Punk icon Brix Smith has spoken to NME about her debut solo album ‘Valley Of The Dolls’, as well as the darker sides of Manchester and California and watching Gary Linekar soil himself on-pitch.
Recorded alongside producer Youth, the album is a brittle yet melodic punk assault which the former member of The Fall described as “an absolutely cracking album where every song was a breath of honesty, and a mixture of light and truly filthy darkness”
“It’s the best thing I’ve done since The Fall,” she told NME. “I can die happy now”.
The record is the first to bear Smith’s solo name after many years of working with bands including The Adult Net and The Extricated. “For so long I’ve been a part of a band or hiding within a band,” she explained, “and I just thought it’s time to fucking stand up and own it and own what I do.”
She continued: “It’s time to fucking put my head above the parapet and stand up there and say I am Brix Smith. I’m just speaking my truth. I finally feel that I’ve at last tapped into the truth meter without having insecurities blocking it of trying to be this artist or that artists. It’s just me with no mask.”
Smith pulled in some favours too – the album features guest appearances from The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs and Shakespeare Sister’s Siobhan Fahey. “It was great to have a Bangle and a Banana on the album because that is a strong female statement – they were two of the greatest girl bands of all time.”
NME caught up with Smith to discuss
NME: Hello Brix. You’ve said that large parts of the album are about your home state of California – why revisit the place now?
Smith: “I come from LA and I come from California, and I never cease to get sick of writing about the dichotomy between the glorious sunshine, the sparkling blue water, the beautiful human beings, the people that go there to make their dreams come true of being famous or movie stars or successful, and how 99.9 per cent of people end up broken and devastated, their dreams are crushed. Underneath the surface of the superficiality of California is this very dark underbelly.
“They call LA the City of Angels, but they also say it’s the city that waits to die. I find it such an interesting place because of the dark and light. There’s a lot of California imagery and certainly ‘Valley Girl’ is about the porn industry but looking at it actually in an empowered way. If this is your choice to do this, and this is what you do, then you use that.”
‘California Smile’ seems to be about the fake, subjugated lives that people lead there?
“Bang on. You see these girls with these wonderful, fabulous smiles, and what’s behind it is just such agony, what they’ve had to go through to get to where they had to go. All the roles that you’ve had to play as a woman. It’s also in a weird way about Instagram too, because Instagram is like a California smile. So it’s a kind of social commentary on social media, too. Bullshit, bullshit!”
Not a fan of the latest ultra-real beauty filters, then?
“I think there’s a whole movement away from that now. Instagram is making kids take their own lives. You look at yourself, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I look terrible without a filter’. Facebook’s gone to the dark side and TikTok’s even worse, so don’t get me started.”
The Stone Roses-meets-Aerosmith ‘All My Luv’ sounds like a portrait of a major LA sleazeball.
“It’s like a snapshot of one of those guys that you see. I use Jimmy Savile as a visual reference, like ‘Driving in my shell suit, diamond crusted asshole, living like a playboy’. It’s kinda like the people I had to deal with when I was living in LA. It’s also done a little bit like Run DMC and Aerosmith, ‘Walk This Way’ vibe, so there’s a bit of Steven Tyler in there – bit of a sex pest that guy, I’m not calling him out or anything, whatever, anyway, that kind of cocking, strutting rock star thing. I’m just done with that. For me, it’s all about love and kindness and positivity, please. And also a little bit of dirt but not bad dirt.”
Is ’Living Thru My Despair’ an LA song too?
“That’s actually about my time living in Manchester. There were good parts and bad parts, but there were hard parts. I was lonely and I was young and I was kinda fucked up. A bit of pain in there and stuff…I didn’t have any girlfriends and living in a foreign country – we were poor and dealing with the marriage [to The Fall’s Mark E Smith] and dealing with stuff. I was lonely and away from my friends and my family and working like a trooper, a Trojan and creating at the highest level. That was fantastic and I loved Manchester, but that was a snapshot of my time which I don’t really talk about where it was incredibly hard and I think it’s important that I let that out. It’s like getting bit by a snake and making a scar and sucking up this poison and spitting it out.”
Your autobiography The Rise, The Fall & The Rise came out in 2016. What were the most fun stories to revisit?
“The Gary Lineker story. We went to Italia 1990. It was at the time when I was with Nigel Kennedy. We stayed as guests of ITV at this fancy hotel right next to the England camp. It was just the most extraordinary trip to be there in the thick of it at the World Cup, and on the days off we would hang out with the England team. We hung out with Gascoigne and Lineker and Hoddle and Waddle, whatever, it was so great.
“One day we were watching a match and we noticed that Gary was behaving strangely on the pitch. There was this point where he had a very, very, very bad tummy upset and he basically had diarrhoea on the pitch. A few days later we were all hanging out in the water and Gary told me and Michelle [Lineker] the story of what happened to him on the pitch in graphic detail. It was literally the funniest story I’ve ever heard in my life. Michelle and I laughed so hard, we wet ourselves in the sea.”
Were there any particularly hard bits to go back to?
“Absolutely. It was really hard. There are parts about Mark [E. Smith, The Fall frontman] and I breaking up, all of that stuff was hard. I was also raped and it’s not something I really want to talk about because it’s not pleasant. I was one of those people that buried that in my life. I never told my parents, I never told my husband, I never told anybody what happened. I knew who it was, I just decided that I was not going to be a victim and I was going to carry on with my life and not let it affect me and just be really strong. I was just going to push it away. I pushed it down, down, down and it actually caused me to become addicted to Rohypnol, which is weirdly the date rape drug which I would then give myself so that I didn’t have inhibitions about sex.
“All that was really hard to write about because I had to tell everybody that way, way, way after the fact and relive it which was not fun. But it’s life and you grow from it and you come out the other side and you’re OK. All these stories, all the songs are just the hardships that people go through that I went through in my life that are very similar to what other people go through or the same and it’s OK – and guess what: there’s dark and there’s light in this life. It’s just knowing that it will pass and you will go through it and it will be OK and you will come out stronger.”
How do you feel about the idea of regret?
“Nothing is ever a mistake. Nothing is ever wrong. It’s all about the journey and it’s all about learning and it’s trying to take the moments in which you are living to find that joy and that passion. I’ve always done what I’ve done, followed my passion in my career, whatever that was, whether it be writing music, playing music, singing, TV, fashion, whatever it was, I’ve done what I’ve loved. And I’ve had a great time because I followed my passion and that’s my advice to everyone and don’t worry, we all go through the shit.”
After all your experiences in music and beyond, can you deal with anything now?
“I’m bomb proof now. If you want to deal with a band with the most extraordinarily horrendous dynamics then go and join The Fall.”
‘Valley Of The Dolls’ by Brix Smith is out now.
This summer will see a number run of live dates from Smith, including festival appearances at Rebellion and Bearded Theory. Smith will be fronting an all-female live band which features My Bloody Valentine duo Deb Googe (bass) and Jen Macro (keys/guitar).