Brody Dalle on The Distillers’ Debut at 20: “I was trying to find my sea legs” | Sunday Observer

Brody Dalle on The Distillers’ Debut at 20: “I was trying to find my sea legs”

8 November, 2020

Brody Dalle is rarely seen without her sneer. It was there last year, when she was mugging into an iPhone camera, posting from the road with her punk band of two decades, the Distillers. It was there a month into the pandemic, when she Instagrammed her quarantine hair. It was there last summer, as she teased fans by posting from the studio, revealing that she and her band mates were in the home stretch of a new record, their first full-length in 17 years. And you can almost hear a hint of it in her speaking voice — more SoCal than Melbourne these days, and less raspy than one might imagine, given the guttural, syllable-packed screeds found on her records — as the Australian-born singer-guitarist calls in from Malibu. But where her sneer comes through in its purest form is on The Distillers, the band’s self-titled debut.

“The idea back then with punk records was just to bang it out as fast as you can,” she says. “And if you took too long, it wasn’t punk.”

The album — which came out in January 2000, and has just been reissued in a newly remastered digital version, with vinyl to follow in November — opens with a moment of feedback, before the quick smash of snares, and Dalle’s snarled voice. “Oh, Serena,” she growls over power chords. “Oh, Serena, I know what they’re saying about you.” Someone’s talking rubbish on Serena, and it’s clear the woman at the mic isn’t having it. From there, the band blasts through 14 more songs in just over 30 minutes — some harking back to Dalle’s girlhood in Melbourne, Australia (Gypsy Rose Lee, the hidden track Young Girls); some dealing with the divisiveness she encountered when she moved to Los Angeles at 18 (L.A. Girl, Girlfixer) are others referencing the documentaries she watched on world revolution (Idoless, Red Carpet and Rebellion).

While the album’s songs took cues from the Nineties pop-punk mainstreamed by Green Day, the Offspring, and her then-husband Tim Armstrong’s band Rancid — “I think I was really impressed with the way he sang,” she says — Dalle twisted the genre into something unique, barking calls for teenage uprising and observations from the girls in the pit. The Donnas and the Lunachicks had packaged that sound into something more palatable, but The Distillers were like a band you might find playing your friend’s basement.

And they were fronted by a woman who looked like she could kick you and steal your boyfriend — but who sang about how such petty confrontation was, in fact, the problem with the scene. “I did experience a lot of cattiness” within the L.A. underground, she says. “And I just don’t operate like that.”

Dalle had moved to Los Angeles in 1997, when she was in her late teens, to be with Armstrong. A couple years before, they’d met at the Summersault Festival in Australia, where she was playing with her band Sourpuss. He invited her to America, and Dalle — using money she’d won in a settlement with the Government after she was sexually abused by a friend’s dad — made the trip. There, she immersed herself in the SoCal punk community orbiting Epitaph Records, and went about putting together a new band. She found bassist Kim Chi and Matt Young, and in 1999, the new group put out a four-song EP on Armstrong’s fledgling label Hellcat. They added Rose Casper on guitar, and their debut was released the following year.

The Distillers shot on to success, releasing Sing Sing Death House in 2002, and 2003’s Coral Fang, which included the single Drain the Blood, and brought them radio play and some MTV fame. But each album featured a different lineup, and each was a little more refined than the last. The Distillers remains the grittiest of their releases, with the urgency of teenage aggression, friendship, and heartache steeped in fast guitars and slamming drums.

The Coral Fang line-up reunited in 2018 for a series of shows and a seven-inch, and have been working on a new album, though no release date has been set. (“I’m so excited for this record to come out,” she says. “I have never been more proud of a record than this one.”)

In the meantime theyplayed one-off gigs, like a virtual, acoustic Halloween-themed set on October 30th.