interview with Hole
The New Puritan ReView;
"The mouth of a woman is a deep pit."
[ - lifted from the Hole press kit].
If the mouth we're talking about belongs to Courtney Love, you'd better watch your step, my friend. The dangers of placing one's feet in one's own mouth are apparent enough. On Independence Day [appropriately enough], this writer examines a Hole that is greater than the sum of it's (counter)parts. The participants were/are: Courtney Love: vocals/guitar, Jill Emore: bass, Eric Erlandson: lead guitar, Carolyn Rue: drums.Read more or less
A band name like Hole is certainly subject to many different interpretations, would you offer your own?
Courtney: The name Hole came to me one night - I made it up - and it connotes an abyss, an emptiness inside of a person. Even Madonna said in some interview, "my mother is gone and thus I have a huge hole to feed". She took the words out of my mouth - Madonna is wont to do that. It just connotes an emptiness, it doesn't have anything to do with... uh, the other thing - but... whatever, people can think that. I like a little controversy with my breakfast.
Well at any rate you don't write very much about "that other thing" in your songs.
Courtney: I don't write a lot about boy/girl relationships, because... I don't know, maybe I just haven't had one exciting enough in a long time. Usually when I write stuff about boys, I look at it later and I'm always embarrassed by it. And the stuff I write about... other things - relationships with people, that aren't romantic, or impurities in my own self, things about myself I hate - when I write about that kind of stuff I get more interested in it, and a year later it still holds up to me. A lot of the time I'll write in a third person, but it will be about me.
I wrote a song called "Teenage Whore" and I told them [band memebers] what it was fundamentally about, and I asked them...'cause we're all, basically politically correct in a warped sort of way... sometimes if I have something that I think might disturb them - you know. But I don't write the music - we all write the music.
Jill: We're first and foremost... a band.
Courtney: Yeah, because I'm more notorious in certain places - like Minnesota, but really not other places so much - people tend to concentrate a lot on me, but it's not the way it is.
Caroline: I really like the lyrics. I feel like she's my sister, and I'm proud of her. I like them.
What are some of your favorite topics to write about?
Courtney: Some of it's about religion. A lot of it's about different kinds of self-loathing. I mean, there's different kinds of things I aspire to - lyrically, I'm talking about, you know - stances people have, value systems people have that I'm opposed to. It's my right to write about what I want, what I disagree with and what I agree with, and that's a right I excersize as a musician and as an artist. Some of the songs aren't written with me as the center of the universe, a lot of them are written about women - certain women - that I know.
Some of the imagery that creeps out of the lyrics on those first two singles has a way of making the person listening really examine themself.
Courtney: We have a really good chemistry that way, my lyrics and the music tend to meet really well.
How long have the current members of Hole been playing together?
Courtney: When we started, we went for about six months with a bunch of different people. We kept trying to have another guitar player, 'cause for a while I just couldn't play guitar at all. We've been a real band like this for about a year-and-a-half.
What made you feel that this was the right medium to express your ideas?
Courtney: Since I was 14 in Portland, I wanted to start a band, and I've been in a lot of bands - we all have, actually, everyone here. Eric's the only one that hasn't been in a lot of bands. Since Jill was about 15 or 16 she's been in bands, Carolyn's been in bands. To me, having a band is like religion or therapy.
What is it about the energy of playing in a band that seems to work better for you than simply writing, or doing it some other way?
Courtney: Well, I don't have the discipline to write in a novel form. That's a great feat to aspire to, but I get bored with myself, and I think I just do better with simple metaphor, and lyrics at this point have been my life. I used to want to be a film director, I wanted to be an actress - you know, different things at different times - but only really briefly, and I'd always come back to this medium. With Jill, I know she's always been a musician's musician, she plays for herself. I'm like that, but mostly my instrument is the English language, [laughs] and I think Carolyn has always been a hippie - [laughing] as opposed to a human being.
Carolyn: I started off as a painter, then I started playing music in a really "arty" way, and then I finally started taking it seriously through Courtney. I had never really taken a band seriously until I met Courtney.
How long had you been working together before you actually started playing out?
Courtney: We were playing out before Jill came, and then we got our first single in a month or two.
How do you feel about the fact that some writers are tagging you as part this alleged "foxcore" movement, and pitting you against other female-based groups?
Courtney: In our press kit there's a lot of references to other bands, but we stand on our own two feet. Not everyone knows the actual facts and the history that I have with people in other bands, so they're bound to interpret it in a different way. A lot of times when this comment comes up, I have been letting it pass because I'm friends with a lot of people in other bands that we get thrown in with. The other two bands that we get lumped in with are great, and two of them contain my best friends on the planet - what can I say? At the same time, I have always been the way I am, and my friends who are in those bands really helped me grow, there's no denying that, but I also helped them to grow. So it's like, ideologically, everything is different - in terms of the word catharsis, which I think is really overused. When you use the word cathartic, you're talking about something coming out of you, using art as a way to make something travel, so whatever's inside of you is gonna come out. So that's all you have to do, is look at what we do. Listen to our album, you're not gonna hear those other two bands on our album. A little bit here and there, but that little bit is cross references, and like, we're breathing down their neck so they're breathing down ours. It's a little uncomfortable right now, but I'm not sexist enough that I would let that affect our relationships or anything like that.
I think it's really sexist that there's been so many male bands - you know, there's like a million spin-offs of Big Black, a million industrial, welding references, steel references - I could find ten bands in every city with some sort of reference to iron ore... and a pork pie hat. There's allowed to be a million different bands - some of them are shit, some of them are great. I don't want to name any names, but how many bands with "hammer" in them can we have? The point is that our band is a relevant and important band, and my friends' bands are also relevant and important bands, and they cannot cross over in any way. If you like one of the bands, you can easily like - or dislike - one of the other bands. A lot of people that like L7 hate us, and vice versa. The same with Kat's band [Babes In Toyland]. I'm pretty vehement about it right now, as we're sitting here in my favorite city in America - Minneapolis.
You have spent a fair amount of time in this city, though.
Courtney: Yeah, I spent some time here before, and I believe in cause and effect, and I believe that whatever happens to you or your social standing or your economic standing or whatever, is a result of your own cause that you've made; so I'm prepared to accept the responsibility for the tension that I feel here. I don't blame it on anybody else. I came here, I should've left, and I didn't. I stayed - I wanted to be around my friends, and it wasn't right for me. I really like Minneapolis. I think it's a little bit precious in some ways, but that's the way it goes. I mean, the thing I like about L.A. is that you're facing the enemy every day. You're facing the corporate ogre. You go out and there are people in their convertibles with their cellular phones calling each other "babe" - you know what you're up against, you know what you're dealing with. It's really clear cut, whereas here the lines are a little blurred. You don't even have any real junkies here.
What kind of people do you feel would be listening to your music, and what they might be getting out of it, or is that even relevant to why you do it?
Courtney: It's relevant to me. At this point it's a lot of males, and I would hope that in the future it would be more females. I'm really into dealing more with influencing women and supporting women, just becase I'm sort of a hardcore feminist - I can't help it. I'm not actually apologizing for it or anything.
I've been surprised in the past how many female-oriented groups have been willing to sidestep that whole issue. I would have to guess that an important part of feminism would hinge upon educating and sharing, which is pretty difficult if you don't want to talk about it. I mean, for most males to even imagine what it's like to be a woman...
Courtney: It's a little bit fun-ner.
Jill: We don't need to get up on a soapbox... it's engrained.
Courtney: I have been getting on a soapbox, and it's getting boring. I just think rage, expressed in a feminine way, has hailed me to a lot of women, because they're used to deferring to men and so it sort of freaks them out, whereas men understand it.
So do you think that men are identifying with the element of rage, rather than femininity?
Courtney: Yeah, but I'm not closing it off, I just think women need to be converted... "to the church of Hole". "Salvation through alienation".
Realistically, have you thought much about what that would take?
Courtney: Yeah, I have. It's kind of sick and crass, but I know what it would take. I think that it's important to be a role model in some ways. And I think that we're of a certain generation where... twenty years ago - right about when I was born - there was Fanny, and Isis... there was the G.T.O. So, we all grew up in a time when all of us I think have had this experience - even Eric, who's always been turned on to women - were searching for positive role models in the thing that we loved, which was rock. They were so few and far between, and the ones that there were, they put 'em in a boustiee.
I see a lot of girls at L7 shows, and a lot that has to do with L7's accessibility - not to knock them because I think they're an excellent band and they definitely have a place; they have a different thing than us. In a lot of ways I think they play a little bit like males - you know, they rock as hard as any guy - and we don't, we rock as hard as girls. I'm not trying to knock them, I'm just saying that what I think it would take for women to appreciate us is... women are harder on women than men. You know, women are more prone to call other women fat, before a man will. Men like big butts, but women have a hard time accepting that. We live in a fairly anorexic, icky culture that way. I just think like, if you have acceptance in the eyes of men, eventually you find acceptance in the eyes of women - which is really sad, but I think that's the way it is.
Jill: For some reason it seems like women might be put off in the beginning because they might hear words like "fuck" or "whore" or whatever...
Courtney: ... "abortionist"...
Jill: Yeah, but I mean if they get the whole picture, rather than just hearing these certain words... some people just get offended. They're ususally used to a different point of view, and not screaming women - or men - who are actually saying this... feeling, that we might be able to relate to without any barriers. I think a lot of women understand, and I think there are a few men that understand who come see us or hear it on the record, that there is something more valid than... angst, that there is a lot more to it. You just have to listen, I guess.
If you don't see this happening, do you ever become discouraged, or do you expect to see this?
Courtney: I'm really driven. We're a fairly ambitious group of people, in an integrity-based way, and I'm looking forward to it. I only write back to girls, usually - unless a guy writes me something smart, or gave us a sensitive review, like I felt you did [review in NPR #7 - J.]. I write a lot of letters that I don't send, and one reason I don't send them is I'm almost censoring myself from being reactionary. I don't want to be like a caricature - I don't want to be like this angry woman, but I am a reactionary. I'd rather use my reactionary-ism through my lyrics and my music, rather than actually react, because I have a temper, you know.
Do you ever get the feeling that in a "rock" culture, personal politics are not welcomed very warmly?
Courtney: No, I think peple are really welcoming them. It's very refreshing for them. It's new, it's unique, it's authentic, and I'll tell you right now - an ounce of authenticity is worth all the fucking contrived, derivative, diluted, watered-down iron-ore references you can make. We throw out songs that we feel are too much like that. We have a unique vision and we're searching to place it on the map in a way that's correct and real to us. That's why I don't really think there's gonna be a problem with the correlation with other bands with girls in them, regardless of relationships or whatever.
Still, there are many detractors who find disfavor with acute politics in rock music.
Courtney: I don't think we have acute politics. We have like a general vaporous feminine kind of politic. It's not like we're hardline, it's not like if someone was popular I'm going to be mean to them. I take people at face value, all down the line, we all do. We're not a racist/sexist band, obviously - but that doesn't mean that we're hardline about it.
Have you ever been approached by any of the feminist or lesbian-based media?
Courtney: No, of course we'd talk to them if they approached us, but it's not like we're actively seeking them. We're not like a Farrakhan band. We like our guys with our breakfast, too.
By now, most people who keep up with this sort of thing have read at least one comparison of Hole to certain other bands.
Courtney: To tell you the truth, there hasn't been that many of those comparisons outside of maybe the Midwest. European press mentions "that other band" [Babes In Toyland again], but only to put us in another place.
It might have been a hindrance having Kat's picture on your first single.
Courtney: No, I asked her to do it! I took those pictures, and at the time my butt wasn't as toned as hers. I love her - she's my friend, what can I say? It doesn't hinder her, it doesn't hinder me. It's a tense situation, but... there's love. I've been wearing drop-waisted pinafore dresses since I was fucking sixteen, and you know what? So has she. And we've been friends that long, so what can I say?
There's four people in this band, and there's one person and another person in another band, that think alike in a lot of ways. We don't write the same - ideologically, our souls aren't the same. We're expressing two completely fucking different things, and it hasn't hindered us at all, because it hasn't existed up to this point - you know, the Midwest, or whatever. I just did an interview in Canada, and they mentioned it, but basically any of the name-dropping of each other's band has been done by me, which I kind of regret, because I don't think anyone would have noticed it otherwise. I lived here, I was even in that band for like three weeks - it was not really the right situation for me.
What defines the masculinity in that kind of music to you?
Courtney: The masculinity in it is pure and simple, if you look at it. I mean, if you look at bands with femininity - I kicked out more girls for playing guitar like a guy... I don't like the way guys play guitar - in a male sense. Guys play note-y leads, whereas Thurston [Moore] or Eric [Erlander] or Greg Sage or someone like that... plays guitar in a feminine, recessive, lunar... you know what I'm saying? In a way that isn't like showing off how much cock you have, but in a way is showing off how much soul you have. One of the reasons I got so disillusioned with punk rock early on in San Fransisco - right about the time when the Butthole Surfers moved to San Fransisco - everything was so fucking sloppy, and arty, and had no beauty, and ugly... I needed to have beauty. That's why I had a really sugary pop band [also including Kat Bjelland, calling themselves Sugar Babylon, or Sugar Chili Dog, depending on which of the former members you ask - J.], because I wanted to play something that was more beautiful to me. Then I saw that the role of women in music has always been to play beautiful stuff, and I wanted to combine that, and find people who knew how to juxtapose great beauty with great ugliness inside of music. I think Pachelbel's "Canon" is feminine. I think music that makes you cry is feminine, and music that makes you want to beat dance is masculine. I mean, I'm a big fan of anger, but I need a little bit of something pretty.
Courtney: Absolutely. We're about this kind of clumsy grace.
The Hole discography so far:
- Retard Girl b/w Phone Bill Song & Johnnie’s In The Bathroom [7"; 1988]
- Dicknail b/w Burn Black & Sinna Man Girl [7"; 1991]
- Pretty On The Inside [LP; 1991]
© J. Free / New Puritan ReView; 1991; 2014