FOREWORD: Along with my wife, Karen, I originally met Brody Dalle (a.ka. Armstrong) at the Knitting Factory before an exhilarating headline set fronting the Distillers in ‘02. Karen gave her a lozenge for, I suspect, a sore throat. Despite that, Brody proved to be in fine shape this night, working the crowd into a perpetual stage-diving frenzy. And yeah. She was hot! But as you’ll read below, she had a tough childhood and was homeless for awhile. One thing I had in common with Brody was we were both Catholic school fuck-ups. Funnily, she related how disturbing it was seeing Courtney Love’s stubble-haired mange backstage once. Now divorced from Rancid punk icon Tim Armstrong, she broke up the Distillers following the release of ‘03s major label warbler, Coral Fang, and began Spinnerette a few years after. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
At Tribeca-based Knitting Factory, the Distillers Brody Armstrong displays the same full-throttled intensity and dedicated passion seminal punk visionaries such as Poly Styrene and Mia Zapata. Mohawk hair spiked to the sky, guitar swaying below her waist with belly button and undies exposed, Brody works the crowd into a manic frenzy.
A mosh pit forms and several hardcore fans stage dive while she belts out unbridled, rambunctious opener “Oh Serena,” a rape-inspired anthem from the Distillers self-titled debut. Throughout the 40-minute set, Brody’s purged lyrics and vitriolic yowls pierce through the anarchistic rumble fellow axe swinger Rose Casper, bassist Ryan, and ex-Nerve Agents drummer Andy Outbreak deliver.
Growing up in Australia, Brody managed to get a U.S. work permit in Detroit, and originally hooked up with Epitaph employee/ bassist Kim Che and drummer Matt Young. Though their rampageous debut was terrific, Brody felt the need to replace the rhythm section with a few hardcore road warriors. Around that time Rancid frontman, Tim Armstrong, married Brody, brought the Distillers out to Los Angeles, and signed them to his burgeoning Hellcat label.
In doing so, the Distillers convened to record the more vital and penetrating Sing Sing Death House. Expressing deep personal feelings of disillusionment and disassociation, liberating cuts such as the biographic “Young Crazed Peeling,” the jagged-edged, suicide bound “Hate Me,” and the raw-boned “Desperate” refine Brody’s focus. The gutter punk of “Sick Of It All,” concerning misguided teens making rash decisions, recalls the bustling fury unleashed by underground legends the Gits and the Germs.
A promiscuous teen whose mother dumped her father due to spousal abuse and then forced her into Catholic school, Brody soon lived on the Melbourne streets rather than deal with the stress of a broken home.
Brody admits, “There’s scars that are still there that don’t go away. They leave a permanent mark. I struggle with the same issues. The basic principle is to just be honest with myself.”
I spoke with Brody a few weeks after the awesome Knitting Factory show/ She was getting her spiked hair blow dried for a set at Las Vegas’ House Of Blues.
I thought the raucous punk of the Distillers may have re-invigorated your husband, Tim, to move back in that hardcore direction on Rancid’s self-titled album last year.
BRODY ARMSTRONG: Most of that’s instilled in him. He has real respect for melodic punk like The Clash and Ramones. He’s always played hardcore.
Though a new rhythm section recorded Sing Sing Death House, it’s consistent with the tone of the first record.
It’s more cohesive. I’ve found people with the same desire and ambition to succeed. We come from working class backgrounds and had shitty lives. Now we have something to prove and we function well as a family. Besides my husband, they’re my best friends. It wasn’t like that before. I ran the band more before, which is stressful because I can’t really use that side of my brain. I get most of my information from my husband, who’s been in this business for 15 years and knows what he’s talking about.
As a hardcore punk, could your beliefs be defined as existentialist or nihilistic?
I do live day by day because I’m a dreamer and I can get lost in it. Not being able to function in the present has been a problem in the past. I could remember at an early age I always thought I’d be taken care of. I do believe in a higher power, but not in the Catholic stereotype.
Both of us are Catholic school fuck-ups.
Abso-fucking-lutely. My mother was Catholic but I was raised atheist. My first experience in Catholic school was when they talked about Jesus Christ. I put my hand up and asked whom we were talking about. It baffled me, Catholic crosses and crucifixes. We were being bred to be strong women, but we weren’t allowed to have our own opinion. I’m pro-choice. I got kicked out of school for that. We had a debate about abortion and I had the whole class yelling at me and the teacher was standing back smirking, thinking ‘it’s murder.’ I’m like, ‘fuck you.’
Abortion’s an ugly thing, but sometimes necessary. It’s an individual’s decision, not societies.
It’s your money and your choice. I’m not gonna listen to some fucking male doctor. It’s bullshit.
Do women still face prejudice and sexism in the music industry?
I don’t pay attention to it. I’m not affected by opinions of me and that attitude. We’ll have some guy mixing us at a club who never saw us before and get this ‘Miss guitar player, do you know where your treble is?’ I’ll be, like, ‘fuck you.’ Then the guy’s baffled, scared, and then nice.
You’ve covered Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels” on the debut. Do you feel connected to her, X Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene, or other women at the forefront of punk?
I love Poly Styrene. Patti I love because she was such an awesome, eccentric, crazy bitch who went off on her own thing and didn’t care what anyone said. People talked shit about her and it made her stronger. She went away for awhile, then rose to the occasion. She was nice to me the second time I met her. I told her we covered her song and she said, ‘You did good.’ That was rad.
What’s your opinion of older contemporaries such as the Muffs’ Kim Shattuck and Hole’s Courtney Love. Sometimes your screams remind me of Kim’s.
That’s nice. I hadn’t heard that before. I like her voice. I hung out with Courtney once when I was 15. I had listened to Pretty On The Inside so loudly I blew my father’s speakers. My last band, Sourpuss, played a show and I had on a Chelsea or Dead Kennedys t-shirt. She was nice to me. It was after Kurt Cobain died and she was high and fucked up. I saw her pussy! She took all her clothes off. It was shocking to me. Here’s my idol taking clothes off backstage. She was, like, ‘Come on, Brody. Let’s go to the party.’ We hear hyperbole about Courtney but wonder if it’s true. People say things about me I can’t believe. Apparently, I shoot up on-stage, have HIV, and am a full-blown junkie, which is far from the truth.
I met you. You’re a sweet girl. Who starts these rumors?
Kids on the internet. Shooting up on-stage? What? Stage props. So fucking ridiculous.