Last July I interviewed Brody Dalle for AU magazine. Ever since I heard the Distillers’ ‘Sing Sing Death House’ (one of my favourite punk rock albums of all time) she’s been on my interview “to do” list and I was happy to finally get some talk time with her this year. I’d met Brody a few weeks previously backstage at the Hot Press signing tent at Oxegen and said hello, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from her when she had her game face on. Reassuringly, she was very sweet and charming and below is a reprint of one of my favourite interviews of ’09.
Over the last decade former Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle has been demonized by the press and seen countless band members leave her in the lurch. Undeterred she’s continued making great music for her devoted fans and has come back stronger than ever with her new outfit Spinnerette. In a rare interview, Brody bares all to Edwin McFee and tells us how 50year old men can be punk, why pissing in the wind is the coolest thing a girl can do and insists that nice and tight beats sloppy and sexy any day of the week.
“Punk rock can be pretty safe these days,” begins Spinnerette uber vixen Brody Dalle. “If you’ve got little grannys saying how nice your tattoos are in the fuckin’ grocery store there’s something wrong.”
This, in part, explains why the singer has left behind her trademark brand of buzzsaw punk and come back into the limelight with her slinky, sexy new project Spinnerette. Gone are the choppy power chords and Discharge inspired riffs and in its place are hand claps, electronic pulses, yelps and a guitar sound that owes a little bit to Queens of the Stone Age. But then, Josh Homme is her husband after-all and anyone who won’t accept that the pair will influence each other’s music is as deluded as a tent full of Sammy Wilson clones.
“The change in sound has been a long time coming,” coos the 30year old. “It doesn’t mean I’ll never play punk rock again, it just means this is what I’m doing now. I don’t want to censor myself or not play a certain song because it doesn’t fit into a certain genre or style. I kinda wanna go into other territories and push some walls down.”
And Brody is doing exactly that. While she still sounds like she gargles glass like mouthwash, everything else around her has softened and she says she owes it all to former QOTSA member Alain Johannes. Alain, who is one of the few constants in Spinnerette’s rotating cast of band members, has apparently helped Brody refine her rougher edges.
“Spinnerette is both of our music juices mixed together in a cocktail, I guess,” she laughs. “I wrote a lot of these songs when I was in the Distillers but they just didn’t seem to work. We would try and play them but they sounded so strange and I think it needed Alain’s finesse to make it a little more sophisticated. The way that Al plays, all the guitar work that you hear (coz I just play power chords-I can play a fuckin’ Ramones song in my sleep but I can’t do crazy leads and shit like that) is so innovative and he’s such an incredible player that brings a sophistication to the record that wasn’t there before. If you heard the original demos you’d see instantly how much of a difference he’s made because they were just really stripped down, slower, kind’ve groovier Distillers songs.”
Despite the change in sound suggesting it’s anything but, Brody believes this new approach is more “punk rock” than anything she’s done before.
“I never thought about what style it is or maybe we shouldn’t do this-it never ever was a concern. It just happened the way it did and it was really exciting. To me sometimes it sounds more punk in a sense than anything the Distillers did because it’s a little bit boundary-less and that’s the way it should be. Here’s an example. We’ve got this 50year old guy who comes to every London show we do and it’s so cute. He’s 50 years old and he’s bopping his head in the front row (it’s not a bad thing). He’s like the punkest person in the crowd because he’s so out of place. I love him. He doesn’t fit in and he doesn’t care and that’s the way Spinnerette is.”
Back in March ’07, Brody announced that yes, the rumours were true. Her old band-mates in the Distillers had indeed gone their separate ways after three albums. The previous few years were a tough time for the Australian. She’d under-gone a very public split from her husband Tim Armstrong from Rancid, she then hooked up with Homme and literally hung up her Mohawk for good in favour of a more feminine, (arguably) fashion-conscious look as her band became unwitting indie pin-ups despite sounding as far removed from your average shoe-gazing act as you can get. She lost some old fans, gained a whole bunch of new ones and it seemed like the press were willing her to become this generation’s Courtney Love. Thankfully Dalle was stronger than that and instead of courting the attention, she left the limelight to start a family and to get over the break-up of yet another group. Now with her daughter (Camille Harley Joan Homme) 3 years old, she feels comfortable within herself and sees releasing the new Spinnerette album as a sort of exorcism.
“It’s such a relief to have the album out there,” she confesses. “We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now and it’s not healthy for an artist to live with a record for that long. You just end up constantly tinkering with it and changing things. I think the original imprint is so beautiful you shouldn’t keep distorting that. But it’s such a relief for it to come out. At the start we had to find someone to put my records out and find management and that took a full year on its own. Honestly, it took so long, it was a drag, but now that’s in place it’ll be like old times-we made the record and it’ll come out three months later.”
In fact Brody exclusively reveals that she always laid the groundwork for the follow up to Spinnerette’s self titled debut.
“We actually start recording in September. We’ve tons of material all good to go and songs left over from the first album that we didn’t put on because we didn’t have the room. No-one wants to hear a fuckin’ double album of music, right? So, yeah, we’ve lots of stuff to work with. I’m ready to make another record now too. It won’t be too long before you hear new stuff because we’re really back in action.”
If Brody sounds comfortable and at home with herself, well that’s because she certainly seems to be. It looks like motherhood has genuinely changed both her and her music (one of her new songs ‘Geeking’ actually started out life as a lullaby she sang to Camille). Her days of being an angry young punk fronting Sourpuss and then the Distillers may be behind her, but she admits she still gets the odd dose of stage-fright every now and then.
“Every night I play I keep telling myself-don’t fuck it up, Brody, just don’t fuck it up. I gotta put on a good show for everyone who bought a ticket and came to see me.”
At the time of our interview, Dalle was in the middle of her sound-check (she was preparing for her first tour in years). When AU asks her how she finds being the out on the road these days she appears conflicted.
“It’s definitely a lot harder now I have Camille,” she says emotionally after a long pause. “The first three days you’re like-wow this is awesome, it’s like a party and I can sleep and drink and do what I want, but then after that I’m like, ok, I miss my child and… [Author’s Note-she pauses for a few minutes to fight back the tears] …you have to get through it. But now I’m only three days away from going home for a little while and I’m really excited to be going back. Don’t get me wrong-I’m excited to play shows too, it’s just hard dividing your time. But when I go onstage it makes sense and I realize that this is what I’m here for, you know?”
In a bid to cheer the singer up (hey, we might be mean but we don’t want to make people cry, now do we?) we distract her by asking about Spinnerette’s rather ramshackle performance at Oxegen this year. Clearly more than a little merry thanks to one too many light ales, Brody announced onstage that she was in love with the festival and declared that bumping into some girls, um, getting back to nature and talking a toilet break sans the toilet was the coolest thing she has ever seen.
“That was awesome dude,” she laughs, perking up at the mention of that frankly horrific image of GAA jersey clad culchies with their cacks around their ankles. “It was the coolest thing ever. No cares in the world, just pissin’ in the wind. I love it! I think the Oxegen set was fun, but we could’ve done better. It was a bit rough I think and it was sloppy because it was our first show. I prefer it when we get nice and tight, but sloppy and sexy can be really good too, right?”
As AU takes a second to collect our thoughts thanks to Brody being a brazen flirt, she mercifully saves our blushes by adding,
“You know something? This [being in a band] doesn’t have to be so serious. It’s just rock ‘n’ roll. It’s supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be crazy-it’s supposed to be fucking dangerous. As soon as things start feeling safe and familiar then you know you’re band has turned to shit.”
Part of the reason why the singer feels this way can be attributed to the break-up of her old group, which appears to have hit her harder than she lets on. Although she tries to lead us to believe otherwise, it’s clear that the Distillers family going their separate ways has hurt her quite a bit. So much so that these days she sees Spinnerette’s live band as being a loose collective, rather than a close knit unit.
“Life doesn’t have to be so serious,” she begins. “Now I’m a little bit older I can take things easier. When I was 24 and 25 it was like a life or death thing for me. You’re part of a family and you take it so seriously, so when a band breaks up or someone wants to leave you get so hurt, y’know? There’s too much heartbreak involved and this time around I wanted a looser vibe. If people weren’t happy or wanted to take a break or move on then it was understood that you could just come and go.”
Judging by the scenes at the signing tent at Oxegen this year though, it clearly is still life or death to a lot of Brody’s fans who were actually in tears over finally meeting their idol in the flesh. We reckon the last time the world has witnessed that much smudged mascara was probably during an onion peeling contest at a Fallout Boy convention, but we digress.
“Having people (mostly females) come up to me and tell me my music changed their life is partially why I do what I do. That, to me, is why meeting fans is such a deep and meaningful thing because that’s what music is supposed to do. It’s meant to make you change how you look at the world. It chronicles your life and punctuates events in your life and helps you get through shit. I really think it’s super cool that I can help people in any way possible.”
So that’s Brody Dalle, then. 2009’s most unlikely agony aunt. As we finish our chat, our talk turns to the future and how she sees herself in the world. Not surprisingly she hasn’t the slightest idea what life may bring her but she’s willing to take on any challenges that comes her way. And hey, if she can put up with all the bullshit of the past few years she’s as tough as they come in our opinion.
“Despite all the crap I’ve put up with, I don’t think it’s ever a negative thing to make music for a living,” she concludes. “I’m really lucky to be in this position and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. The only downside is that I’m away from my kid. That’s the only bad thing for me right now. However, if I could give the old me some advice I’d probably tell her/me to just relax and don’t take everything so seriously. Try and enjoy everything that comes your way and don’t get too stressed out when you meet assholes-coz you’ll meet a lot of them. Nowadays I don’t plan too far ahead. Life’s more of an adventure that way.”
Spinnerette’s debut album ‘Spinnerette’ is out now on Hassle Records.