Clash Magazine Cover Interview: Courtney Love

Rehab - Relationship - Redemption

Midnight in a penthouse in TriBeCa, and Clash’s audience with Courtney Love is, after three hours, finally drawing to a close.

She’s been renting this huge open-plan apartment in New York for four months while she finishes work on ‘Nobody’s Daughter’: her first album since the catastrophic ‘America’s Sweetheart’, released in 2004 under her own name and in a cloud of drugs.

Fittingly, ‘Nobody’s Daughter’ began in rehab. Love, forty-five now, began writing songs during an enforced three month-day stay in a Californian clinic in 2005. Back then, Love was working with songwriter Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera) and sometime Smashing Pumpkins leader (and one-time Love paramour) Billy Corgan, and writing “Nick Drakey” songs on an acoustic guitar.

There followed various stops and starts and detours. Most recently, a version of ‘Nobody’s Daughter’, supposedly sponsored by tequila and tampon brands, was scheduled to come out on 1st January last year.

But now it seems that Love and her new band, led by twenty-three-year-old London guitarist Micko Larkin (formerly of Larrikin Love), have finally finished what will be the first Hole studio album since 1998’s ‘Celebrity Skin’. That’s the plan anyway. In CourtneyWorld, nothing is ever certain – former Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson is disputing Love’s right to use that band name.

– – –

This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the March issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from February 4th. You can read the full issue online HERE and subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.

– – –

Not that Love seems daunted by this issue (which, for legal issues, we must refrain from discussing). Nor the recent temporary loss of custody of her seventeen-year-old daughter Frances Bean (to Kurt Cobain’s mum, Wendy). Nor by the various other financial and legal issues currently swirling around her. She’s on ragingly enthusiastic form tonight her scattershot thoughts pinballing from topic to topic as she gears up for a year of talking and gigging in support of ballsy, punchy, post-grunge album. Like anthemic first single ‘Samantha’, she’s shouty and sweary and hard to dislike. Many fags are smoked, much libellous gossip is passed on, some tears are shed, myriad blisteringly candid quotes are spewed forth!

“You’re Caledonian mafia?” she says on hearing Clash’s accent. “Awesome. Great. The only place I never got attacked stagediving was Glasgow. No one touched me. They treated me like Eddie Vedder. No hands up my dress.”

Can ‘Nobody’s Daughter’ make up the ground that was lost to you because of the failure of ‘America’s Sweetheart’?
Yeah, it’s that good. That’s why I took so long; that’s why I didn’t let the other one come out. I can only fuck up once. I can’t have two. I didn’t like having a fucking up. And I knew it was fucked up when I was making it. That was my midlife crisis, right there.

Was it simply down to the fact that you were too busy doing drugs then?
Absofuckinglutely. I just didn’t care. In my heart of hearts I thought it could maybe be like [The Rolling Stones’] ‘Exile [On Main Street]’, but you have to have a band. Someone has to be Mick and someone has to be Keith.

And you just had two Keiths.
Absolutely! Yeah, I was too busy doing drugs and I thought I could get away with it and I couldn’t, and I got really humbled by it.

How did you meet Micko?
I went to the UK, on a really fast trip to London, to find a band. I wasn’t gonna play with these LA chicks any more – everyone in LA is poisoned. The minute they pick up a plectrum they’re thinking about what is their publishing. And the minute you start thinking about money before you play music is the minute the whole thing is fucking destroyed. It’s ruined, it’s gone, it’s over. There’s a purity you have to keep in music. So I went over to get a band, and I used my friend Mairead Nash who manages Florence [And The Machine], and I used my friend Lisa Moorish who’s rather well known for having babies [by Liam Gallagher and Pete Doherty], but she’s lovely. And I used Alan McGee, and I got all of their references. And Mairead brought me Micko. And I hired him before he even played a note. The vibe was good, but he didn’t even bother to learn the songs. He was that good, and he knew it. And he had a big stain on his fucking shirt, and he didn’t care, and he smelt like a brewery.

‘Samantha’ makes liberal use of the word ‘fuck’ in the chorus. Could be a problem getting radio play.
Well, tomorrow, on our list of [studio chores], instead of letting the radio do the bleeps, I’m gonna sing the bleeps. So it’s seriously gonna be: “People like you BLEEP people like me BLEEP people like you!” It’ll be really funny. But I don’t wanna make a joke out of it, obviously. I’ve had to do this in movies a lot, and I’ve always hated it cos, you know, ‘fuck’ is one of my favourite words! But there’s no contest for the first single – it’s taken five years, plus another five years that didn’t amount to much. So really, ten years. But it sounds like it’s taken five years.

When did you write ‘Never Go Hungry’?
I wrote ‘Never Go Hungry’ all by my lonesome, in rehab, sitting there fucking in Orange County with a shit guitar and no pick. It’s about my daughter. And it’s about how we were; they were just awful to us. We were just so broke. It was sort of like that moment in Gone With The Wind when Scarlett O’Hara eats the dirt. It really was. So I vowed that we would just not ever go hungry again. Cos we went hungry. I didn’t have any fucking shoes! I had a pair of Converse that they gave me. That’s what I had. Frances didn’t have any shoes.

Literally didn’t have any shoes?
We had one pair of shoes.

How come you were so broke?
The simple answer to that is because I’m a widow and because I’m a woman.

So you get exploited?
Yeah. Not when I’m playing music. But financially, very much so. You know [former Guns N’ Roses bassist] Duff McKagan is an MBA? He went to UCLA and studied money, and finances. He actually writes a column for Playboy now on finances. Duff isn’t a widow and he isn’t a single mother and he isn’t a woman. So Duff has netted basically what he’s made. And my estate, personally, plus the Nirvana/Kurt stuff, is a little bit more than what Guns N’ Roses have sold. So what Duff has netted…

…is what you have lost?
Yeah, a little more. But, yeah. He told me what the three of them have netted anyway. And since Kurt had ninety-eight per cent or ninety six of the publishing, that’s what he would have had.

Do you know who’s perpetrated these frauds against you?
Yeah, it’s like some douchelords. Four fucking douchelords who started a bank. You and I could start a bank tomorrow, it’s really easy, I could show you how. I took these twelve anonymous people and just cleared their debt up. If you net under a quarter of a million and you own one property I can make you credit perfect. I’ve learned how to do that. So I might as well help other people because I expected other people to help me. If you and I and Micko decided that we wanted to kill a bald eagle, that would be a felony. And it would be a conspiracy. So it’s really simple. I know their wives, I know their sons, I know their gay sons, I know their unhappy daughters, their miserable wives who fucking buy too many diamonds; I know them. So it’s not like they’re faceless, the douchelords.

Has Frances’ trust fund been pillaged as well?
Well, the London Sunday Times put the estate at £450m, and they do a lot of fact-checking, probably more so than the New York Times. The number’s low, but if you wanna go on that number – and that’s the net number – she should have thirty-seven per cent of that number.

When she’s twenty one?
Under the trustee-ship, it goes [when she’s aged]: eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight, thirty-two. But if they [whoever “they” are] become the trustees they’ll give her $30,000 a month until she’s forty, then they might give her five hundred grand.

What, and the rest’s all gone?
[She shrugs] But if you’re seventeen, $30,000 a month looks neat. So if you’re not thinking about your children, if you’re not thinking about… your life [she sniffs, fighting back tears] – you’re thinking about how much you hate your father and your mother and you don’t want any of it. Which I can relate to.

And that’s where her mindset is at right now?
Pretty much.

On what grounds did you lose custody?
It’s bananas. Nothing. Um, I curse and I swear and I smoke and I take an anti-depressant. That’s what it said. It’s Los Angeles County Municipal Court. It’s why I got us out of there [and moved to New York]. It’s ridiculous.

Do you think Frances will come back?
Yeah, of course she will. Unless she’s really stupid. But she’s not stupid. She’s really smart.

But this record could keep you on tour for, say, a year?
That’s the plan. At Christmas time I bought her a house here. And it took everything – I had to go to somebody else and get them to finance the house, cos they’d frozen my account. And I was gonna blindfold her, put her in her house and go on the road – goodbye! That’ it. So, there’s no argument. She wasn’t very happy living with me, that’s OK, she’s seventeen. Lenny Kravitz’s daughter has her own apartment at sixteen, it’s fine. As long as it’s around the corner from me and I can have some supervision, it’s fine. When you have a big trust – even the little teeny trust that she has – you still need supervision. You can’t have, like $14m, $12m all at once. That’s ridiculous if you’re seventeen. And what should be in there needs to be in there – needs to be addressed in a court of law in front of a fucking jury of my peers. Just because I’m a bitch doesn’t mean that I can’t have my property. You can’t do that. This is America.

Are the lyrics in the song ‘Nobody’s Daughter’ (“Nobody’s daughter, she never was / She never will be beholden to anyone / She cannot kill, you don’t understand how evil we really are”) about Frances?
Yeah. I was going to change it to ‘I’. But it’s not, it is what it is. It’s her vengeance. It’s [Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ song] ‘Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle’ part two. Mixed with ‘The Candidate’ from [David Bowie’s] ‘Diamond Dogs’. Mixed with a little bit of [Pink Floyd’s] ‘The Wall’.

Is it the title of the album because you identify with that notion too, of being nobody’s daughter?
Very much so.

Tell me about ‘Someone Else’s Bed’ (“So you’re lying in your underwear on someone else’s bed”).
It’s just a soul song. It’s supposed to be like ‘Elvis In Memphis’. I’, trying to be somewhere between Etta James and Jarvis Cocker on that song. I tried to channel The King but it didn’t really work so well. So then I did a little more arch in a take. Then I got really hysterical in it.

Was that written in the ‘Never Go Hungry’ period?
No, it’s from a little later. Some of it’s about a guy. Not someone the public know. He is very public but I’m just insanely discreet. But it’s about a guy who’s a fucking mess, frankly – and apparently I’m really attracted to guys that are a big fucking mess. I guess I think I can save them.

Is this the same guy who features in the words of the B-side ‘Sunset Marquis’ (named after the Hollywood hotel/celeb hang-out): “Face down in front of the Sunset Marquis you were closest to God”?
It’s a combination of three different people. It’s got Kurt in there. It’s got Trent Reznor. And yeah, it has The Coog in there.

Ah, Steve Coogan, your former lover…
I get endless shit over the Coog thing. My band put up a picture of Alan Partridge in the studio. [Wailing, hands over her face] NO! I DID NOT DO IT! OH MY GOD, THE COOG THE COOG! I hadn’t seen any [Alan] Partridge. I’d just seen 24 Hour Party People. I had a lovely two weeks, then that turned into a year of weirdness. Then I just didn’t like him any more. He was awful.

‘Honey’ seems a very naked and pained song: “He goes down, down to his bitter end / He knows now that you loved him”.
Yeah, that’s a beautiful song, it made everyone cry [in the studio]. Every song Micko and I were trying to write was either [Oasis’] ‘Wonderwall’ or [The Verve’s] ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, and [Radiohead’s] ‘Black Star’. ‘Honey’ started out as being ‘Wonderwall’, and it was more jaunty.

Wasn’t it about calling the drug dealer at 2am and how he never comes?
No – that was [the song that became] ‘Nobody’s Daughter’. But ‘Honey’ did have a vibe that was very different – but now it’s straight up about Kurt. It’s the first song I can say that about, ever. Other than [‘Celebrity Skin’’s] ‘Northern Star’.

Have you thought ahead how it’ll be singing that on stage?
Yes. Lots. Cos I cry a lot on stage anyway. But I don’t wanna cry onstage! So I don’t know what to do about that. I love doing ‘Northern Star’ but when I sing it still kills me. It’s one of those empathy songs like [REM’s] ‘Everybody Hurts’ and [Foo Fighters’] ‘Times Like These’.

The title ‘How Dirty Girls Get Clean’ appears twice on the album, a ‘Candy’ version and a ‘Filthy’ version. But they’re different songs. Why do they have the same title?
I don’t know. Cos it’s cute? Linda tried to make ‘How Dirty Girls Get Clean’ a different song. She was like, ‘This song’s just too PJ Harvey.’ But my feeling was: yeah, maybe, but if Peej isn’t gonna do her old job any more, I’ll do it. I love The Peej. But if she isn’t gonna, like, rock my socks off and remind that she’s the best female out there with a guitar, then I’ll do it. Then Linda and Billy made candy out of this thing – it was very Linda and Billy’s music.

Did you make a full album’s worth of material with Perry and Corgan?
You mean quantity? Definitely quantity – something like twenty-one songs. I see Michael Stipe’s iPhone and there’s over thirty songs in there – he’s been collecting stuff from me, demos and shit from this whole time.

What did Corgan contribute to ‘Samantha’?
The title and the first riff. We threw three parts out [from his demo].

He’s probably using them with his new girlfriend Jessica Simpson.
I knew about that two months before, and I didn’t say anything cos I am insanely discreet about people’s sex lives. Billy has all the money. He’s an uber-millionaire. He said to me once, “I’m a man’s man when it comes to money, I’ve never lost a lawsuit.” I love him but he’s seen by a lot of people to not be a very loveable person. But I’ll always be loyal to him – he save my life, physically, twice. He gave me CPR. He’s a good guy there.

Why did you move away from the Perry and Corgan material?
Well, Linda’s been very gracious. But the partnership between me and Linda wasn’t a band partnership, it was a songwriting partnership. Whereas the partnership with me and Micko is vivid and alive and moving and crawling at all times. But the partnership with me and Linda applies also to Alicia Keys and Pink – she’s gotta put on a different hat for each of those things. But I had to do it my own way and on my conditions. And when I played those songs there just wasn’t enough oomph in them. Some of them, yeah – [Perry-composed ‘Nobody’s Daughter’ ballad] ‘Letter To God’, she aced me on that fucking thing. She writes hits. I don’t necessarily write hits. I’ve never actually had a real one like the way I know ‘Letter To God’ will be.

Words by Craig McLean
Photos by Finlay Mackay

View a full photo gallery from our cover shoot on ClashMusic HERE.

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.