn’t a huge tour, right?
Zia McCabe: Just a little trip around the U.S. We’re certainly not hitting everywhere that we'd like to but we're getting to dip into the market. I think it’ll be a fun route.
Your Chicago stop is May 11, so that's as close as you get to Milwaukee.
Oh, yeah, we played at that neat old building, huh?
Yes, Turner Hall in 2014. Even then, you had a ton of material, but now you have even more. How do you squeeze 25 years into one show?
It's impossible. You just can't. Every show there's going to be somebody that says there's a song that we really should have played, and they're not wrong. We've been doing 90-minute sets for years now. And I'd say that we're getting much closer to two hours just because it's so hard to say no to the songs.
That's a pretty long show for you guys, right?
Yeah, but it didn't really feel like it on this last tour. It went by pretty fast. We try to touch on each album and get in a lot of these favorites. I would say, "the hits," but I think what we have are a lot of "favorites." They're not really hits, but they've definitely become hits.
I always tell people the Dandy's are a band that you have to see live. Would you agree?
Completely. I think our albums, there is plenty to be proud of. People obviously listen to them and love them and buy them, but you are definitely not getting the whole story if you only know us from our recorded catalog. There is so much about just the presence and essence of the four of us doing those songs together.
Songs like "Be-In" need to be heard live. You really draw them out in a very hypnotic way at shows.
Some of them we draw out, but there's also just the essence of the song. It isn't all these extra layers. It isn't any mixing tricks. It's working on a song for days, working on a part for days, working on a sound for days. Especially now that it's been 25 years. I think there's something about just seeing people work together in such a natural, smooth, intuitive way.
We have really good intuition with our music, with each other, and I think that's a live thing that you can't get as well on the recorded piece.
I was listening to "Why You So Crazy," and it really felt like a Dandy's album. When I first head "Be Alright," I knew it would be a Dandy Warhol’s classic.
That's us, right? That is 100 percent a Dandy Warhol sound. I was surprised because I am sure at one point when making this album, I didn't know "Be Alright" was the one that was going to sound the most essential. It's not like we get out our things to sound like us. We just make music that trips us out, that makes us feel good. Obviously there is a type of sound and vibe that for sure makes us feel good, and we're happy to recreate it. Because when you get the record back mastered and listen to it a few times, we say, "Oh, that's the one that is the most truly an essential Dandy's sound."
Sometimes it happens on the record in a way like that, and sometimes it's not until it's live and we've been touring with it that it becomes totally us. But "Be Alright" is both.
I also saw the VR video for "Be Alright," which was unlike anything I've ever seen before. It felt like I was entering the life of the Dandy Warhols at your studio space.
Yeah, that was the point.
Is that what it feels like to be in the Odditorium?
Sometimes. I don't feel like that when I am in the Odditorium sober and going to work. But I've definitely been to parties where it felt a lot like that video.
You sing lead on "The High Life," which is not a regular thing for you, right?
No. Well, it is in my country band, Brush Prairie. And that's where that song comes from. And if you don't know them, you should. Brush Prairie is meant for just playing honky-tonk on the weekend. It's not about like making a record and getting on a label; I didn't want to do any of that with Brush Prairie. I call it my retirement plan for music. Not because it's going to make me money, but a retirement plan in the effect that music will always be part of my life.
I always assumed that maybe you weren't comfortable singing lead vocals, but maybe I'm totally wrong.
I think that's a good way to put it; no, I'm not comfortable. I think it's the scariest thing. It terrifies me – it's the only thing that gives me stage freight. I'm not an amazing singer, you know? I've got a unique voice but I certainly don't know how to harness it into its full potential. But I do love singing. One of the things with the Dandy’s, though, is Brent is Courtney's cousin. He went to college on scholarship for vocals. Those guys have the vocals so locked down that there isn't really any room or need for me as a vocalist in this band, besides some vocal percussion and some texture.
I'm super proud that it's on the record. It's rare that we do it live. It checked one of the boxes for me off my career in this band, absolutely.
How's the real estate thing going?
It’s going so well. I have tons of clients, and they're happy ones. And I'm good at it. It dovetails really nicely with the music. Sometimes, it's like too much and I don't even know how I'm going to pull everything off, of course. But for the most part, I have people I can count on if I'm not going to be in town, and I like getting homes for people. And the creative problem-solving that comes with it. And it's a pretty thrilling career.
Are you still DJ-ing also?
I am, yes. I've been pretty full with the booking. I should have a bunch of my after parties booked for the Dandy's tour. But it's been an epic fail. I've spent no time with it. But really I'm just not organized well enough, and I need them to stay on it. And they've got other things to do than chase my ass around for one gig.
So, it sounds like you're in maximum busy mode right now?
Yeah, I mean, I think the real goal for me is how not to be in maximum busy mode.
But are you excited to be hitting the road again?
Life is so much easier on the road. I think there's times where part of me thinks about my life being simpler without all of the moving parts of the business of the band. The accounting and the merchandise and the after parties and the rehearsals and the shows and the promoting and the press ... It's not like it's one job. Just all of the things of the Dandy Warhols is like 12 jobs.
I have to admit there's fantasies of (no longer doing) that and looking back on it fondly. And then we get on stage and I love it so much. I am almost brought to tears at the end of every show. And I'm like, I can't give this up. Every bit of work is worth this. The stress is worth it. The traveling and the sore body is worth it. So I'm not done yet.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.