Sunday, September 25, 2011

In Punk We Trust

By: Mat Hocking
For: Drowned in Sound
Date: June 21st, 2002

A longhaired punker, sweat dripping visibly from his chin, his white vest soaked in equal amount sweat and beer has just collapsed next to me, clearly out of breath. Three young girls standing precariously on the speaker to my left are screaming wildly, seemingly for some acknowledgement from the elusive and strikingly beautiful vocalist standing onstage. It is clear that the three individuals that form The Distillers have an undeniable connection with their fans, their fiery brand of attitude-stamped punk blazing with all manner of frustrations that, as the song ‘Sick Of It All’ illustrates, punk rock has helped them to deal with. And standing amongst the fans at Leeds’ Joseph’s Well it seems there’s a couple of hundred people who understand exactly where they’re coming from.

Although possessing a brooding mystique onstage, cooling down in her dressing room after the show vocalist / guitarist Brody Armstrong is showing her light-hearted, quizzical side. “You’ve never heard of the Goodies?” She drawls, evidently fatigued. “Oh my goodness! I grew up on it when I was a little kid. They would play Sootie, then The Goodies – it’s English, like three little guys.”

I feel very ashamed. But then that's ok, because chatting to Brody and drummer Andy it feels like I’ve known them a lot longer than a mere half hour. Enthusiastically talking and laughing with me about everyday occurrences like weird dreams and TV shows I’m made to feel like one of their good friends. Which may differ from the opinion some fans may have gained from their presence live. Having been previously labelled an “imposing, impervious ice queen” how does Brody Armstrong feels she differs from Brody in the Distillers?

“I’m nice, I’m not an ice queen you know.” (laughs)

I know, but that’s just the perception of you onstage.

“I think that’s kinda to be expected by anybody, y’know. I think that they’re probably the opposite really, when you see someone up onstage or expressing something that they probably can’t in everyday life.”

Are you conscious about how you’re perceived by the audience?

“I don’t really know how I’m perceived… like that? The ice queen? I never really think about it.”

Although Brody could be deemed an iconic figure for many young punkers, once they spin the record her music is something they can hold very close.

Lyrically Brody insists the message behind the Distillers isn’t that pre-meditated. “It’s more just feelings, y’know, and singing about what’s going on, and not just for me - for other people. I think it’s just honest and if people relate to it that’s great.”

Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you feel you wanna bring out in your lyrics?
“The lessons that I’ve learnt are to speak from the heart and that’s basically my main lesson. And stay grounded.”

You’ve had a rough childhood and a lot of your lyrics refer to that. Throughout your time growing up was there anyone you looked up to and found inspiration from?

Andy: “The Goodies.” (laughs)

Brody: “I can’t believe you haven’t seen The Goodies, dude. It has blown my mind. You’re English and you haven’t seen The Goodies! That’s bizarre. It’s like the kids version of The Young Ones, but they’re all like, hippies. It’s fuckin’ hilarious though. Ok, someone I looked up to… hmm… I’m not sure.”

How about a role model? I know the first Hole album was very influential on you.

Brody: “Yeah, ‘Pretty On The Inside’. That was huge for me. That’s such a fuckin’ good record, I don’t think people realize that because ‘Live Through This’ was so commercial. That was the record they hit the big time with. But ‘Pretty On The Inside’ was so dirty and it’s from hell. That’s a really fucked up record and it’s really, really good. That record helped me get through a lot. What else did I listen to? Discharge I listened to a lot.”

Andy: “For me, musically wise, Black Flag. I mean, it’s a cliché, Like everybody says Black Flag but it was like, that was the first band I ever heard.”

The history of The Distillers, or more to the point their line-up, has been eventful one. Brody first had the vision of The Distillers after she left her old band Sourpuss and migrated from Australia to the US after falling in love with Tim Armstrong from Rancid. A seemingly solid line-up was brought together in LA, including bassist & Epitaph employee Ms. Kim Chi, who used her ass flap patch to piss in public without a care in the world! She was replaced by current bassist Ryan and their drummer Matt, formally of Channel 3, was replaced by Andy Outbreak, formally of the Nerve Agents. He left because, as Andy puts it, it wasn’t “cohesive”.

Brody: “Ha ha. Good boy! (laughs). It was dysfunctional. We didn’t talk to each other, you know what I mean,” Brody explains, referring to the original line-up. “And then we got Rose and it got even more dysfunctional God bless her soul. It was like, it got to the point where we’d go to a show and wouldn’t say a word to each other. We’d get onstage, we’d play, then leave.”

Their second guitarist Casper quit amicably at the end of the last UK tour because she didn’t like being away from her boyfriend while on tour. Brody insists that although she now handles all guitar parts live she’s very comfortable with the current line-up. “These are my best friends y’know.”
People say that at some point in their life they have an absolute moment of clarity that comes from a life-changing experience. Have you ever experienced this and what lessons did you learn?

Brody: “I think there’s a couple. Probably the last time I OD’d and my Mom was sitting next to me in my hospital bed crying. That really woke me up, you know. That was one and when I met me husband. The lessons I’ve learned are you can’t change the past but you can move on from it. You can’t stay stuck in the past and you can’t always think about the future.”

When you met Tim Armstrong did you immediately see a reflection of yourself as far as past experiences go? Was there an understanding of where both of you were coming from?

Brody: “What I felt well, yeah. I didn’t really think about what to say. It was like whoa!”

How do you manage to juggle your relationship, both bands and touring commitments? Isn’t it really hard?

“Well yeah. I mean, any relationship is hard but we have a mutual respect because we do the same thing so it makes it probably a lot easier for us than other people. I know a lot of other people who’re with musicians who’re always gone and they don’t do the same thing so they have a hard time dealing with it y’know. So yeah, we figure it out so it’s good. I miss him all the time but, it’s good.”

Luckily for her The Distillers were fortunate to tour with Tim Armstrong’s side project The Transplants straight after their UK tour. Also featuring Rancid bassist Matt Freeman, Craig from The Forgotten and Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards, The Transplants also possess a certain Travis from Blink 182. Having publicly spoken about the limitations that Blink 182 has for his drumming skills The Transplants is a band he can finally get his teeth into. The Distillers are good friends with the Blink boys, but whereas Blink 182 happily fly the banner of punk despite not practicing any of it’s ideals and The Distillers are so passionately involved in the independent punk rock scene do they think there should be any rules associated with punk?

Andy: “No, coz the rules is what made it shitty. The rules are what made it suck, it’s stupid and repetitive and cliché.”

Well, you have people who say “do whatever you want and don’t care what anyone else thinks”, but those people will still turn round and say “but you can’t say this, or do this, or do this or this.”

Andy: “Well I believe there are general rules in life like be respectful and courteous to other people regardless of whether you're, quote unquote, ‘punk’. But as far as rules in punk, like you have to have bullet pants or have a fuckin mohawk to be punk or have fuckin safety pins through your nose to be punk… well that’s fuckin ridiculous. I don’t think it matters. I mean Greg – ok I keep going back to Black Flag – but Greg Ginn, one of his favourite bands was The Grateful Dead and like, that’s not punk. But every fuckin punk kids outside will have a Black Flag patch. Crass – fuckin members of Crass were in Chumbawamba. That’s not very punk but all these kids are still into Crass & shit, so I don’t think it should matter. I think kids maybe get hung up a little bit on the fashion.”

Isn’t it a peer thing as well?

Andy: “Yeah. I forgot where it was, where I read it or who said it even but it was in the lyrics of a band we played with from Seattle. I forget the song and the name of the band but actually what it said was, this kid got tired of being made fun of at school and got into punk rock to be accepted, and now he’s tired of being made fun of by the punks at the show because he doesn’t fuckin fit in and it’s funny because it’s like the same thing y’know.”

Brody: “I think punk rock is becoming a parody of itself. It’s becoming a cliché and it’s becoming redundant and boring and stupid, like a lot of music genres are redundant and repetitive.”

But surely the attitude of punk will never die.

Brody: “Yeah, and attidue translates into music and that’s what matters and that’s what it’s about and people don’t realize that anymore. It’s becoming stupid.”

Andy: “It all started out of art in the first place and free thinkers, you know? And people who wanted to do something different and fresh and new. It’s all Malcolm McClaren’s fault. (laughs) Just coz he’s trying to sell his sex shop clothes, he’s to blame! Have you read his book ‘Please Kill Me’? It contains accounts of New York in the 70s and a lot of it revolves around Patti Smith, Ramones and Velvet Underground and shit like that, like day to day shit, like shit that happened. But there’s a big chapter in it about Malcolm McClaren and how his first deal… like he was just trying to find a different way to sell clothes. He ran a sex shop and he was just trying to make money and he thought that by managing a band it would give him a good medium to sell clothes. And it worked. You know how big he got and he got the perfect people to do it.
He tried to manage New York Dolls and then they didn’t want him. I spouse he then tried to manage Johnny Thunders in the US and was doing it out of the fuckin Yellow Pages; he didn’t really didn’t know what he was doing but he had the idea and then the Sex Pistols started. It’s just lucky he found John Lydon.”

Ok, in 20 years time, how do you want to be remembered from your time with The Distillers?

Brody: “I’d like to leave a legacy of honest music and that’s it, y’know? I just want it to translate that way and that I put my 100% in and that I didn’t fuckin climb on anyone’s back to get where I hopefully get and that I didn’t fuck anyone over, you know what I mean?"

To finish off, what’s the best thing since sliced bread?

Andy: “Me.”

Brody: “That’s such an Australian term too!”

Andy: “Yeah, I grew up on it. My Grandma used to say it. ‘What am I, chopped liver?’ You know that one? Like if you’re being naughty you say ‘what am I, chopped liver?”’

Can’t say I’ve ever heard that before.

Brody: “What about tits on toast? (laughs) You heard that one?"

Andy: “What about shit on a shingle? You know what that is? It’s what they used to feed the army guys in the war, like shit on a shingle. It’s like a little flank steak with a little gravy on a piece on toast.”

Brody: “Christmas on a stick?”

Andy: “What the hell is that?”

Brody: “That’s like the sliced bread thing.”

You ever called someone sex on a stick?

Brody: “Sex on toast.”

Andy: “Shit on sex.” (laughs)

Er.. you still haven’t answered my question.

Brody: “Ok, that’s a hard one, you go first.”

Andy: “Er… shit on a shingle? I’ll tell you what would be the best thing since sliced bread. If cigarettes were healthy for you, if you could eat anything you want all day long and feel great and not feel like turds and not get fat. And drink all the soda you can drink. Fuckin’ great, if it came in a box. Think how much money the fuckin restaurants would make. Someone should invent it dude, seriously. There’d be guys like Malcolm McClaren trying to get the band to fuckin’ sell hot dogs.”

Man, I know what you were dreaming of last night – cigarettes and food!

Brody: “He dreamt he was a pro-skater last night.”

Andy: “Yeah dude, I was a pro-skater skating on the freeway, I was doing tricks over cars and it was fuckin’ hella good too. I had this dream once where I was having sex with this girl and her vagina was gaping and you could see through her body cavity, and I could see through her guts and shit. And then she was dead. It was the worst. Tony (roadie) has dreams where he murders people all the time.”

That’s actually quite scary. I dreamt that I had dream once. That was quite confusing.
Andy: “My friend Martin had a dream that he was fishing in a stream but the stream was made out of concrete and he was fishing with a pickle. Tony, his brother, swam on by and then he turned into a walrus.”

Brody: “Sounds like he’s got blocked emotions.”

I could carry on transcribing our conversation for the next 15 minutes but it kind of digresses from the whole interview being about the Distillers and not Malcolm McClaren or crazy ass dreams that friends of roadies have had. Essentially though, The Distillers are a band that’ve taken all their influences, integrated their punk rock spirit and honed down their musical skills to result in the current incarnation, a band that is distilled to punkfection. (ouch!)