Photo: Lyza Renee
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Black Pumas On Their Breakout Year, Creative Process And "New Chapter"
After exploding into the global music scene in 2019, the Austin, Texas, rock and soul duo see their Best New Artist nomination as a "great beginning to a new chapter"
Black Pumas lay claim to perhaps the defining Cinderella story of the 2020 GRAMMY season. Officially formed in 2017 in Austin, Texas, the rock and soul duo experienced a breakout 2019: Dominating their local music scene, the group was recognized as one of the breakthrough artists at SXSW last year and took home the Best New Band trophy at the 2019 Austin Music Awards.
By the time they released their self-titled debut album—a psychedelic, genre-bending project that explores the many shades of soul, rock, funk and R&B, with dashes of Latin influences—last June on ATO Records, Black Pumas were an internationally touring act, with sold-out dates across North America and Europe throughout last year.
Fast-forward to today, and Black Pumas are now nominated in the coveted Best New Artist category, alongside major pop stars like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Lil Nas X and others. It's a surreal moment the band's frontman, Eric Burton, is still processing.
"For me, it's really hard to conceptualize still. Still sinking in," he tells The Recording Academy a few hours before hitting the stage at The Town Hall in NYC last month. "I come from busking and skateboarding with a guitar in my hand and a tip jar… I don't think that I was really conceptualizing actually winning any accolades for just my own daily regimen."
Black Pumas pairs Burton, a former street busker who charmed tourists and locals alike at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, with GRAMMY-winning guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada, who won a golden gramophone for his 2010 album, El Existential, as part of Latin funk band Grupo Fantasma. While the two come from musically diverse backgrounds—Burton grew up on East Coast hip-hop, old soul and folk music, while Quesada has worked with everyone from Prince to Daniel Johnston—their chemistry in the studio "fit like a glove."
"When I first reached out [to Eric]," Quesada says, "it started by him singing on some tracks that I had before we really brought in his songs and became Black Pumas… But I know [he] said that [he] had a hard time at first singing to somebody else's style and everything. But to me, sitting back and hearing it come into place, it all just kind of seemed to fit like a glove."
The Recording Academy caught up with Black Pumas to discuss their creative process, their breakthrough journey from local act to GRAMMY-nominated global headliners and their road ahead.
What does this nomination mean for you as a first-time nominee?
Eric: For me, it's really hard to conceptualize still. Still sinking in. I come from busking and skateboarding with a guitar in my hand and a tip jar, on my way to a restaurant in little Alamogordo, N.M. And doing gigs like that where I was just playing music to kind of whisk me away to a place where everyone wins and just playing to get through the day really and just having fun in it.
I don't think that I was really conceptualizing actually winning any accolades for just my own daily regimen. That it's happening now, it feels amazing. It feels really crazy. I don't know what's going... I don't know.
Adrian, you've been nominated before. You are now nominated in one of what's called the Big Four categories. Does this feel different from your previous nominations and wins?
Adrian: Absolutely does. It took a while for that to kind of sink in. Every time I start to think about that, I get a little anxiety, so I'm just trying to just enjoy it and take it in and just realize that people are reacting to this music that we were making integrity. We didn't sit down and say, "Man, we'll go for the GRAMMY." We were just like, "Man, that sounds cool. Let's make another one. Let's make a better one."
At one point, I remember we had sat down before we started touring and I just checked in and was like, "Do we want to pursue this?" He's like, "Yeah, I'm down if you're down." Because I said, "I think this could move quickly." But when I said that, I didn't even imagine that we would be nominated for a GRAMMY. It's crazy.
Eric, it sounded like you were hesitant to connect with Adrian in the beginning of the project. What do you think about that now?
Eric: As a busking artist… you kind of are vulnerable to any and all musicians. Engineers, producers who hear something in the guitar playing or your vocals that they want to use it and they want to maybe help me elevate that. I was meeting a lot of people, and it just wasn't working out to the degree that I wasn't very happy with some of the end product.
Right before I met Adrian, I was building my own home studio and learning how to use Logic to try to explore my sounds that inspired me from the perspective of someone who is a teaming engineer, or trying to understand how to do it in the first place. So when Adrian hit me up, I'm like, "Oh no, not again!" [Laughs.]
But to be real, I'm a realist as well, and realistically, I didn't know enough to get the quality sounds on my own. When I read a little bit about Adrian's track record, it convinced me well enough to take a chance and really commit to elevating his project. At first, it started off as his thing, and I was just hoping that maybe we would get some funds or something from just having a catalog of music publishing.
What's fascinating about the story of Black Pumas is how fast it all happened. You formed in 2017, you had a breakout year in 2019, from winning the Best New Band at the Austin Music Awards to now being nominated as Best New Artist at the GRAMMYs. Does this GRAMMY nomination now feel like the cherry on top of a whirlwind year? Does it feel like a validation?
Adrian: It's certainly not the only thing that would validate what we do, but it's definitely one of the factors. I think considering that we didn't really go out there and campaign. Honestly, this came about in a completely 100 percent organic way that surprised everybody on our team [and] us. Which meant that there were truly people out there that in the back of their mind, they were like, "We need to nominate Black Pumas and put them out there."
It feels honest and it feels good because it doesn't feel like we tried to cheat the system or anything. There was legit just people out there that believed in what were doing. And if we weren't getting the GRAMMY nomination, we'd still be playing shows. And if we weren't playing shows, we'd be still recording in the studio. We'd be doing this no matter what, but it's pretty amazing
Eric: So it feels more like a great beginning to a new chapter as opposed to an ending of anything. I think that we both really have our minds set on creating the next thing, trying to just strive to make the better song and entertain ourselves, really.
With Black Pumas exploding so fast, what sorts of challenges, if any, have you faced, either individually or as a group, with such a rapid career?
Adrian: The biggest challenge for both of us is that we have been touring so much that we haven't really had a chance to work on new music. We have a million ideas. He's always writing and recording wherever we can, on his phone or whatever. It's been hard to actually work on your music.
Eric, this is your first time in the spotlight at this kind of level. Have you had any challenges facing this level of fame or acclaim?
Eric: For sure, because I believe that it's been a little bit hard to truly conceptualize, even through my own actions as an individual on this train that is going somewhere really bright, as it seems. When you're busking every day and you're doing things on a lower level, you start to do things more for yourself — the immediacy of reciprocating what you need to express, to get through someone cutting you off in traffic or a breakup or whatever it is.
I've always used music to process my own emotions that, with everything that is going on right now, it feels a little overwhelming because there's a lot more feelings now a nd there's a lot more things happening. I'm starting to be held to a more higher standard of professionalism, can't stay up to 4 and 5 in the morning trying to write material and whatnot. That's been a little bit hard for me, just acclimating to the movement that is the Black Pumas.
You got a job now.
Eric: Yeah! I got a job now, mom. Look at me now, dad!
Your 2019 debut album touches on so many eras and genres and sounds. Eric, you listen to East Coast hip-hop, old soul music and folk. Adrian, you've worked with everyone from Prince to Daniel Johnston. How does that all come together to create Black Pumas? Were there any hurdles to face when creating your initial sound and music?
Adrian: When I first reached out [to Eric], it started by him singing on some tracks that I had before we really brought in his songs and became Black Pumas. That was how the collaboration started. But I know [he] said that [he] had a hard time at first singing to somebody else's style and everything. But to me, sitting back and hearing it come into place, it all just kind of seemed to fit like a glove.
But then when we started to work on his songs… I felt like those fit perfectly with the sound of the ones that I was doing. It all just seemed to work.
Could you talk about the creative process behind Black Pumas? How did you work together to create the songs and the album’s overall sonic aesthetic?
Adrian: The process was a combination of two methods: One was Eric writing lyrics and melodies and singing on a few instrumentals I had recorded, and the second was Eric’s songs that we learned and arranged in the studio and recorded predominantly live. The aesthetic, to me, was set up on the first day we got together and recorded "Fire" and "Black Moon Rising." What Eric came up with on "Black Moon Rising," in particular, for me was what set the tone for the album.
Your album features elements from a lot of different genres and sounds considered to be cornerstones of American culture and music, from rock and soul to hip-hop and funk. You both also come from different cultural backgrounds, each with your own experience of what it means to be American. In what ways does your album represent what the American music canon means or sounds like today and what it will mean or sound like in the future?
Adrian: To me, it represents the best part of American music in that it transcends genres, cultures and "scenes" to make sincere and soulful American music. Ideally, we would have fewer boundaries and more bridges in the future.
While your music and your album are rooted in various American styles and sounds, they are also resonating with audiences across the world, from Montreal to Paris to Zurich. What is it about your music and your album that’s able to transcend cultures and languages?
Adrian: Eric’s lyrics and the emotion in his voice and songs, in particular, [are some] of the main reasons I believe our album has transcended language and cultural barriers. People connect in a special way and sometimes adapt their own personal meaning to the songs.
You're also widely known for your live shows and energetic performances, which are key elements to the overall Black Pumas makeup. In what ways have your live shows informed or impacted your actual music and creativity, or vice versa?
Adrian: For at least half of the songs on the album, we had never played a show or even performed those songs at any point. When we began to perform live in conjunction with bringing in songs Eric had written was when it all came to life and one informed the other. About half the album was pre-produced and recorded, and the other [half was] cut almost entirely live, and I like the way it flows like that. At this point, the songs have taken on a new life in the live show, and I really like how the live versions of the songs are almost a different thing entirely.
What are some sounds or genres that you'd like to explore together as a unit? What are you most curious to explore next?
Eric: I feel like the sky is the limit because we're not necessarily a retro-soul band. We emulate some of the colors of some of our heroes and songwriters, such as Otis Redding, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Ghostface Killah. But I think that we're just such eclectic music fans, that just comes through. It doesn't sound so contrived… to the degree that I feel that we have this stage that is soul music.
There's different spaces within the same room that is soul music that we can take different genres of sound to kind of see what marriage works within the soul genre. We talk about different references all the time. We're always exploring different ways to make fresh this soul music, so to speak.
What are you looking forward to the most at the GRAMMYs?
Adrian: I'm not sure what I'm looking forward to the most, honestly, because I just don't know enough about what's happening. Our category's awesome, man. My kids and I listen to Billie Eilish and Lizzo. Yola is great. I checked out Rosalía, I checked out a few of the artists. They're all great, man. It's a great category, and I say that with 100 percent sincerity. It's exciting.
Where do you go from here? What happens next for Black Pumas in 2020?
Eric: Feels like we're probably going to be on tour indefinitely. I think that just trying to do our best with having the foresight that we need as individuals, who have a home of our own, to make sure that the people that we love who are supporting us feel that they haven't been forgotten. And individually, I hope I can find some good advice on what to do with the money that may be coming in soon. I won't tell you what I spent money on. [Laughs.]
I assume you're making more than you were busking.
Eric: Most definitely, man. I'm just trying to get it together, actually living a normalized life. I'm not just this Bohemian Troubadour busking, or just a musician anymore. It feels like a whole different level for me, for sure. Luckily, I have someone that has been doing it and is a perfect role model for it.
Adrian, what do your kids think about you going up against Lil Nas X and Lizzo?
Adrian: I think they're secretly going for Billie Eilish. They jam to Lizzo, too, and Lil Nas X, man. It's pretty cool because I jam to their stuff, too.
Don't forget to tune in to the 62nd GRAMMY Awards Sunday, Jan. 26, live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS, and the Premiere Ceremony and Red Carpet live streams right here on GRAMMY.com—your home for all things GRAMMYs.
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: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.