Alt-rock’s scream queen talks about raging gracefully, waging war on hip-hop, and her unlikely new audience.
Age is just a number—even when that number starts with a 5 and ends with a 0.
When Courtney Love picks up the phone at her West Village home, she’s in a decidedly mellow mood—perhaps because she’d been out and about for her 49th birthday the day before. “I went to the Carlyle [Hotel] with somebody I’m dating,” she begins, “I went to the Met[ropolitan Museum of Modern Art] for the ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’ show, which was weird, I went to work at the studio, and then I went out to my friend’s nightclub and had a small cake, because I’m trying to lose weight.” But don’t mistake all that activity for celebration. “I don’t even like birthdays. I mean, other people’s, yes, but I don’t really make a big thing out of mine. And now that [daughter] Frances is 21, I don’t really have to make a big deal about her Christmas anymore. Holidays aren’t my bag.” So, naturally, the thought of turning 50 next year doesn’t faze Love at all. “I look really good for my age, and I know it,” she says. “It’s irrelevant to me.”
She’s had it with hip-hop.
Though Love relaunched her band, Hole, in 2010 with an entirely different cast of players than its popular ’90s formation, her current career-spanning tour—which precedes a new solo album and a memoir due to be published by HarperCollins by year’s end—sees her backed by the same musicians under her own name. But if Love has absolutely no interest in mounting a Hole reunion campaign to mark the encroaching 20th anniversary of the band’s breakthrough album, Live Through This (a tack currently pursued by her peers The Breeders), she does still pine for that Clintonian age when alternative rock ruled the airwaves. “Rap has gotten so, so, so much bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, and at some point, I thought, ‘Well, there has to be a correction here—there’ll be a wave of this, and then it’ll calm down.’ But it’s just like, ‘For god’s sake, you guys have had your day in the sun now for 20 years—move over!’” Love is quick to point out that some of her best friends are rappers: “I’m great friends with Russell Simmons, I’m okay friends with Jay-Z, I’m friends with Eve…I think Kanye’s kind of a giggler. But at the same time, it’s like, ‘God, you guys—really? Wow…’ On paper, I like rap. In real life… I don’t get it.” However, she’s not above exploiting hip-hop’s hegemony for her own interests: As a key stakeholder in the Nirvana publishing empire, the former Mrs. Kurt Cobain’s approval was required for Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake to cop the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Hova’s new Magna Carta… Holy Grail. So how does Love feel about the flannel generation’s most famous rallying cry getting dressed up in Rocawear? “It’s fine,” she says. “He paid enough for it.”
She’s seen the future of rock—and it involves a lot of IT guys.
On the current tour, Love is supplementing her own material with cover songs, an ever-changing list that includes everything from ’80s indie icons Big Black’s “Kerosene” to Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” as rendered by ’60s garage-rockers The Chocolate Watchband. (“Sixties punk—that’s what I like the most,” she says.) Cover songs have always served as raw materials to shape Love’s own songwriting. True to her current repertoire of proto-punk and post-hardcore classics, she describes her upcoming album, tentatively titled Died Blonde, as “very dirty,” offsetting her long-standing Fleetwood Mac fixation with the corrupting influence of The Stooges and The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. “I give the songs my own touch—I would never do a cover immaculately,” she says. “There’s this [cover] band that Dave Navarro and Matt Sorum are in called Camp Freddy, and they do all these corporate gigs, and when they play, they play the songs absolutely impeccably. Sometimes, I play with them, and I sing ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ or ‘All the Young Dudes,’ and it’s exact—which I would never, ever do. But they make a fortune doing those corporate gigs. I’ve actually done two corporate gigs now, and it’s a really good way to make money. But you’re looking out at, like, some guy who invented some app, and the models he hired to come to his party—it’s just a bunch of lonely tech guys.” So that’s what rock ’n’ roll success looks like in 2013—live through this, indeed. “We’re certainly not making any money from royalties,” says Love. “We have to think of other ways to pay our rent.”
Courtney Love plays The Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth Ave.) on July 20.