Diploid (n): A cell or an organism consisting of two sets of chromosomes: usually, one set from the mother and another set from the father.
Diploid Love is a recording about life: creating it, living it and surviving it. Brody Dalle spent a year writing, playing, recording and co-producing her first solo album, a riotous blast of punk rock with a pop sheen that storms through ideas about the modern age, triumphing against the odds and even spirituality.
Brody has had a long, wild career in music. “I started writing poetry when I was seven and I’ve never stopped since. It’s inside me. It’s a compulsion,” she insists. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had and I love it.” In her native Australia, her first band, Sourpuss, got her signed at 15; she later moved to LA and formed The Distillers, becoming pack leader of a band of hardcore reprobates, and spending her 20s touring the world. After that, she released a killer album rife with hooks under Spinnerette, but says now that “the Spinnerette record should probably have been my solo record. I had my heart broken after The Distillers broke up … it’s different when you’re young. You pour everything into it. Then you get older, and priorities change.”
Meet the Foetus, the ambitious, triumphant centrepiece of the album, kicked the whole album process off again; it’s about creating life and its timing was spookily accurate. “I wrote Meet the Foetus, then peed on a pregnancy test a couple of days later, and found out I was pregnant again. That put things on hold. I took a year to spend copious amounts of time with my children, then went back into the studio when he was eight months old.”
When she got back to it, Brody knew it was going to be a solo album, and she knew she wanted to get her hands dirty. She co-produced everything with Alain Johannes (Arctic Monkeys, Them Crooked Vultures, Mark Lanegan) at his studio, and at her and husband Josh Homme’s studio Pink Duck, both in California. “I’ve always had a hand in crafting how it’s going to sound and hearing it and trying to make that happen. But it’s the first time I’ve put my name on something for production. Alain would be the first producer and I would be his back-up.”
The scope of Diploid Love is huge and its themes are suitably massive. “It’s about so many things. It’s about surviving in this weird technological, transitional modern age. It’s about living through your own history and becoming someone better…the human version of a caterpillar metamorphosis.” Brody is worried about the extent to which we are “disconnected” as people. “I find it really scary. We’re living in a world that doesn’t exist. It’s not something tangible. We can’t hold it, we can’t be in it. We’re connected and yet we’re not really. Connected at a distance but available 24/7. Who wants to live in a virtual world? I want to live in reality. It’s the only way I feel alive.”
There is, she knows, no going back. “The train has left the station. It’s about to turn into a rocket ship and all of a sudden we’re going to Jupiter. There are massive changes to come, beyond what’s happening now and what’s come before. The microwave, the television, going to the moon…these ain’t shit…now a paraplegic will be able to walk and run, we can grow humans, body parts.”
Though she’s wary of what the world is coming to at times, Brody hasn’t lost her edge – once a punk, always a punk. She still has ‘Fuck Off’ tattooed on her arm. “I’m still wild, you just have to keep a leash on it,” she laughs. “You can’t go around fist-fighting everybody. But I still feel like a teenage anarchist. I still have a problem with authority, yet now I’m in the position of being an authoritarian and raising two kids. Trying to find the balance is interesting.”
Having kids altered Brody’s approach to recording, not by choice, but by necessity. “It’s different now because I have to do everything in increments. I can’t sit in a room for six weeks, I have to take time where I can get it.” It meant that Diploid Love came together slowly and that its ideas were revisited and revised. It made a difference to how it ended up sounding. “The original Blood In Gutters was twice as fast. It was a hardcore song.” She left it alone for a while and upon her return, decided to rework it completely. “I slowed the drums down half time, which is why they sound that way, really deep and dark and boomy. While I Don’t Need Your Love, that was a totally different song. I had to turn them on their heads and I was pretty stoked with what came out of it.”
In fact, if there’s one common thread running through Diploid Love, it’s making the best of a bad situation and coming out on top despite the odds being stacked against you. Opener Rat Race sets the tone for what follows with determined toughness. “It’s about starting over. Most of my record is about surviving a trauma, and instead of letting it live inside you, you burn it down and start from scratch. Music is cathartic.”
Underworld was a song that has been around since The Distillers days. It became about reincarnation, about wanting to love over and over again, and experience every facet of life and the world. I had composed a melody which originally sounded strangely Russian but I could hear horns. So I brought in the El Mariachi Bonx and Cindy from the El Mariachi Divas and it took on this whole different vibe.”
Don’t Mess With Me is another rock-hard statement of intent and defiance. “It’s my anti-bullying anthem. It’s about feeling like you have the power, even telepathically or psychically, to be able to stop something. Your toughness comes from deep scars, you’re not just born with it. You have to survive shit. I wrote it for all the kids who get bullied. I was severely bullied at school –physically and verbally.”
But there’s a new softness here. Carry On, another take on survival, is sung sweetly, which isn’t something you’d usually associate with the gigantic rock star lungs of Brody Dalle. “I can sing pretty softly, but that’s because it was too high for me to scream,” she says. “And I wanted it to be more personal. In The Distillers I was screaming for an hour and a half on stage, and smoking and drinking and staying up all night, so my voice was a couple of octaves lower than it is now. I’ve had to adapt and this is what it sounds like.”
Parties for Prostitutes, meanwhile, concludes the album with a sinister playfulness that’s typical of what has come before it. “It’s about betrayal,” she says, succinctly, explaining that its distinctive electro-waltz sound comes from a vintage drum machine. “It’s an old one from the 70s, and it has waltz, hawaiian, polka. I chose the beat and made the song around it. It’s like a writing machine.”
One thing is clear: as she says, there is no stopping it. Brody is already itching to get to work on album number two. “I’ve been waiting for this to come out for ages! I want to make another record! But I am looking forward to playing it live and being back on stage. I think when you give birth to humans, there’s nothing really scary after that,” she says. “I’ve never felt more secure in my life before, I feel stronger and more in touch with who I really am as a person.”
Diploid Love is a tough and fearless record shot through with survival. Brody Dalle is showing her teeth again. Whether it’s a smile or a snarl is a matter of interpretation.