Baring Fangs 

The Distillers Turn Thorns into Gold

The Distillers

Thurs Dec 18

Aladdin Theater

When I call the Distillers' frontwoman, Brody Dalle, she's couch surfing in Los Angeles, taking a rare break from touring. Although she's been in the spotlight almost nonstop since the release of 2002's Sing Sing Death House, the 24-year-old Australian sounds upbeat and candid, a combination of social ease and press savvy that's impressive for a musician who has experienced a tumultuous past year of professional and personal changes--she left both her label (Epitaph/Hellcat) and her husband of six years, Rancid's Tim Armstrong.

In one of many moments of unguarded chattiness, Dalle takes a quick call from her new boyfriend, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, who's phoned from The Tonight Show to tell her that a crew of skateboarding and basketball-playing pigs are on the set with him. "I'm obsessed with pigs," she says giddily. "I've always wanted a little potbellied pig--you know, the ones they stunt so they actually stay little? They're really smart and cute and they're not so smelly."

Stunting seems like a process far removed from Dalle's go-get-what-you-want world, especially when she makes confident statements about herself like, "The greatest satisfaction for me is being underestimated and then beating the odds into a bloody pulp. I feel like that's kind of what we've just done."

The pulverizing she's referring to is the recent release of the Distillers' knockout third album, Coral Fang (Sire Records). The band--which includes new guitarist Anthony Bradley, bassist Ryan Sinn, and drummer Andy Granelli--worked for five weeks with producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters, Patti Smith) to slightly unwind the anthemic punk aggression tightly coiled on Death House and create a musical landscape of dramatic, dynamic peaks and valleys, showing Dalle at her most lyrically introspective yet.

The longer recording schedule was a luxury for the band, who were forced to bang out Death House quickly due to an engineer "smoking crack, so we ended up having a week to do [12] songs," she recalls. One of Dalle's many talents is her ability to turn trouble into fuel for her work, and she's been channeling adversity into something to scream about for most of her life.

This was true even before she separated from Armstrong, whom she met on New Year's Eve 1995, when she was 17 and living in Melbourne. At 18, Dalle moved to L.A. to be with him, and formed the Distillers in late 1998, releasing an eponymous debut in 2000 on Epitaph imprint Hellcat, the label Armstrong helps run.

Now that her relationships with both the label and her husband have deteriorated, Dalle sounds ready to leave much of her past behind. "You break the whole arm off, not just the hand," she says. "I haven't stepped into the Epitaph offices for months. They have nothing to do with this record. I haven't talked to anyone there, but it's politics--what are you going to do?"

She hasn't completely abandoned recent history, as Fang is loaded with such metaphors as swinging nooses, swarming vultures, quick-beating hearts, and the spillage of body fluids--a conflicting set of passionate emotions set in place by the opening track, "Drain the Blood." Lyrics about being released from a dead love mingle with songs about the thrill of meeting a new one, all delivered with Dalle's classic hack-up-her-lungs yowl, a voice that unleashes the hounds of hell in one breath and retreats into classic pop hooks the next.

Dalle's acetylene delivery conjures the ghost of Nirvana on the Distillers' new album--vocally and in the tense, driven dynamics of the songs. "I love Kurt," she admits. "His songwriting and his guitar playing and the songs are just fucking... aaaarg," she growls. "You could live in them. That's how real they are."

As for the reality of Dalle's songwriting material, she says there's an "endless pit" to pull from. "I think there's always a place you can draw from and it's usually the human condition," she says. "It's something we struggle with constantly. Trying to unravel the human spirit and figure stuff out, it's what it's all about. It's not all roses and candy. You don't have to look too far to see that."

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