“Hi. I’m Courtney.”
This is how a conversation with Courtney Love begins. After that, there’s no telling where one might take you. If you have twenty questions prepared, you’ll be lucky to get to four. One of the most indelible figures of ’90s rock culture isn’t particularly interested in the usual musician talking points. She’s just interested in talking. And if there’s a momentary lull, a pause where you’re waiting to make sure she’s completed her thought, she’s quick to bring up another topic, to keep the dialogue moving along, to let discourse cascade. In this respect, Courtney Love would a phenomenal person to have a conversation in a bar with, which is essentially what a telephone interview intended to promote a live show feels like.
Love has kept busy with a lot of things outside of music – fashion, a forthcoming book, Twitter feuds – since the release of Hole’s under-performing Nobody’s Daughter in 2010, but she embarks on a small U.S. tour in Philadelphia tonight. She’s back to performing simply as Courtney Love, and earlier this year released the split single “Wedding Day”/”California”, also under her own name, despite playing with essentially the same musicians billed as Hole on her last LP. “Calling it by my own name is kind of definitive at this point,” she tells BYT. “It’s not a legal obligation – I’m just sick of arguing about what the original Hole line-up is.”
How are you today?
I’m looking at your website.
How’s it looking?
It’s good! I don’t see any ads for our show, but it’s probably small, so who cares?
Well, this interview is going to be everywhere when it goes up.
Oh, everywhere. Like a meme! Awesome. I’m looking at the Kennedy Center [section on BYT] and wondering what the hell is going on, other than Obama doing that thing with Led Zepplin. Their entire list of events is the most boring thing. Something about that family is just – they’re not that interested in the arts.
Not a lot of rock music comes through there.
It’s a disaster! It’s a disaster in terms of what they… I’m just saying. I mean, I know some people in that family. They’re nice people, but honestly, get it together with the arts. [Pause] So, you live in political town.
Are you tuned into national politics?
Yeah, I am. I have a really close friend who’s a politico – a big politico. It’s been in, like, the last year, so I’ve been reading the [New York] Times - I wouldn’t say every day, all the way through, but I certainly don’t read the [New York] Post anymore. I mean, as a New Yorker – I’ve lived here since ’09 – you’re not really supposed to leave the house without having read the Times. That’s a little bougie, but I’m trying to keep a little bourgeois in my life. I’m trying to keep to that.
No one’s questioning the bona fides of that newspaper.
You should be! Wait, c’mon: You don’t think the Times has kinda lost a little something? Three pages on Taylor Swift being a genius? That wouldn’t have happened in 2004 – I’m sorry, man. C’mon, full color splash? “Taylor Swift is a genius?” Look, I’m okay with that in Vanity Fair, but I am not okay with that in the New York Times. [Laughs]
Do you think people look to the Times for pop music criticism?
Well, that is an issue. There’s really not a star there. And there’s the whole Cathy Horn fashion debate. I just don’t understand her. My friend Jacob Bernstein had to explain her to me. I don’t understand, because she wrote two puff pieces that made, like, no sense. And, hey, no one minds a puff piece, but they were, like, not true – the things she was saying, the adjectives she was using. In one particular case, she described someone as being hilarious three times. That’s her opinion, but she also described this person as sensual twice and having “lithe, thin wrists.” And this is someone I know, and she’s got big, chubby hands, like me. She does not have “lithe, thin wrists.” It freaked me out. I was like, “What?! Ok, of all the details, this just isn’t true. She’s got big, farmer, bolshie hands, like I do.” I know this person, and I know her hands, and they’re not lithe. So, in any case, I don’t know – I look at the Times political action sometimes. But music?
As far as hip-hop writing goes, Jon Caramanica is one of the best out there.
I don’t do hip-hop coverage though. Other than my friendship with Russell Simmons and a minor friendship with Jay-Z, I don’t know shit about rap – proudly.
What’s your relationship with Jay-Z like?
Lithe. It’s through other people. I want to invest in a company that he invested in. My friendship with Russell Simmons, however, is deep and nice. For instance, I have his home phone number. How about that?
That’s a good thing to have.
No, I’m saying that I don’t have Jay-Z’s home phone. My friendship with Jay-Z is lithe. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to namedrop on Jay-Z.” I really am just out of that loop entirely. I lived at the Mercer [Hotel] with my daughter for about a year and three-quarters. Then Frances went back to L.A., and somehow I ended up living there again, but in any case, that’s when they made Watch the Throne. They made it at the Mercer. The halls were just – really, the chronic was everywhere. Smoke was coming out of the rooms. The money being spent was astonishing. Rap is a whole other different game.
And I’m really happy the Queens of the Stone Age are the number one record in America right now, even if that lasts for about two seconds. And it’s on Matador [Records], which is hilarious. If you asked me in 2006 if Matador was going to have a number one record, I would have laughed in your face, but Gerard [Cosloy] is laughing now! I mean, it’s fucking awesome. I’m really impressed.
Have you ever considered going the indie label route?
Yeah, in fact, I’m ready to call Gerard right now. I actually looked at a lot of record deals, and that’s the problem with this tour: I thought we’d have this single out and/or an EP. We have eight songs recorded, but only four of them are excellent, and of the excellent ones, I picked my two favorites to put a single out. The best deal that I could get in the States – because you do it by territory now – was from a major, but there’s no point: You’re not going to make any fucking money with them. I mean, you’re not going to make any money anyway, but you’ll make more money and have more accountability if you’re on an indie.
This one gay tech guy – and I know that’s an anachronism, but there it is – started a label and I think I’m going to sign with him for the States. It’s not an older label – it’s an indie label, but it’s really well-funded now. I had looked at Uni and Mercury – I mean, they own so much stuff, so many other little labels. I won’t say what the indie is, because it’s not signed, sealed, and delivered, but it’s the best deal.
But I have to be patient, so this tour is very much about rocking. I didn’t like the way that I heard it was advertised in Boston. I was vehement about this at the beginning – it was something Live Nation brought to me, like, “Courtney Love Sings the Hits.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh. Really?” And it was advertised that way in Boston, so I called Live Nation yesterday and gave this girl such a walloping. I was so pissed. First of all, I’m not in the mood to sing that song every night. It’s not like I have we have Nine Inch Nails level Vari-Lites that we’re bringing with us and I’m going to ruin the production by not singing that song at exactly 9:48 p.m., so, what the hell? Why are you advertising it like this? It’s crazy. And it’s not what my audience – who tend to be either really smart guys, girls, and gay guys – like. Do you know what I mean? It just doesn’t work. I’m not, like, swinging with the oldies. I wouldn’t do it otherwise. But, you know, this is good. It gets me out of the house.
Is that what motivated this tour?
Initially, it was those songs, but now the tour’s here and I can’t put out those songs until the first of the year, so it’s just rocking. It’s just doing it to do it. I haven’t been out for a long time.
Has your enjoyment of performing live changed through the years?
I like to play new songs a lot, and I like to play a lot. No, it hasn’t changed. It’s the same damn thing. I still love it. Or I wouldn’t do it. I would have cancelled this [tour] if I wasn’t desperate to do it. I’m desperate to do it. I’ve been sitting at home, trying to finish this book, making dresses, reading a lot, being noncontroversial, keeping a low profile, which is all great, but if I don’t go tour, I’m going to go nuts. There’s a bomb in my body that, like, if I don’t tour every few years I’ll… I’ll just do bad things. I don’t know. This morning I had a fantasy of lighting my whole house on fire. I was like, “I’m going start to start a fire!” No, I’m not that sociopathic. But, I mean, I was like, “Get me out of here.”
We’re rehearsing right now and trying to find a tour manager. The guy that we have is great, but someone in his family got really sick, so we have to find a tour manager quick, which is hard. There’s a couple of guys out there. There’s a musician who’s not really a rock star anymore, but he books himself into really big venues, and he cancelled his tour, so one of the top guys is out of work. We’re hoping to get that tour manager, because he’s awesome, and he’s known me forever.
As you look across the current rock landscape, where do you see yourself fitting in? There are contemporary rock bands who feel like a throwback – like Queens of the Stone Age – and there are reunited ‘90s bands that function more as legacy acts.
Well, I’m not a fucking legacy act! I’ll put it that way. The minute that someone actually calls me that, I’m going to punch them, and if it were to actually be true, I would just quit. There’s no way. Calling it by my own name is kind of definitive at this point. It’s not a legal obligation – I’m just sick of arguing about what the original Hole line-up is.  If you want the original Hole line-up, you’re in for a not good time. If you want the Celebrity Skin version of the Hole line-up, you’re in for a really bad time. I’ve been playing with Micko [Larkin] for as long as I played with Eric [Erlandson]. It’s been eight years. One of the first questions Live Nation asked me was “how married are you to your band?” It was as if I’m a pop singer who changes band members, which is not what I do. I was like, “Uh, married. Like, real married.” I guess pop singers like Katy Perry hire whoever for a certain tour and then don’t talk to them ever again, or something. We’re very much a band. In fact, they’re all staying at my house right now.
Coming up on the twentieth anniversary of Live Through This, what do you see as Hole’s legacy?
That’s not really for me to say. I mean, I’m writing my book and it’ll have some statement to it, I suppose. It has a voice. But that’s more for you to say.
It’s not a tabloid thing, but one of the highest pieces of praise I’ve heard is when someone played me a band with a male singer and said, “They completely sound like Hole.” The point is that this person had ears enough to understand that we have a sonic influence, and not just, “Here’s a girl singer and she looks like you.” This band that I’m taking out on the road, Starred, the first photo shoot [singer] Liza [Thorn] did, she looked a lot like me in the 90s [and received Hole comparisons], and they have a drummer, but they sound a lot more like Mazzy Star. Mazzy Star with some dire, stark Roland S. Howard thrown in there. They’re really good. Anyway, for someone to say that a band with a male singer sounded like to Hole was the highest praise I could have, because it’s certainly not just about being female. There’s an aesthetic in everything that I’ve done musically.
I don’t know who thinks this up at iTunes, but I noticed something weird – and this is a little self-absorbed – when I put “Hole” into Genius. And, look, it shouldn’t be called “Genius,” because it has no irony, so I don’t think that makes it genius. But, you know when you do these playlists on your iTunes? I’ve done some searches that are really dumb. Like, I put in Lou Reed and then I get Eric Clapton, which makes no fucking sense. Whoever in Palo Alto made that decision is an idiot. But I keep getting Iggy Pop when I put in myself or I put in Hole. If put in Hole, I get Iggy a lot. If you go to your Genius thing and you punch in Hole, you’ll get ‘90s acts like Garbage and you know, whatever, but I get Iggy a lot and I’m like, “That’s weird.” It might be just as much of a paradox as the Clapton-Lou Reed thing, it might be a typo on iTunes part, but I thought that was kind of funny. I’m not saying that’s my legacy – I’m just saying that it’s nice get a compliment or even a reference to a band that sounds sonically like what I’ve been doing for the past 20-some years and isn’t just about a chick singer with a rock voice. Does that make sense?
 Love mentioned a secret friendship with an elected official during her last appearance in the area, an infamous show at the 9:30 Club that was described both lovingly and derisively as a train wreck. She attributed her late arrival that evening to this relationship: “Sorry, I have a friend who is a senator and can’t really be photographed with me, so we were hanging out and I’m late.” Perhaps sensing the inadequacy of this excuse, she added: “What? I’m allowed to have friends!”
 Somewhat surprisingly, this is an accurate statement: …Like Clockwork is Matador’s first #1 album.
 I have no idea what song she’s talking about. It could be Live Through This’ “Doll Parts”, her highest charting song, which clocked in at #58 on the Billboard Hot 100. Or it could be “Celebrity Skin”, which didn’t climb as high overall, but topped Billboard’s Alternative Songs subsection. Oddly, two decades after the alt-rock gold rush, Billboard continues to classify things as “Alternative.”
 Original Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson claimed Love’s decision to release 2010 album Nobody’s Daughter under the Hole moniker was a violation of an agreement the two had made: “The band’s a business. We have a contract. She signed a contract with me when we decided to break up the band, which was like 2002 or something, so I really don’t have comment on it except that I know my part in that band. The way I look at it, there is no Hole without me”
 Apple is headquartered in Cupertino, California. It does, however, have several Apple stores in Palo Alto.