Brody Dalle: Why I wrote a “fuck you” song to my dad

Over the course of 20 minutes, Brody Dalle battled a gnarly sounding chest infection to talk to SARAH SMITH about making music, being a Mum and growing up in Melbourne.

We last heard from Brody Dalle on Spinerette’s self-titled, debut album back in 2010. A somewhat stilted comeback the 14-track record was widely criticised for being unfocused and lacking the solid hooks that had made The Distillers brand of punk rock so popular in the early noughties. It was, as she tells it, an album defined by a very dark period in her life: “I wrote most of that record when I was on drugs and I think that is why I have so many songs… it is really busy, it’s got the kitchen sink in.”

But four years is a long time in rock ‘n’ roll. Since then Dalle has given birth to Orrin Ryder – her second child with Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme – and settled into family life, devoting much of the last few years to being “Mum”. The result is her first solo record Diploid Love. Clocking in at a succinct 40 minutes, the nine-track album is imbued with the snarling punk energy of Dalle’s earlier career and laced with some super fun dollops of pop sheen. Recorded whenever she could catch a free moment away from the kids, it features guest spots from Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, Warpaint’s Emily Kokal, The Strokes’ Nick Valensi and Mariachi El Bronx. And despite containing at least one “fuck you” track (dedicated to her biological father) at its core Diploid Love is a hopeful sounding record that reflects Dalle’s new-found inner-peace.

Although she speaks with a thick Californian accent these days, Dalle was born in Melbourne where she attended the city’s infamous Rock ‘n’ Roll High School – a feminist collective run by Hecate and Litany drummer Stephanie Bourke from 1990-1998. It was there that Dalle formed her first band Sourpuss, before fleeing Australia for LA, aged 17. While America is now well and truly home for the Dalle-Homme family, when FL reaches Dalle she is audibly happy to be back in her “real” hometown, opening for Queens of the Stone and Nine Inch Nails on their co-headline tour of Australia.

The last we got to hear from you was on Spinerette’s debut album and now you’re back in solo mode. Why did you decide to move on from that project and go out on your own?

There kind of wasn’t another direction for me to go in. I don’t really have the kind of time to devote to be in a band, even though I’d love to be. So it’s funner and easier for me to just do everything myself, y’know? And it just seems like the most natural progression.

You’ve said before that you had your heart broken after The Distillers broke up. What was the hardest part about that loss?

It was all the work that we put in together, the relationships that we had and the camaraderie – it was a gang and those boys were my best friends. And we toured all over the word and at the end of that two year period, from touring Coral Fang, we were just exhausted and we were drained and the label wanted us to go back in and make a record, but we all had a few issues and instead of breaking up we probably just could have taken a break [laughs]. But it was all very dramatic and so we just decided to end it.

Do you find there is less pressure doing things on your own now, because you don’t have to deal with all those relationships? Or is more pressure because you can only beat up on yourself if things go wrong?

It’s both. There is [more pressure now] but I’m at it, and at it, and at it, and I don’t want to put out some crappy record – and that is all on me, but that’s a good thing.

Life has changed quite a bit for you since The Distillers. For one, you’ve become a mum twice over. Has that shift changed you as an artist?

No, but it definitely has to do with the reason that I am a solo artist now, because it is really ultimately about time management [laughs]. I can manage enough time to make a record and be with my kids, but not to show people how to play stuff on my record. So it’s easier to go at my own pace, in my own time, with my own style. Recording at different places but also coming home and being a mum. I get up at six in the morning and it doesn’t stop. [laughs]

Have the kids been able to see you play on this tour yet?

They have, yeah. It’s awesome, I think. It’s pretty cool. I think they love it.

You’ve described the first single ‘Meet The Foetus/Oh The Joy’ as “a love letter to your kids”. Can you tell me a little bit about why you wanted to do that?

I think you start thinking about your mortality when you have kids, you know? And I thought if I died I wanted to leave them something, so I wrote a lot of lyrics for them on the record. And I also decided to keep a diary every day – just a really candid kind of diary that they can read when they are 18 or something.

To share your thoughts with them?

Yeah but it’s also for them so they can hear what they were doing and where were at. And the funny things that they say. Because you forget it all.

Have you played ‘Meet The Foetus/Oh The Joy’ to them yet?

Oh yeah, for sure. They love it. They’re all “We want to hear that song ‘Foetus’” [laughs].

You’ve got Shirley Manson from Garbage on the backing vocals on that song too, how did that come about?

I’ve known Shirley for 12 or 15 years. I opened for her on the No Doubt tour – it was Distillers, Garbage and No Doubt. I think I was 20 or 21 and we just became fast friends. She is kind of like a big sister and mentor to me and I just respect her so much and everything she has to say. And I love her voice so it just made sense. I wanted like a girl gang on that song so I asked her and Emily Kokal from Warpaint to do it too.

How do you know Emily?

We live in LA and we see each other around and I really like their band, and they are just sweethearts those girls. And I love her voice too – it’s different, it’s angelic and ethereal. So it’s kind of the perfect combo.

How much of your work with The Strokes’ Nicholas Valensi made it onto the record?

Nick is on ‘Rat Race’ and another one called ‘Blood In Gutters’. He played a little bit on there. He is just such a classy guitar player and he writers really interesting riffs – just super melodic and interesting. I kind of hit a wall with ‘Rat Race’ where I was adding and adding and it wasn’t changing so I thought, “I just need someone to come in and play something on here”. So I got him to come in.

Would you and Josh ever write together – is that something you’d consider when you hit a wall like that?

Yeah, except he is on his record cycle. So when I made my record he was on tour. And so it didn’t work out. We mess around at our studio together sometimes and make stuff, but not generally on our own records. I think I’ve sung on a bunch of his records but that’s it.

“I wrote most of that [Spinnerette] record when I was on drugs”

‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ is an interesting song. Your vocals are really different and there is that interlude with your kids. Can you tell me a bit about that song, where it came from?

It’s kind of like a “Fuck you.” There are probably a few of them [laughs]. It’s kind of like “Fuck you, I don’t need you, look what I have.” And that’s why my kids are in there. It was actually a different song entirely, it was faster and louder and gnarlier and my record label guy Jim Chancellor was like “This isn’t really cutting the mustard – can you do something else?” So I took that song and I flipped it, I stripped it down and I slowed the drums down and put some piano in there. And Darren Weis – who is in the band called PAPA, they are an LA-based band – he is probably one of the most talented drummers there is, he came in and played. And I had Jessy Greene – she plays with the Foo Fighters a lot – she came in and played violins, and it kind of became this thing. It just happened. And I happened to have my kids in the bath, playing a game and that is how that fit into there.

So who is the “fuck you” to?

It’s to my biological father…

Have there been a few of those to him over the years, or is this the first one?

I think it is kind of the first one. But it’s kind of a gentle “fuck you”, it’s like, “You really fucked up and you really missed out. You could have had so much.”

I guess having your own kids would really bring up all that kind of stuff up…

Yeah it’s like “How could you leave? Is that it? How did you do that?” It’s just bizarre. I know that people have their own dramas and are damaged and stuff but my dramas couldn’t keep me from my kids, no way.

While there are these dark moments it feels like quite a positive record as well…

It totally is, it really is. It’s hopeful.

There was a period of time when you stopped playing live. You had another kid and family life took precedence – during that time were you writing music?

Yeah, when I could. That’s basically why it took me so long to write this record because it was basically made in increments. I’d be hiding in my toilet trying to sing into my phone or play a riff. Or I’d sneak off at 3am and record something – just whenever or wherever I could get it.

I feel like that is the chapter omitted from parenting books: “How to write a record and be a mum”.

Yeah, it’s kind of difficult [laughs].

I spoke with Josh before this tour and he touched on the difficult period in his and your family’s life that preceded the new Queen’s album. How does it feel to have come through all of that and both be putting new music back into the world?

I’m just glad it’s over, it was pretty rough.

Is this album reflective more of the past, or how you feel right now as a family?

I started writing this record after I came out of a really bad bout of postpartum [depression]. It was from my daughter actually, it wasn’t from my son, and it lasted about four years. And most of that Spinerette record is about that, and then I kind of came out of it when I had my son. Actually, before – when I found out I was pregnant with my son – I started to feel really happy and positive. We’d kind of gone through the washing machine.

Were you scared to give birth again then, given you’d just started feeling better?

No, because I felt different in my pregnancy. I mean when I got pregnant with Camille my band had broken up. I’d gained 30 pounds in my pregnancy with Camille so I was basically unrecognisable to myself and I had a really, really bad drug habit on the road with The Distillers, so it was intense. Then my dad, my aunt and my nana all died in the space of three months. It was just a really intense, crazy time.

With that in mind how do you feel when you look back on that Spinnerette record? Is it kind of marred because is is reflective of that time in your life?

It’s not that I don’t feel good about it. I wrote most of that record when I was on drugs and I think that is why I have so many songs [laughs]. But it was pre-kids you know what I mean? It was all pretty much written way before. I like that record: It’s really busy, it’s got the kitchen sink in it. It’s hard to recreate live, but there are some really great songs on there.

Is that why this album is so succinct – it only has nine tracks?

I actually had 200 demos on my phone and I erased them by accident one day a couple of months ago, just all of them… I was just like “Oh God” and then I had to let it go cause there was nothing I could do about it. So there was more, but I erased them. Maybe it was meant to be, who knows.

The track ‘Underworld’ is a bit of a curve-ball. It’s got this Distillers energy – then it breaks out into Mariachi horns – where did that come from?

Originally I had the riff from a long time ago and I composed a horn part and I thought it sounded kind of Russian, but I didn’t know how to instrumentalise that. Then I thought it needs horns, and the only people I know who know how to play horns are the Mariachi El Bronx and they came in and it just became that Mariachi-infused song.

I think Australians still like to claim you as their own, especially as you were part of Melbourne’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Highschool” which has been quite mythologised over the years. What is your memory of that time?

Well, we formed our band [Sourpuss] at an all-ages show on Swanston Street at the Hi-Fi bar and I’d heard about Rock ‘N’ Roll Highschool, and none of us really had any money so we couldn’t afford any instruments or amps or anything. So we went there to play. And they showed us how to plug in and turn an amp on and then we basically just rehearsed there. I think we all had a couple of lessons. My first [guitar] lessons were at this guy’s place in Northcote on Candy Street, and he taught me how to play my favourite songs. And when I heard about Rock ‘N’ Roll Highscool and I sort of continued down that alley of just learning songs – because I’m not technical, I’m not technically musical like that.

“We formed our band Sourpuss at an all-ages show on Swanston Street at the Hi-Fi bar”

Then Stefanie Bourke [who ran Rock ‘N’ Roll Highschool] started managing us and we played a few shows and I worked there. I think we all worked there a bit. It was a really great place … I just think that Stephanie was going through a really rough period in her life and I think that financially it was a bit of a stretch to run that school and make it work. And I think she had a lot of personal problems and it kind came out in the way that she dealt with all of us. And when I decided to leave and move to America when I was 17, she told me it was a terrible idea and I shouldn’t do it. In fact, most people told me that [laughs] and I said well I’m going there is nothing you can do. So I went.

[Stephanie] saw my friend who was in Sourpuss on the street and she said to her that she hoped I burned in hell, which I thought was a really odd thing to say about a 17-year-old girl when you are in your mid-30s. And I had done nothing wrong but leave, and my band – Sourpuss – by that stage had broken up which was sad, but you got to move on. So for some reason she had it in for me and I never knew why. I don’t know what I did. I haven’t seen her or spoken to her. I tried to call her because I kind of slagged her off in article when I was about 25 or 24 ‘cause I was just really hurt. I was pissed and really hurt because I didn’t understand so I was like “Fuck you”. And I’m a little bit older now and I don’t know, I tried to ask her and tried to reason with her but she just screamed at me so I just thought “Well forget that”, let’s move on. But it was, it was a great place.

With that in mind if your daughter came to you in a few years and wanted to go down the same path as you – or move overseas when they were 17 would you be cool with that?

Yeah, I would support her to do what she wants to do. I just want her to be happy and ultimately when you have kids you just want your kid to be happy. And she will have her own experience and her own life and her life is nothing like mine was and I just want to make the world a really good happy place for my kids.

Brody Dalle’s Diploid Love is out on April 28 through Caroline/Universal.

Something to say?