“You Put Me on the Spot”: Yves Tumor Meets Courtney Love
TUESDAY 11:30 AM JAN. 3, 2022 LA
Yves Tumor is waiting on the line for Courtney Love, who has already rescheduled the call at the last second twice. Love is a huge fan of Tumor’s “disagreeable” approach to music and image-making, but was no fan of the suggested questions we provided ahead of time. So in true Courtney Love fashion, she did her own thing.
YVES TUMOR: Hello?
COURTNEY LOVE: Hello. Is that Yves?
LOVE: Hey, sorry I’m late. I was trying to send you the questions they sent me initially. They’re really insulting. And you can print that. It’s fucking patronizing bullshit. And the reason I think we’re a good match is because you’re disagreeable and I’m disagreeable and we’re both incredibly othered and you don’t seem to have much of an interest in being fucking warm, fuzzy, and user-friendly.
TUMOR: I appreciate that.
LOVE: Do you remember when I posted the “Kerosene!” video?
LOVE: That thing’s fucking genius, man. Anybody that says they don’t care what people think of them is a sociopath, but part of what I relate to about you is that you’re not trying to be what you’re not.
TUMOR: No, not at all.
LOVE: You’re already leaning into the fucking othered. You’re occupying spaces that—I’ve been there as a woman—are traditionally held by a certain type of person that isn’t us. I wonder how an artist who’s as transgressive as you makes money. What’s your financial literacy? Do you have any?
TUMOR: Honestly, I don’t think there is that much money in music right now. I don’t want to speak too personally, but most artists make money from touring nonstop, and merch.
LOVE: But I’m not asking you about that. I’m asking about your financial literacy. I lost several fortunes in real time because they will brazenly take whatever you make. In America, they don’t even teach you how to fucking read a contract. It’s like, “Oh, I just gave you 99 percent of everything for the rest of my life.”
TUMOR: I didn’t learn anything about that in school. I just learned from reading online about how much of the music industry is a slave system and how they just—
LOVE: Fuck that up.
TUMOR: They basically wrangle up hundreds of artists and wait for one to pop off. Nowadays the labels are just like banks.
LOVE: How old are you, by the way?
TUMOR: How old do I look?
TUMOR: Really? Okay, let’s go with that.
LOVE: Alright. I’m going to go into these other questions. But remember this, you own the label. They are nothing without you. The label is not your daddy. Daddy is not coming for you in a limo. You’re daddy. That’s it.
TUMOR: Whoa, that’s actually deep.
LOVE: Okay, here we go. So your song “Jackie” made various end-of-year lists, rightly so. Coming out of being a SoundCloud bedroom kid, how did that first bit of acclaim feel?
TUMOR: I think that initial acclaim actually came two years ago from this record called Safe in the Hands of Love. It was my first record with Warp Records, who I signed with out of the U.K. I didn’t really know if people were going to eat it up or dismiss it.
LOVE: Why did you think they would dismiss it? Because it was unique?
TUMOR: No, it was more of an ambient sound collage. It didn’t have major hooks. Now I’m really hook-focused. I’m into guitar and live instrumentation.
LOVE: That was going to be my next question. Was your sonic shift intentional or a natural progression?
TUMOR: I’ve always just gone with whatever I was able to create. At that time, I didn’t have studios, I didn’t have a manager, I didn’t have producers that wanted to work with me. I had a computer and Ableton and some headphones, so that was all I could do. But I’ve always been obsessed with huge sounds and really powerful parts and vocals.
LOVE: Give me some of your favorite hooky songs. Drop the needle anywhere on “S.O.S.” or “Dancing Queen” by ABBA and I’ll cry.
TUMOR: You put me on the spot.
LOVE: I’m not going to judge you. And if it’s embarrassing, we won’t even let—
TUMOR: I’m going to definitely say something embarrassing. I just haven’t thought about anything like that in a minute.
LOVE: You mean you don’t make references?
TUMOR: No, all I do in the studio is make references.
LOVE: I love that. To what songs?
TUMOR: Well, it’s not about the song. If I say I want it to sound like “The Scientist” or “Yellow” by Coldplay, I wouldn’t really be talking about the music. It’s about how that song makes people feel. Whatever they were doing in the studio that made that song so special, I want that same essence.
LOVE: I did that with a song and you wouldn’t even be able to tell. There’s a U2 song called “The Fly.” It’s a really beautiful song about desire. Very Brian Eno. My song is called “King Charles Dagger.” It’s super phallic, about how I get fucked so well I’m enlightened. It’s got the desire that “The Fly” has without having anything to do with “The Fly,” if that makes sense.
TUMOR: Totally. So you’ve been working on new shit?
LOVE: Yeah, it’s a whole midlife reinvention. I haven’t put out a record in 12 years and a solo record in 17 years. I’m 58. No one expected this, nor did I. I’m not saying anything when I don’t have anything to say, so that’s one of the reasons I’m talking to you. You urgently have things to say. So let me get you your next question: Who are your collaborators?
TUMOR: I’ve been working with this guy, Noah Goldstein.
LOVE: Noah from Electric Lady [Studios]? I love him!
TUMOR: That’s who I did “God Is a Circle” with.
LOVE: No shit. He’s so good. Is he writing with you as well?
TUMOR: Yeah. The way I met him was I was executive producing my friend’s compilation for his label Anonymous Club and I was looking for a new producer to work with. He was so watchful and helpful, but not trying to control the room or anything.
LOVE: He’s really open-minded and chill. That’s a great person for you.
TUMOR: Totally. And he’s not afraid to tell me if he doesn’t fuck with something, which, I’ve worked with people in the past who just kiss my ass and say yes.
LOVE: Yeah, they don’t tell you if you’re flat.
LOVE: Are you in New York or L.A.?
TUMOR: I’m in Los Angeles.
LOVE: That’s where you’re from, right?
TUMOR: No, I’m from Miami and I was raised in Knoxville.
LOVE: Oh wow.
TUMOR: Where are you based right now?
LOVE: I live in London and as of Friday I’m no longer a resident of California.
TUMOR: Are you exiled or what?
LOVE: Yeah, I’m in happy exile. Here, they don’t put you in jail, you don’t go on TMZ.
TUMOR: In L.A. they want to trap you.
LOVE: Yeah. I got very close to what Britney got. It’s the fraternal twin of a conservatorship. So yeah, I’m not going near that fucking place. Let’s go back to questions about you, this is bullshit.
LOVE: We’re both disagreeable characters in the sense that you don’t desire to be super fuzzy and likable. I don’t mean you’re dislikable, you’re unlikable. You’re othered in all these ways. What has that experience been like?
TUMOR: I honestly don’t really think about how I’m being perceived that much. I just don’t want to ever be in the middle ground of anyone’s thoughts. I’d rather that someone really, really doesn’t fuck with me, or have them drooling.
LOVE: I was a rock villainess for a really long time. More than Nancy Spungen, more than Yoko Ono. That is a fuck-ton of crazy misogyny, and as my friend Russell Brand says, “It’s not what you did for the culture, Courtney, it’s what the culture did to you.” I watched a lot of stuff from you today and it’s really sexy, but it’s dangerous because of that. And it concerns me. I feel protective of you, and I don’t want anyone to turn on you.
TUMOR: What kind of advice could you give me then?
LOVE: I couldn’t give you advice on the record without getting canceled. Which is fucking frustrating.
TUMOR: I’ll call you later then.
LOVE: You’re in the rock world, a space that’s been mostly occupied by white, straight boys. I just saw a video of you with a fucking loincloth. It was sexy as fuck. It was the one where everyone was getting a cavity search. It reminded me of Pasolini’s great film on fascism, and there are everyone’s asses in the air. You’re in dangerous territory because you are dangerous and that is why I’m talking to you.
TUMOR: Sometimes I do need to have a real conscious thought about what I’m doing and who it’s affecting and who the people are that are not looking out for me and are slowly planning my downfall from behind the scenes.
LOVE: They’re there.
TUMOR: I’m a pretty trusting person but I’m also not stupid. And people are getting better at this shit every day.
LOVE: Do you use social media at all?
TUMOR: I use it all the time.
LOVE: Do you use TikTok?
TUMOR: TikTok is cool. I don’t actually make TikToks but I scroll on there. I send my friends videos. We laugh about that shit all day.
LOVE: Don’t ever send me a TikTok because my account is disabled. But every time I’m disabled that fucking thing tries to get me back on. I’m like, “No!” I’ve spent eight hours on TikTok in my life and that’s plenty.
LOVE: Okay, let’s get on with you. A line from the new single [“God Is a Circle”] is, “Sometimes it feels like there’s places in my mind that I can’t go.” Tell me about that. I love that lyric.
TUMOR: It’s about a lack of understanding myself and avoiding the darker, more sinister thoughts, and the full-blown serotonin, happy part of my brain, and just lingering in the middle where it feels safe and a little bit confusing.
LOVE: What you just said about the serotonin stuff—even fame itself in its most harmless form impacts people and makes them crazy. I have a few friends that are famous that are not crazy, and I really cherish them because they’re rare.
TUMOR: I feel like it’s all about having good people around you.
LOVE: Yeah. I have a friend who’s really famous right now.2 She taught me a great word. Instead of “mainstream,” she uses the word “overculture.” It comes from Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who wrote Women Who Run With the Wolves. The overculture is when they can see everything. They can see up your butt. They can see your bald spot.
LOVE: Visuals are a really big part of your offering. Your videos have been episodes for me. Seeing into the Yves Tumor universe, how was collaborating with SSION [Cody Critcheloe, who directed the video for “Kerosene!”]?
TUMOR: Me and Cody, we’re huge fans. We actually referenced you in that video. Did you catch that?
LOVE: No. What was the reference?
TUMOR: I don’t even want to say it. You have to watch it again and find it. But Cody’s been a huge inspiration. It was surreal to finally be working with him. He was like, “What’s your favorite movie?” I was like, “Crash by David Cronenberg.” Then we just started just colliding all these different inspirations we had.
LOVE: I love that. Can I tell you my favorite movie?
TUMOR: What is it?
LOVE: The Breakfast Club.
TUMOR: That’s not what I thought you were going to say.
LOVE: I’m not Molly Ringwald, but I’m every other archetype in that movie. I own my Breakfast Club–ness. So, how about acting? You’re really good.
LOVE: Yeah. You’re going to catch some director’s eye because you’re already embracing the darkness. People that can embody that tend to be really good actors. You’re not running around pretending to be something you’re not. Did you have any training and education? Tell me a little bit about Miami, then Knoxville.
TUMOR: Honestly, I didn’t really do that well in school. I tried my hardest, but I don’t think the U.S. school programming is built for brains like mine. I suffered from the lack of teachers that gave a fuck about their students and the lack of actual information that learners like me can benefit from.
LOVE: Right. I briefly went to boarding school in New Zealand in the ’70s. I got two years before I was expelled from a British Commonwealth education. A, I could fucking read Shakespeare, and B, understand it. When I got into the American school system, I was like, “What the fuck? I’m just going to hang out with the prostitutes and their pimp Eddie, because that’s funner.”
LOVE: How did you get the fuck out of Knoxville?
TUMOR: I dropped out of school and ran away.
LOVE: Where did you run away to first? New York?
TUMOR: No, even lamer. My friend was basically getting exiled from the town because he was breaking shit and slashing people’s tires. He was a real menace. His family lived in San Diego, actually.
LOVE: Awesome. You hopped out to San Diego?
TUMOR: I got on a train with him and we traveled across the country to San Diego. I lived with him and his grandparents until eventually one of my friends was like, “Just come to L.A. and stay with me.”
LOVE: What neighborhood did he live in?
TUMOR: Highland Park. Then I moved to Frogtown. Then Echo Park, then Lincoln Heights. I’ve been all over the place.
LOVE: What neighborhood do you live in now?
TUMOR: I can’t say.
LOVE: Because the overculture will get you.
TUMOR: Yeah. There’s a lot of people that are way too interested in my personal life.
LOVE: My friend, her brother does her social. He posted her foot and 25 million rabid fans thought it was a sign the Illuminati was fucking coming.
TUMOR: I feel like people just have no lives. I don’t mean that in a rude way.
LOVE: You just said you sit on TikTok all day yourself. Set an example. Get off that thing.
TUMOR: [Laughs] No, but I have a nice social life. It’ll be before bed or when I wake up, I’ll just watch some videos. It’s not even people dancing. It’s informative things. I’m keeping up with world events.
LOVE: That’s what you’re telling yourself. Wait until you lose your mind. I grayscaled my phone. It makes every app on your phone the most boring color and every text super boring. It cut my screen time by 70 percent.
TUMOR: That’s really smart. I’m going to try it.
LOVE: You got to. It’ll give you so much more room creatively. The reason I’m talking to you is because I think that I’m hardly ever wrong about people’s potential to be great. I really think you’re a thing.
TUMOR: Hold on. Do you want me to delete my TikTok?
LOVE: Yeah. I’d rather hear music from you than have your creative energy wasted on that shit. Okay. This is actually a good question. How do you find ways to honor what made you want to pursue music in the first place?
TUMOR: It sounds cheesy now, but I’m going to say it anyway. I wanted to impact someone that was either having a really good time or an awful time and just be able to give them two or three minutes of—
TUMOR: Either joy or just something to distract them.
LOVE: You’re talking to a woman who loves The Breakfast Club. How is this cheesy?
TUMOR: That movie is cheesy, though.
LOVE: It’s not fucking cheesy. Fuck you.
TUMOR: Cinematically, it’s very pure.
LOVE: It’s a flawless piece of cinema. Fuck anybody that doesn’t agree with me on that. I’m a fucking sap. You can’t say anything cheesy to me. Come on, baby. You wanted to get out of yourself and provide for the other, which is incredibly compassionate and very Buddhist.
TUMOR: Yeah, I wanted to give someone a little moment of clarity and serenity, even for three or four minutes.
LOVE: You’re a shaman for the tribe. When kids are like, “You saved my life,” I can see why. I think that I gave a lot of myself. I sense that you do that, too.
TUMOR: I try to.
LOVE: That’s why I feel protective of you, because that’s dangerous. It’s not 5,000 years before Christ right now. We aren’t going to get honored properly for what we do. Then, we’re going to get distracted by capitalism. You are embracing this monster shadow. It’s a lot to take on, but at the same time, I think you’re healing a lot of people with it.
LOVE: Okay, so what’s going on in your life now that’s distracting, other than TikTok?
TUMOR: Good question.
LOVE: I mean other than drug-taking. I think you have a lot of really great music in you. What are you going to do for your 12-track statement flawless motherfucking album?
TUMOR: I wish I could say, but I don’t want to spoil it.
LOVE: Give me an idea. Don’t give me titles or anything.
TUMOR: I’ll say right now that if there was an album, I would be producing it with Noah Goldstein in full.
LOVE: That’s good.
TUMOR: And if there was an album, we would be touring it in the next couple of years.
TUMOR: And if there was an album, if we were working as hard as we should be, it would be a shame to spoil it for an interview right now.
LOVE: For fuck’s sake don’t then. Give me some songs that you reference. I’ve copped to Breakfast Club. Come on man, I’m being vulnerable.
TUMOR: Honestly, I grew up with a lot of Motown from my father, so I’d say The Temptations.
TUMOR: Just a lot of classic rock: Kansas, Led Zeppelin, MC5. I listen to a lot of dance music. From a lot of house, to hard, abrasive techno. I even like noise, just ambient noise music.
LOVE: What noise music do you like?
TUMOR: There’s this genre called extratone that I really like, where it’s basically techno, but the bpm is sped up to a thousand. It sounds like a humming sound.
LOVE: 1,000 bpm, that’s ASMR crazy. I feel like only dogs could hear that.
TUMOR: I love that shit though. I’m a huge ASMR fan.
LOVE: I bet. What about your friends? When you are an elder as I am, you end up with the actual real friends that have been through war with you, and it’s incredible. It depends how you treat people on the way up—that cliché is so true. I treated people real shitty sometimes. I was on a lot of drugs, and I had to make a lot of amends, and really fix my infrastructure and my honor inside. I now have a real army of supportive, wonderful people who’ve been through the war at all different levels. It’s really nice. Do you have a cool friend group?
TUMOR: I do. It’s actually quite small, but they’re all insanely talented and huge inspirations for me.
LOVE: Small is good. A closed trusted circle, that’s what you want. What I’m afraid of is you getting interpreted. I’m afraid you’re going to get really big and people are going to come at you from big publications and they’re going to write you ass-kissing crazy letters.
TUMOR: I don’t do interviews, though. I only did this because it was with you.
TUMOR: I’ve done one with Michèle Lamy. She’s a huge inspiration for me. You’re a huge inspo. That’s the last two interviews I’ve done in the past five years.
LOVE: Lana [Del Rey] said, “No one tells my story but me.” I’m with that. You’re playing with dangerous and shadowy imagery, and because you’re talented, people are going to want to fuck with you. The letters get nicer and longer, and they come from more prestigious publications. Just say no. Or don’t, take your chances.
TUMOR: I love saying no.
LOVE: I feel like I’ve talked a lot about me, so I need you to talk a little bit more about yourself.
TUMOR: That’s exactly what I wanted.
LOVE: Shut up. I don’t want to talk about myself. Alright. What’s been a highlight of touring this year? I know you opened for Florence [+ the Machine] and I know you opened for Nine Inch Nails.
TUMOR: That was very surreal for me. We’ve been touring since last January. We took breaks, but we’re just a really dedicated team. We have a really hard-working, kick-ass manager, lighting guy—
LOVE: I saw the thing in Glastonbury. You were really good. I loved it.
TUMOR: [Laughs] Thank you.
LOVE: What relationships bring the most inspiration? What pushes you to keep nurturing, and growing your craft and your artistry?
TUMOR: Honestly, I think no one really can push me except myself. I try not to put people on pedestals anymore. I have to keep motivating myself because everyone else seems to be fumbling the bag or looking like idiots. I watch how everyone moves, and then I’m like, “Oh, I can’t do this. I can’t say this. I can’t wear that.”
LOVE: This is something that Michael Stipe told me years ago during the R.E.M. years. They would decide things by a process of negation. That’s a very balanced and healthy way to be in the overculture. Hopefully, it won’t get toxic. Not everything has to be transgressive, and dark, and evil. The Breakfast Club, baby. Things can be shiny and romantic and wonderful.
TUMOR: I love romance. I love beauty. But when things are a little too sterile, that’s what I mean by corny. Even The Breakfast Club is sterile. Maybe somebody gets beat up, but there’s no gore, no blood, no car accidents.
LOVE: I had enough of that shit growing up. I don’t need to see Crash 99 times.
LOVE: Anyway, listen Yves, I hope you got something out of my advice.
TUMOR: I did. That meant a lot coming from you. I really appreciate you looking out. Seriously.
LOVE: I see a big future for you. And when you’re in London, will you come over and have tea with me?
TUMOR: One hundred percent.
Stylists: Peri Rosenzweig and Nick Royal
Hair: Fitch Lunar using Oribe at Opus Beauty
Makeup: Kali Kennedy using MAC Cosmetics at Forward Artists
On-Set Production: Mara Weinstein
Production Design: Christopher E. Hughes
Fashion Assistants: Alicia Rodriguez Aparicio, Anna Vi, Bailey Rose, and Rachel Thorson
Hair Assistant: Anthony Hernandez
Production Assistant: Christopher E. Hughes