With a major-label contract and a spot on the Lollapalooza tour, the Distillers are set to become big rock stars. How will Brody Armstrong tolerate the fame?
By: Judith Lewis
For: L.A. Weekly
Date: June 26th, 2003
High at the top of a vertiginous road in the pine-forested wilderness above Marin County sits a luxurious recording studio called the Site. It’s a place where musicians with serious backing from their labels can kick back in private cabins, where state-of-the-art recording equipment meets homey common rooms, where rock stars can relax in a hot tub with a spectacular view of the greenest of mountains. At the moment, its spacious listening room is filling rapidly with secondhand smoke. Brody Armstrong, the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the Distillers, settles into a couch toward the back of the room, a Parliament between her long fingers, her tattooed wrists resting on her knees. Everyone else — drummer Andy Granelli, bassist Ryan Sinn, newly recruited guitarist Tony Bevilacqua (the name means “drink water” in Italian) — lights up, too, and the room goes bizarrely quiet as they all take up positions on the floor to smoke and listen to the raw tracks of the band’s new record in progress, most of which consists of little more than drum tracks over placement-only vocals and minimal guitar and bass. Producer Gil Norton crouches on the floor next to Granelli, Sinn and Warner Bros. publicist Brian Bumbery. Armstrong has picked the songs herself; when an engineer comes in and protests one of her choices — “I’m told I’m not supposed to play that one yet,” he objects — she casually overrules him. “I definitely want her to hear that track,” she says. “Play it.”
The engineer queues up four songs: a hardcore punk number called “Hurricane”, an improvised feedback session, a song about wombs and hymens and blood, and another about some kind of abstract love, “Drain the Blood”. The first three show off the Distillers’ new willingness — Norton-inspired, perhaps, though no one will say so — to experiment with rhythm and tempo changes; when a surprising beat or a particularly complex riff emerges, I look over at Norton, bopping his head in time; he looks back and winks. The fourth song, the one somebody didn’t want me to hear and clearly the roughest of the bunch, shows off Armstrong’s evolving skill as a poet. She does not let me miss it. Because her singing is scarcely detectable through Granelli’s drumming and the still-muddy guitars, she sits down next to me and hands me a lyric sheet, typed words scribbled over in ballpoint pen. “For every one of these I have 10 pages that I’ve already cut,” she tells me. “It sort of goes like this.” She sings the rest of the song in my ear. “You say you want a revelation/Revel in this my lover/You’re free, at liberty/Is this what you want?”
A 24-year-old with fire in her throaty rasp and a fierce desire to defend aggrieved kids the world over, Armstrong is working consciously to carve a niche for herself in the world of rock music that no one has ever occupied before: She wants to be the lead guitarist, songwriter and front woman in her rock band, but she doesn’t want to be its star. When I ask her what she thinks she represents to her throngs of barely adolescent girl-fans, she deflects the question as if she’s never thought about it. “Holy shit!” she says. “They’re that young?” Pressed to define herself, Armstrong pleads shyness: “I spit on the whole fucking celebrity side of this business,” she says. “I hate people projecting on me, I hate people assuming shit about me. It’s embarrassing.” She never wanted to be Mick Jagger, she insists, just Keith Richards — a great guitarist in a great band.
She seems at her most vulnerable and sincere at these moments; you want to believe her, want to think that the girl who looks sullenly over the heads of her fans when she plays live and hocks a loogie nonchalantly onstage really doesn’t want the attention she’s getting. That would be endearing, unusual, charming; you could love her for it. But then there she is, the same young woman who said she was reluctant to pose without her band (“This is not the Brody Bunch,” she says of the Distillers), unapologetically on display as the lone woman among 11 men on the cover of Rolling Stone. (Inside, she’s touching tongues with her reputed new flame, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme.) Her aplomb has Mick Jagger written all over it.
But it probably doesn’t matter what Armstrong thinks about being a rock star; the train has left the station with Armstrong inescapably on board, and it’s not likely to turn around before September, when the Distillers wrap up their first Lollapalooza tour and head out to promote their newly minted record. Celebrity is a bitch mistress, and Armstrong will likely never get her way with it. She’s set on a course to be the world’s next rock-girl idol, the one junior high school girls dye their hair to match (get busy — it changes often), the one critics will be analyzing for evidence of young women’s political evolution, the one whose lyrics will be picked apart in an effort to understand kids today.
All of this celebrity talk, however, obscures the many things Armstrong seems to be when you meet her in person: among them, a big-hearted, compassionate native Australian obsessed with the peculiarly American problems of eating disorders and teenagers with guns, and willing to write songs about them in the plainest of terms. “I went to school today with an Uzi,” Armstrong sings on “Sick of It All”, from the Distillers’ last record, a small miracle called Sing Sing Death House that came out a year ago on Hellcat/Epitaph. “There’s this kid he teased me so I shot em in the face.”
I ask her whether she worries the band is promoting violence. “You have to understand the irony there,” she says. “I’m fascinated by guns and that side of American culture. I grew up in Melbourne, where my mom was in a fucking parents’ group against guns in schools. She was protesting all the time. I never held a gun or handled a gun until I moved to America.
It’s so ingrained in the culture. It’s an American icon, how can you deny it? Nowhere else in the world are guns so important. Something just fascinates me about them, that something so ugly, something that can do so much fucking damage, could be so, you know — it’s like it’s almost a religion.”
In Australia, she says, “Farmers have guns so they can kill fucking rabbits infesting their crops. There’s no gun culture, at least not to the degree there is here. And I don’t think anywhere in the world you’ll find a gun culture like the one here. But I’m not saying, ‘Look, kids, that’s what you should do.’ I’m saying, ‘Everybody look at this. This is fucking not right. This kid doesn’t feel he has any other option but to do that, and that’s scary to me.’”
Bevilacqua, a willowy young man with fawnlike dark-brown eyes, is sitting on the floor backing her up. “It’s like in Bowling for Columbine,” he says. “The kids in Canada learn about history and politics on the news; kids here learn about how many people got shot in L.A. It’s not like you can pretend it’s not happening.”
After a pause, she reconsiders: It’s not that she’s not a feminist. She’s even written a song, “Seneca Falls”, inspired by Ken Burns’ documentary on women’s suffrage: “Elizabeth Cady/Forever reminding me/I don’t steal the air I breathe.” It’s just that calling herself a feminist might somehow cordon herself off into the rarefied and curious world of Women Who Rock — those women for whom fronting a rock band is a political statement, one that factors into their place in the pantheon. It’s a fate she adamantly refuses. “People throw that [women in rock] thing in when they talk about me as though it’s some sort of novelty,” she complains. “But it’s not. This is not fucking new shit.”
The Distillers started out in late 1998 with bassist Kim Fuelleman, drummer Mat Young and, a little later, Rose Casper on guitar giving ragged shape to Armstrong’s fast, messy anthems, songs like “The World Comes Tumblin’ Down” (“Start a riot, slash ya wrists red”) and a cover of Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels,” songs that mostly read and sound like the exuberant rantings of a bunch of kids trying hard to play angry. The record was distinguished only by occasional bursts of melodic sense of humor and Armstrong’s voice, a deep, guttural howl with a staticky edge that didn’t seem to belong decisively to either sex; it sounded primitive and raw, and lent a pure emotion to songs that might otherwise have come off contrived.
By the time Sing Sing Death House came out in 2002, Fuelleman and Young had gone off to join Exene Cervenka’s Original Sinners. Casper had left, too. Armstrong had acquired Granelli from the Bay Area band the Nerve Agents, who had in turn recruited Sinn, up till then a guitarist schooled in little more than speed metal. She had also learned to sing from her diaphragm, perhaps staving off the vocal-cord nodes she says plague her good friend Shirley Manson, and to write a lyric grounded in something besides her own inchoate rage: “Emptiness never sleeps at Clifton’s 6 a.m.,” she sings in “City of Angels”, the record’s most radio-friendly single. “With your bag-lady friend and your mind descending/Stripped of the right to be a human in control . . . we don’t rest in peace/we just disappear.”
The record was good, solid, energetic punk; critics liked it, people paid attention. But the band wasn’t happy. “It wasn’t up to our abilities at the time,” says Granelli. “We did it in a studio on Hollywood Boulevard in two weeks, and in those two weeks [one of the tech people] went on a crack binge, which took four days out of those two weeks we had to record. It was so rushed — it was like a song was written and practiced and recorded because we didn’t have any kind of time to go back and rethink it.”
I tell Sinn I’m impressed with his bass lines, which stand out on songs like “City of Angels” as agile counterpoints to the band’s hard-rock pulse. “You know that bass sound on the record?” Sinn asks. “That’s like the ‘180-degrees-from-how-I-wanted-the-bass-to-sound’ sound. That’s the ‘We’ve-been-working-for-16-hours-and-we-have-to-be-done-in-two-days-so-that’ll-have-to-do’ sound.”
Still, the record was successful enough that the band went out on tour as an opener for No Doubt and Garbage in the fall of 2002; when they got off the road last March, Armstrong added Bevilacqua to the lineup after seeing him play in a band with Granelli. “It was totally instinctual,” says Armstrong. “He’s a great fucking guitar player.” She also knew they’d get along — Bevilacqua had known the band since late ’99, when Armstrong recruited him out of Epitaph’s offices to sell the band’s T-shirts. “He used to be our swag dog, but we moved him up to roadie,” she says. “Now he’s playing onstage.”
In the winter of 2003, the band signed a deal with Sire, a division of Warner Bros., to bankroll and market their new record (it will be officially released as Sire/Hellcat). The move has brought to a head the band’s simmering conflict with punk purists, specifically the general readership of the intensely political, rigorously DIY punk magazine Maximumrocknroll, “the kids” who, from the Distillers’ perspective, seem to loom in the shadows like harpies poised to descend on the transgressor. “This record, it’s such a big jump for us, musically and philosophically,” says Armstrong, “and when we listen we go, ‘Oh my god, the kids are going to fucking freak out. They’re not going to be happy, and frankly I don’t fucking care. I want to branch out. I don’t want to be rigid. I’m not a myopic person, and I’m not going to placate anybody.
“Those Maximumrocknroll kids, they’re all P.C. even when they’re not trying to be P.C.,” she goes on. “They’re sheep. They can’t form opinions of their own. And they’re mad at me for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with the music.”
“Well, let’s just say I’m definitely going to make a T-shirt that says ‘Panning for Gold.’ That’s for sure.”
There’s a way in which Maximumrocknroll becomes a sort of lightning rod for Armstrong’s anxiety about the way the world perceives her: According to Arwen Curry, co-coordinator at the magazine (it’s a non-hierarchical sort of place), no one has actually called Armstrong a gold digger in the pages of the magazine or even around the MRR water coolers. “We consistently cover who we cover,” she says, “which means independently produced bands not affiliated with major labels. We don’t hate them; we’re just not concerned with them. They don’t need us.” Nor, says Curry, does anyone at the magazine have an opinion to share on Armstrong’s impending divorce from Rancid front man Tim Armstrong, the man who met his wife at 17, married her at 18 (he was 30), lured her to America and signed her to his own label. “We don’t have an emotional investment in the Distillers,” Curry says. “And I can tell you that of the 25 record reviewers here, there will be some who like their new record. We just won’t review it, because it’s not what we do.”
Plenty of venom has been spewed at Brody Armstrong in other places, however, including several punk-centric Internet chat rooms and the Silver Lake rock scene, where the general consensus ranges from “Brody used Tim like a ladder for six years” to “Brody is shooting up again” (“Do I look like a heroin addict to you?” she asks) to “Brody is a fucking whore.” You might say she made things somewhat worse by posing for a sexy photo shoot with Homme in Rolling Stone, but hey, it’s still none of your business. “I love Tim,” she says. “I’ll always love Tim, and my love was sincere.” Beyond that, she repeats with a hard stare, “It’s private. No one knows what goes on in anyone else’s relationship, and there’s nothing I can say to defend myself.”
I think of how many partners women generally burn through between the ages of 17 and 24 and openly admire her tenacity. She’s unimpressed. People will say what they will whether she talks or not. She’s trying not to be nice about it.
But being not nice is often a hard game for a young woman, even one who plays as rough as Armstrong. Her cigarette trembles between her fingers when she talks about the resistance she gets from the world, about the insults that come from the “kids,” the rumors that swirl around her. When I ask her whether the media will do to her what it did to Courtney Love — brand her as the Jezebel who ruins a beloved rocker — she declares it’s already been done, and then quickly launches into an explanation of all the ways she’s different from Love. She doesn’t have Love’s ego, she doesn’t court controversy, she’s shy. “I don’t want to be that fucking rock-star person!” she says.
It’s at least half true: Armstrong talks tough and writes brutally candid lyrics, poses provocatively in rock magazines and flaunts her insubordinate sexuality. But she’s not at all comfortable with the spotlight zeroing in on her antics; she seems still at war with her inner good girl, that creature Virginia Woolf labeled “The Angel in the House,” the phantom who sits on a creative woman’s shoulder reminding her to be “intensely sympathetic” and “immensely charming” and, “above all, pure.” Woolf writes of violently murdering hers (“I caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her”). It surprises me to realize that Armstrong, born post–Roe v. Wade, inculcated in feminist thought ‰ before she knew what it was, is still doing battle. Which is why, I suspect, Armstrong’s forceful words are frequently out of sync with her actions; why she doesn’t want to be complimented on her beauty, yet glides into the room first thing in her morning (around 1 p.m.) in stiletto heels and a T-shirt precariously held together with safety pins; why she feigns an attempt at disguising her good looks with big rings of eyeshadow the color of an old bruise — a reddish brown that suggests double shiners healed over but not forgotten — which only makes her eyes deeper and greener and bigger; why she prefaces so many verbs with some variant of fuck and ends so many of her rants with what seems to be one of her favorite, and least believable, phrases: “Frankly, I don’t fucking care.”
The problem is, she does care. Armstrong is a nice person; this is evident from the way she interacts with her fellow band members, who are all equally friendly and forthcoming and dedicated to the band’s collaborative spirit; there’s a frank gentleness about all four of them. And they exude a comfort and happiness in each other’s presence that can’t be faked for a visitor. “She’s rad,” says Granelli of Armstrong, “totally cool, easy to get along with. Everyone in the band gets along. For so many people it’s all about ego, but Brody doesn’t abuse the hierarchy.”
“Punk is sunk,” says Granelli, sitting in the Site’s plush but not pretentious living room, speaking officially into the tape recorder with Sinn, who has just put down his big, red Motley Crue biography, The Dirt. (Evidently the book is filled with tales about the crowd his fiancée once ran with.) The Osbournes is playing on the big-screen television with the sound off — “it’s a marathon of the best hangover television-watching ever,” says Sinn, as I ponder how he has managed to dye his roots blond.
Granelli is a big guy with lanky hair hanging in his eyes, like a slightly beefier and more sanguine version of Joey Ramone, which might lead some people to expect him to be less articulate than he is. At 24, he’s a musicologist in the making, a drummer who thinks about things like how to knock those kids who loiter on San Francisco’s Gilman Street out of their know-it-all groove — “It would be so cool if we could come along and show them something new,” he says, “the way Black Flag did it for us. If I hadn’t listened to them, if I’d just said, ‘Oh they suck because they don’t sound like Michael Jackson’ or something, I wouldn’t be doing the stuff I’m doing now.” He also thinks hard about the deeper implications of the audience-band relationship. “We watched the Led Zeppelin DVD last night,” he tells me. “It’s fucking rad, but there’s also a lot of wanking — I mean, it’s really the Jimmy Page show. He does a 17-minute guitar solo. It was pretty cool, but I realized that the whole time I was watching it I was waiting for something else to happen.”
“Right,” says Sinn. “At some point, it’s just like, I want to hear the song.”
“You want the big payoff,” Granelli says.
“And ours came with the fast-forward button.”
“But here’s the thing,” says Granelli. “How do you figure out how long you can make people pay? How long can you push something to make people pay before you can give them the prize? That’s an awesome thing.”
I suggest that people actually want to pay. Granelli agrees. “That’s because we’re all fucking masochists.”
Granelli is putting a lot of effort these days into determining his style, listening studiously to everything from the Beatles to math rockers Don Caballero. “Math rock is like listening to jazz, kind of. There’s no really set beat; it’s just doodling. There’s no melody, but I listen to it because, I don’t know why. It’s interesting.
“I don’t want to be typical,” he says. “I’m trying really hard in this record to not be typical, but at the same time not playing cluttered, not playing over the vocals and the guitar. With the Distillers it’s very easy to play over the melody, not let the guitar riffs speak for themselves. I’m trying to be very selective with nuances and stuff, just holding back on the off beat of something, you know?”
But is that punk? “That’s our most-asked-by-journalists question,” Granelli says. He mimics a fictional journalist with an FM-radio voice: “’What does punk mean to you?’ And I always say I don’t know. I don’t want to care. I say ‘punk is sunk’ because it’s funny. Because it rhymes. Because our friend Tim Presley was saying it, and I liked it.”
The cant among rock critics is that the punk of the present can never compete with the original scene — it has no political center; its rage isn’t grounded in anything. The Ramones subverted social hierarchies; the Sex Pistols and the Clash staged class wars; the Dead Kennedys pounded on capitalist consumerism.
“What do the Distillers stand for?” Granelli asks rhetorically. “We’re against injustice, unfairness, abuse,” he says, “wherever we find it. Like if I’m driving a white car, and I get pulled over for driving a white car, just because the police don’t like white cars, then we’re against that kind of thing.”
“The only time I ever think about it is when somebody asks,” says Sinn. “Most of the time I don’t care.”
“Yeah,” says Granelli. “We don’t think, ‘We’re a punk band,’ because we’re all into different stuff. Like we don’t kick Ryan out for listening to Emperor.”
Granelli was working up in San Francisco, folding T-shirts at a snowboard clothing store by day, playing occasionally with the then-disintegrating Nerve Agents by night, when Brody Armstrong called him with an offer. The two had met through Tim Armstrong, played a few shows together and become friends. “She called me and said, ‘There’s this Rancid tour that the Distillers are doing, and we’re leaving in two weeks. Can you do it? And can you find us a bass player?’ I thought, Yeah, I can do that, so I quit my job. And I found this bass player, Dante — I said, let’s just go on tour, let’s do it, we’ve got nothing else to do. And I just sort of stayed on,” he says. “It always felt right.”
Dante moved on to other projects, and Granelli brought on Sinn, whom he’d known for years as a guitar player into black metal. “He asked me, ‘Can you play bass?’” Sinn remembers, “and I said no. Then I went away and thought about it and decided to try. Now it feels more natural to me than playing guitar.”
“Yeah,” Granelli laughs. “Fewer strings.”
“Fewer strings,” Sinn shoots back, “but a lot more concentration.”
Gazing out at the velvety pines that stretch up the hills outside the studio’s window, I wonder out loud how a band so hell-bent on anger and suffering in its lyrics and posture can muster rage in an environment so bucolic. The band has a month and a half simply to practice, another whole month to record. The MRR squad can object all they want; signing with a major label has its privileges. “It’s so nice to just have this time to do nothing but sit around making music,” says Sinn. “It doesn’t take the edge off what we do. It just gives us more time to sit around and think about that edge.”
I’m from Melbourne
Fitzroy Melbourne, Fitzboy Melbourne
I grew up on Bell St. then on Bennett St.
My mom kicked out my dad for battery
Found a way she found a way out of spiritual penury
Working single mother in an urban struggle
Blames herself now ’cause I grew up troubled.
—“The Young Crazed Peeling,”
from Sing Sing Death House
Brody Armstrong was born Brody Dalle in Melbourne, Australia, to a career-nurse mother. Mom kicked out Dad while Brody was still young. At age 8 she started taking informal guitar lessons from a “hesher dude” down the street from where she lived. “He’d just teach me to play my favorite songs,” she remembers. “Like he taught me ‘Teenage Whore’ when I was 13.” At 14, she started her first band, the all-girl Sourpuss, with her best friend, Sara Barber, and almost right away secured spots in all-ages shows with other punk bands in the city. From the beginning, the ghetto of girl rockers annoyed her. “We started rehearsing at this place called Rock ’n’ Roll High School, which is run by these psychotic feminists in Melbourne — I mean psychotic feminists, like Nazi sows, out of their fucking minds,” she remembers. “It’s a rock & roll girls’ school, designed to help young women learn how to set everything up and plug shit in, which is great. It was a cool setup — American bands like Sonic Youth and Babes in Toyland would come in and donate instruments and money to the cause, and they’d watch us play.”
But the girl bands were curiosities, their players indulged not because they were good musicians, but because they were female, and Armstrong soon tired of the special treatment. “I hated playing under this banner of a girls’ school,” she says, “because it did more damage than it ever helped us. We weren’t taken seriously at all, and I resented it so much that I just didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.” After a bitter argument with the school’s founder, Stephanie Bourke, Armstrong left the school, and vowed she’d never let anyone call her a girl rocker again.
Two years later she left home to rent a room in Jalong, a small industrial beach town an hour from Melbourne, “a shithole, fucking white-trash place. My house was actually on the freeway, so I felt, metaphorically, that I was never settled — vrrm, vrrm, vrrm all night long — like my bedroom window was the freeway. It was fucking chaos in there all day, all day.” She moved back home a year later, because she’d run out of money. “I was kind of in a little bit of a stitch,” she recalls. “At that point, living on my own, I realized that I couldn’t really function that well. So I went home, and when I walked in my mom was doing the dishes, and I just stood there and looked at her like I’d never seen her before — as her own woman, not as my mother, as a person who had thoughts and feelings and a life of her own before I even fucking came out of her. I thought, ‘Oh shit, we have to become friends now.” She and her father are close these days, too.
“They’re my support in the world. I’m fucked without them."
“And,” she adds, “they’re going to love this record.”
Averse as Armstrong may be to any kind of gender-specific analysis of her place in the rock & roll canon, her songs remain militantly about girls and women and their troubles, particularly a haunting character she calls Gerti Rouge who emerges in bits and pieces on the Distillers’ debut album and to whom she dedicates an entire song, “Young Girl”, on Sing Sing Death House: “It’s a lie when you are telling the truth/It’s the truth when you are telling a lie/Spread your legs then get down on your knees/And pray it never happens again.”
“That’s not her real name,” Armstrong explains, “but she’s my childhood best friend, and she was molested by her father since age zero until she was about 14. Her mother was a child psychologist, which made the situation even sicker. In the ’80s her mom was just addicted to pills, and knew what was going on but didn’t know how to stop it. She was obese, and just fed her pain and fed her guilt.
“When me and my mom took her out of that situation, we told her mother what was going on, and her mother came over to my house. I was sitting there, and her mother pulled out a clipboard, and instead of holding her child she just asked, ‘So, tell me what happened?’ And Gerti’s sitting there crying. My mother was so disgusted. It was so fucking unbelievable. We were like, ‘This is your child, not someone else’s child.’ It was unfuckingbelievable.”
Gerti wasn’t anorexic or bulimic, and she wasn’t addicted to drugs, says Armstrong, “but she cut. Yeah, she cut herself. I’ve known girls who are anorexic, too,” she says. “Someone real close to me now is anorexic, and it’s just thrown her family into hell. It’s so scary, so sad that some women feel that they have to starve themselves, and this woman I know, she knows she has a problem and she just can’t stop. I see these girls, they’re 14 years old, taller than me and weigh half what I weigh.”
“Girl needs to get a sandwich!” says Bevilacqua. “That’s what we say to those toothpick girls.”
“Fucking right,” says Armstrong. “Who wants to make love to a bag of bones? What do you do with that? It’s not healthy; it’s hard on your organs.
“I weigh 140 pounds,” she announces boldly. “In fact, I weigh 148. When I first moved to this country I weighed 120 pounds. A year later I weighed 160 pounds — 160 pounds! — purely because of the way they serve food here. One serving here is like four servings of fucking food anywhere else.
“I’m 5-foot-8, so I carried it,” she adds. “But my boobs were fucking huge.”
"We got Tony playing at the last minute,” says Armstrong, as Bevilacqua, still sitting on the floor, looks up at her admiringly.
“Right before we went to Japan,” Bevilacqua adds.
“It always happens that way,” Brody continues. “Everyone that’s ever been recruited comes in right before a record. Rose I got a couple of weeks before we did the first record, Ryan a couple of weeks before the second record, and then you,” she says to Tony, “look at you with those lashes. What do you need those lashes for? Hopefully you’re not going to fuck up and then we have to fire you!”
“You’re going to fire me?” Tony pretends to be shocked.
“Yeah, you’re fired! You’re fucking fired!
“Or maybe we’ll get you up there singing, so I can just lay back and play guitar. He’s a good screamer,” she says, looking at Bevilacqua. “I’d like to get him up in front. Then you can be the gold digger, too. You can be sucking on gold.”
Before I leave, Armstrong shows me Tim Presley’s artwork for the album — several illustrations based on the twin motifs of dismembered women and razorblades. In one drawing, a tree bears leaves of razorblades; in another, a woman’s torso is hanging bloody from a tree’s limbs. “I gave him a lyric about a woman who was murdered in a park in Melbourne,” she says. “It was so horrible. And he came up with this. Isn’t it totally tits?
“Art isn’t dangerous anymore,” Armstrong declares. “I hardly ever see art that makes me go, ‘Holy shit!’ I want art to be dangerous again.”