2003 shaped my life. I finally reached double digits (plus the lofty heights of Year 6 to boot) and, perhaps more importantly, School of Rock was released. After being brought up on the Beatles, 70s guitar music and being a total goody two-shoes, this was my jam. One scene in particular sticks in my mind: Jack Black’s character poring over an intricate spider-diagram of “Rock History” on the chalk board. I made it a conscious mission to explore every genre that a (fictional) rocker had deemed it necessary for (fictional) downtrodden children to study in order to gain their (fictional) freedom from “The Man”.

Despite the precarious basis for my quest, I took it seriously and for the next few months MTV2, Scuzz, and Limewire provided as many tracks as my parent’s dial-up internet could take. During this time I learned some valuable lessons that can be summarised by these three statements: always have decent anti-virus software, you don’t need to like all genres of rock (I’m sorry Dimmu Borgir, I really tried), and Rock is a hugely male-dominated genre. One of the most overt illustrations of this is the Reading and Leeds Festival lineup. In 2015, only a shade over 10% of acts at these festivals involved any female or non-binary performers.[1] That’s not acceptable, you might think, and you might feel certain they would have learned from such an egregious mistake. You would be wrong. As of recently, the current 2017 bill for the same festival contains 57 bands, and among them only one solitary female representative: Chrissy Costanza of the aptly named Against the Current.[2] Things aren’t looking much better across the pond: Huffington Post found that 78% of bands were all-male at the ten U.S. festivals they investigated.[3]

Going back to 2003, I was on the cusp of making a discovery. Leafing through a copy of Kerrang! that had been through the amount of smuggling that I imagine a particularly vintage porn mag would have undergone at a pre-internet boarding school, I suddenly saw a rose hidden amongst some particularly phallic thorns. A smear of red lipstick, a shock of black hair and a “do I look  like I give a fuck?” pose: I had finally found a woman amongst the pages of my favourite magazine. That woman was Brody Dalle. In this magazine she was just a picture on a poster, but a poster which thankfully contained the name of her band, The Distillers. I asked Jeeves every question I possibly think of to discover more about this punk queen. She was everything ten year old me wanted to be, and then I heard her voice.

People talk about seminal moments and “firsts” with regards to culture all the time. It can range from the first time they heard a particularly haunting aria or saw Pelé outwit a number of defenders in a row (poetry in motion, guys). “City of Angels”, the seventh track of the Distillers’ second album, was the first time I have ever been floored by a voice. How does a woman go from husky crooning to pack-a-day screaming and back in under 20 seconds, whilst maintaining her effortless cool?

Finding out more about Dalle’s background, the versatility and toughness in her voice mirrored what she had needed to be growing up. Her childhood in Australia was not a happy one: she has said, “I moved to America with money I got from the government of Australia for being sexually abused”.[4] However, this fresh start proved similarly difficult: going through a divorce from one of punk’s biggest names (Tim Armstrong) aged just 21 – which left her and her band effectively blacklisted from the LA scene – and surviving a crystal meth addiction that took her to “a really dark awful place.”[5]

It feels unfair to bring up the lowest points of someone’s life when writing about how they changed yours for the better. But it is necessary to know about these tribulations in order to appreciate what I think is most amazing about Dalle: her lyrics. It is impossible not to admire the raw honesty and power of the Distillers’ music without being able to relate that back to her life story. Dalle lays herself bare when stepping up to the mic, from introducing herself in “The Young Crazed Peeling” by saying, “My name is Brody / I’m from Melbourne… / My mom kicked out my dad / For battery”, to revealing what appears to be her first impression of her adopted homeland in “LA Girl”: “I said God Almighty / What the fuck happened to you?”, and tackling her aforementioned messy divorce in “The Hunger”, in which she howls in resignation, “Hold onto the memory / It’s all you’ve got.”

Dalle is now happily married with two children. Her subsequent music with new band, Spinerette, and her solo singles are beautiful in a totally different way. All the same, I still go back and listen to the Brody Dalle of The Distillers. Of course, I have also found a lot more female-fronted bands over the years, many of whom are on constant repeat (The Interrupters are a current personal favourite), but Dalle holds a special place in my heart. I have a huge admiration for every single one of these frontwomen, and the women playing behind them. It’s not patronising: by virtue of being a women or non-binary performer achieving success in a male-dominated industry, you are at the top of your game. On top of that, there are so many who never got the credit or longevity they deserved. Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy), KatieJane Garside (queenadreena) and Tarja Turunen (formerly of Nightwish) are some of those who had the brash confidence and talent I so wanted as a teenager.

But no other woman has inspired me to write as openly as Brody Dalle. Her refusal to shy away from the subjects that mean the most to her, combined with of doing away with metaphors and fantasy scenarios has made The Distillers’ music some of the most honest and painful I have ever had the often uncomfortable pleasure of listening to. Her bravery in life, in her lyrics, and as a frontwoman in a world of frontmen have all helped establish her as one of my idols. I love to put “Drain the Blood” on a party playlist if the mood is right, not having gone mad with Spotify privilege but waiting to see the number of faces that never fail to light up and shout, “God I LOVED this!” just after that crunching two-chord refrain coincides with Dalle’s drawl. This is what I had been looking for all those years ago, and what I still appreciate now: a voice that inspired you to tell your darkest secrets and a singer who shared hers with you.

[1] Alexandra Pollard, “The boss of Reading and Leeds festivals says women are not marginalised. So why are so few on his bill?”, The Guardian 25th February 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2015/feb/25/reading-leeds-festivals-why-so-few-women-on-bill

[2] Roisin O’Connor, “Reading and Leeds lineup currently features 57 men, one woman”, The Independent 26th January 2017.  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/reading-and-leeds-lineup-female-bands-headliners-kasabian-muse-glastonbury-a7547016.html

[3] Alanna Vagianos, “Half of music festival attendees are women. But on stage, the numbers tell a different story”, Huffington Post 25th May 2016. http://data.huffingtonpost.com/music-festivals

[4] Charlotte Richardson Andrews, “Brody Dalle interview: ‘I’m not going to be held down’”, The Guardian 10th April 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/apr/10/brody-dalle-interview-im-not-going-to-be-held-down

[5] Woodrow Whyte, “Brody Dalle Talks Drugs, Dolly Parton and Diploid Love”, Drowned In Sound 1st May 2014. http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4147707-brody-dalle-talks-drugs-dolly-parton-and-diploid-love