Move over, Courtney Love - the rock world has a new woman it loves to hate. Brody Dalle of the Distillers talks to Caroline Sullivan
Written By: Caroline Sullivan
For: The Guardian
Date: Friday, March 12th, 2004
It's true what they say about pop stars being physically tiny, which makes Brody Dalle's 5ft 8in a figurative wallop. She stalks around on heels that add another 4in, and, what with the torsoful of tattoos, tubercular pallor and fronds of dyed black hair, the whole package looks like something a fashion designer would concoct for a collection called Rock Chick.
Puffing along behind as she clicks down a backstage stairway at London's Brixton Academy, I inform her that she's tall for a pop star. Her tone is brisk. "That's because I am a rock star."
So she is. Dalle is "the new Courtney Love" (according to American music magazines) - or just the singer with a Los Angeles punk-metal quartet called the Distillers (according to the Distillers). Either way, the past six months have seen her rise from LA's punk underground to household-name status among America's Vicodin-popping teenage fringe.
Her rough growl, heard to harrowing effect on last autumn's breakthrough album Coral Fang, and dabblings with the dark side go some way towards justifying the Love comparison, which she half-heartedly rejects. It is reasonable to suggest that if Love hadn't made it possible for female stars to be imperfect and chaotic, Dalle wouldn't be here now. But she has her own distinct identity: she is the first female figurehead of America's millennial punk scene.
"I'm fine with being thought of as scary. People are less likely to walk all over you," she says lightly. She has inspired hordes of teenage "wanna-Brodes", a group of whom, downstairs in the alleyway, wail her name every few minutes.
Dalle was born and raised in Melbourne, where by age 16 she had been expelled from two Catholic schools. She was soon self-harming and self-medicating with heroin. "I was never a junkie, I was never shoeless and selling my mom's car to a Gypsy. I just experimented, like everyone else," she insists, as if heroin were a normal developmental phase.
After a time in a women's shelter, she formed a band called Sourpuss, through whom she met Tim Armstrong of American ska-punks Rancid. Following him back to California, she married him at 18. She formed the Distillers as an outlet for her turmoil, quickly establishing them on LA's overwhelmingly male scene.
After a rocky six-year marriage, she left Armstrong last year and took up with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. Their surprisingly conservative peers were scandalised, and the notoriety (and a gig touring with No Doubt) broke the Distillers nationwide.
A typical Dalle-ism illustrates why she is a pin-up for the sort of 15-year-old kids who wouldn't buy a Britney record on pain of death: "I asked a nun at school what a blowjob was, and she said, 'Verboten!' I was around eight years old. But you finally find out, you find your dad or mom's porn, and bada-bing, there you go." She has a most delightful, Santa-ish chuckle.
On cue, there's a howl from the alleyway: "Bro-deee!" She ignores it. Hey, aren't you flattered? Those girls want to be you. "No, they want to be their perception of me. They perceive me as being dangerous and rock'n'roll. I love the darker side of life," she admits. "I've delved into it on the album."
Coral Fang, whose blood-spattered original artwork was altered when America's big record chains refused to stock it, brims with references to death, especially by hanging. What, for instance, are The Gallow Is God and Die on a Rope about?
"Well, blood represents life, and loss of it is death. The album is a snapshot of a period of intense transition." Presumably, she's referring to the end of her marriage, which provided the subject of many songs. She nods: "Yeah, it all poured out in the space of two months, the years of pent-up resentment toward my situation."
Inevitably, the other members - guitarist Tony Bevilacqua, drummer Andy Granelli and bassist Ryan Sinn, who match her tattoo for tattoo - find themselves pushed to the back at photo shoots these days. "I want the band to get their dues," Dalle frets. "But maybe I'm in denial, saying we're equal." Well, yes - it wasn't the other three whom the punk-porn website Suicide Girls invited to pose naked the other month. "I didn't do it, but hey, whatever blows your hair back."
Meanwhile, Courtney Love herself has swooped, recruiting Brody to play (uncredited) guitar on her new album. "I was a little insulted when I noticed my name wasn't on there, but I'm glad now, 'cos the reviews have been so mixed," she says, in an American accent from which nearly all the Australian has been expunged.
"I think she's having a hard time tapping into the energy she used to have. But I don't see her much. I have about 10 five-minute messages from her, but I don't really know her. She doesn't open up. She's like a present with a chastity belt as a ribbon."
She still talks with the insouciant openness of someone who is so new to this that she still says what she thinks. "There's paparazzi outside the hotel now, taking pictures of me. That's brand new. If it goes on like this, I'd have a really hard time, constantly having to prune myself." Maybe, but much of her current pruning, you suspect, is done for Homme, whose name provokes a gurgly little sigh.
"I'm sorry ... you know that gut-sick feeling, that lovesick feeling? I have that all the time. He's the most beautiful man I've ever seen in my life. He's 6ft 5in and looks like a red-headed Elvis."
They're certainly a striking couple; in a roomful of gossip-mag celebrities such as Sadie Frost at the NME awards, Dalle and Homme furnished the Kurt-and-Courtney edgy glamour. Their happiness has come at a cost, apparently. Though she insists she didn't leave Armstrong for Homme, the episode has split their acquaintances into rival camps.
She told The Face magazine she had been planning to leave Armstrong for three years: "He's 14 years older than me, but emotionally a child ... And I didn't know any different." His mates, including Kelly Osbourne and the band Good Charlotte, have ostracised the Distillers. Granelli says the band have been left virtually friendless, while Dalle has claimed she is despised. It sounds like a playground spat blown to ridiculous proportions, but they're relishing it enough to have dubbed their last US gigs The Most Hated Woman on Earth Tour.
"The woman is always painted as the bad guy, and ends up demonised for making a decision without a man's instructions," she says dispassionately. "There's a very close community [in LA], and when it functions, it's a nice place to be. But things aren't that black and white."
Coral Fang is out now on WEA.