Brody Dalle releases her debut solo LP, Diploid Love, on Friday, April 25. SHANE PINNEGAR reports.
In an age where the vast majority of music interviews are done down a phone line, there’s something almost disconcerting about sitting across a table one-on-one with someone to talk about their new album. Looking into the other’s eyes when sat that close together, there’s nowhere to hide, and that goes for both parties.
I met Brody Dalle at her hotel while in Perth with husband Josh Homme and the Queens Of The Stone Age/Nine Inch Nails tour, which she opened in support of her forthcoming debut solo LP, Diploid Love, out this week.
Dalle will tell us how exhausting it is travelling with a rock n’ roll circus and a family (their two kids are on tour with them), and how she misses partying after the gig sometimes, but despite all this, the first thing I notice about Brody Dalle is how striking she is sans makeup. More normally seen in glossy, high exposure shots for her bands The Distillers and Spinnerette, she wears a casual unzipped sweater, has her blonde hair tied back, and a few freckles dance playfully across her nose as she smiles wearily.
She’s warm and friendly, though guarded to start with, but opens up quickly as she relaxes into a conversation about her life and music, offering up personal information about her former drug problems and family issues that you get the distinct impression she may not have answered if questioned about.
It’s impossible to get the full measure of a person in 20 minutes, but Dalle comes across as a determined and talented woman who has a bevy of insecurities to battle, but who is making her way through that minefield as best she can with the support of someone she truly loves. There seems very little ego about her, despite her obvious self belief in her talent.
When I tell her that after Spinnerette, I don’t know what I was expecting from Diploid Love, but it wasn’t the darkly poptastic record she has made, she is immediately defensive. I have to explain that actually I meant that in a good way – that the album is very ‘pop’ in it’s immediacy, but still retains a punk rock credibility. Did she go out of her way to defy expectations?
“No,” she says, her eyes mostly looking down at her coffee. “Did I?”
I think so.
“Oh, really? It’s so weird, I don’t see it that way. I feel like I’ve always written kind of pop songs, like melody is really important to me. I guess if you were to slow down those Distiller songs maybe the melody would stick out more, I don’t know…”
There’s more synth work in the soundscapes on the new record. More obviously accessible melody, and more of a pop feel in general…
“Well, I use a lot of electronic drums, like on Carry On,” she starts hesitantly, perhaps realising now that I’m not being critical. “At our studio, we have this Yamaha Keytar from the ‘80s. It still has strings on it, so it’s electronic. You can play organ or guitar, blah, blah, blah, but then it has built-in drums so you can just, like, hit a roll. You know what I mean? It kind of helps you. It’s a writing machine. So, I played around with a lot of stuff like that.”
Reiterating that Diploid Love seems like an extension of Spinerette’s indie-pop-rock sound, I elaborate a little, reaffirming that I like the record, that it has still got that rock’n’ roll’heart to it and a punkish sneer, but I just think it’s just got more of a sheen of pop over the top.
“Pop over the top,” Dalle smiles, her prettiness more evident when she’s relaxed. “It’s so weird. I don’t know. I made it under the radar. No one was looking. Just did my thing.”
Diploid Love is hardly a star-studded affair, but Shirley Manson from Garbage contributes some backing vocals, and The Strokes’ Nick Valensi, Michael Shuman from QOTSA and Warpaint’s Emily Kokal are all on there somewhere. Dalle said that the core music was all her, producer Alain Johannes and Haydn Scott.
“Yeah, it’s me and Al. And if it’s not electronic drums, it’s Haydn Scott, who’s an Aussie actually. He’s the drummer and he’s on tour with me. He played over a lot of electronic drums, but he played Underworld – that’s all him.”
Dalle says that Garbage were never a strong influence, but Manson became a friend on tour.
“Not at all, no. I went on tour with them when I was 21. I opened for Garbage and No Doubt. That was really the first time I heard them. I was into Courtney Love, into Babes In Toyland. I was into Bikini Kill… all the Riot Grrl shit, that was my kind of thing, and Garbage, they weren’t on my radar, but I fell in love with her and I loved her voice, so that was kind of that.”
Recorded at their home studio with Dalle assisting Johannes in producing, some tracks seem so densely layered they bring to mind the Phil Spector Wall Of Sound production style, but she says that happened by accident rather than design.
“It wasn’t deliberate – it wasn’t anything other than time management,” she says with a half-hearted, weary laugh. “I have two kids, so I didn’t have the time to do anything but make my record incrementally. If there’s layers, it’s because I’ve been listening to it over and over again, and I’m like, ‘it needs this’. I would go back in and would put that on it. Yeah, time, time is scarce for me… time to do anything!”
It must be crazy trying to tour, be in a good shape to perform, and have two kids, a husband, a new album and a promo schedule to worry about.
“It’s fucking exhausting!” she says, sounding almost exasperated at the reminder. For a moment she looks like a little girl, a little lost, but a wave of determination crosses her face and she holds herself together.
“I locked myself in the bathroom on the plane and then just cried. It’s really hard. I’ve never done this before where I’ve had… and I have two kids. I have a 21/2-year-old and an 8-year-old and my husband’s working and I’m working. It’s like… I want … they come first, always, and so today, we’ve got to get up at six in the morning, and breakfast, and do kid shit all day for as long as I, we, can do it and then we go to soundcheck and we have to play the show. And then I’m amped and wired and I want to stay up and hang out…
“Some nights, I drag myself to bed, at fucking 8pm, and then other nights, I want to just feel like me and hang out a little bit and have that space and that time. But, our whole year is like this, basically.
“It’s booked – I just don’t think the dates are up yet. It’s full. I mean, when Queens aren’t on tour, then I’m playing. We’re touring all August together with our kids. It’s the summer holidays in America, they’ve got they’ve months off.”
You sound tired just talking about it.
“I’m really excited,” she affirms, though without attempting to hide the weariness this time. “I’m really lucky I get to do this, but it’s not a cake walk.”
Being a solo artist now, the buck stops with you. Do you feel that gives you more creative freedom?
“Fuck yeah!” she exclaims. “Yeah. The possibilities are endless. I’m so excited that I accidentally… like, it’s the same thing, it’s time management. I don’t have time to put into other people to have them come in. I don’t have time to show them parts to play. I just don’t have the time. So I made the record in my own time, on my own terms and that’s how it happened. It’s like, well, you might as well call it your own name, you know?
“I didn’t really have any other direction to go in. It’s like a natural progression, I guess.”
Once a punk rocker, always a punk rocker though, and any hint that she may have been concerned what Distillers or Spinerette or Queens fans may think about her solo, poppier direction is met with a brick wall.
“I don’t really care. That’s not what I do… I don’t sit around making music for other people. That would be an impossibility – you couldn’t satisfy everybody. Someone would always have a complaint or not like this or not like that. And with The Distillers, I never thought about it. With Spinnerette, I realised there was a whole peanut gallery out there and they had something to say about it. I’d never read any press or read anything before that and I decided after that, I was not going to again, because hey, I get to do this, and I get to make records and I’m going to keep on doing it whether people like it or not. I’m lucky, you know?” That’s the way rock n’ roll should be – created by real people doing real things for themselves. If anyone else likes it, that’s a bonus.
“That’s a bonus,” she laughs, “it is!”
The press pack for Diploid Love talks about Dalle’s motivations to record songs about life: creating it, living it, surviving it and so forth. One theme that I really picked up listening to the album was of courage, through the lyrics: of standing up for yourself, chasing your dreams, searching for personal freedom. I wonder if this was a reaction to her personal freedom being limited by motherhood.
“Uuuum… no, it’s just that I’ve been through a lot of shit in the last… I don’t know… my whole life maybe?”
Dalle has cast her eyes down at the table again, and it’s hard not to feel for her as she spills her guts. “It’s just going through the transitions. My band broke up. I had a really severe methamphetamine problem. Then I got off that. I got pregnant. I got married. I had a child. My husband went on tour. My dad died. My aunt died. My grandmother died. It’s just been a lot of… it just doesn’t stop, you know? I know that’s life, but it’s been really fucking intense.
“It’s been, yeah, relentless would be the right word. So then, getting used to going from living a really selfish rock’n’roll lifestyle to having to take care of children and raise children. That was a really hard transition for me, but now I just… once you embrace it and it actually truly becomes who you are inside, it’s like it was the missing puzzle piece for me, you know? Something I was searching for, for a really long time.”
In addition to all that, Homme had a blood clot in his leg a few years ago which took him to the brink of death. It’s never easy watching someone you care about in danger, but with a young child and on top of all the rest of the dramas, it’s no doubt Dalle was so devastated.
“Yeah, it was awful,” she agrees sadly. “It was like I said – another thing. Things like that just keep happening. Thank God not in the last couple of years, but yeah, that was the last one that really kind of rocked our boat.
“He’s great now,” she continues, her eyes lighting up again. “That was rough going through it all. Brutal.”
Singing about such ultra-important life issues, about birth and having courage and strength is a long way from writing punk rock songs about drinking and fucking, isn’t it?
“Definitely,” she laughs, agreeing that there’s been a huge progression in her work since she first started writing songs in her home town of Melbourne.
“Yeah, but look at the factions in punk rock. You have The Clash, you have Black Flag, you have the Ramones. There’s many different versions of a punk rock song or a punk rock band, you know, what people choose to sing about. It really is more like an attitude: ‘I’m not going to fucking take this shit!’ Whether it’s feeling like you’re personally being held down or socially or you know?”
The Diploid Love press pack also talks about Dalle feeling some anxiety about bringing kids into an awkward, fractured world. Do you believe it’s going to get better by the time they grow up?
“I don’t know,” she says thoughtfully. “I mean, I just watched some program on the TV yesterday, saying it’s going to be four degrees hotter in 50 years. There’s nothing we can do… even if we do something now, it’s like throwing ice into a fucking raging, thousand hectare fire. It’s like I don’t know. We don’t really know where we’re heading, but you have to stay positive. I try to stay positive. I try to think for the best, and I want the outcome to be good. We can only hope. We can do our best and do our part.”
Another issue close to Dalle’s heart is how much time she allows her kids access to the virtual world through TV and Facebook and the net. As a parent myself it certainly seems harder to get kids to go and play outside and experience the world first hand.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “We have a lot of rules. Especially dinnertime, there’s no technology. You get an hour a day you can watch an educational show or play an educational game. It can’t be mindless indulgences all day, you know?”
Getting back to the album, Dalle says the new tracks are already going down well live.
“I think they sound really good live. It’s only our seventh or eighth show tonight, so it’s just getting to feel like a band and the songs are starting to sound more powerful, I think live – which is what happened with Spinnerette, too. It might sound poppy, but when you play it live, it’s like times 10, it’s just different.
“I’m playing stuff from the new record and then I’m playing some Distillers stuff and I was playing Ghetto Love, but it requires me to dance around the stage and honestly, in a big giant stadium, it’s not my bag dude, not my fucking bag. My security blanket is my guitar, you know what I mean?”
Dalle says she was enjoying being back in Australia, although it didn’t feel like a homecoming yet, at that point.
“I just haven’t been to Melbourne yet,” she smiles, “and Melbourne is … when I left Melbourne 17 years ago, there was a million people and now there’s like four million people. The neighbourhoods I grew up in that were really shitty, Fitzroy and Northcote, are now just hipster paradise.
“I go up High Street and I can’t fucking believe what’s at the top of the hill. It’s astounding. I feel like if maybe it had been that way when I was there, I might not have left. It’s cool. I love it.”
Dalle says that her and Homme are not so recognisable as to make doing normal family stuff difficult.
“Yeah. We’re not that recognisable. It’s not like we’re fucking Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.”
No danger of getting mobbed at the playground or anything?
“No, dude,” she laughs. “Generally not. Not at all.”
Dalle is tenacious enough to want to make her solo album just that – independent of outside pressures, which even includes her higher-profile husband, but with a home studio in place, is there a chance they’re record together at a later date?
“Yeah, we talk about it,” she nods thoughtfully. “I’m less inclined because… not to work with him, it’s to have him work on any of my stuff. I just don’t want the lines to get blurred. I like to take credit for my shit. We mess around in our studio and have made some fun demos. Right now, there’s just no time for it, but when he’s off tour cycle and I am, maybe we can do something really fun together.
Is there the risk that with him having a higher profile than you, that your creative input might get lost in his shadow a little bit, in some people’s perceptions?
“No. I just don’t like nepotism and I don’t ever want anyone to think that I have got a silver spoon in my mouth or I get a free fucking ride because it just doesn’t happen. All my shit is paid for through the way I make money, which is through my record contract. I don’t ask for anything – I don’t like that. I don’t want anyone to ever think that, although that makes him really mad, you know?
“He keeps telling me, ‘it’s who you know that gets you in the door and what you know that keeps you there’. His grandfather taught him that, which I think is really nice, but I still feel really awkward about it. I’ve been married to two really high-profile musicians since I was 18 and I just feel uncomfortable using or abusing… I’m not that person. I don’t want to do that.
“I make my own way.”
Okay, so a hypothetical one to finish. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording of any one record in history, which would you choose to do?
“Fuck, that’s a crazy question,” she laughs. “It’s like which record is your favourite one of all time? It’s like almost impossible to answer.
“I might give like five different answers, depending on the day. I don’t know, it might either be, like a Nirvana record or maybe the Beatles, The White Album. I mean, you know… There’s my answer.
“Nirvana meant a lot to me growing up, for sure. The Beatles, I discovered… I heard a lot when I was little. I didn’t hear the White Album until I was much older.”
Finally, we exchange thank yous and Dalle asks if I’ll be at that night’s show – which unfortunately I have to skip as I have a large job on with my other business, as a caterer, and I’ll be feeding 100 people at the exact time she’ll be playing.
“Oh my God, you cook?” she says excitedly. “Food is the best fucking thing, ever.”
But you’re so skinny, I laugh.
“I fucking run six miles every morning, dude,” Dalle says with another tired sigh, “otherwise I would just eat all day.”