If Seattle Weekly were Us Weekly, this is how I'd start my story about the L.A. punk band the Distillers: Calling all crusties! Brody Dalle, the cadaver-chic lead singer of Los Angeles punkers the Distillers, recently broke up with her Mohawked mister, Tim Armstrong of SoCal VIPs Rancid. Sources say that Dalle hit it off with Josh Homme, the ginger-haired hottie who fronts Queens of the Stone Age, when their two bands played the traveling alt-rock bacchanalia Lollapalooza this summer, and that the Armstrongs' marriage soon unraveled. Reps for the three leather-jacketed lovers had no comment on this tricky triangle. Psst, Tim: We hear Courtney Love's singlerock that Casbah, dude!
Then there'd be a brightly colored flowchart detailing the unlikely alliances that have sprung up in recent years between these folks: Dalle's involved with Homme, who's collaborated with Foo Fighter/part-time Queen Dave Grohl, who used to play in Nirvana with Kurt Cobain, who was married to Love, who for her upcoming solo album is working with songwriter/producer Linda Perry, who found huge success via her contributions to Missundaztood by Pink, who in turn hooked up with Armstrong for her latest, Try This. Add in the fact that Coral Fang (Sire), the new Distillers album, sounds almost exactly like Live Through This, the 1994 breakthrough by Love's band Hole, and what have you got? The ingredients for a pop-punk "We Are the World," of course. V. v. hot!
THIS WEEKLY ISN'T that Weekly though, so I tried to dig a little deeper into Dalle's none-of-my-business "no comment," but Dalle really didn't have a commentshe didn't even have time for my question. Instead, I call up guitarist Tony Bradley a few hours before he has to catch a plane to Austin for the first date on the Distillers' current U.S. tour. He sounds super nice, so I say, "Tony, man, what's up with all the drama surrounding you guys? I mean, this kind of thing we expect from J.Lo, or even the White Stripes, but a rattily attired punk band like the Distillers? I tried to check out what people are thinking of Coral Fang on a couple different Internet message boardssince it's the band's first major-label album and all, and it has a bunch of slow grunge songs on itbut yowza! They're all swamped with heated Brody-Tim-Josh talk. This one kid even suggested that Brody was just hitching her wagon to a more current star than Tim's, which sounds pretty damn cynical, if you ask me. So what gives? What's it like living in the middle of a gossip column?"
"I don't mean to sound like a dick," Bradley says (and he doesn't), "but I really don't wanna talk about this at all. All I have to say about it is that it's kind of strange when your life is being played out in the media. Obviously people want to know about it and people are gonna write about it and stuff, and I understand that, but it's something that I would rather not talk about. It's hard. It's really fucked."
"So, tell me what your favorite color is," Bradley says with a laugh, making light of the elephant that has just been patched into our call. I laugh, too, and tell him that's exactly what I'm talking about: He's fielding calls from strangers who want to know about his bandmate's personal romantic goings-on, when he's probably used to people asking about, I dunno, why Coral Fang has a bunch of slow grunge songs on it.
He acknowledges the weirdness of the situation, but doesn't want to talk about it. So I ask him why Coral Fang has a bunch of slow grunge songs on it, why it's a lot more expansive and oblique and nuanced than last year's Sing Sing Death House, the record that earned the Distillers their first mainstream attention, thanks to the sort-of MTV hit "The Young Crazed Peeling." (You remember the video, in which Dalle trolled those hard L.A. streets wanting to know if passersby were ready to be liberated.) The Hole similarities are mostly Dalle's doing, since vocally she shares Love's habit of switching between a low cigarette-stained rasp and a high-pitched riot-grrrl yowl. But the three guys behind her do their part, too, threading in little tarnished-silver guitar leads and shading even the standard-issue punk-chug bits with a muscular melodic oomph and a rhythmic agility I'd never ask of Hot Water Music. (Since Coral Fang is a major- label debut, credit also producer Gil Norton, a studio vet who's helped the Pixies, Belly, and the Foo Fighters clean up their sounds for mass consumption and the guy who made the new Dashboard Confessional sound like a postpubescent Eagles record.)
"Brody wrote Sing Sing Death House like three years ago, and she's kind of grown up, and her songwriting's really matured," Bradley says of the band's growth. "Not that it was immature before, but the kind of music that she's writing has just naturally changed, I think. Everything that she wrote on this record was what she wanted to do and what she's been into. We like all different kinds of musicmusic that's more mellow or slower, stuff that's fast and aggressive, so it was nice to be able to do all different kinds of styles and not be confined to doing one record of all the same kind of music."
There was also the undeniable engine of personal strife driving heri.e., the dissolution of her marriage. I ask Bradley if he felt any pressure to really do Dalle's songs justice this time, since she had so much invested in them. "Obviously, when someone's pouring their heart out lyrically, you wanna be able to be at that level with them, as far as how emotional the music is," he says. "I'm really into the subject matter on this record. We were going through a lot of stuff as individuals in the last year, and I think that emotion definitely came out on the record." The deep digging is there; you just gotta do it yourself.
The Distillers play Graceland at 8 p.m. Wed., Dec. 17. $12 adv.