ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 25, 1999
By Steve Newton
When Eric Erlandson cofounded Hole with Courtney Love in L.A. 10 years ago, the two rockers had one simple aim in mind. As Erlandson explains on the phone from his L.A. home, they just wanted to be a “big, huge rock band”—but only if they could make it on their own terms.
“The original goal was to just be like a thorn in the music business’s side at that point,” he relates, “because of the whole Guns N’ Roses, glam-rock kind of metalesque thing that was happening then. Courtney and I both had aspirations of taking what we had inside of us and just growing up through the underground reaction.”
That “underground reaction”—also known as the early-’90s alternative-rock craze—hit its peak for Hole after the release of its 1994 CD, Live Through This, whose singles “Violet” and “Miss World” received heavy airplay. It took a while for that album to get moving in mass quantities, though, and the initial sales of Hole’s latest disc, Celebrity Skin, are also unremarkable. But Erlandson isn’t the least bit worried about bankruptcy, ’cause a big North American arena tour with Marilyn Manson kicked off in mid-February in Spokane. (The show, which sees Manson going on last and Monster Magnet warming up, visits the Pacific Coliseum on Tuesday, March 2.)
“With our last record the sales figures were pretty horrible until we started touring,” relates Erlandson, “and I think it’s the same thing with this record. It so happens that we spent a lot more time and money on this one, so we’ve got to sell a lot more flapjacks to make it all worthwhile.
“But we’re on, like, Top 40 here [in the U.S.], which is kind of crazy, ’cause I used to listen to Casey Kasem and all the Top 40 shows when I was a little kid, and we just did an interview with The Casey Kasem Show. And the fact that one of our songs, that has some depth to it, is actually gonna be played on the Top 40 stations is pretty cool.”
Hole got some assistance in honing its new music from Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan, an old friend of Love’s who helped polish four tracks, including the California-dreamy single “Malibu” and the exhilarating title track. But that is definitely not Corgan’s hyper guitar slashing out the opening riff to “Celebrity Skin”, and the normally laid-back Erlandson sounds a tad ticked off that yours truly thought it might have been.
“Didn’t you read the liner notes?” he asks. “Hmmm… You gotta read those liner notes, ’cause he didn’t play on the record, and he didn’t produce it or anything—all he did was he came in and helped us arrange a few songs. He just worked with us for about 12 days in total, so his name on there, it’s kind of… I mean, I just get a little bit pissy about it because the sound on the album is more me and [producer] Michael Beinhorn than Billy Corgan.
“But I got along really well with him,” he adds. “I think it’s maybe that boy energy that is kinda missing sometimes. He came into the room and right away I understood what he’s about, so we played off each other, and a lot of the songs got better because of that. And also he is really good at pushing Courtney for vocal ideas.”
Considering the amount of attention lavished on its notorious singer, it sometimes seems like Hole is a Love-first project, but the other members of the group all contribute to the songwriting process. As well as cowriting the rest of Celebrity Skin’s music, Erlandson composed the music to two tracks on his own, the infectiously poppy “Heaven Tonight” and the graceful “Northern Star”. The latter tune came together in a 40-minute flash.
“I had some little ideas coming,” recalls Erlandson, “and then Courtney heard me play ’em in the studio lounge, and she said, ‘What’s that?’ She just whipped out a lyric and started singin’ it, and then the next day I went in and recorded it. It had the energy of being written fast”—he snaps his fingers—“but it was just meant to be a guide guitar track and a guide vocal, and we ended up using that on the record.”
The string-swaddled “Northern Star” is the mellowest track on Celebrity Skin, so don’t expect it to be included in Hole’s current set list. Having the metallic Marilyn Manson on the bill will certainly up the ante in the raunch ’n’ roll department, although Erlandson isn’t concerned about being blown off the stage musically. He does admit that Hole won’t be trying to outdo Manson in showmanship.
“It’s definitely all about the big theatre-rock show for them,” he says, “but when you take away all that stuff it’s kinda like Kiss or something—it’s, like, a skinny guy in pantyhose. I mean, they do that kinda rock thing really well, so we’re not competing with that, we’re just going in the opposite direction. Their music is all synced up, everything’s really programmed, a lot of stuff on tape, and we’re very much a rock band that still plays live. So the tempos go all up and down, just like the way it used to be.”