Distillers' Brody Dalle Talks Punk, Courtney Love, & Being A Mom

b_embed1Photo: Richard Sibbald.
Whether she’s screaming her guts out in front of a crowd or chatting quietly backstage, Brody Dalle is honest and tough, and that's why she's one of the most captivating female rockers of the last 20 years. And, a decade after the demise of the Distillers — the punk band she formed as a teenager and fronted with absolute ferocity for three studio albums — she’s still going strong. Last month, the 35-year-old mother of two released her solo debut, Diploid Love, and after several years of hanging home and doing the domestic thing, she’s back on the bus.
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Refinery29 sat down with Dalle before she kicked off her U.S. tour last Sunday, May 4, at the Bell House in Brooklyn, NY. The singer, songwriter, and guitarist discussed the new record — a diverse set of savage rockers (“Rat Race,” “Underworld”), bracing alt-ballads (“Dreams In Disguise”), and even electronic dalliances (“Carry On”) — and shared her candid thoughts on Courtney Love, Nirvana’s recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, and the struggles rock moms face touring without their kids.
She also talked about her relationship with fans, and at the end of the interview, after the tape recorder had been turned off, she asked that it be switched back on, so that she might clarify her comments about the “weird” feelings that sometimes arise when concertgoers approach her after gigs and act like they know her. Dalle suffered abuse as a kid and kicked crystal meth in the ‘00s, just before she and husband Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age started family, and as a result, she has a tremendous affinity for any misfits and outcasts that connect with her music.
“Those kids — they’re the ones that I think about,” Dalle says. “Kids who were bullied or abused and don’t feel like they belong in this world. I wrote ‘Don’t Mess With Me’ for those kids, so it’s not like I’m disconnected from my fans. I really feel it, and I give lots of hugs.”
This is your first time touring without the kids, right? Are they home with Josh?
"Yeah, he’s at home. He’s loving it. I started out loving this, but three weeks is a bit long to be away from your kids and your husband. It’s brutal."
Do you do a lot of FaceTiming and Skyping?
"Yeah, we do a lot of FaceTiming, and my kids are obsessed with dogs. My daughter can name every breed. She’s eight years old. So, I spend my whole day tapping people on the shoulder saying, 'Can I take a picture of your dog?'"
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When you started working on Diploid Love, you didn’t know it was going to be a solo record, right?
"I didn’t know what it really was. I always write, so I had a stash of stuff, and I just went at it, and most of the songs were finished. I started recording demos with [producer] Alain [Johannes], and Alan has a knack for making your demos sound like a first-class record. It’s hard to walk away from the demos. You have to kind of keep them."
b_embed2Photo: Chapman Baehler.
Some of the material dates back to the Distillers days, but what’s the first song you wrote just for this project?
"Probably 'Meet the Foetus.'"
Was there one that made you think, “I’ve still got it, even though I’ve been away for a bit?”
"I don’t’ really think about things like that. [Laughs] I just want to make good music — music that makes me happy. Something that’s audibly delicious, and if it’s not, I just throw it away. And, if people like it, that’s awesome. I get to play shows and go on tour and hopefully keep making records."
“Dressed In Dreams” seems like the thesis of the record, with that line, “Never let yourself give in when trying to start again.”
"It’s a good mantra in life, I think. We’re always going to make mistakes. Inevitably, you’re going to have to start again or try something else. I think you could apply it to a lot of different things in your life. I think it’s nice."
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Going in, did you know you wanted to try a bunch of different styles of music?
"It just kind of happened. It’s so funny. Everyone thinks my record sounds so glossy and shit. I just don’t hear it that way. To me, it sounds super lo-fi."
It’s not glossy, but compared to the Distillers, there’s more variation.
"For sure, yeah. You’re talking, like, 10 years ago. Eleven years ago, I put Coral Fang out. That’s a long time. For anyone who plays music, you have to evolve."
Do you and Josh bounce songwriting ideas off of each other?
"We bounce stuff off each other all the time, musically. I’ve gotten to hear him write the last three [QOTSA] records. I’ve gotten to hear the moment it begins to the completion of each record."
You must walk around the house humming melodies and stuff, no?
"I usually record it. He usually doesn’t hear my stuff until it’s either a demo or finished on the record. I don’t think he heard "Dressed in Dreams" or any of those songs until I finished it."
You’re playing a mix of Distillers and solo stuff. How’d you pick the set list?
"I had to fill in the set. It kind of came out of not wanting to give my whole record away. I wrote those [Distillers] songs — they’re my songs — so I figure I can play them. It’s a mixture of Distillers and new stuff, and eventually, it’ll be more of the new stuff and less of the old stuff. I feel like it’s a pretty good catalog to dip into. I don’t like all the songs I’ve ever written. Some of them I can’t stand, and I’ll never play them live — probably all the stuff off the first record."
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I’ve heard you’re not a fan of the early stuff.
"It was my first record. I was, like, 20-years-old. You get to a point in your life where you just want to sound like yourself. I feel like a lot of my early work was a lot of emulating other people’s music."
Given that your songs — particularly on this record — are so personal, people must feel an intense connection with you. Is it weird to have people come up to you after shows and think they know you?
"Yeah, and we perceive everyone to fit into a certain mold in our heads, by the way they dress or the way they look. You comb your hair back — I could fit you into a category so we could be a little bit closer, and we can assimilate, and I think that’s a natural human thing to do. It’s weird sometimes."
Do you ever get to mentor young musicians?
"I don’t really get a chance to do that kind of stuff. I mentored this girl for her school project. She was in year 12 or whatever and had to write a thesis about music and songs. I mentored her for that, and she passed with flying colors. I was stoked on that. [Laughs] She just asked me, and I said, 'I’ll do it.'"
What did you think of the Nirvana Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, with all those female singers — Lorde, St. Vincent, Kim Gordon, and Joan Jett — singing Kurt’s songs?
"I think it was awesome. I think putting any guy in there would have been weird. I don’t think anyone can stand in those shoes, and I’m not saying those women can’t stand in his shoes, but it’s different. It changes the dynamic of it, and I think he really would have loved that, because he loved and respected women so much. He felt an affinity with women, from what I’ve read. I don’t know. But, I know he loved Kim Gordon. I thought it was really cool."
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Courtney Love said recently that Kurt would have loved it.
"I think so. I don’t think he would have been thrilled about them celebrating him. But, you’re dead; you don’t really get a choice, sorry. [Laughs] I think St. Vincent is fucking super talented and Joan Jett — you can’t go wrong with Joan Jett."
If they’d asked you to perform, what Nirvana song would you have picked?
"Probably 'Territorial Pissing' or 'Stay Away.'"
A real screamer.
"Yeah, or maybe something off Bleach."
You’re pretty friendly with Courtney, no? You’ve gotten to know her over the years?
"Not really. I’ve been to her house twice a long time ago when she was having a really hard time. I went to her show in Orange County and I went back and said hello to her, and she gave me some advice. I told her there’s a bunch of little labels — she was looking for a label — so I explained to her there are tons of little independent labels. And, that was the last time I saw her."
What did you think of her recent comments about how people expect more of her than they do Josh and Queens of the Stone Age?
"I don’t mean to be rude, but I feel, like, write a song like Queens of the Stone Age and then you can talk in that way. She wrote some really good records, but a long time ago, and I haven’t honestly listened to any of her stuff since Live Through This, when I was, like, 16. I don’t listen to her stuff anymore. I think she’s pretty mouthy, and I love her to death, but she’s just trying to be controversial."
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It’s nice to have those kind of people out there, though, no?
"I agree. And, I think it’s important to have opinions. It seems like these days you have an opinion, and you get stoned for it. It’s like suicide. Having an opinion, it’s like you better get ready to be hit with rocks. And, I find it really disappointing you can’t say what you think or what you feel anymore without being attacked on some level. Everyone’s so gun-shy to say what they think, so we’re not able to have real discussions because everyone is tiptoeing around shit, and it makes me crazy."
Like what happened to your friends in Warpaint after they criticized Beyoncé and Rihanna for sexualizing their image.
"That conversation is so complicated and so deep and gnarly. There are so many facets to it. It’s a really hard one to navigate. I’m having a really hard time right now trying to form an opinion about so many different things, because I don’t know. It seems like a really confusing, overwhelming time right now. But, I’m looking for answers."
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