Los Angeles-based The Distillers, though only three years old, went through a fair amount of lineup changes in their formative days. The only constant member has been frontwoman, singer, songwriter and guitarist Brody, a brash Australian babe whose presence both on stage and on the mic is an appealing blend of equal parts sugar and salt. Brody is now flanked by bassist Ryan and drummer Andy, and The Distillers are starting to make waves not only in the national punk community, but also in the mainstream. It's been said that being in a good band is like being a good relationship - it just takes the right people.
"This band's been around for about three years," explains The Distillers' bass player Ryan, who is sitting in Salt Lake City, Utah watching a storm roll in and waiting for it to start snowing as he recounts the band's early days. "With the original lineup, I think it worked like a family, because they were around each other all the time and you know, sometimes you just don't get along with everyone, or you have different agendas or different ideas of the way things should be going, and in the end it just didn't work out."
The band's original lineup disintegrated in 2000, but it happened right about the time that The Distillers were scheduled to go on the road with Rancid and AFI and, displaying both smarts and balls, Brody wasn't about to back out of the relatively big ticket tour. To keep things rolling, she hired Andy and Dante from the Southern California punk band, the Nerve Agents, and hit the road as a three-piece.
"After the tour was over and Dante left, Andy decided that he wanted to stay on, and Brody liked the idea of keeping him on, so he called me and asked if I could play bass. I told him that I could try," laughs Ryan, only half-joking. He had actually never played bass before, only guitar in hardcore and metal bands, but the offer was too good to pass up. "When Andy called and asked me to play with them, he told me that they were going to be in my area in less than a week, so I should try to learn as many songs as I could. I borrowed a friend's bass and pretty much locked myself up for four days and played that first record over and over, trying to learn all the songs. When they got to town, I practiced with them, and the next day they came to my work and asked me to be in the band. It was weird at first...I thought they would figure out that I had no idea what I was doing."
That never came up. The band added a fourth member - Rose, guitar - very briefly, but the band found that an extra member was just one too many, and cut the team back down to size. Since then, things between Ryan, Andy and Brody have gelled rather nicely.
"We're pretty happy as a three-piece. We get along so well and we play together so well. I think, compared to when I joined the band as a four-piece to now, I think we play much better now - we're a lot stronger and more solid," surmises Ryan, who says the connection between players isn't just musical. "We get along so well. We're all the same age, we're all into a lot of the same things, we have somewhat similar backgrounds."
Since about fall 2001, The Distillers have been a solid unit as a three-piece, and have managed to make such an impact that people - from fans who post testimonials on the band's Internet message board to gushing reviews by professional music writers - have begun to attribute the return of real punk rock to this Hellcat Records gem. Some people have flat-out declared that The Distillers are bringing the punk back to punk rock, and while Ryan says that the band is flattered by such praise, they're not on any kind of grand mission to save punk rock. It's just not that complicated.
"We just do what we feel we want to do. We play what we want to play and do what we want, and we just think it's cool that people can relate to that," says Ryan, who adds that even trying to label anything as "punk rock" these days is tough, a completely relative determination, and not one worth wasting time on. "I don't even pay attention any more. Everybody has their own opinion as to what it is. What one person's idea of what punk is might be the exact opposite of what I think it is, or what anyone else thinks it is. I really stopped paying attention and labeling what is and isn't punk rock. Punk rock is a part of rock 'n' roll, like rock for the people who don't fit into regular rock 'n' roll. Like I said, we write and play the music that we want to. We all grew up listening to old punk, so of course that's gonna filter through the way we play, but we probably have a few songs that aren't punk at all."
Whatever you want to call it, The Distillers' music is gaining popularity every day. The video for the current single, "City of Angels," from their latest release, Sing Sing Death House, is picking up all kinds of play on MTV, M2 and MuchMusic, as well as heavy radio traffic nation-wide, making The Distillers arguably one of the hottest properties on the Hellcat / Epitaph label group. The band is touring with big punk names like Rancid and AFI, and even bigger bands looking for some genuine new school credibility, like No Doubt and Garbage. But Ryan says that wild fame isn't necessarily something that the band started out seeking.
"I never thought about it. I hoped that I'd be able to play music and not have to worry about working some shit job, just be able to do what I love to do. It happened out of nowhere, and at first I always imagined that we'd be able to live like, make a record, then do a small tour afterwards, make a record, do a tour, etcetera. But then KROQ in LA started playing 'City of Angels,' and it's been a whirlwind since then. I just got a demo of the Tony Hawk 4 video game. I started playing it, and our song came on. It was really weird."
Though Ryan might be stunned to hear himself playing bass over one the most popular video games to hit shelves in recent months, he and his band mates seem to be taking this all in stride. Fame and fortune can come and go, but as long as they're making music together, The Distillers will always be happy, and Ryan sums that up succinctly.
"We'll always love doing this because this is what we've always dreamed of doing."
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