Scarier than Courtney Love: the singer Brody Dalle
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Brody Dalle: the return of tough, surly female singers

Kate Mossman meets the riot mom and wife of Josh Homme, whose sound is a unique brand of domestic hardcore.

Tinnitus, the war wound of the ageing rocker, is not normally associated with women of 35 but “two decades of cymbals” have taken their toll on Brody Dalle, the punk singer married to Josh Homme (of Queens of the Stone Age).

I tell her I enjoyed her gig. “I couldn’t hear shit,” she replies. To be fair, no one could: the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen was rather too small for this kind of music. Many came to see one of rock’s most famous wives expecting Courtney Love 2.0 but what they got was less theatrical, more dead-eyed and scary. While Dalle screamed, older members of the crowd kept stepping out for air. At the front, teenage girls sang along to her latest single, “Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy”. In the video, an animated unborn baby slips out of its mother’s womb at night and sets the world to rights, instigating a UN-style baby conference.

“I would love to see a conference of foetuses,” she says in an iambic LA monotone, tucking into a chicken breast the morning after the gig. Her left forearm bears the name of her first child, Camille, and above it another elaborate tattoo spells “Fuck off”. “Meet the Foetus” was inspired by a period of post-natal depression, “the anxieties you have about bringing your children into a world that resembles the zombie apocalypse”. Dalle is a mother of two children who “mean more to me than anything else in the world”. Her music is a unique brand of domestic hardcore.

She has been on the scene for years. Born in Melbourne in 1979, she had a bad start: she had a violent father (he now lives in  England – “in Leeds or some shit”) and later she suffered sexual abuse. She formed the all-girl punk group Sourpuss when she was 13, then took up with Tim Armstrong, the lead singer of the US rock group Rancid (sample lyric: “The Holocaust was nothing compared to my lividity!”). The marriage was fraught: “I used my band to get away from my husband.” Her punk unit the Distillers had some commercial success but, she says, “I had an addiction to methamphetamine that I couldn’t get away from  – we all did, which is why the band imploded.” When she married the desert rock titan Josh Homme (it was Dalle who first called him “the ginger Elvis”), she found stability but babies – and baby blues – halted her music career.

In 2014, the world is once again open to the idea of tough, surly female singers in Airtex shirts and Dalle’s first solo album, Diploid Love (which will be released in April) is bang on time. The acts that inspired her when she was 13 (“L7, Babes in Toyland, Hole, 7 Year Bitch”) were cornerstones of the riot grrrl movement, now seen by rock’s reverse telescope as a key part of modern feminism, inspiring “girl power” in mainstream pop and, eventually, the balaclava-toting Russian dissidents who riffed on its name.

“I could not tell you what Pussy Riot sound like,” she says, working a tea strainer. “I’ve read all the articles but I have not heard a note of their music. Which is probably the experience of a lot of people. I’m not very impressed with Russia, though, seriously. F*** them. No gays? They must be out of their minds. They should have had the Olympics taken off them. It is embarrassing.”

Her husband, Homme, whose nexus of musical collaborations includes Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures (his supergroup with John Paul Jones), has not had a direct creative input on Diploid Love, though the couple have recorded together in the past. “I feel a little bit of anxiety working with him because as a musician, he’s on a different level from me,” she says. “With my melodies and harmonies I can compete but not with playing. I would not be able to jam with my husband. He is an accomplished badass. He is not a wanker at all. He has the sexiest, most tasteful riffs.”

Dalle’s second coming suggests an alternative to the popular notion that creative people lose their edge when they find domestic bliss. “When you have a kid, all this stuff from your own childhood starts to come up. It is gnarly. Once, the music and the band were the outlet: now, I’m more equipped to deal with it but I have an endless well of darkness.”

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's power game

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As it turns out, the Bake Off and the Labour party have a lot in common

And I'm not just talking about the fact they've both been left with a old, wrinkly narcissist.

I wonder if Tom Watson and Paul Hollywood are the same person? I have never seen them in the same room together – neither in the devil’s kitchen of Westminster, nor in the heavenly Great British Bake Off marquee. Now the Parliamentary Labour Party is being forced to shift to the ­political equivalent of Channel 4, and the Cake Meister is going with. As with the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, so with Bake Off: the former presenters have departed, leaving behind the weird, judgemental, wrinkly old narcissist claiming the high ground of loyalty to the viewers – I mean members.

Is the analogy stretched, or capable of being still more elasticised? Dunno – but what I do know is that Bake Off is some weird-tasting addictive shit! I resisted watching it at all until this season, and my fears were justified. When I took the first yummy-scrummy bite, I was hooked even before the camera had slid across the manicured parkland and into that mad and misty realm where a couple of hours is a long time . . . in baking, as in contemporary British politics. It’s a given, I know, that Bake Off is a truer, deeper expression of contemporary Britain’s animating principle than party, parliament, army or even monarch. It is our inner Albion, reached by crossing the stormy sound of our own duodenums. Bake Off is truer to its idea of itself than any nation state – or mythical realm – could ever be, and so inspires a loyalty more compelling.

I have sensed this development from afar. My not actually watching the programme adds, counterintuitively, to the perspicacity of my analysis: I’m like a brilliant Kremlinologist, confined to the bowels of Bletchley Park, who nonetheless sifts the data so well that he knows when Khrushchev is constipated. Mmm, I love cake! So cried Marjorie Dawes in Little Britain when she was making a mockery of the “Fatfighters” – and it’s this mocking cry that resounds throughout contemporary Britain: mmm! We love cake! We love our televisual cake way more than real social justice, which, any way you slice it, remains a pie in the sky – and we love Bake Off’s mixing bowl of ethnicity far more than we do a melting pot – let alone true social mobility. Yes, Bake Off stands proxy for the Britain we’d like to be, but that we can’t be arsed to get off our arses and build, because we’re too busy watching people bake cakes on television.

It was Rab Butler, Churchill’s surprise choice as chancellor in the 1951 Tory government, who popularised the expression “the national cake” – and our new, immaterial national cake is a strange sort of wafer, allowing all of us who take part in Paul’s-and-Mary’s queered communion to experience this strange transubstantiation: the perfect sponge rising, as coal is once more subsidised and the railways renationalised.

Stupid, blind, improvident Tom Watson, buggering off like that – his battles with the fourth estate won’t avail him when it comes to the obscurity of Channel 4. You’ll find yourself sitting there alone in your trailer, Tom, neatly sculpting your facial hair, touching up your maquillage with food colouring – trying to recapture another era, when goatees and Britannia were cool, and Tony and Gordon divided the nation’s fate along with their polenta. Meanwhile, Mel and Sue – and, of course, Mary – will get on with the serious business of baking a patriotic sponge that can be evenly divided into 70 million pieces.

That Bake Off and the Labour Party should collapse at exactly the same time suggests either that the British oven is too cold or too hot, or that the recipe hasn’t been followed properly. Mary Berry has the charisma that occludes charisma: you look at her and think, “What’s the point of that?” But then, gradually, her quiet conviction in her competence starts to win you over – and her judgements hit home hard. Too dense, she’ll say of the offending comestible, her voice creaking like the pedal of the swing-bin that you’re about to dump your failed cake in.

Mary never needed Paul – hers is no more adversarial a presenting style than that of Mel and Sue. Mary looks towards a future in which there is far more direct and democratic cake-judging, a future in which “television personality” is shown up for the oxymoron it truly is. That she seems to be a furious narcissist (I wouldn’t be surprised if either she’s had a great deal of “work”, or she beds down in a wind tunnel every night, so swept are her features) isn’t quite as contradictory as you might imagine. Out there on the margins of British cookery for decades, baking cakes for the Flour Advisory Board (I kid you not), taking a principled stand on suet, while the entire world is heading in one direction, towards a globalised, neoliberal future of machine-made muffins – she must have had a powerful ­degree of self-belief to keep on believing in filo pastry for everyone.

So now, what will emerge from the oven? Conference has come and gone, and amateur bakers have banged their heads against the wall of the tent: a futile exercise, I’m sure you’ll agree. Will Jeremy – I’m sorry, Mary – still be able to produce a show-stopper? Will Mel and Sue and Angela and Hilary all come sneaking back, not so much shriven as proved, so that they, too, can rise again? And what about poor Tom – will he try to get a Labour Party cookery show of his own going, despite the terrible lack of that most important ingredient: members?

It’s so hard to know. It could be that The Great British Bake Off has simply reached its sell-by date and is no longer fit for consumption. Or it could be that Tom is the possessor of his alter ego’s greatest bête noire, one as fatal in politics as it is in ­bakery, to whit: a soggy bottom. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.