In the heart of New York City, Brody Dalle wails into the microphone. Her kohl-rimmed eyes squeeze shut, her black hair, coated with sweat, sticks to her face, and her ruby red lips open to let out a wrenching scream: "They say this is the city/The city of angels/All I see is dead wings." But this is no city of angels. In fact, Dalle is more than three thousand miles from her home in the hills of Los Angeles. Onstage, inside a blisteringly steamy CBGB, Dalle, then the frontwoman of the furious punk rock band The Distillers, stirs the cramped audience—a mess of grubby, rail-thin punks and celebrities like Janeane Garofalo—into a frenzy that has them crashing into one another as waves of fans push up toward the small stage.
It was July of 2003. The Distillers had recently signed a contract with Sire Records, a division of Warner Music Group. They were on a break from Lollapalooza and were already hard at work on Coral Fang, their third album, due to be released that October. But not all was well in their world. Coral Fang would be the last record The Distillers would release together, and Dalle, the sneering mouthpiece of the band, had been caught kissing the lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age in a Rolling Stone photo—which wouldn't have been a problem had she not been married to Rancid's Tim Armstrong.
That photo and the divorce that soon followed would split part of the punk world in two. When the pair were together, being a fan of both bands wasn't a stretch. Musically, they had much in common. But after that fateful summer, it was as if you had to choose sides. Even at this intimate show, one male fan crowd-surfed holding a sign that read "Take Tim Back." Dalle ignored him. It seemed, at least as far as the outside world was concerned, she'd moved on. When The Distillers released Coral Fang that October, there were no breakup songs. (On the other hand, Rancid's Indestructible, released that August, featured songs such as "Tropical London" and "Fall Back Down," which showed Armstrong wasn't grieving quietly.
Dalle changed her last name (she's had seven since birth) almost immediately after the split, naming herself after her favorite screen star, the French actress Béatrice Dalle, who, to Brody's surprise, surfaced at their Paris show the following February. She recalls, "I almost stopped singing and freaked out because I could see her in the back of the room." Before settling on her new last name, Brody returned home to her native Melbourne. "I was in Australia and my aunt's got a really great sense of humor. She was like, 'What are you going to call yourself now? Maybe you should get really authentic and make it a real Australian name. You know, like Brody Bushwacker or Brody Kangaroo!' She was totally fucking with me," Dalle recalls, her faint accent finally slipping in. While she's Brody to you, Dalle's family still calls her by her given name, Bree. "They call me Breezy Wheezy, which drives me crazy because when I was a kid I was asthmatic, so I got called Breezy Wheezy—which seems really cruel!"
In 2005, after it seemed that the bad times were over and the heartache had passed, The Distillers began to implode. It started with the departure of their drummer. "Andy Granelli joined Darker My Love and didn't tell me. We had fired our management. We weren't talking to each other. We were interviewing all these producers to make a record, but we didn't have anything. I had songs, but we had not played anything. We weren't even thinking of making another record. We had just spent two years on the road and were exhausted, stripped down, raw nerves," Dalle says, a layer of sadness coating her voice. "It was awful. Andy and I decided it was probably not a good idea that we continue and that maybe one day we'd get together again—but it wasn't right now."
Things are different today. That infamous kiss with the lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme, turned out to be more than a rock 'n' roll fling. The same year The Distillers disbanded, Homme and Dalle discovered she was pregnant and tied the knot. Two years later, after appearing under various pseudonyms on Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal tracks, Dalle laid down roots for her next project, Spinnerette. In 2008, the group released their first EP, Ghetto Love, and an album is due to be released any day. And, moments ago, Dalle said good-bye to her 3½-year-old daughter, Camille Harley Joan Homme, putting her into the car with Homme's parents. While Dalle is playing her first overseas shows in London with her new band and Homme is in the studio, Camille will be in the desert seeing her grandparents. But knowing her daughter is in good hands doesn't stop Dalle from shoving pictures of her and Homme into Camille's tiny purse. Dalle admits, "I'm hopeless … I'm like, don't forget me!"
Camille is the person who has changed Dalle's life forever. Growing up in Melbourne, Dalle had a rough beginning. When she was very young, her mother kicked her abusive father out of the house; by the time Brody was 9, her mother had remarried and had a child with another man. By 13, Dalle had been kicked out of more than one school, was sleeping on the streets, and was dabbling in drugs (including heroin); sometime before she moved to the States, she reportedly tried to strangle her mother in their kitchen. She got her first tattoo at 14 (she now has around 20), a jailhouse-style star on her thumb. Two years later, she had the image of the deadly redback spider inked on her ankle. "I'd been drawing stuff on myself for years. I got that star and I kept going."