Dean & Britta

<img src="" alt=" " />QRO got a chance to talk to two of the most beautiful people in indie-rock, Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips. ...

Dean & Britta : Q&AQRO got a chance to talk to two of the most beautiful people in indie-rock, Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips.  In the conversation, Phillips & Wareham talked about their recently released 13 Most Beautiful… DVD, where they set music to thirteen silent short films made by Andy Warhol, playing 13 Most Beautiful… live, playing music from their old band, Luna, and especially Wareham’s even older act, Galaxie 500, founding their own label, Wareham’s autobiography, Black Postcards (QRO review), where they are on a ‘regular’ follow-up to 2007’s Back Numbers (QRO review), why they’ve done so much ‘un-regular’ work, the hidden sexism of ampersanded musical couples, and much more…

QRO: How did your work on 13 Most Beautiful… DVD come about?

Britta Phillips: Ben Harrison at the Warhol Museum, he’s the performance curator.  He’s a fan, so when the project came to him, he thought of us, and called Dean.  Flew us to Pittsburgh to look at hundreds of screen tests.

QRO: Did you feel any trepidation, taking on not just Andy Warhol, but also the thirteen ‘most beautiful’ people?

Dean Wareham: I think there was definitely some trepidation taking on Andy Warhol, collaborating with Andy Warhol, for sure.

BP: Andy Warhol, for sure.  I never thought about the ‘thirteen most beautiful’ people…

DW: He would just use that title.  He would show these in various configurations – one week, it might be ‘thirteen most beautiful boys’, or ‘thirteen most beautiful women’.

It’s been suggested that it grew out of a mural he did for the [New York] World’s Fair called ‘Thirteen Most Wanted Men’.  I guess that was in ’63 or ’64.  He did this mural of the FBI’s most wanted men, and [Governor] Nelson Rockefeller was extremely angered by this, and ordered it be removed.  Ended up painting over it. I was nervous about working with Andy Warhol.  Just ‘cause difference audience for us.  Art critics instead of music…

QRO: How have the 13 Most Beautiful… performances been so far?

DW: They’re different.  Well, one thing is, they’re generally seated.

BP: They’re quieter.

DW: When people are sitting down, they’re quiet.

I was nervous about working with Andy Warhol. Just ‘cause difference audience for us. Art critics instead of music…

And a lot of them are in museums – older crowd.  Half the people are there for us, and half them are there for Andy Warhol, I think.

QRO: Can you tell the difference?

DW: There’s definitely an older crowd than we generally see.

BP: If they’re really old, we figure they’ve probably got membership to the museum.

DW: We played in San Francisco, and a friend of mine was sitting next to some older gentleman.  Before we even took the stage, we had pre-show music on, and he was grumbling, “Do you think Andy Warhol would have liked this?!?”

BP: Who knows…

DW: I think Andy Warhol just really liked music.

BP: But for us, it’s been really cool, because we’ve been getting to play in different kind of venues – much cleaner…

DW: It’s a little tense, the show.  It’s not one long film – it’s thirteen short films, with songs.  And people aren’t sure whether they should clap after each one or not…

QRO: Should they clap?

DW: Oh, yeah, I think they should clap after each one.

BP: They do now.  I think it was just the first one that we did, people weren’t sure if they were supposed to, and there was some strange smattering.  But now I think people do pretty much applaud after each one, if they like it.

Dean & Britta playing “Herringbone Tweed (for Dennis Hopper)”, one of the 13 Most Beautiful songs live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on June 6th, 2009:

QRO: How did the upcoming Celebrate Brooklyn! (QRO Festival Guide) event come about [on August 1st – QRO concert listing]?

DW: I was talking to the booker there about doing the show somewhere else – books 92YTribeca (QRO venue review) – and I said, “Have you ever done anything with film at Celebrate Brooklyn!?”  And he said they had.

The last show we did in New York was very expensive, and in a very fancy room.  This one’s free, and outside in [Prospect] Park (QRO venue review).  It’s going to be the opposite.  I’m glad we could do a free show.  The last one, the tickets were expensive.

QRO: What is the plan for the upcoming (le) Poisson Rouge (QRO venue review) show on June 6th (QRO concert listing)?

DW: We’re going to do a bunch of Galaxie 500 songs…

BP: We have a new drummer.

QRO: What brought about doing the Galaxie 500 songs?

DW: We did it last summer.  We did it at the Zipper Factory.  We did a whole show of it, and it was kinda fun.

BP: It was fun.  Fun to play.

DW: Easy…

BP: And we’re doing some Dean & Britta songs.  And we’re actually playing a couple songs from the Andy Warhol show as well.  Good mix…

QRO: You also founded your own label, Double Feature, last year.  Was that just to re-release L’Avventura?

DW: It was.

BP: That was the reason.  And then, once we did that, there was some bands that we liked that had no deal, so we thought we should release them.

DW: And now we’re record business moguls… [laughs]

People tend to e-mail me, “Can you sign my band?”  Put it out yourself!

BP: Nobody’s buying CDs anymore! [laughs]

QRO: Dean, your autobiography Black Postcards just came out in paperback.  What reactions have you heard from people you mention in the book?

DW: Well, there are some people who are angry at me.

Mostly, it’s been people who – if you just write one sentence about someone, it’s easy to take offense, “What?  That’s all you have to say about me?!?  You should have said that I did this, and I sing in that, and I…”

BP: Usually boring things, though… [laughs]

I wanted to write about how being in a band is about conflict. It’s an essential part of it. To write honestly about that, you’ve got to go into it.

DW: I mean, everybody has their ideas about…  I mean, our ex-manager said, “You should have said more nice things about Justin [Harwood, of Luna], and what a great songwriting relationship you had.”  The way I look at it, I was writing a comedy.  A sad comedy.

You have to keep the story moving forward.  And it’s not about pleasing everyone that you know.  Otherwise, that makes for kind of a boring book.

But also because I wanted to write about how being in a band is about conflict. It’s an essential part of it. To write honestly about that, you’ve got to go into it.

BP: The book readings go well.

QRO: What are your ‘book readings’ like – do you ever worry that people just want to hear music, or already know the book, or what?

DW: I do play a couple of songs on the acoustic guitar.  I don’t know what they want…

BP: I read somewhere that you’re going to do some reading at one of these shows coming up.

DW: I suppose I could whip out the book and read for about five minutes in middle of the set.  Or maybe as an encore…

BP: Really?  That would be interesting…

DW: As an encore?

BP: Maybe before the encore.

When you get off the treadmill of being in a band, it’s like what they said in Spinal Tap – there’s time for all those projects that you never had time for.

QRO: Mark Oliver Everett of The Eels put out an autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, and at a show (QRO review), he had someone else in the band do the readings…

DW: That’s funny…

BP: Oh – can I read?…

QRO: Is there anything that you left out of the book, which you’re now kicking yourself about forgetting to include?

DW: Well, there were things I left out that people requested to leave them out, that I wish I had put in.  It’s tricky, writing about people who are alive.

QRO: What’s it like, just having an autobiography out, and people knowing all this stuff about you – that you told them?  People you don’t know…

BP: He hates it! [laughs]

DW: It is weird.  I think it didn’t really occur to me until the book got sent off for the last time.  Or maybe when the galleries came out, and I read them.  ‘Oh, okay this is going to happen, this is going to go out into the world – and people are going to read it…’  And, before then, I had barely shown them to anyone.

BP: I’m exaggerating, but I think there’s a lot of discomfort – Dean’s a private person…

DW: Obviously not… [laughs]

QRO: What about for you, Britta?  You’re a big part of it, but you didn’t write it…

DW: You were horrified at times…

BP: When I read it – reading it was… a lot of things.  I really liked the book.

But it’s always really hard to read about ‘your lover’s past’… [laughs]

DW: It’s hard for anyone to read about themselves.

BP: I’m actually glad that I’m not in it any more.  Just enough.

QRO: Was it intentional to end the book at Luna’s last show?

DW: After that, we really didn’t play again for a couple of years.  I think that was a natural point to end it.

Dean & Britta playing Luna’s “Bewitched” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on June 6th, 2009:

QRO: Why have you both done so much that isn’t ‘regular’ recorded albums: composing 13 Most Beautiful…, scoring The Squid and the Whale, writing Black Postcards, starting up Double Feature, etc.?

DW: Well, there’s time now, I suppose… When you get off the treadmill of being in a band, it’s like what they said in Spinal Tap – there’s time for all those projects that you never had time for.

Part of it is that you need to do more than one thing to make a living.

BP: In the last couple of years, especially, for a lot of bands – people aren’t buying CDs.  Sales are down.  Got to do other things.

QRO: Is it tough, keeping a foot in so many different artistic worlds?

DW: It is.  It’s a challenge for the amount of time.  We run the label ourselves…

BP: Lot of multi-tasking… [laughs]

BW: We do everything all ourselves.  Perhaps too much…

BP: The most difficult thing is having to spend so much time lately, answering e-mail, rather than playing or writing music.

QRO: How did making 13 Most Beautiful… compare with making Back Numbers?

BP: I don’t remember… [laughs]

DW: This was more difficult, I think.

BP: It was definitely more difficult.  It has to fit – you have these ideas, but then you have to see what happens when you pair it with the screen tests.

DW: And it has to be formatted to fifteen seconds.

BP: And we question ourselves ten times more often, ‘cause it’s this Warhol project.

DW: ‘Does this make sense with the picture?’  Because it’s not all about you – it’s about the picture.

Initially, the challenge was to do the show live, before we recorded it.  It was a live show before it was a recording.

‘Does this make sense with the picture?’ Because it’s not all about you – it’s about the picture.

QRO: Have you ever heard of Noah & The Whale (QRO album review), the band inspired by The Squid & The Whale?

DW: I have heard of them.

BP: I think I sent you the YouTube video.  I know I sent [The Squid & The Whale director] Noah Baumbach the YouTube video, and he said that he’d felt that they’d conflated him with Wes Anderson.

QRO: Where are you on any ‘regular’ album follow-up to Back Numbers?

DW: We’re discussing that right now, what we’re going to do.  We’ve got all the music on the DVD, and some of those tracks, we’re remixing.

BP: We’re trying to figure out if we should release just those songs, on their own, or just take, say, half of them, and combine them with new stuff, under a completely different name.

DW: We hope to get something out in the first quarter of 2010.

QRO: So you have new ‘regular’ songs?

BP: ‘Half-songs’ – We have ‘half-songs’…

QRO: Do you play any of them live?

DW: We haven’t been playing that much.  We’ve just been doing this Warhol thing – it’s kind of taken over our lives.  We probably thought it would be over & done by now, but it’s going to continue well into 2010, because requests for us to do the show keep coming in.

BP: We’re going to move to Brooklyn and have our own rehearsal room were we live.  And then every day…  That’s the plan. [laughs]

QRO: In bands where they’re a musical couple, and their band name is their names, why is the guy’s first name always the first one?

BP: There’s Damon & Naomi…

The original artist name was ‘Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham’, but that was just too many syllables, so we decided to go with our names.  ‘Dean & Britta’, ‘Britta & Dean’ – ‘Dean & Britta’, it’s just easier to say.

DW: Rolls off the tongue better.  ‘BritTA AND’ – it’s no good.

QRO: You’ve got the two a’s…

BP: What are the other names?

QRO: Sonny & Cher, Matt & Kim (QRO spotlight on), Captain & Tennille…

BP: Those just sound better.  Or maybe I’m just used to hearing it that way…

QRO: Dean, do you ever find it ironic that you’re in ‘Dean & Britta’, and the two people you were in Galaxie 500 with [Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang] are now ‘Damon & Naomi’?

DW: I don’t know if it’s ironic, but it’s weird.

BP: And we made it happen… [laughs]

QRO: What songs do you particularly like playing live?

DW: “Knives From Bavaria”

BP: “Bonnie & Clyde”

I like playing all the Galaxie stuff…

DW: It’s fun to go back and play songs you haven’t played in about fifteen years.

BP: And they rock out a bit more.  It’s fun to rock out a bit more live.

Dean & Britta playing Galaxie 500’s “Temperature’s Rising” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on June 6th, 2009:

QRO: Is it difficult, having such a long backlog of songs – people always wanting you to play this song or that song, this Luna song, this Galaxie song, etc.?

BP: It would be difficult if we took requests… [laughs] Sometimes, we’ll play them, if we know them.

QRO: Or people shouting them out.

BP: I don’t mind people shouting.  We’ll play them if we know them, but there’s so many…

DW: The band doesn’t know half of them, anyway.

BP: I probably only know half of them – if that…

QRO: Are there any that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, or just don’t like to?  I guess there’s the ones you don’t know…

DW: Normally, when you finish an album, then you come to play it live, there’s always tracks on the album that are just difficult to play.  You pick some songs that you aren’t going to play, as a band.

BP: We haven’t played “The Sun Is Still Sunny”, because we weren’t liking the way that was.  But we probably just didn’t figure out how to do it live.  If we spent some time, we could.

DW: We did it live…

BP: Yeah, but how come we decided not to do it with the drums?  We didn’t like it…

We need a string section.

DW: That would help…

QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing?

DW: I like Chicago, San Francisco, Barcelona, New York…  That’s all.

BP: I like Paris.

DW: I don’t know – Paris is not really a great place to play, in my experience.  I like the city, but we’ve never really had good shows there.

BP: The last one was good.

DW: That was okay.

QRO: Is it weird whenever you’ve played Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review), like at CMJ ’07 (QRO recap), since that was the site of the final Luna shows?

DW: We went back a year later [after Luna broke up] to do a show.  It was a benefit for this guy, Frank Bango, who was in treatment for cancer.  He was the head bartender at Bowery Ballroom.

We participated in this benefit, and Sean [Eden, of Luna] was there.  He joined with us on stage for “23 Minutes In Brussels”.  That was weird.

BP: It was weird, and kinda cool.

DW: It was the last Luna song we did, too.  On that stage.

There weren’t many Luna fans there, anyway.  There were a lot of Nada Surf (QRO album review) fans.  I don’t think anyone was particularly noticing us…

QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?

DW: Well, mine are all in the book.

QRO: What about since then – what about in the Dean & Britta days?

BP: I don’t think any of them are that interesting… [laughs]

Dean & Britta covering Joy Division’s “Ceremony” live at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York, NY on June 6th, 2009:

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