Photo: John Peden
G.E. Smith (L) and LeRoy Bell (R)
G.E. Smith & LeRoy Bell Talk New Politically Charged Album 'Stony Hill': "It Speaks To This Present Time"
GRAMMY.com caught up with the music veterans to talk about how their timely debut album offers a nonpartisan, universal perspective on today's societal issues and how their rich individual careers inform their newly formed duo
Even before this challenging year, singer-songwriter LeRoy Bell was getting tired of the negative grind of daily news. He couldn't understand how the United States allowed migrant children to be separated from their families.
His frustration spawned the song "America," which appears on Stony Hill, his new debut collaborative album with veteran guitarist G.E. Smith, out Friday (Aug. 28). In the song, Bell sings, "God only knows how I miss those days / She only knows how I miss the way we were."
"I just thought that we would be so much farther along as a nation, as a country," Bell tells GRAMMY.com during a recent interview. "And in the last couple of years, it just seemed like it was going to hell in a handbasket. I just wanted to write a song, and it was a healing process for me, and I just thought that a lot of other people can relate to it."
After Bell showed the song to Smith, the two started working on what would amount to a politically charged album full of like-minded songs. Stony Hill is a contemplative and honest look at where American democracy stands today. Rather than angrily pointing fingers, the duo instead offers constructive criticism in a nonpartisan way aimed at finding a more perfect union.
Smith and Bell use the wisdom and experiences they've gained through their long and wide-ranging careers in music to inform Stony Hill.
Bell has written hit songs for a variety of artists, including Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, Teddy Pendergrass and The Three Degrees. A finalist for "The X Factor" in 2011, Bell has also made a name for himself via his work as a solo artist and with his former soul duo, Bell and James, alongside Casey James.
For Smith and Bell, their newly formed duo welcomes a pairing that's long been in the works.
"I'd been looking for a great singer for 30 years," Smith says. "And I've been looking for just the right voice. And [my wife] said to me, 'Hey, listen to this guy. This is the voice.' And I heard it. I said, 'Yep, that's him.'"
GRAMMY.com caught up with G.E. Smith & LeRoy Bell to talk about how their timely debut album, Stony Hill, offers a nonpartisan, universal perspective on today's societal issues and how their rich individual careers inform their latest project.
The songs on your new album, Stony Hill, feel like they were written for this moment in time.
Smith: Well, we recorded the record in 2019. We had it finished up by the early fall and then did the postproduction. And it just happened that a lot of the songs that LeRoy had written are very relevant to what's going on now; songs like "America," "Under These Skies," "Let The Sunshine In." It just speaks to this present time as things worked out.
Bell: I don't think this happened overnight, and so a situation we're finding ourselves in, it's not like I predicted anything and saw it coming. I think it was just a feeling that was going on in the last couple of years, the way things were turning. But I had no idea that it was going to end up like it is now and we'd be in this position with the pandemic and the civil unrest that we have at this point. But I think some of the signs were there.
What's the story behind the album's title, Stony Hill?
Smith: We were looking for a band name; there [have] been so many bands at this point, it's really hard to come up with a name. [My family and I] happen to live on Stony Hill Road. And so there that was, and then that image of pushing the rock up the hill just fit right in. That seems like what we're all doing now.
While writing the album, you made a point to make songs such as "America" nonpartisan and from a more universal place. Why was that important?
Bell: I think politics go back and forth, and, depending on who's in power, people use politics as a tool to control other people. And that's why I used those lyrics that way. I think you can interpret it how you want, but I think it speaks to the times that we have right now. But I think it's also a political stigma that can speak to any time, because a lot of it is general, although some of it is specific to this time.
What was the inspiration behind "America"?
Bell: I was kind of down and watching too much news on TV, which I finally just got rid of because it was just messing with my emotions. I saw this one thing where they were separating kids from their parents and putting kids in cages, and I just kind of balled up. This is not where I thought we would be in 2019. I just thought that we would be so much farther along as a nation, as a country. And in the last couple of years, it just seemed like it was going to hell in a handbasket. I just wanted to write a song, and it was a healing process for me, and I just thought that a lot of other people can relate to it.
"Black Is The Color" is a rocking modern take on the traditional folk ballad. Why did it feel like a good time to revisit the song?
Smith: I've always loved that song. I've been playing that song for 40 years at least. And most of the versions that you hear of that song are slow and beautiful. Nina Simone is the famous one that comes to mind. But in the early '60s, a lot of what they called folk artists—Joan Baez, people like that—everybody was doing that song, and everybody did it slow. But I'm kind of a rocker, bar band, guitar-player guy, so I wanted to rock it up. I love the lyrics and I really thought I'd fit in with the rest of the material that we were doing. I've always really enjoyed rearranging traditional songs like that, taking a more modern approach to them, because the lyrics are great in a lot of that traditional stuff. The stories are universal. The stories are timeless.
"Under the Skies" talks about the hopes and fears people have in this country. There's a lyric about the longing for finding the way home. Why was that an appealing metaphor?
Bell: A metaphor to finding the way home to peace and love—that's what I mean by that. Finding a way back home to reconciliation, to getting along, to where we're supposed to be as humans with each other. Like we just got so far off-track of where we should be. I think this is … just about as far away from where we should be that I can remember [in my life].
How did the two of you originally meet?
Smith: Taylor Barton, my wife, was listening to LeRoy. I think she found him on Spotify, or one of those places, and I'd been looking for a great singer for 30 years. And I've been looking for just the right voice. And she said to me, "Hey, listen to this guy. This is the voice." And I heard it. I said, "Yep, that's him."
So Taylor got a hold of LeRoy, and he lives in Seattle. We're on the extreme East Coast, out on Long Island [in New York], and we invited him out January of 2019. And he came and we sat down with our guitars and started playing, and we just had a great time. He had recently written "America." He showed it to me, and within two days, we were in the studio.
Did it feel like a good pairing?
Bell: We're fans of a lot of the same music—that would be old-school music. We played in a lot of different bands that had a lot in common, and we were close to the same age and grew up in the same era. Once we started playing together, we just hit it off. It just felt very comfortable.
Smith: You never know, when you get together with people, everybody can be really talented, but it doesn't always click. Thankfully, this time it did. We got along right away, musically, because, as LeRoy said, we had grown up listening to the same records at the same time— we were [just] in different rooms. You've got to be able to like the people and hang out with them and spend time with them. So that all was very easy and comfortable right away—thankfully.
Each of you has histories of collaborating with others. How have these lessons and experiences carried over to this project?
Bell: I think when you've been collaborating with other people, you learn to listen and pay attention to what that other person has. Music is cool, but you don't want to just play it by yourself all the time; you want to be able to enjoy playing with other people. And so, collaborating with somebody else that's giving you ideas and cool things to work off of is a joy, especially if you get along personally. It's fun. It's creative.
Smith: You don't dismiss your own ego, but you've got to put your own ego aside a little bit and work with the artist, the person that day you're supporting. As a guitar player, sideman, you work with them and you try to make the idea that they have shine. You try to make it good. So LeRoy comes with these songs and then I like the songs, and then I could hear right away what I want it to sound like; it was just a great experience to be able to do it. We're looking forward to recording the next album.
Are you planning to tour together whenever things get back to normal after the pandemic?
Bell: Yeah. We were already planning on touring and then the COVID-19 [pandemic] hit, and then that just pulled the rug out from under us. But we would love to get out there and get to the people and bring them music. There's nothing better than playing in front of live audiences.
Smith: In the middle of March, when this COVID thing really took off, we were supposed to go to South By Southwest [SXSW], play two or three shows while we were there, introduce the band and the recording. They were going to release "America" right there. But of course, that got canceled, along with everything else.
On "America," you talk about not standing idly by. Have you been involved in the community beyond music?
Bell: Not so much. My main way of being involved is through my music. I'm not out there in the streets, physically, but I try to lend my voice and my time to the causes. Somebody needs me to be there, phone lines or vocally or any way that I can that way with my support; I try to do that. But physically, as far as being out in the streets, I don't really do that. Mainly, it's just through my music and what I can bring that way.
Smith: For me, I've never been political at all. It never seemed to make much difference to me, as a musician, who was president or governor or anything. It was the same for me when Reagan was president or when Clinton was president or Obama.
But Trump, he came along and just ... To me, he's very wrong on so many things. I hate the way that he's encouraged the white nationalist people. And he seems to thrive on this chaos; he likes it. He thinks it makes him look good to his people, I guess. I've never voted in my life, but I'll tell you what. I'm registered now. And I'm going to vote in November. I'm not going to vote for Trump—you know that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Photo: Pamela Littky
Corey Taylor Finds Home Within Exploration On 'CMF2': "This Is The Closest To The Real Me That I've Been"
Amid his latest solo tour, Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor details to GRAMMY.com how his second solo album expanded on his multifaceted musical universe — and helped him find himself in the process.
Solo albums by famous lead singers can be dicey gambits. They can offer an artist a fresh musical pulpit, or they could divide the group that made them famous. Luckily for Corey Taylor, his solo endeavors haven't interfered with his main metal mission.
With CMFT and CMF2 — the latter of which arrives Sept. 15 — Taylor crafted legitimately interesting albums that also suit the odyssey of his multiple musical personalities. Best known for fronting the GRAMMY-winning metal band Slipknot, Taylor's masked persona has allowed him to vent rambunctious energy on and off stage; his original group, Stone Sour, saw Taylor explore more melodic heavy rock avenues. While his solo work is somewhat aligned with the music that made him famous, it's another animal altogether.
Taylor first began performing solo acoustic shows in late 2011, nearly a decade before 2020's CMFT. The shows completely shed any musical assumptions people would associate with the singer, as he covered songs he wouldn't normally do with his other bands and gave people a look into his true multifaceted identity. His solo performances also included various spoken word segments with spontaneous comedy bits, a nod to his literary instincts (to date, he's authored four books and a comic book series).
CMF2 continues to bring the unexpected. While many of its 13 tracks are heavy, they also span wider genre influences, notably '70s and '80s classic rock sounds. Tracks like "Post Traumatic Blues" and "All I Want Is Hate" bristle with intense electric energy and the acoustic ballad "Sorry Me" taps into introspective territory; the bluesy "Breath of Fresh Smoke" resides between the two sonically, building from a gentle first half into a spirited electric guitar solo at its center. "Dead Flies" closes the album by invoking '90s hard rock vibes – ultimately proving that there's really no rock style Taylor can't tackle.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Taylor in the midst of his recent tour with his solo band to discuss the new album, his artistic progress over the last 30 years, and how his solo ventures are a good way for him to transition into other musical adventures.
While your label is promoting the heavier tracks like "Beyond" from CMF2, there's a bit more nuance here than on your first album, which had some mellower moments.
Absolutely. This is the only way I've been able to describe it — the first album was "I've got all these tunes, let's just see if anybody likes them." There was really no plan, there was really no focus. I'd never really had the opportunity to present the songs that I've written over the years to see if people even like these things.
Once I realized that the audience was there for my songwriting — not the band, not the aesthetic of anything, just me writing as an artist — then we could lean into this. Now I can tap into stuff that I really want to do and really try to focus this album and make it a journey.
What I've tried to do with every album that I'm involved with, whether I'm producing or not, is to make it feel like I'm taking people somewhere, and hopefully bring them back. So on this album, the nuances are overstated. The heavies feel heavy, the quiets still quiet. The contemplative nature is still there, but the songs are just really, really good.
What's the most personal song on the new album for you?
Oh man, that's tricky. There's so many different sides to me on this album. It's a toss up between "Post Traumatic Blues" and "Sorry Me." Just from a strictly selfish point of view.
If I was talking about the more optimistic, almost romantic side, "Starmate," "Beyond," "Someday I'll Change Your Mind" — songs that I've written for my wife — that stuff brings that whole other side out of me. But when it comes to just those moments of contemplation and really dealing with those darker moments that depression affords me, "Sorry Me" is definitely one of those things where you're just sitting there and feel dog-piled by the mistakes that you've made in your life. You know it's not something that you're doing, it's the depression pulling those out of you. It's pulling those memories out to almost weigh you down even more, and fighting your way through that to get back to the surface of that ocean is tough.
"Sorry Me" is almost like that moment where you have to forgive yourself for the mistakes that you've made in your life and realize that time is moving on. And if you don't allow yourself a little levity, then you're just going to be carrying around a million tons of bricks for the rest of your life.
A lot of your lyrics, metaphorically, go into a place of trying to find home. Not home within your house, but home within yourself.
You're absolutely right. I spent so many years on the road when I was a kid that I had no real sense of what a home was. The only real home I knew was my grandmother's house. That was the only place I felt safe. It was the only place where, when I got there, I felt like I didn't have to worry about what was going to happen to me. It was the only house in the world where I felt like I could just be myself.
As I've gotten older, my home that I have now is that. I didn't really have that over the years, even when I was living by myself — maybe because I wasn't comfortable with myself. I was still finding myself. But my home now is definitely the place where I can take that deep breath and feel okay with it.
So, musically, maybe that's where my journey is still going, and maybe that's one of the reasons why I enjoy writing in so many different genres. I've never felt like there's one genre that feels like home. I'm constantly exploring different things. Then again, maybe it's just music in general that feels like home. So why can't I explore all of these different genres? Because I feel really comfortable. There's a flip side of that coin that I've never really considered before.
Your acoustic sets show another side of you, and you get to pull out unusual covers. You have a rowdy crowd, but they're willing to indulge you. Do you think because of the way you can embody these different styles, you've been able to pull in a lot of metal fans who might not normally be along for the ride?
I think so. I've definitely inspired a sort of trust because of just how many years I've been doing it now, and the fact that anything I do has really showed that it comes from the heart. It doesn't come from any other place other than this really true, honest place. I've never written music just to write music. I've written music because I wanted to write that type of music, I wanted to play that type of music. And, to me, that's the best way to try to ensure that the audience is going to show up and listen. The second you throw them for a loop and it's not honest, they're going to be like, "Nope, we're never trusting you again."
I've never known anything other than to be completely honest musically. So you're right — when it comes to the acoustic shows, there would be the handful of metal dudes [coming who were], like, the closeted metal fan who loves softer stuff but never wanted to admit it before. "If it's not Slayer, it's not heavy!"
It's those guys [who are] singing [the Slipknot ballad] "Snuff" the loudest. When you have something that touches people like that, man, it doesn't matter genre-wise.
I think that's one of the reasons why I've come to be this solo artist because, to me, the songs are what matter. A good song transcends a genre. It will transcend your gatekeeping for a certain type of music, and it will make you go, "You're going to enjoy this whether you like it or not. You just need to get over yourself."
In the "Beyond" video, I see that Corey is learning to do some lead guitar work.
Well, I'm finally sharing it, anyway. A lot of people don't know this, but when I started Stone Sour back in '92, I played rhythm and lead while singing. It was largely because everybody that we tried out just wasn't good enough, and that was the story of my life, really.
When I first started playing music, it was almost a catch-22. I was always better than the drummer that we had in the band. And when I was playing drums, I was always better than the singer that we had in the band. It was one of those instances where it was either s— or get off the pot. I had to pick one. Finally I was like, I'd rather sing. I feel really good when I sing. Not that I don't love playing drums, and I still play drums. But I would rather sing because, to me, the challenge is finding those ways to emote and do those things.
The same with guitar playing. I didn't necessarily want to be the lead guitar player, but at the same time, I've got these songs that I really love and nobody's playing them the way I want them to be played. So I have to do that. Then once I discovered people like Jim Root and all the other people that I've been blessed to work with, I've been able to give up that.
But when I demoed "Beyond" and I wrote that solo, it was one of the coolest solos I'd ever written. It's short, it's concise, it's melodic, it's got a hook of its own. I knew that if we recorded it I wanted to be the one to do it. It's just one of my favorite solos which is one of the reasons why it's the one that I do on the album.
You also play mandolin on the album, and you say your piano playing has been getting better. It's not often you see a lead singer as a multi-instrumentalist or soloist.
I guess it's because I just love writing music. I love writing songs, period, and to me, the best way to be able to write different kinds of songs is to learn to play different types of instruments. Because I learned by ear, I'm pretty adept at getting good fairly quickly. It takes me a minute. And obviously, I'm not going to go out and perform with the London Philharmonic, but at the same time getting to learn chords on the piano, or learning different tunings on the mandolin, is a lot of fun. It helps me explore stuff to the point where if I want to write something now in any genre, or any style, I can pull the Wurlitzer out on this and lay down a Doobie Brothers kind of thing and just have fun with it. That, to me, is the exciting part of learning different instruments.
You've done a lot of guest appearances and collabs over the years— everyone from Korn to Apocalyptica to comedian/voice actor Tom Kenny. What's been the most challenging?
That's a good question. I've been really lucky in the fact that everything that I've done I've been very adept at and really taken to it. Some of these genres [I've worked in] I'm already a fan, so I already have a taste of it. I will say the most nervous I ever was, and this is true, was getting up with Tom and doing the "SpongeBob Theme Song". It was so rad and we had so much fun doing it. Tom is such a sweetheart of a person, and I don't even think he realizes what a fan I have been of him for years. When we were making the very first Slipknot album, we watched Mr. Show with Bob and David every day. We had all of the episodes on videocassette, and we would watch them at the end of every night and just laugh hysterically. I just think he's one of the funniest people on the planet. Not only do I love him from that, but my son was a massive SpongeBob fan, so his voice has literally been in my life for over 25 years. It's cool to be able to have that moment now, and hopefully we'll have some more because he's like, "We have to stay in touch." And I'm like, "Oh God, this is gonna get fun now."
You've got a couple of "secret" guest musicians on this album. Duff McKagan wrote some notes for the promo materials. So is he one of them? Or are we being left to guess?
Actually, no. He sadly didn't. I would have loved to have had Duff, and maybe I'll do it on the third album. But there were two real people who played on the album, one of which was Fred Mandel. He provided the Hammond work. Roger Manning was on there and did this incredible key work on stuff like "We Are The Rest." But the two other names are actually pseudonyms for me. Richard Manitoba was one of my hotel aliases that I used in the past.
Handsome Dick Manitoba from the Dictators!
Yeah, yeah. That's where I got it from because I was a massive Dictators fan when I was a kid, and then Pebbly Jack Glasscock was a baseball player from the 1940s. That has been my email name for years.
The reason why I was almost forced to use those is because [producer] Jay Ruston refused to not credit me on the album for all of the stuff that I had played. I didn't want my list of musical credits to look like, "Oh, look, he's just got to have credit for everything." And he was just like, "We've got to put something on here." I was like, "God dammit." So I gave him those aliases. And he ran with it.
The song "The Rest Of Us" talks about the effects of PTSD and the prolonged impostor syndrome hanging over your life. For people who don't understand that — because you've had all this success, you've done all these great things — what do you think keeps that imposter syndrome lingering for you despite your achievements?
That's a good question. Maybe unresolved issues from my childhood, the stuff that I've never had the chance to explore with a therapist because there's always so many crazy things going on in my current life. That's at the bottom of the list because it just doesn't have priority.
I don't know, maybe it's because of the things that were done to me and the things that were said to me — not just when I was younger, but from prior relationships. I had a bad habit of getting together with people who didn't like the fact that I was really good at what I did, and that I was in demand. So it would consciously or unconsciously come out in the abuse that they would pile on me, and it definitely takes a toll. When you have people who don't try to inspire you to be yourself, it will make you feel like you didn't earn the things that you've earned. It's something I still struggle with.
I know people hear that, and they go, "Are you out of your mind?" Maybe I am a little bit. But it's tough when you're paraded and told that you're not any good for so many years, or that you don't deserve anything, or you're not even responsible for the things that you've earned. All you can do is try to work it out in therapy. Then once you get to the point where you're a little stronger in your life, you go, "I'm not going to allow that in my life anymore. I want to surround myself with people who appreciate me." And that's just it.
Luckily, I'm in a wonderful marriage now. We inspire each other, and we push each other to be the very best. And that leads to inspiring my kids to do that. So I'm slowly but surely giving up the ghost on that. But it's something that maybe will still haunt me until I'm towards the end of my career. Who knows?
You've talked about the fact that, with Slipknot, you can only can keep up this pace for so long. That sounds like a smart idea for you to transition into exploring other things, and still have that audience and be you, without people expecting you to jump on stage with a mask and go crazy for two hours.
Right. As a performer you physically want to rise to that occasion. The only thing that holds us back in performance is age, and I'm lucky that I'm healthy enough that I can still go at a certain level. But I know I can't continue that forever. The guys in Slipknot also know that, and that's something that we're talking about very honestly. "What do we do?" "What does the next level of Slipknot look like?"
We're looking at it from an artistic point of view. How do we make it still seem frenetic and off the chain, but also something that we can deal with from a strength point of view? It'll be interesting to see where that challenge takes us.
It also allows me to be able to do stuff like this solo thing. It's high-energy right now, but when it gets to the point where I want to tame it down a little bit, I have songs that I can lean into and let them do the heavy lifting for me.
This is probably the closest to the real me as a performer that I've been in my whole career. Because obviously with Slipknot, it's really one side of the genre. With Stone Sour, I was being held back because of certain people in the band. But with this, there are no limitations, and I can do music carte blanche as far as genre goes and performance goes. I have a band that can play anything, which is just criminal. It's really, really cool. I'm just really fortunate to be in the place where I am right now.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage
How Hole Moved Beyond The Grunge Scene By Going Pop On 'Celebrity Skin'
As Hole's pop-leaning album, 1998's 'Celebrity Skin,' turns 25, GRAMMY.com looks back at the concept album which pushed Hole from the fringes of the mainstream to four-time GRAMMY-nominated success.
Upon the release of Hole's third album, 1998's Celebrity Skin, guitarist Eric Erlandson revealed to Spin the biggest worry he and founding member Courtney Love had in their early days: "that Hole could not be a mainstream band, and we wanted to be popular enough and sell enough records." Within the space of 12 months, such fears had unequivocally been put to bed.
Indeed, Celebrity Skin sold 86,000 copies in its first week to become the group's first Top 10 entry on the Billboard 200. It also picked up four GRAMMY nominations including Best Rock Album, spawned two Hot 100 hits and shifted more than 1.4 million copies in the United States alone. Suddenly a band whose first three singles were titled "Retard Girl," "Dicknail" and "Teenage Whore" had become part of the MTV elite.
In an era when pop was still very much considered a dirty word, Hole brazenly refused to be shackled by the music industry's self-appointed tastemakers. They pursued a sound which owed just as much to the harmony-laden soft rock of Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac as the caustic grunge of 1994 predecessor Live Through This. Their new set of collaborators indicated a shift, too: After initially courting Brian Eno, the quartet teamed up with Michael Beinhorn, the man who'd helped spearhead the careers of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Soundgarden ("probably the Michael Bay of record producers," drummer Patty Schemel wryly noted in her memoir). They also requested the services of Love's ultimate frenemy Billy Corgan halfway through recording to boost its hooky appeal.
This change in direction was no doubt inspired by the quartet's decision toreturn to Los Angeles, with Erlandson opting for Laurel Canyon, Schemel and bassist Melissa Auf der Maur residing in Silverlake Hills, and Love settling in Beverly Hills. But as hinted on its front cover — a slightly blurry Polaroid shot of the band standing in front of a burning palm tree — Celebrity Skin was no picture-perfect tribute to Californian life.
Take the title track, for example: Named after the voyeuristic porn magazine (and not, as Love once joked, because she'd "touched a lot of it"), "Celebrity Skin" fully embraces the idea that Hollywood is a place where dreams go to die rather than be fulfilled. "Oh, look at my face/ My name is might have been," Love sings on the second verse. "My name is never was/ My name's forgotten." Hammering the point home, its dazzling Gentlemen Prefer Blondes-inspired promo, firmly in keeping with the blockbuster tone, even had Love and Auf der Maur lying in open caskets.
It was a fitting narrative for Love, who had reinvented herself over the past four years from the rock scene's enfant terrible (in 1995 alone, she'd punched Kathleen Hanna, gatecrashed a Madonna interview and even attacked her own fans) to a respectable Hollywood darling. She earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as the titular pornographer's wife Althea in 1996's The People versus Larry Flynt, later partying with celebrity boyfriend Edward Norton on the Oscars' red carpet ("The most thorough transformation since Eliza Doolittle met Henry Higgins," wrote Time).
However, she was still keen to depict the state as a den of decadence which chews people up and spits them out. The driving power pop of "Awful," for instance, takes aim at the music scene's corruption of young girls, including Love's teenage self ("And they royalty rate all the girls like you/ And they sell it out to the girls like you"). "Hit Me Hard" (which references the Crystals' "He Hit Me (And Then He Kissed Me)") is a similarly tricky portrait of domestic violence in which Love envisages herself drowning — a theme which, partly influenced by the tragic death of friend Jeff Buckley, is prevalent throughout Celebrity Skin.
Interestingly, the album's theme was very much a last-minute decision. Frustrated by the direction of their early demos, Love decided it would be better to tie everything together with a concept, "even if it's fake." Yet, it was one which made sense with her new lifestyle.
"It was her Hollywood phase," Auf der Maur remarked, adding that the frontwoman's daily routine consisted of chain-smoking Marlboro lights, auditioning and heading to the beach with her personal trainer at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. The title track is unarguably where all these elements coalesced to perfection.
The most striking thing about "Celebrity Skin," though, is how it leaned into the super-sized pop metal sound Hole and their ilk were supposed to have made obsolete. Its crunching riffs could easily have been lifted from Motley Crüe, Skid Row or any other group from the height of Sunset Strip excess. (And while Love firmly denied rumors Corgan was the true mastermind behind the record, she was more than happy to give him credit on the title track.)
It's hard to believe this is the same band whose 1991 debut, Pretty on the Inside, reveled in a challenging, and often cacophonic, mix of noise-rock, art punk and sludge metal. Yet they still pull off the pop-metal sound. Indeed, "Celebrity Skin" not only scored Hole their first No. 1 on Billboard's Alternative Airplay chart, but it also earned two GRAMMY nominations, for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Rock Song. And the fact it's since been covered by the Glee Cast and Doja Cat — not to mention being subjected to the slightly creepy AI treatment, too — further proves just how much it crossed over.
Second single "Malibu," both the best and the biggest of the band's career, also found a place on radio stations that previously wouldn't have touched Hole with a bargepole. Originally penned with Stevie Nicks in mind, the melodic slice of AM rock doubles up as a desperate plea for a drug-addicted boyfriend to seek sobriety before it's too late. Contrary to popular belief, however, it was inspired by Love's first boyfriend Jeff Mann, not, late husband Kurt Cobain.
In fact, Celebrity Skin only occasionally touches on the Nirvana frontman's passing — despite being the band's first chance to address it on record (Live Through This came out just a week after the tragedy). Macabre track "Reasons to Be Beautiful" includes a subverted line from Cobain's suicide note ("It's better to rise than fade away"), and almost feels like Love is writing her very own ("Love hangs herself/With the bedsheets in her cell"). And towards the end of the album, Love delivers a thinly veiled attack on Cobain's Nirvana bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic — who she'd soon become embroiled in various legal battles with — on "Playing Your Song." ("You trusted everything/They sold you out.")
If all this sounds a little angst-ridden for a record specifically designed for the masses, Love and Co. help sugarcoat things with an array of blissful vocal harmonies, shiny guitar riffs and singalong melodies perfect for driving down the highway. Craig Armstrong, then best known for his BAFTA-winning score for Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, also provides some beautifully elegiac strings on "Dying" and closer "Petals," a bittersweet reflection on the fleeting nature of relationships and life itself.
It's not all dark cautionary tales and meditations on grief, either. "Heaven Tonight," an ode to a "sun in the form of a girl" (which some believe is Love's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain), is possibly the sweetest thing Hole ever recorded. And although "Boys on the Radio" eventually becomes another cutting riposte to men in suits, it initially looks back fondly at the days when Love used to seek solace in her pop idols (bizarrely, her teenyboppers of choice were the tartan-clad glam rockers Bay City Rollers).
Sadly, Celebrity Skin was also the album which literally broke Hole. After wearing Schemel down with weeks of punishing studio time, Beinhorm managed to convince the band that session musician Deen Castronovo would be a better fit; Love later admitted regret over listening to the producer and essentially ruining the drummer's life. Erlandson would also describe the making of its 12 tracks as "insane," and by the time the Hole name was revived for 2010's Nobody's Daughter, Love had assembled a whole new line-up, a move she later acknowledged was "a mistake" that cheapened their legacy.
Despite all the contention, there's been much talk of a Celebrity Skin-era reunion, Schemel included, since. In 2014, Rolling Stone wrongly reported Love's solo single "Wedding Day" had emerged from a recording session with all four members, although the singer did reveal that they'd spent time playing together again. And five years later, they all apparently enjoyed rehearsal time at, rather aptly, the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But should they fail to nail down anything else in the studio, Celebrity Skin is one hell of a highly polished swansong.
Photo: Peter Wafzig/Getty Images
Foo Fighters Essential Songs: 10 Tracks That Show The Band's Eternal Rock Spirit
On their recently released album, 'But Here We Are,' Dave Grohl and company offer a gripping confessional of both painful loss and blistering resilience. In honor of their 11th album, revisit 10 of the Foo Fighters’ most essential tracks.
Foo Fighters — one of contemporary rock’s most pivotal mainstays — boasts an almost mythical history. What began as Dave Grohl’s one-man band in 1994 after the devastating end of Nirvana has become a seminal machine with a catalog that spans three decades.
The group currently holds the record for the most GRAMMY wins in the Best Rock Album category, picking up awards in 2000 (There Is Nothing Left to Lose), 2003 (One By One), 2007 (Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace), 2012 (Wasting Light) and 2022 (Medicine at Midnight). At the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, Medicine at Midnight also took home awards for Best Rock Performance ("Making a Fire") and Best Rock Song ("Waiting on a War").
Their recently released 11th studio album, But Here We Are, is the facet’s first project following the death of drummer and vocalist Taylor Hawkins last year. Hawkins, who joined Foo Fighters in 1997 and would become a driving creative force in the group, was mourned by musicians and fans across the world. Tribute concerts in London and Los Angeles presented by the Hawkins family in conjunction with Foo gracefully paid homage to his legacy.
Grohl and company managed to push through their collective grief on But Here We Are. The project serves as a gripping confessional of both painful loss and blistering resilience. In honor of their latest endeavor, GRAMMY.com lists 10 of Foo Fighters’ most essential tracks.
"Big Me," Foo Fighters (1995)
Released one year after Kurt Cobain's death, Foo Fighters’ debut album brimmed with promise. "Losing Kurt was earth-shattering, and I was afraid of music after he died," he told Anderson Cooper during a 2014 episode of "60 Minutes."
Though Grohl insisted that the record was just an outlet for grief, it marked the beginning of his illustrious career. "Big Me," the final saccharine single from the project, proved that the drummer-turned-frontman had a knack for crafting catchy tunes that would become undeniable hits.
The campy nature of the track was the result of Grohl not putting much thought into the album, but that intrinsically simple approach — which trickled down to the song’s video which famously parodied Mentos commercials — was the start of something great.
"Everlong," The Colour and The Shape (1997)
One of Foo Fighters’ most exhilarating moments to date comes in the form of a love song. "Everlong," which was the second single from the band's sophomore effort, pulls listeners in with its gentle, melodic chords, keeping their attention with sweltering percussion and heart wrenching lyricism.
"Everlong" is about being so in tune with a romantic partner that the conclusion of that relationship is wholly devastating. "Come down and waste away with me," Grohl serenely sings. "Down with me/Slow, how you wanted it to be/I'm over my head/Out of her head, she sang." He performed it for the first time acoustic in 1998 on "The Howard Stern Show," which Grohl said "gave the song a whole new rebirth" during a performance at Oates Song Fest 7908.
"Breakout," There Is Nothing Left To Lose (1999)
"Breakout" appeared on both the band’s third album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, and is filled with a frenzied, punk energy that channels Grohl’s grunge roots. While critics praised the album and noted the Foos' notable progression toward more melodic anthems, this quick, fast hit remains worthy of the hype it received over 20 years ago.
The track also appeared in the 2000 comedy film Me, Myself & Irene starring Jim Carrey, and several of its stars appear in its music video. There Is Nothing Left To Lose also spurred the radio hit "Learn To Fly," which won the GRAMMY Award for Best Short Form Music Video in 2000.
"Times Like These," One By One (2002)
The Foo Fighters' fourth studio album marked a turbulent period in the band’s history. Aside from personal issues, Grohl had just recorded drums for Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf, and joined the group for a subsequent tour.
While the fate of Foo remained unknown, a triumphant performance at Coachella in 2002 gave the members a new outlook on their future. "‘Times Like These’ was basically written about the band disappearing for those two or three months and me feeling like I wasn’t entirely myself," Grohl stated in the group’s 2011 documentary Back and Forth. "I just thought, ‘Okay, I’m not done being in the band. I don’t know if they are, but I’m not.’"
With its lyrical simplicity and crippling sincerity ("It’s times like these you learn to live again/It’s times like these you give and give again"), the song has come to embody love, togetherness and hope.
"Best Of You," In Your Honor (2005)
"I’ve got another confession to make/I’m your fool," Dave Grohl howls at the top of lungs on the riveting opening for "Best of You." His declaration is followed by the existential proposition: "Were you born to resist or be abused?"
In Your Honor’s lead single is ripe with emotion, in which the Foo frontman is buoyantly defiant and encourages those listening to his words to be the same. That sentiment was politically driven, as "Best of You" was penned after Grohl made several appearances on the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign for John Kerry.
"It’s not a political record, but what I saw inspired me," he told Rolling Stone in 2005. "It’s about breaking away from the things that confine you." "Best of You" is their only song in the U.S. to reach platinum status.
"The Pretender," Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007)
One of the group’s most highest charting songs was "The Pretender," from 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. Grohl’s songwriting on the track is of macabre proportions, as introductory solemn chords give way to the lyrics: "Send in your skeletons/Sing as their bones go marching in again/They need you buried deep/The secrets that you keep are ever ready."
Heavier riffs and pulsating percussion make it quite the auditory experience. Perfectly paced crescendos on the "The Pretender" give it just the right amount of suspense, making it indelible to the Foo discography.
"White Limo", Wasting Light (2011)
In 2012, Wasting Light earned four GRAMMY Awards including Best Rock Album. "White Limo" snagged the accolade for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance — and for good reason.
The second single from Foo Fighters’ seventh studio album is a ferocious number saturated with primal screams and whirlwind rhythms. "White Limo" was one of their most raucous songs to date and the group does their best Motorhead impression (Lemmy Kilmister’s appearance in the music video serves as the ultimate seal of approval). The group was intentional in maximizing their aggression on the heavy-metal track, making "White Limo" the sonic equivalent of a lightning bolt in their immense catalog.
"Make It Right," Concrete & Gold (2017)
2017’s Concrete and Gold wasn’t about redefining the wheel as much as it was perfecting it. The group’s ninth studio album is as rock 'n' roll as it gets.
There were a slew of memorable guest appearances including Paul McCartney on "Sunday Rain," Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman on "Concrete & Gold," and the Kills’ Alison Mosshart on "The Sky Is a Neighborhood" and "La Dee Da."
The album’s best track, "Make It Right," features an uncredited, sonically off-putting cameo from Justin Timberlake . Yet the collaboration’s venture into heavier territory pays off, with Grohl paying respect to Led Zeppelin. The rock legends' influence oozes all over "Make It Right" in the form of ragged taunts and splintering riffs. Timberlake slinks into the background with additional vocals, making sure to not alter Foo’s formula in any way.
"Waiting on a War," Medicine at Midnight (2021)
Foo Fighters’ 10th album, Medicine at Midnight, was a refreshing return to form for the rockers.
Sparked by a conversation by Grohl’s daughter, "Waiting on a War" embodied the group’s pensiveness about America’s ominous future. Over four minutes, Grohl states that he’s "waiting for the sky to fall," though his melancholy thoughts ultimately transform from wistful crooning over acoustic guitar chords to a rumbling, full-throated ferocious outro. Foo’s bold approach snagged them a GRAMMY Award in 2022 for Best Rock Song.
"Rescued," But Here We Are (2023)
The power in "Rescued," the emotionally-charged first single from But Here We Are, relies not only on the lyrics to spell out the feeling of despondency, but on Grohl’s expression of them.
"We’re all free to some degree/To dance under the lights," he sings. "I’m just waiting to be rescued/Bring me back to life." His voice languishes between fatigue and vigor as swirling guitars and ethereal buildups provide catharsis for both the band and the listener. The vulnerability of "Rescued" channels the intriguing self-awareness heard on albums like The Colour and The Shape and In Your Honor. But this song represents a brand new chapter for Foo and it’s one that confronts their pain head on.
Photo: Joseph Rosen
Here's What Went Down At The 2023 Blues Music Awards In Memphis
A crowd of more than 1,100 filled the ballroom of the Renasant Convention Center in Memphis for a music-filled show. Here are four takeaways from the soulful evening.
For more than four decades — even during the pandemic — the Memphis-based Blues Foundation has annually recognized the genre's best, including such GRAMMY-winning luminaries as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
On May 11, the foundation presented the 44th Annual Blues Music Awards, featuring a host of blues mainstays — as well as younger artists who combine the various strains of the blues with diverse strands of Americana.
A crowd of more than 1,100 filled the ballroom of the Renasant Convention Center in Memphis for a music-filled show that packed 25 awards and more than a dozen musical performances into a deceptively tight five-hour show.
Here are four takeaways from this year's Blues Music Awards:
Big Winners Were Touched By Tribulations
This was the second in-person BMA ceremony following two years of virtual presentations due to COVID. But while the pandemic has abated, illness still loomed over some of the night's wins.
Tommy Castro, who won B.B. King Entertainer of the Year for the second year in a row — and whose band is, ironically, called the Painkillers — missed the ceremony because he was recuperating from back surgery. His award was accepted by his frequent collaborator, Deanna Bogart, also a winner for Best Instrumentalist - Horns.
BMA regular John Németh, who recently survived a bout with a jaw tumor, was thankful just to be alive to accept his two awards on the night, one for best instrumentalist-harmonica and another for Best Traditional Blues Album for the aptly-titled May be the Last Time, a collaboration with Elvin Bishop and others that was recorded two weeks before his cancer surgery.
"I had no idea if I was going to be able to make it here tonight, but I did," said Nemeth to a round of applause. "I want to thank the Blues Foundation, I want to thank their HART Fund, and I want to thank everybody who donate to my GoFundMe to help me get a brand-new jawbone so I can play some more harmonica."
Repeat Winners Ruled The Night
A lot of familiar names were called out from the stage. In addition to Nemeth, Buddy Guy (Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album) and blues rock up-and-comer Albert Castiglia (Blues Rock Album and Blues Rock Artist) each won two awards on the night.
Meanwhile, Castro led the way among artists winning categories for consecutive years, including Albert Castiglia (Blues Rock Artist), Danielle Nicole (Instrumentalist Bass), Curtis Salgado (Soul Blues Male Artist) and Sue Foley (Traditional Blues Female Artist).
Perhaps most impressive though was GRAMMY-winning blues guitarist Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, who won Contemporary Blues Male Artist for an impressive fourth year in a row.
While ccepting the award, a humble Ingram said he hadn't prepared anything to say because he didn't expect to win. Right then, he thanked his fellow nominees, and returned to the stage for an acoustic set that showcased his strong, assured vocals as much as his adroit fretwork.
Hill Country Blues Are Alive And Well
The night before the BMAs, the Blues Foundation held a ceremony at the Halloran Centre in downtown Memphis to induct a new class into the Blues Hall of Fame.
This included departed greats Esther Phillips, Carey Bell, Snooky Pryor, Fenton Robinson, Josh White, and Junior Kimbrough, the late Holly Springs bluesman who helped pioneer what has become the North Mississippi Hill Country style.
At the BMAs, the sound made famous by Kimbrough and his close contemporary, the late R.L. Burnside, proved to be alive and well.
R.L.'s grandson, GRAMMY winner Cedric Burnside, who holds an impressive 10 BMAs, was, scheduled to perform but, for whatever reason, missed his slot.
His uncle Duwayne Burnside, who has written and played with his father, Kimbrough, and the North Mississippi Allstars, among others, carried the torch. He played an acoustic set of hill country classics backed by R.L.'s longtime guitarist Kenny Brown.
Young Artists Made Their Mark
Veteran blues artists dominated this year's BMAs, but a handful of young performers broke through at the show as well, wowing the audience with their performances.
McComb, Mississippi's Mr. Sipp (aka, Casto Coleman) returned to close out the night with a gospel-infused closing set that brought the crowd to their feet.
Two more former emerging artist winners also provided show highlights: GRAMMY-nominated band Southern Avenue rocked the house with an inspired acoustic stage mini set, featuring a trio of female voices.
Meanwhile, Detroit's Annika Chambers and her musical partner Paul DesLauriers delivered a high-energy segment that fused rock and soul into their blues.
Joining these up-and-comers was this year's Emerging Artist winner, 22-year-old St. Louis native Dylan Triplett.
A prodigy blessed with a four-and-a-half octave vocal range, Triplett took the stage early with his band to play R&B-inflected selections from his debut album, Who Is He? When his name was called for his award, he acknowledged his faith and thanked his parents — including his father, saxophone player Art Pollard.
Clearly, the blues are alive and well — and the 2023 Blues Music Awards remain a critical part of this magnificent musical sphere.