A MAN POSSESSED (OF NOT A LOT)...
There are two pages on this site dedicated to Hole.
This page includes my introduction and thoughts on the album, as well as some notes on the photo shoots by Peter Anderson, and an extensive interview about the record with JG Thirlwell.
Part one is an in-depth and, some might argue, excessive guide to the various vinyl releases of Hole and associated records.
Go here for the first instalment – HOLE PART ONE
Profile of Neanderthal...
Hole was released in September 1984, I was 15 years old.
My introduction to Foetus was through the John Peel radio show. I used to listen to Peel every night on headphones in my tiny bedroom. Sick Man drifted through the airwaves. It was a song that immediately resonated with me.
I wrote down the title and the name of the band ‘Scraping Feetus off the World’ (sic.) and planned to get the album as soon as I could.
It was a couple of months later that I had enough money to get hold of a copy. All I could afford in the interim was the Calamity Crush 12″. That would have to suffice… and it did.
Once I had the album, I played it constantly. I pored over the lyric sheet and listened intently to every stereophonic detail. It was the best thing I had ever heard. It was weird, it was violent, it was arty, it was funny, it was sick. Everything a teenage boy could dream of. I was hooked, I was overcome with Foetalmania.
I have said in many interviews that Hole had a profound effect on me. It showed me that a single person could make an entire album, produce it, mix it and play EVERYTHING. This individualism and autonomy has become my modus operandi as a recording artist.
Researching more about JGT and his collaborations led me to discover the work of Nurse With Wound which opened up a musical world in which I have subsequently made a career. For that I am eternally thankful. If I hadn’t listened to John Peel that fateful night in 1984, and if JGT had not created Hole, I may have never discovered my future.
HIS PEN'S AS MIGHTY AS HIS SWORD...
Hole is an exercise in studio technique, editing and sheer determination, a tour de force of man versus studio. Even those with a modicum of studio experience from the 80’s can appreciate the hours and hours of devotion that it must have taken to create this record. The sophistication and originality of its song structures, production, engineering and mix have given the LP a distinctive character, an idiosyncratic quality that has made Hole a timeless classic.
It’s an album of witty, inventive lyrics, uninhibited words that could be construed as shocking or, conversely, hilarious. It uses ironic musical motifs and its unpredictable, schizophrenic compositions cross a wide breadth of musical styles. The album is not anchored to any time period by the overuse of ‘novelty’ sounds or gimmicky technology, neither is it tied down by tired rock and roll clichés.
He kisses big...
Many thanks to JGT for taking time to answer my questions in such detail and Peter Anderson who gave me permission to use, and sent me, so many photos for this page.
To see more of Peter’s astounding photography go here – PETER ANDERSON
For all things JGT go here – JG THIRLWELL
For all things Liles go here – ANDREW LILES
He's worried now, he got a gun...
All the pictures of JGT on this page are by Peter Anderson.
I asked Peter to give me a little insight into the photo sessions. Here is what he wrote…
The photographs were all made in my studio. A really run down furniture workshop in Shoreditch. Jim would turn up with a large bottle of bourbon to alleviate some pain then we we would largely improvise.
The crucifix was made by lashing together roof beams which I cut out the building. The photographs were made using my old Widelux panoramic camera.
HIS LIFE'S AN OPEN BOOK...
35 YEARS ON JG Thirlwell DISCUSSES HOLE
Where in London were you living at the time of creating Hole?
That would have been around April – Sep 1983 so I’m thinking in Brixton in a tower block on the 15th floor, which was the residence of my friend Ron Meerbeek. It was a council flat that he had secured and I rented a room from him. I may have been somewhere else when the session started – before that I was in a house in West London with a bunch of roommates.
London at the time was pretty run down. Pretty much everywhere was shut by 11 p.m. A pretty downtrodden grey place, provincial to some extent. Did that have any bearing on the creation of Hole?
Absolutely, my environment always has had an impact on my work. London was very special in those days. I lived there from 1978-1983. It was still in some ways a post WW2 city. There were still bombed-out parts of the East End. Gray, perhaps, but that was part of its charm and allure. I wouldn’t say provincial, though as you mention it wasn’t yet a 24 hour city. The fact that NYC was a 24 hour city when I arrived, and more geographically concentrated, was a big part of its attraction to me. London has become a lot more European and squeaky clean and had a lot of the charm scrubbed out of it, or demolished.
Do you think, circumstantially, Hole could have only been created in London in 1983? Was it the perfect alignment of the stars or do you think it could have been made anywhere?
I think it was partially being in London, partially where my head was at the time. My stage in development was crucial, my emotional state and most importantly being able to record in a 24 track studio for the first time all had a lot to do with it. Also having the time to experiment and take the time to achieve what I wanted to do was important.
Where did you hang out? A favourite watering HOLE? Who were you hanging out with?
At that point, in 1983, I was hanging out a lot socially with the Some Bizzarre crew – Matt Johnson, Stevø, Marc Almond, the Mambas, Jane Rolink, Zeke and Edwin from Orange Juice. Neubauten, Coil and the Birthday Party. People hung out at the Some Bizzare office a lot on St Ann’s Court. We went to places like Camden Palace and the Batcave, and around Stevø’s place in Hammersmith. I had met Lydia Lunch at this time and also spent a bunch of time with her. The Immaculate Consumptive was coming together concurrent to recording Hole. Zeke and Jane Rolink from the Some Bizzare office (later aka Mrs Wood) also lived at Stevø’s place. And of course I had friends outside this crew too like John Tottenham and Ron.
How did the signing to Some Bizzare come about?
Matt Johnson had introduced me to Stevø, and turned him onto my music, which led to me being signed. Although I had known Stevø from a few years before when I worked at Virgin in Oxford Walk – he was delivering boxes for Phonogram and was a ‘futurist’ DJ. He would occasionally buy records from us.
How did getting signed change your life in day-to-day terms and in terms of the time you could spend in the studio and how Foetus could now evolve?
I had a full time job at Virgin between 1979 and 1982, first at the Oxford Walk store and then as a buyer of independent 7” and 12”s for the chain at a warehouse in Acton. They closed the warehouse in August 1982 and I was laid off. At that point I had to make the decision as to whether I should get another job or do music full time. I chose the latter. I was working with Einsturzende Neubauten, putting together what became Strategies Against Architecture Vol 1. and coming up with new material for Foetus. It was around late 82/early 83 I started coming up with the ideas for Street of Shame, Lust For Death, Cold Day In Hell etc. It was a great luxury to spend so much time in the studio, experimenting and getting it the way I wanted it to sound.
Did Some Bizzare finance as much studio time as you needed or were you set a budget? Dare I ask, if you were set a budget for Hole, how much did it cost to create?
I don’t know what the budget was. It was probably a decent amount, more than I’d ever spent in the studio. As I remember, the studio time was paid for by a publishing advance that Stevø secured
Did you have total artistic freedom being signed to Some Bizzare?
You continued to use the Self Immolation imprint alongside the Some Bizzare logo on the sleeves. Was that an aesthetic stipulation you asked for when you signed?
Yes I stipulated that I wanted to retain my ‘corporate identity’.
What were the benefits of being signed to a BIG indie as opposed to carrying on going it alone with Self Immolation? Were there any downsides?
The benefits were studio budget and access, and promotion. The downsides came later!
Hole is a diverse album, it crosses a lot of territory. Punky noise, surf, rock, stuff that is totally unique, through to big band jazz. What were your main influences at the time, musically? literary? culturally?
By then I had made a few records and I was refining my own vision. I think that Hole sounds possibly less ‘influenced ‘ than some of my earlier works. I was influenced by everything from the post-punk music that was happening in the UK to 20th century classical that I was immersing myself in – Stockhausen, Reich, Cage, Glass etc . I can’t really remember what I was reading.
What was the overall impetus for creating Hole and the inspiration behind it? A specific book? I read in an interview many years back that it was initially going to be a concept EP about Hell.
Yes initially there was a ‘suite’ called ‘the devil rides out’ which was five of the songs on Hole – mostly what ended up on side 2. No specific book.
Before going into the studio how much preparation and/or pre-production did you do for Hole?
I had all the lyrics and my structures and arrangements of the songs thoroughly worked out. With my system I first put down a click track and a track of me counting thru the sections so I would know where I was in the song.
What gear did you have at home? Given the price of samplers at the time I’m guessing your home gear was pretty limited?
Samplers didn’t exist yet and there are no samplers on the album. Samplers came very soon after that. The ‘sampling’ technology I used was locking sounds into delays, and tape loops and cassettes.(but we didn’t use the term ‘sampling’ yet.) I didn’t own a lot of equipment. A Korg MS20, guitar and bass and cases full of toys, effects and percussion, a cheap keyboard. Some bits of string.
Were all the songs written before you went into the studio? Or just the music or the words?
All the songs were written but a lot of writing and fleshing out went on in the studio.
Do you still have any of those pre-studio demos?
I didn’t do demos.
In terms of ‘live’ instrumentation I can hear something like a Farfisa organ, guitar, live drums, piano, bass, sax. What ‘real’ instruments were used on the recording?
All live instruments – live drums, guitar, bass, piano, synth, organ, percussion, mellotron (which I rented), sax, drum cases, lots of vocals. I played all the instruments.
There is a reasonable amount of sampling throughout the album. But you, even then, were so adept at blending sound it’s fairly difficult to determine what is actually played and what is sampled.
There was no sampling, that technology was just around the corner. I captured sounds into a delay effect (for the voice captures in “I’ll Meet You In Poland”), we made tape loops, I spun in sounds from cassettes.
There is reasonable amount on Hole, but more explicitly on Calamity Crush and Wash, there was a lot of drum machine. What machine were you using?
I think I used an 808 as a click track but then replaced everything with live drums. I also used to use the Casio VL1, which Kraftwerk made famous on ‘Pocket Calculator’. On Calamity Crush I think it’s a programmed 808, then I had drum sounds, like big kicks and snares, sampled into an AMS delay which was triggered by the drum machine sounds.
I’m presuming you used a reasonable amount of sequencing as well. If so, what machine were you using?
There wasn’t sequencing, all the instruments are live. On the next album, Nail, I introduced sampling (Fairlight) and sequencing.
Those early machines were reasonably complex pieces of technology, did you learn the Fairlight intuitively or did you have someone show you how to use it? Did you get to prepare on the sampler before you went to the studio?
The sampler “was” the studio. In the Fairlight, the computer and sampler were one and sequencing was on board. Warne did the hands-on programming, I think we had the tape striped with SMPTE so everything stayed in sync. Then I added live instruments but two of the tracks on that album (Theme and Overture from Pigdom Come) were just Fairlight.
What were Wave Studios like? State of the art?
It was pretty good, big live room and an array of outboard, more than I had used before. I put a lot of outboard onto tape.
24 or 48 Track? And how many of those tracks were you filling up?
The album was 24 track.
Digital studio or analog tape?
It was analog.
How significant was the role of Warne Livesy to the sound of the album? What did he bring to Hole?
He was very significant, as was the other engineer Charles Gray. Warne and Charlie were great at getting the sounds I was looking for, usually big drums. And very patient in my search for what I wanted.
How was the album made? Did you complete an entire song then move onto the next methodically or did you work on parts and go back and forth between tracks?
We went back and forth between tracks. Though ‘Poland’ we worked on for five days straight.
How many weeks/months were you in the studio and what kind of hours were you working a day? What was the average schedule for the day?
Probably 10 hour days, I don’t know how often but quite a lot.
How long did it take to mix?
About a song a day I think. I had to leave for NY at the end and didn’t do the final mix of ‘Cold Day’ – that was done by Warne and Charlie I think.
What do you think you learnt in terms of studio technique, mixing, effects etc from creating Hole?
So much! I learn a lot just from doing. I challenged some of the misconceptions that I had arrived at up to that point.
One thing I have always loved, which is almost a ‘Foetus signature’ is the choir of voices. Multi layered, multi pitched voices, particularly prevalent in Street of Shame and Halo Flaming Lead. In fact, much of Hole is constructed from your voice at different pitches. How did you achieve that? To my ears it sounds like you recorded at different speeds as opposed to using something like an Eventide harmoniser or pitch shifter. If I am correct, that must have taken some time!
Varispeed and it was done quickly. To make it sound that big there has to be a lot of them and they have to be imperfect and a bit ragged. Then bounce them into stereo.
Clothes Hoist: Where was the sample taken from?
George Raft from a Co-Star album., It was an album series where famous actors recited lines from a scene and you could act the second part along from a script enclosed in the album. That became a source of a lot of great disembodied lines in my early work
Sick Man: Someone told me years back it was a song about Nick Cave – can you elaborate?
I was on the underground once with Nick and we were talking about writing songs. I asked him how he went about it and he said he sometimes thought of a character and wrote about the character. It was then I thought that I would write a song with Nick as the character. When the song was recorded, I remember playing him a rough mix of it. He listened to it very intently and then at he end he said “that’s really mean”!
What is your favourite track from the album?
I’ll meet You In Poland Baby, still one of the best songs I’ve written!
What track was the easiest to make?
None of them!
What track was the most difficult?
I’ll Meet You In Poland Baby.
I asked you in my 10 Questions series which of your own creations is your favourite to which you replied ‘All of my creations are flawed’. With that in mind, what would you liked to have been different or what would you change about Hole?
I don’t think I’d change anything on Hole. It’s not that it’s perfect, its just that it is a unique statement.
Halo Flaming Lead and Dead Christian sound like they could easily have made it on to Hole. Were they recorded especially for the compilations that they appeared on or were they tracks that didn’t make the grade for Hole? Were there any tracks you started that were abandoned?
They were recorded a little, and yes they were recorded specifically for the NME tape and the Some Bizzare comp.
When I make a record I seldom, if ever, listen to it ever again. Occasionally I will go back to something purely to remind myself of how I created it or for some kind of technical reason. So I wondered when was the last time you listened to Hole?
I don’t really listen to my old work. I’m constantly creating new music. I haven’t listened to the album front to back for decades. But I’ve listened to songs here and there – I recently did a new chamber arrangement of Poland with Simon Hanes so we were referring to it.
How many copies did Hole sell?
I think around 30,000.
How did you do the art? To me it looks like it’s all montage, including the lettering as opposed to pen and ink?
My normal way of montage and hand lettering, and then I created color separations on tracing paper. Miraculously they lined up. For text I used to use Letraset! Tho this time I turned it over to a graphic designer when I was done designing it and he cleaned it up.
Where did you get the images from? A specific book?
A book on Chinese Revolutionary Posters, which I still have.
Hole (the European cover) seems to be heavy on Chinese communism, why did you chose that as opposed to say Russian?
I mixed up different propaganda images over the years, including Russian, Chinese, American and Spanish Civil War. It was not for any political affiliation, purely as an aesthetic choice. It was what was working. I also like to work with through-lines so styles and looks evolve – Hole and the attendant 12”s were a “set”. Nowadays for example I create ‘companion albums’ for the Foetus releases, and I also like to create ‘trilogies’ – for example the Venture Bros soundtracks and Xordox project will be trilogies.
The first pressing was printed wrongly with the red over black giving everything that was meant to be black a rust colour. How angry were you about that error? I know people that would have demanded it be pulped and re-done before hitting the shelves.
I don’t remember that!
The US cover is more ‘Allied Forces’. Was that a request from the powers that be i.e. ‘That Commie stuff ain’t gonna sell here boy’. Or something you wanted or requested to do?
It came out a year after the UK release so they wanted to differentiate it and maybe get people who bought the imports to buy it again so it came with a 12”EP and new artwork!
How did the Yugoslavian pressing come about? It seems an odd place for an album with fairly outlandish lyrics to have a release, a Communist country especially when the world was still HOT for the Cold War.
I had no idea it came out in Yugoslavia til you mentioned it!
Do you think one day we will see a reissue of Hole. A deluxe version which seem so vogue? Maybe a Foetus of Excellence II?
Not planning to do either.
I love the publicity shots of you crucified, I have a 5ft tall billboard poster of it framed in my studio, kinda inspiration. When I’m recording it’s hanging over me as if to say ‘Is it as good as Hole?’, which of course it never is. Where were the photos taken? Whose idea was it to be ‘sacrilegious’?
It was my idea. It was taken at Peter Anderson’s studio and he built the cross. My friend Tessa Hughes-Freeland had told me a story about when the Limelight opened in NYC, there were people protesting outside, and one of the signs said…
My interpretation of Lust for Death can be found on my 2015 album Andrew Liles’ Cover Girls here – COVER GIRLS