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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The conflict in Yemen is a Civil War by numbers

Amid the battles, a generation starves.

Ten thousand dead – a conservative estimate at best. Three million internally displaced. Twenty million in need of aid. Two hundred thousand besieged for over a year. Thirty-four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. More than 140 mourners killed in a double-tap strike on a funeral. These are just some of the numerical subscripts of the war in Yemen.

The British government would probably prefer to draw attention to the money being spent on aid in Yemen – £37m extra, according to figures released by the Department for International Development in September – rather than the £3.3bn worth of arms that the UK licensed for sale to Saudi Arabia in the first year of the kingdom’s bombing campaign against one of the poorest nations in the Middle East.

Yet, on the ground, the numbers are meaningless. What they do not show is how the conflict is tearing Yemeni society apart. Nor do they account for the deaths from disease and starvation caused by the hindering of food imports and medical supplies – siege tactics used by both sides – and for the appropriation of aid for financial gain.

Since the war began in March 2015 I have travelled more than 2,500 miles across Yemen, criss-crossing the front lines in and out of territories controlled by Houthi rebels, or by their opponents, the Saudi-backed resistance forces, or through vast stretches of land held by al-Qaeda. On those journeys, what struck me most was the deepening resentment expressed by so many people towards their fellow Yemenis.

The object of that loathing can change in the space of a few hundred metres. The soundtrack to this hatred emanates from smartphones resting on rusting oil drums, protruding from the breast pockets of military fatigues, or lying on chairs under makeshift awnings where flags denote the beginning of the dead ground of no-man’s-land. The rabble-rousing propaganda songs preach to the watchful gunmen about a feeble and irreligious enemy backed by foreign powers. Down the road, an almost identical scene awaits, only the flag is different and the song, though echoing the same sentiment, chants of an opponent altogether different from the one decried barely out of earshot in the dust behind you.

“We hate them. They hate us. We kill each other. Who wins?” mused a fellow passenger on one of my trips as he pressed green leaves of the mildly narcotic khat plant into his mouth.

Mohammed was a friend of a friend who helped to smuggle me – dressed in the all-black, face-covering garb of a Yemeni woman – across front lines into the besieged enclave of Taiz. “We lose everything,” he said. “They win. They always win.” He gesticulated as he spoke of these invisible yet omnipresent powers: Yemen’s political elite and the foreign states entangled in his country’s conflict.

This promotion of hatred, creating what are likely to be irreversible divisions, is necessary for the war’s belligerents in order to incite tens of thousands to fight. It is essential to perpetuate the cycle of revenge unleashed by the territorial advances in 2014 and 2015 by Houthi rebels and the forces of their patron, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. This demand for retribution is matched by those who are now seeking vengeance for the lives lost in a UK-supported, Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign.

More than 25 years after the two states of North and South Yemen united, the gulf between them has never been wider. The political south, now controlled by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, is logistically as well as politically severed from the north-western territories under the command of the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists. Caught in the middle is the city of Taiz, which is steadily being reduced to rubble after a year-long siege imposed by the Houthi-Saleh forces.

Revenge nourishes the violence, but it cannot feed those who are dying from malnutrition. Blowing in the sandy wind on roadsides up and down the country are tattered tents that hundreds of thousands of displaced families now call home. Others have fled from the cities and towns affected by the conflict to remote but safer village areas. There, food and medical care are scarce.

The acute child malnutrition reported in urban hospitals remains largely hidden in these isolated villages, far from tarmac roads, beyond the reach of international aid agencies. On my road trips across Yemen, a journey that would normally take 45 minutes on asphalt could take five hours on tracks across scrubland and rock, climbing mountainsides and descending into valleys where bridges stand useless, snapped in half by air strikes.

Among the other statistics are the missing millions needed by the state – the country’s largest employer. Workers haven’t been paid in months, amid fears of an economic collapse. This is apparently a deliberate tactic of fiscal strangulation by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government-in-exile. The recent relocation of the central bank from the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a, to the southern city of Aden is so far proving symbolic, given that the institution remains devoid of funds. The workforce on both sides of the conflict has taken to the streets to protest against salaries being overdue.

Following the deaths of more than 140 people in Saudi-led air strikes on a funeral hall on 8 October, Saleh and the Houthi leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, called for yet more revenge. Within hours, ballistic missiles were fired from within Houthi territory, reaching up to 350 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in the Red Sea, Houthi missile attacks on US warships resulted in retaliation, sucking the US further into the mire. Hours later, Iran announced its intention to deploy naval vessels in the area.

Vengeance continues to drive the violence in Yemen, which is being drawn ever closer to proxy conflicts being fought elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet the impact on Yemeni society and the consequences for the population’s health for generations to come are unlikely to appear to the outside world, not even as annotated numbers in the brief glimpses we get of this war. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood