Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bloody But Unbowed – The Distillers Fight the Good Fight

By: Bianca Valentino
Date: 2003
(while on tour in Australia for the Coral Fang record - it was one of their last interviews as the Distillers).

“Punk started out as art and free thinkers, people who wanted to do something different,” Andy Granelli drummer for The Distillers has been known to proclaim. In that sense are and will, The Distillers always be a punk rock band? “By those standards, yes. That’s what it started out as. It wasn’t all Mohawks and safety pins. That was only one person’s interpretations and, it happened to be the most popular,” Granelli tells Bianca Valentino.

The Distillers are a band. Having read countless interviews and features on ‘the band’ in the past months as the stars have grown brighter for the quartet following the release of their major label debut, Coral Fang for Sire/Warner, you’d be forgiven for thinking that The Distillers were a one-woman show. Headlines proclaiming ‘Brody Dalle: The New Queen of Punk’, ‘Brody to the Max’, ‘Dalle Parts’, ‘The Brody Bunch’ and simply ‘Brody’ have popped up in countless publications worldwide. Sitting backstage in a small room tucked away in the depths of the Brisbane Convention Centre on the eve of the band’s first Australian show supporting Queens Of The Stone Age, they reflect on all the media attention shined Dalle’s way. “We don’t read that stuff,” Dalle clarifies getting straight to the point squirming to get comfortable in her seat.

For today’s meeting Brody is clad in dark three-quarter pants, bright blue midriff top adorned with simple Hawaiian style palm trees and sunset. Completing the outfit are red banded, clear-heeled pumps, the kind you’d find at your local sex shop or on the feet of an exotic dancer. Heavyset, tattooed drummer, Andy Granelli is fitted out in the rock musician norm – plain black shirt, denim jeans, cap and sneakers while newly rusty-haired bassist, Ryan Sinn also wears the obligatory sneakers, pants and black tee printed with one of his favourite bands’ insignias. A bevy of tattoos including a scene depicting a pirate with cannon and palm tree peeks from beneath. 

Exploring the subject further – questioning if there is ever any resentment among the group resulting from the media’s fascination with Dalle and her much publicised love life? – Granelli without even having to contemplate the question replies, “No, I think we resent the bullshit that fucking comes out of it though. We don’t resent her, it’s not her fault.” Nodding in agreement, Sinn offers, “It’s never like ‘why is she getting all the attention?’ It’s like ‘what’s the fascination with something that has no relevance to anybody else’s life?” Granelli echoes in further defense of his whiskey-voiced band mate “It’s like, why do so many people have to talk shit about our friend when they don’t even know her?” Newest addition to the band, guitarist Tony Bradley is currently missing in action. It turns out he’s downstairs nibbling away on a sprawling catered feed before sound check. Had he been in attendance one would assume he’d share his fellow comrades’ sentiments. 
In using the word ‘comrades’ it risks approximating an understatement where it concerns this tight-knit group. The US based foursome is thicker than thieves, perhaps in part, due to their similar upbringing as members of dysfunctional families. “I think it would make sense why we gravitated towards each other”, Dalle states, her voice trailing off. “It gives us something in common,” Granelli suggests. “If that’s the whole energy of your family, it also gives you something to break. A cycle to break,” says Dalle thoughtfully. Granelli, Sinn and Dalle concur that the band has become a second family to them. To honor their impermeable bond, the group went under the (tattoo) gun getting a tiny black heart emblazoned on their right hand just above their thumbs as a testament to their enduring friendship whilst on tour in Japan last March or, ‘Smarch’ as Dalle and Granelli put it.

Spending time with the band they really make you feel at home, welcoming you into the fold like a long lost friend. Despite what you’re heard of Dalle’s sometimes alleged ‘ice-queen’ persona and the assumptions you’ve made of her through what you’ve read in the media, she’s a complete doll. The whole band is refreshing candid and genuine, you also grasp the fact that each member is fiercely individual which adds to the overall character of the band, with them all bringing something special to the party. “Andy brings funny,” Dalle laughs. “Yeah I bring the funny,” Granelli agrees. “I brought a hair tie today for Brody,” Sinn enlightens. “Yeah thanks,” Dalle articulates directing her candid gratitude towards her left where Sinn is seated. “We all kind of bring the same thing,” Granelli interjects. “I think we all like to have a good time and we’re all interested in having fun and joking around. I think that’s all pretty important. I guess it’s probably a silly thing to be important but…” “No it’s not dude, you can’t take everything too seriously,” Dalle counters. “We’re like four different personalities of one brain,” Sinn sums up grinning, happy at the conclusion he’s arrived at. Sinn who usually looks as though he’s stepped off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean, confess’ that people regularly tell him that he looks like, well…a pirate. “I get it all the time. I’ve been called many things,” he jokes. “Ryan is definitely a pirate,” Dalle and Granelli say in unison.

While swashbuckling their way through the creation of Coral Fang the band realised that for the first time in their five year career with constant revolving-door lineup, that they finally had the perfect, solid line-up. The making of the album also helped them realise several things about themselves personally and as a band. In a previous interview Sinn had said that ‘making the album saved them’. “Music in general, I think motivates us and pulls us through hard times,” he explains. “On that record just where we were at, at the time, that year and everything going on in each of our lives and everybody’s own personal things – that record got us away from that and got us through it. Being on the road and playing new songs, it’s kind of like a feeling of keeping on. Like when you go through something, but you know where you’re heading and you know what you’re doing and you know why. It’s a good feeling.” 

The album, for the most part, was written solo by Australian native, Dalle from late January into February of 2003 in a small Fitzroy, Melbourne hotel room having only her thoughts to keep her company. “I love being by myself, I die for those moments,” she enthuses, her blue-green eyes which are at this rare moment, sans heavy black eyeliner and shadow, light up. “Not in a lonely way, but when you’re writing you have to. You can’t be in a situation with people buzzing around you,” she explains. “You have to isolate yourself. We don’t ever get that much time alone, its quality. It’s something we cherish.”

Following the album’s release you could say that The Distillers have had about zero time for themselves, straight away embarking on the colossal summer US alterna-fest that is Lollapalooza, giving the band a much deserved and welcomed fresh start. Brody confesses that at times on tour she became so nervous before several shows that she simply ‘shook like crazy’. “Nervousness is a good thing I think though, because it’s what drives you,” she explains. “Or it can make you stand there and make you not be able to move or do anything. It can be debilitating or it can be positive.”

During the tour the band gained scores of admirers including musical peer and Jane’s Addiction head honcho, Perry Farrell, who declared Brody ‘the sexist woman in rock’. “It’s really sweet he said that”, Dalle says coyly. “It’s cool, but what about on my ugly days? It was nice of him to say that but I don’t know what it means, really!” 

Several months prior to playing the merry-go-round of Lollapalooza shows and recording Coral Fang the band ventured out with super groups, No Doubt and Garbage burning up the road on a two month long tour of the US which also, like Lollapalooza, saw them perform before thousands of people. “It was a good experience,” Dalle assures. “It was really bizarre because we were playing a stadium like twelve to sixteen thousand people and we were playing Sing Sing Death House to like five year olds. All these little Gwenabes, it was so weird.” “It was a lot of those kids’ first concerts,” Granelli remarks. “I think we scared a lot of them. I think a lot of them freaked out. I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do…freak people out.” Laughter encompasses the room.

Freaking others out is one thing, but what of freaking yourself out? In the February 2003 edition of Alternative Press Magazine, Dalle comments that she was ‘driven by fear, fear of – not necessarily success, but of not being good enough’. With the bands steadily mounting success Dalle has somewhat reevaluated her driving fears to come to the conclusion that her fears aren’t quite the same as what they were in the beginning, “Not in all respects of my life anyways, just in some,” she answers carefully. “It’s not fear like it use to be. It’s not healthy I don’t think, to be driven by fear, but everyone has it.” “I think we’re all driven by fear,” Granelli affirms as he taps his fingers on his armchair in time to the sounds of Cyndi Lauper’s Money Changes Everything which is escaping from a neighboring room. “I think the world revolves around fear mostly,” Dalle adds. “And paranoia,” Granelli resolves.

Touching on the fact that The Distillers have become role models for young punks everywhere – whether they like it or not – acknowledging that with role model status comes a certain responsibility Sinn observes, “I think everyone has a responsibility to be themselves.” “And to be nice and not to be an asshole,” Granelli pitches in. “You can’t be an asshole.”

Suddenly out of the blue Sinn wildly cracks up as he happens upon a Dual Plover ad in the issue of 15th Precinct he is flicking through. The ad depicts a child feeding two fornicating kangaroos, which he brings to the attention of fellow band mates. “I want to take them to a kangaroo park,” Dalle informs before asking, “How far is the beach?” After doing my best to explain how to get to the nearest stretch of golden sand and crashing waves Dalle looks at their tour manager Dean and asserts with the fervor of a child, “Dude, I want to go swimming.”

Bathing in the success of a very rewarding year gone by, The Distillers are extremely modest of their achievements to date and their newly, somewhat reluctantly acquired celebrity status. “I don’t think we’re famous, I’m so surprised,” Dalle says dumbfounded as Granelli agrees adding, “We’re certainly not fucking rich, and I associate rich with famous.”

On the topic of rich and famous, the conversation drifts towards a tale of The Distillers being offered an undisclosed sum of money to allow a US sandwich company to use their song, Sick of It All off their 2002 Hellcat released Sing Sing Death House, for a television advertisement for chicken alfredo sandwiches. “Fezolli’s Sandwiches wanted to use Sick Of It All for their ad,” Dalle recounts. “We were like ‘what? Did you listen to the lyrics?’ It was bizarre for a chicken sandwich.” Everyone chuckles. “It’s fucking amazing. It’s fucking funny. We should have done it looking back on it now,” Granelli jokes with sarcastic remorsefulness. “We should go ask ‘em if they still want to do it?” Dalle proposes jestingly. “No one would have known.” “I mean like who the fuck is Mamma Fezolli anyway?” Granelli asks rhetorically. “I’ve never seen any of her ads on tv,” Dalle retorts. “She’s probably a communist,” Granelli casually throws in, which amuses Dalle to no end, encouraging the raven haired punker to giggle profusely. 

“Ryan sacrifices chickens before shows,” Granelli jokingly exposes his band mate. “I fucking hate chicken,” Sinn opposes. “Dirty bird, but someone’s got to do it,” Dalle laughs. The trio breaks out in a fit of laughter for the umpteenth time.

In The Distillers camp there is definitely a lot of fun, play and laughter shared between band mates. “Yeah, we kind of joke and relax a lot,” Granelli says sheepishly. “We’re in a constant pursuit of leisure,” swears a beaming Sinn, who later when thanked for time out of the bands busy schedule for the interview replies candidly, “Busy? Yeah, busy sitting on my ass!” 

Another source of amusement for Granelli and Sinn seems to be the operation of our lavatories. “It’s cool to come to a place where the toilet flushes in the opposite direction,” tells Granelli. “I haven’t actually seen that yet,” Sinn admits. “Because there’s so much power it just goes whoosh.” “You got to fill the sink and watch it go. I did it,” Andy counsels Ryan in toilet etiquette. “Dude I tried flushing it like four times and I was like, fuck!” he replies.

Toilet humor aside, pardon the pun, The Distillers are an unstoppable tour de force going from strength to strength with no sign of letting up anytime soon. Still reeling from their success and the immensity of the journey so far Brody divulges, “There’s nothing that prepares you for it, there’s no manual. It’s like getting prepared to be struck by lighting, you don’t know what to expect? So when it happens it’s all kind of surreal.” Andy finishes humbly, “I think we’re still definitely going for it.”