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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.

The singer Brody Dalle
Scarier than Courtney Love: the singer Brody Dalle

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.”