The Distillers – Feature
[This piece originally appeared in All The Rage.]
You could be forgiven for being intimidated by The Distillers. Their first two albums for Hellcat Records epitomized punk rock’s ethos: nasty, brutish and short. Anger, revenge and freedom were the main themes. Their third album, last year’s Coral Fang, released on Sire Records, marked a turn in The Distillers’ sound. While still vicious, it is less jagged and more streamlined — in the way that a stiletto is an improvement upon a shiv. Singer/guitarist Brody Dalle’s voice no longer grabs your short hairs on the first note, but seduces you before going for your jugular. New guitarist Tony Bradley adds dimensions to the songs, which are broader and more dynamic.
For these reasons and more (the punk rock tabloid coverage of Dalle’s lovelife, for example), you could get the wrong idea about the band. “We have the worst perception,” drummer Andy Granelli tells The Rage. “People think we’re the biggest assholes.” In reality, Granelli, at least, is agreeable, personable and in all ways, easy to talk to. He interviews me about Nashville. He wants to get his hands on a vinyl copy of Willie & Waylon – the record with “I Can Get Off on You” – and figures Nashville is the place to do it.
Granelli confirms that the broader, more listenable sound of Coral Fang was in place before legendary producer Gil Norton came on board. Working with Norton, says Granelli, was a “best case scenario,” but they were headed in this direction before he showed up. The change in sound for the band is a result of writing music closer to what they listen to. “I don’t listen to a lot of hardcore anymore,” Granelli says. “It sucks to play what you don’t listen to. So we tried to find this medium of not going too far out there, but trying to do something new. Something more along the lines of something that we like and listen to. And I think we kind of did it. I think the next record’s going to be a little more weird.”
The more spacious rock of Fang is also a product of growing older, even if the band is reluctant to admit it. Granelli concedes: “I’m tired of playing fast; I think we all are.” Is Brody tired of screaming her lungs out? “Yeah, I think a little bit. You know, you get to a point where you kinda want to maybe show off a little.”
And they do. “Hall of Mirrors” and “For Tonight You’re Only Here to Know” are punk rock epics. With melodic guitar lines swooping across incessant drums, the songs capture the liberation about which Dalle has always sung in a way that ragged power chords never could. “Die on a Rope” is a nod to the steamroller rock of Rocket From the Crypt. And “Beat Your Heart Out” is a love song – delivered at punk pace.
For this latest tour The Distillers are the headliners and the response humbles the band. “It’s actually crazy,” Granelli explains. “Like we played in Toronto where we’ve opened up for all these bands before. Most recently, we opened for The Queens of the Stone Age at this place like three months ago. Now we’re headlining the place and it’s sold out!” Is their audience getting more diverse? “Yeah, I think it is. At the same time, alternative music is just getting bigger so it’s kind of like a bigger quantity of the same kids.” Clearly, word is getting out: The Distillers are only getting better at their craft.
And they’re a hell of a nice band.