Hole is a force to be reckoned with and always have been. Love them or hate them—specifically Courtney Love—anyone can agree on that. Most rock fans know their breakthrough and widely acclaimed album, 1994’s Live Through This, as well as the uber slick follow up, 1998’s Celebrity Skin. And everyone knows all the trials, tribulations, and drama that has encircled Love for the majority of her career. But I find that for all the lore around Love, and the opinions people have on all the drama and the later work, even some very well versed alt heads often don’t know the band’s debut album, Pretty On the Inside, and the beautiful viciousness contained within.
The album is now thirty years old, and to celebrate, I asked some musicians I know for their thoughts on the influence of Hole as a band, their take on this album, as well as their thoughts on Courtney Love and her treatment by the media. A few of the participants I have also been lucky enough to play with in a Hole cover band, Teenage Whores, on and off since 2014.
Pretty On The Inside is a markedly different body of work from their later offerings; the songs come across in an aggressive feminine rage—messy, crass, chock full of discomfort and chaotic guitars colliding full force with a relentless, pounding rhythm section and screams that sound like they’re echoing from deep inside a burnt out level of hell. Each element swirls menacingly around another, making the album feel as though it might rip itself apart or careen violently off a cliff at any moment. The production of the album perfectly reflects the uncomfortable turmoil of the material; the words “slick” or “polished” could never be used to describe it. I don’t believe the album would have come across so strongly had it been produced in a more glossy way like their later work was; the songs needed to be heard in this way for the full impact to be felt.
“The rhythm is brutal, the guitars a slash of sonic meanness,” said Teenage Whores lead singer, Chantal Wright.
Hole 1991 (photo by Michael Lavine).
Pretty On The Inside is absolutely a more primitive, noisy punk record than what was to come, but if you really listen, the groundwork for the later more polished work is laid right there in those eleven songs. Current Teenage Whores drummer Rebecca DeRosa said the album “is just so raw and visceral. I loved hearing this female rage and if you listen to the lyrics, Love has a lot to say. I don’t know if she gets enough appreciation for her lyric writing.”
For many women and nonbinary people who play music today, who were teenagers in the 90s, or even later, we can trace our roots directly back to the band. For me it was seeing Patty Schemel drumming during the band’s Saturday Night Live performance in 1994 when I was thirteen. It was like I was struck by lightning. I was transfixed by what I was seeing on the screen, mesmerized and unable to look away. I knew then that that was what I was meant to do and I became a drummer for life in that moment.
It’s kinda wild to directly trace my musical path back to one moment
– Shawna Potter
For original Teenage Whores drummer, Deb Sanchez, she too was inspired by Schemel, and said when she saw her play “I thought women can hit drums too [for the first time]” continuing that “seeing women rock out captured me.” For myself, when I later decided to learn to play guitar in my early 30s, I returned once again to Hole; “Doll Parts” was one of the first songs I was able to play all the way through. I later went on to play first bass and then lead guitar in Teenage Whores, each show teeming with the excitement of making those songs feel like ours if even only for a few fleeting moments.
War On Women frontwoman Shawna Potter had a similar “aha!” moment and can also link back her musical journey directly to Hole and specifically seeing Courtney Love on TV playing guitar. “The first time I became aware of Hole was watching the ‘Doll Parts’ video on MTV. I was around twelve years old. For some reason, it was only then that it registered with me that girls could play guitar, too. I wanted to play guitar—now. I begged my mom for a guitar and while waiting for Christmas to come, I convinced my mom to go buy me both the Live Through This and Pretty On The Inside CDs at the mall on her way home from work. I’ve been playing music, performing, and touring in bands ever since. It’s kinda wild to directly trace my musical path back to one moment.”
When asked specifically about Pretty On The Inside, Potter said “I loved that they were feminine and angry. I loved how dirty and raw [it] was. I didn’t have the language to describe music well (I still don’t), but I remember feeling that when I pressed play, I felt like the music was surrounding me. I was in the thick of it.”
It’s impossible to overstate the influence “Pretty On The Inside” had on me as a musician
– Chantal Wright
Like many young budding rock fanatics in the early to mid 90s, I heard the polished work of Live Through This first and later came to discover and explore Pretty On The Inside, saving up my extra lunch money and waiting for a trip to the record store to buy it at some point in 1995. I can recall a feeling of what the hell is happening right now? the first time I heard the gnarled crashing and bashing of album opener “Teenage Whore” barreling towards me from the speakers on my little childhood stereo and just being absolutely p u m m e l l e d with ferocity as the record continued. I had never heard anything so explosive up until that point; it was exciting, a little scary, and revelatory. For me personally, the songs from POTI are always my favorite to play when the cover band performs, a cathartic way for me to cleanse darker emotions and frustrations.
Wright echoed this, saying specifically about the song “Mrs Jones” (which also is a pretty blatant rip off of “Dark Entries,” by Bauhaus), “who doesn’t want to shred those four descending chords while growling ‘cry me a river baby, just take me home’?” She also added very succinctly, “It’s impossible to overstate the influence Pretty On The Inside had on me as a musician.” (See her full remarks and anecdotes on the album and band here.)
“Mrs Jones” live in Paris 1991
Wright and Sanchez both remarked on the double standards applied to people who are not cis men who make music, Wright saying “Courtney’s lyrics involve milk, disease, being gross, being in a weird body. I’ve heard people wonder (cruelly) what Kurt ever saw in Courtney. Have you looked at their lyrics against each other? These are two deeply weird people. Of course, when a man does it, it’s artistic and poetic.”
Hole’s early lineup featuring Jill Emery (bass) and Caroline Rue (drums) along with Eric Erlandson and Courtney Love.
Sanchez was blunt when speaking about the false assumptions about Love’s spouse Kurt Cobain actually writing Hole’s music, baseless and snide comments of the mansplainy variety which permeated in the 90s and still unfortunately persist to this day, mincing no words she said, “What a load of crap.” You would think in 2021 that there wouldn’t still be people who actually believe or say things like this, but not all that surprisingly, there are plenty who do, always waiting to emerge from under their dude bro rocks to make digs and jabs. “That’s just people who think women aren’t capable of making something that rocks,” said Sanchez. Again, the groundwork for all of Hole’s later work is laid in the first album and if you really sit and listen to it, it becomes immediately very obvious in the rhythmic patterns of the guitars and in Love’s wrenching lyrics and daring howls.
As for more of those double standards, I would be remiss not to comment on how the media has treated Courtney herself, which has oftentimes been extremely harsh and vastly unfair. Her musical accomplishments were always compared to her husband’s no matter what she did. Outside of music, everything she and Cobain did was picked apart and analyzed up to the point of them temporarily losing custody of their daughter Frances in reaction to erroneous facts about her drug use infamously reported in a September 1992 Vanity Fair article. When Cobain died, the media got 100 times worse and descended like vultures to pick her clean. Never mind the fact that she was widowed before her 30th birthday and left alone to raise a toddler who was not yet even two years old.
Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, 1992 (photo by Michael Lavine).
The death of a partner is a pain no one can imagine until you have to go through it yourself. Yet Courtney Love was expected to just carry on as if nothing was wrong and go back to work, go out and earn that album advance back and make the major label banking on her its money. All the while existing in the vapid microscope of the public eye, no doubt told to smile quietly and politely for the cameras, posing for magazines and in music videos, while being expected to somehow just ignore the horrific barbs, accusations and insults being slung at her from the press and Nirvana fans the world over. Despicable lies that somehow she had caused Kurt’s death or even worse, killed him herself via a hitman. (Yes, this is an actual theory. No, I will not dignify it with a link.) Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff also died in 1994 not long after Cobain, and still Love was expected to just “get on with it,” and go out to promote the new record. (Live Through This was released on April 12, 1994, four days after the discovery of Cobain’s body; Pfaff died two months later on June 16,1994.)
When she did show signs of the intense pain she was surely feeling at the time, she was labeled as “crazy,” and “insane,” a wild unhinged lunatic who might snap at any moment. Any time she did act out, it was tabloid fodder and she was excoriated by the press. She was never given the benefit of being recognized as someone who was pushing their way through an unimaginable nightmare, losing the father of her child and husband along with a bandmate/friend in rapid succession, while also dealing with substance abuse and being a huge celebrity. She was never given the option to step away from the public eye to heal so she could take care of herself and her child in peace. Who would be able to get through any of those things singularly without acting out at times, never mind all of that at once? The strength that she displayed to make it through all of that in one piece is extraordinary, the title Live Through This both a haunting prediction and a reminder of the deep reserves and sheer will power women and mothers often must pull from just to survive.
And yes, Love has also said and done her fair share of things that have been at times extreme and she has not always been kind; she has rightfully raised plenty of eyebrows over the years. No one ever said she was perfect and I certainly am not here to imply that either. On this Potter elaborated, saying “She is human, flawed, but no matter how imperfect she did not deserve being vilified and torn apart by the media—no one does. I get tired of people hating on her and just wish people would keep their mouths shut. I guess it’s like siblings or something? Let the actual Hole fans critique Courtney Love today, why say anything if you never listened to her in the first place?”
The Live Through This lineup of Hole circa 1993 with Kristen Pfaff and Patty Schemel (photo unknown).
Wright added, “In the days before the internet was everywhere, and we were trading bootlegs through the mail, I didn’t have every little thing she had ever said or done laid out in front of me. I had the music of a woman who had obviously Seen.Some.Shit and was absolutely not afraid to tell you about it, and she wasn’t going to get her point across in weeping acoustic confessionals.”
Pretty On The Inside arrived in the world at a time when women were absolutely NOT allowed to be anything but graceful and demure, clean and pure specimens for consumption by the male gaze, meek and mild with polite opinions and ideas, gentle above all else. And if they were not those things and deviated from the well worn path…just look at how that played out for Courtney Love. Thirty years later, sure things have improved somewhat, but by how much?
The incremental improvements that have been made for women both in the public eye and far away from it can be traced back to albums like this, made by a brash and bold woman like Love who gave absolutely no fucks and took complete control of her own image no matter the stakes. She was going to say and do what she wanted to express the raw thoughts and emotions inside of her and didn’t care what anyone thought about it. That was and still is a radical act as someone who is not a cis man in the public eye or even just existing in the world. Wright summed it up best saying, “In 1991, Pretty On The Inside was a revelation, and it remains so to this day.”
Pretty On The Inside was released on September 17,1991
Chantal Wright is the bassist of Fisty and an FTA contributing writer. She founded Teenage Whores with Kate Hoos and Deb Sanchez in 2014 and is the lead singer/rhythm guitarist.
Rebecca DeRosa is the drummer of Fisty and an FTA contributing writer. She joined Teenage Whores in 2015.