While the past two years haven’t been easy for most of us, some musicians have found that it was the perfect time to hole up and get creative. And with the magic of the world wide web, even bandmates on opposite coasts can collaborate remotely.
That was the case for new band Sub*T, which formed in a mosh pit in the summer of 2019. Grace Bennett and Jade Alcantara decided they wanted to climb out of the pit and make their way to the stage. They just had to write some songs first. Oh, and they had to learn how to play guitar.
Grace went back to Brooklyn and Jade went back to Oakland and they sat down with their guitars and started writing. During the lockdown, they shared files back and forth and their particular sound was born. Taking cues from Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, and other 90s alt-rock women, they crafted infectious, driving songs with layered vocals and crunchy guitars.
After months of writing, they recorded and released their first singles “Boxing Day” and “Too Soon Too Long” earlier this year. Then they converged in Nashville and recorded more tracks with Alicia Bognanno of Bully. The duo released their four-song EP So Green on Nov. 19 and will play their very first live performance Nov. 21 at Elsewhere in Brooklyn.
Alcantara and Bennett sat down with Full Time Aesthetic to share how it’s been going.
Sub*T (photo by Kenzie Davis)
You say you have a lot of 90s influences. What is it about the sounds and culture of that era that speak to you?
We are really inspired by the 90’s. For us the music has a sense of nostalgia that we really associate with our music and lyrics that we really love. I think it’s also because it’s kind of this era that can’t and has not been replicated since. We just want to create music that makes us feel the way the music we love so much made when we first heard it. Also, so many bands with women… especially when it comes to singing style we always felt really inspired by their vocal delivery.
What was it like recording with Alicia Bognanno in Nashville? Why do you think she was the right producer for you?
It was a completely comfortable, vulnerable, empowering situation. We have been a huge fan of hers and we really admire how different she is and how she has always followed her own path when it comes to her musical sound. She also knew exactly what we wanted this EP to be as soon as she heard the demos. We recorded it in her house with her dogs, her snacks, her books and gear and we felt really at home. It was really special and we feel so lucky to have had that experience.
Sub*T (photo by Kenzie Davis)
What new sounds did you explore with Alicia?
Alicia has a ton of experience with producing, engineering and performing live so we really got to play with guitar tones in a way that we hadn’t before. We also had some inspirational songs that she could really help us channel when it came to how we recorded. There was even some pre-work we did where she even helped me (Jade) explore new things with my vocal delivery and timing. It was so much fun and we can’t wait to hopefully do it again to see how else we can explore these things.
You’ve said that you both share a strong vision for Sub*T and want to remain a duo. Can you tell us a little more about that?
I think we both realize how lucky we are to have found each other. And how hard it is to completely trust and believe in someone else. Especially because we are both extremely stubborn and really have a vision for what we want. Alicia also gave us so much perspective on this. We write our lyrics and arrange our music and even do our own visuals. We are really passionate about having really fun and stand up people around us, but we know at the core we are always Sub*T.
You have your first live performance coming up this week! How do you think performing live is going to affect your songwriting moving forward?
Absolutely. We are shocked at how good it sounds to hear our songs live. We want to have a huge presence as a live band so we are really figuring out what works. Right now we have been rehearsing with one of our best friends playing drums and another friend playing bass. It’s also really cool to just note things that are slowly evolving as we play them. When we recorded, you know, we didn’t always think about having to sing and play at the same time…or how we would reproduce the sounds on the EP. But we’re so excited to keep writing songs to play live. We actually just wrote a new song for the live show because we really had a vision for how it would feel to perform it.
How are visual art and aesthetics important to you?
This is really 50% of Sub*T. We’re both visual artists. Grace is really good at editing and creating videos. We both love collaging and Jade is constantly in Photoshop making new things. We love that we can incorporate that into our music and will always do that in the future.
“Table For Four” artwork
Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to try?
We really want to go on tour. We want to travel so much and meet new people. We have a zine coming out soon to go with our EP.
What advice do you have for any aspiring or emerging musicians out there?
Honestly just do whatever sounds good to you. It can be scary knowing nothing. But if you just start, it can and will happen. That’s what we did!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We have two shows coming up! And we can’t wait to keep making music.
So Green is out now on all major streaming platforms
Shawna Potter is the front woman of the explosive and vital feminist hardcore band War On Women. The band is currently on the road supporting Bad Religion and Alkaline Trio for their first tour back after the pandemic halted everyone in their tracks. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about on life on the road, what she and the rest of the band have been up to, and more. Scroll down to see what she had to say.
War On Women performing in 2019 (photo by Kate Hoos)
You just played an acoustic show recently, prior to the start of the tour supporting Bad Religion and Alkaline Trio, how did that feel to be back performing again after the pandemic?
It felt good, like an actual show. Those first few live-streamed acoustic things were cool to try at first, but they don’t compare at all to playing in front of real live people. I was also happy to have a lower stakes situation to remember how the fuck to perform again in the first place. My big takeaway lesson was to shut up and sing. (You win this round, misogynists!)
War On Women’s latest album,Wonderful Hell, came out almost a year ago now even though obviously you haven’t been able to tour it yet, are you excited to play those songs for audiences now?
It’s been officially out a year, actually, but yes, I can’t wait to see what weird dance moves my brain comes up with for “Aqua Tofana.”
Cover art of Wonderful Hell
What are you most looking forward to being back on the road? How do you keep yourself sane with the downtime/tour self care routines?
I’m most looking forward to rocking the fuck out! This will be the first time we play songs off the new album and I cannot wait. And touring has been my life since I was 14 years old so it feels very familiar, comfortable, to get back to it after all this time off. It was harder to plan of course, I was out of practice dealing with all the logistics pre-tour, and that’s always the worst part, but we pulled it off. It can be tough, too, but yeah having routines helps. On off days I try to jog or workout, and I’m an avid cross-stitcher which keeps me off my phone (sometimes). And this tour I actually have some work I need to do, but in a fun way? For example, I’m doing research on theater intimacy choreography, hoping to add it to my repertoire of services I can provide. We’ll see if I can stay off my phone long enough to accomplish anything.
What did you get up to during the time the pandemic forced us all to stay inside?
Oh wow, well first I want to acknowledge I was very lucky that I didn’t lose anyone close to me, and I was able to survive until unemployment kicked in, which was just a total chance thing. So I accomplished some things that would absolutely not have gotten done otherwise. By being home and not constantly touring or planning for the next tour, I was able to buy a house during that sweet spot when rates were low and it was still a buyer’s market, finally getting out of an apartment where the rent just kept increasing. Once I settled into the new place, I had dog-fever and was able to adopt a sweet and complicated 3 year old pit bull named Rosie that benefits from my ability to work from home. I’ve been conducting virtual safer space and bystander intervention trainings, doing feminist consultations, and I even started a podcast called But Her Lyrics… It’s a great excuse to interview cool and smart people, experts in their fields, about the things I sing about. I get to talk to the band about writing and recording our songs and explain the inspiration and meaning behind it all. To help support that I have a Patreon where I share bonus content and pictures of Rosie, of course.
War On Women performing in 2019 (photo by Kate Hoos)
What music/artists/books/podcasts/shows are you excited about right now?
This is a very incomplete and inaccurate list, but I have been watching Squid Game, and falling asleep to Bojack Horseman (somehow it’s a perfect show to decompress in my bunk after a long day), I’ve been listening to Jessica Pratt “Quiet Signs” to chill out, and now that we’re on the road I have no time or patience for podcasts or anything mentally challenging.
In keeping with the mission of your book, Keeping Spaces Safer, what responsibility do you feel venues have in keeping artists/fans/employees safe in the realm of COVID precautions? And concurrently, what role do artists play? What can fans do?
My book, Making Spaces Safer, definitely does not specialize in human health and safety issues, but it does touch upon how many venues and groups already have systems in place that are so normalized we don’t even think about them: signage about how to help someone who is choking, fire extinguishers, defibrillators, and now even Narcan for fentanyl test strips. So the book argues that adding identity-based harassment to our concept of public safety is not only worth doing, but that it can be done simply and cheaply, becoming normalized like anything else. COVID-precautions are similar. There’s a bit of a learning curve, or even inertia maybe on the part of those in charge, but once best practices are decided upon they can be added to current routines. From what I’m seeing so far, clubs have great policies about masks, hand sanitizer, etc, but they are unable or unwilling to enforce them strictly. So a club with a mask requirement might have about 30% of the audience actually wearing masks while we play. That’s scary! I would like to see more enforcement, and more audience members taking their own health and the health of those around them (including their favorite touring band that they just paid money to see!) more seriously, and more headliners requiring the clubs they play to enforce mask wearing and proof of vaccination or recent negative test to get in.
Can you elaborate a bit on your work as an educator/consultant to venues and how that has been received and how can that translates out into other applications?
Well I’m lucky enough to just work with people who want me, right, so no need to go into a hostile environment. So it’s been going really well, people seem to be benefiting from the easy system I provide to handle complaints of harassment and try to prevent it from happening in the first place. If someone can’t afford to hire me for a private training, that is what my book is for, people can absolutely go DIY with safer spaces. I also teach bystander intervention (generally and for the workplace), and I don’t see the need for these trainings going away any time soon, unfortunately. If anyone is interested in hiring me, they can reach out via shawnapotter.com.
War On Women performing in 2018 (photo by Kate Hoos)
We made it through the Trump regime (barely it feels like), but what next? How do we keep up the fight when naturally a lot of people tend to let their guard down during Democratic administrations thinking we are past the worst threat? How do we avoid lulling ourselves into a false sense of security?
This is a tough one, especially because we’re dealing with crisis-fatigue, but I think not only is Biden is fucking up enough to warrant our attention, but so many Republican-run states are hell bent on stripping away the basic rights of anyone who is not rich, white, and male. So there is always more work to do. But when we feel overwhelmed we can always look local and tell your representatives what you want and don’t want, and make sure to vote every single election if you are someone privileged enough to not have your voting rights challenged all the time.
And to follow up on that, how do you stay inspired/fight fatigue to keep doing the work you’re doing in the wake of the terrible things that keep happening all the time (the horrible abortion restrictions in Texas, continual violence against women/gnc/BIPOC/queer people, etc etc etc sadly….etc etc etc) How do we stay focused when sometimes, all of that can be very overwhelming? What do you do to work in self care to make sure you’re okay but still keep up the fight? Is it okay to take breaks sometimes?
I have BEEN on a break, so yeah, it’s necessary. I think recognizing where I can have the most impact and just putting my efforts there has been helpful. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. Right? And that will be different for everyone, which is good. And also knowing that the urgency we feel looking at social media is often false, so taking some time for yourself is fine and necessary to get back to it as your best, full self.
One of the things I love about your lyrics, and their delivery, is that while they address very serious topics, they are often very sarcastic and have a lot of snark and bite. Political sarcasm is not easy to pull off but when wielded correctly, is a powerful tool to get the point across to audiences. Was this a conscious choice to approach these difficult subjects this way or is it something that just naturally happened when you started to write lyrics for this band?
Oh I’m just snarky, I can’t help it. I am glad to know that you can tell I’m doing it on purpose, though! If I analyze it, I could argue that adding some sarcasm deflects any potential critiques of taking ourselves too seriously, you know that classic insult thrown at feminism in general: no sense of humor. But I also have no problem admitting that I’m not such an expert in every subject I sing about or care about, so I wouldn’t want to feel like I’m full on lecturing anyone. Can’t say that about all men in punk!
I know Brooks (lead guitar) is now playing guitar in Jawbox, and you both also run Big Crunch Amps in Baltimore. Everyone else has other projects/pursuits going on too, what are some of the things Sue (bass), Jenarchy (rhythm guitar), and Dave (drums) are up to outside of the band?
Ah, well Jenarchy is in like 1,000 other bands, so check out their Instagram to see what all they have going on. Dave plays guitar and sings in a band called Black Lung, which tours when we’re not. Sue has just been busy being a computer scientist and working on some sort of database for COVID-related info? Can you tell I didn’t actually understand what she told me she was doing? Frankly it’s a wonder that we’re ever able to get anything done, but I think we all value this band and what it stands for and make sure to make time for it.
Anything you’re working on that you can share? Have you been working on new music?
We have, but thankfully it got interrupted by going on tour! So we’ll start messing around with new stuff early next year, I’m sure. We technically fulfilled our contract with Bridge Nine so we have the option to work with another label, but we’re not sweating it. We’ll just see what happens. I’m also reassessing how I want to use my Patreon, if I should continue my podcast, or what. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know!
I am not going to lie, with the possible exceptions of Jeff Rosenstock, The Menzingers and PUP, Frank Turner is my favorite live act out there today. It pained me terribly to have not seen him onstage in 2020 and when 2021 started out, it didn’t really look like I was going to get to see him this year either. But then I received my Bands In Town notification that he was playing Hammerstein Ballroom at The Manhattan Civic Center in October. Hmmm, that’s an ambitious venue for him, I thought. Well as it turned out, he was coming across the pond as an opening act for Counting Crows. WOW, that’s a cool lineup…I mean, for people of a certain age, “who doesn’t love Counting Crows?”
Of course seeing Frank Turner as an opener wasn’t my ideal way I’d want to be seeing him after nearly two years, but what the hell, we all can’t be beggars and choosers. The trouble was, the date conflicted with a previously scheduled appointment. DAMN! Ah but shortly thereafter, a second show was added, the concert gods were indeed looking after me. NOT…the new show was also on a date which I couldn’t make. “Oh well, it’s just not meant to be” I thought. And then a more complete headlining US tour was announced, but the closest city was in Hershey, PA and that date was no good for me either. I figured I must have really pissed somebody off somewhere along the way.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I get another Bands In Town alert, “Frank Turner has announced new shows in your area.” And sure enough Turner (or more probably his booking agent) scheduled two shows in one day, one at Philadelphia’s Underground Arts on a Sunday afternoon, and a second show that very same night at Crossroads in Garwood, NJ. Crosswoods lands a lot of great artists to play their very small venue in the middle of nowhere New Jersey (they recently hosted Laura Jane Grace there). This is thanks to concert promoter Andy Diamond, who presents shows at the venue consistently. Crossroads was actually the last place I’d seen Turner back in October of 2019, and that night was also the second half of a double header show after a matinee at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall.
Needless to say, I was STOKED, with a capital S.T.O.K.E.D. Waking up on an unseasonably warm October Sunday morning, it was a beautiful day, one which the immortal Ernie Banks would have proudly declared “Boy, it’s a beautiful day—let’s play two!” I headed down to Philadelphia and arriving at Underground Arts with a good amount of time before opener Kayleigh Goldsworthy’s set was scheduled to start, I found the room to be almost completely full already. Looks like I wasn’t the only one craving some Frank Turner. Goldsworthy’s set was, as always, a perfect prequel to Turner.
Shortly after Goldsworthy finished up, Turner walked onto stage with his Sleeping Soul’s bandmate and multi instrumentalist, Matt Nasir, who was joining Turner on this tour as his vocal harmonizer, mandolinist and on stage straight man. In any event they took no time to warm up and jumped right into Turner classics, “The Ballad Of Me and My Friends,” “If I Should Ever Stray,” and “Long Live The Queen,” which will always bring a tear to my eye; at this point as much out of joy as for sadness. All told the set was decidedly much more of a “greatest hits” set than he usually does at these impromptu solo shows while on tour as a supporting act, but this was just fine by me however, after waiting two years to see him live again.
Turner did manage to mix in a couple of new ones from his upcoming FTHC album though, “Haven’t Been Doing So Well” and “The Gathering,” both of which have already been released as singles. There was an altogether new one called “Imperfect Tense” as well. All in all it seemed obvious to me that Turner was still getting back in the swing of things after having been off the road for almost two years. For a guy like him who is ALWAYS on the road (this was show number 2560 for him), I was curious how the longest layoff of his career would treat him. Performers are much like athletes after all and they get out of shape when inactive too, both vocally as well as physically. In any event, while it was clear he was still getting back to fighting shape, nothing prevented it from being a fantastic Sunday afternoon.
Frank Turner at Underground Arts
After the show, we fortunately had enough time to kill before having to make the drive up the NJ Turnpike for the next round, so it was a no-brainer that we stop at Joe’s Steaks and Sodas for the obligatory Philly Cheesesteak (Wiz, not provolone for the record). The hour and a half drive up to Garwood, NJ was uneventful (largely due to a cheesesteak induced semi-coma). We got to Crossroads around 7:30 PM to find a line of people wrapping throughout the parking lot like I’ve never seen before. Understandably, with Vax and ID checks required, entrance into the venue was taking a bit longer than usual. In any event we gained entrance relatively quickly and soon found a nice spot up front, stage left. For those who’ve never been, Crossroads is a SMALL room, with a low stage and for sold out shows some of the sight lines can be challenging.
Kayleigh Goldsworthy came on and immediately seemed to be much looser and relaxed than she appeared that afternoon. We would find out during her set that that comfort level had something to do with shots of tequila which were done in between shows. If I failed to mention it earlier, she is such a pleasure to see live. Your first impression upon seeing her is of this sweet and charming singer/songwriter…which she most certainly is. But then she starts telling her stories between songs and she can make a longshoreman blush. Anyway, her evening set was great. Lots of old nuggets mixed in with new material from her forthcoming album, as well as one song which she promised would never be recorded or released and which would probably never be played live again after this night called “I Want To Party With You,” a song about the loneliness and desire for human interaction during Covid. Let it be known that from the reaction of the crowd, not releasing it would be a mistake.
Turner hit the stage along with Nasir around 9:30, opening up with his coming of age epic, “I Knew Prufrock,” and then followed the afternoon’s setlist pretty closely. He moved the new song, “The Gathering,” up in the queue and dropped “Long Live The Queen,” but otherwise it was the same. That being said though, it was the same, but much better now that he was warmed up. Like Goldsworthy, Turner appeared to be much more relaxed and comfortable (Crossroads can have that effect on artists, it’s that kind of room…or it might have been the tequila).
Frank Turner at Underground Arts
The next shift from the afternoon was the replacing of “Imperfect Sense,” with a different new song called “Fatherless.” Let me say right now that this was the tipping point of the show for me. The song has to do with Tuner’s relationship with his father, something he has not particularly addressed throughout his career. And the song flat out R.O.C.K.S.! Sunday night it was obviously performed acoustically but it still came across like a blitzkrieg. It makes me fear for my mosh pit life when he plays it with the full backing of the Sleeping Souls. At this point, let me just say that from what I’ve heard thus far, the upcoming FTHC doesn’t appear to be anything less than a punk rock tour de force. The rest of the evening stuck to the plan set out earlier in the day, which was just fine by me and the rest of the packed out Crossroads crowd.
The half hour drive back to Staten Island was sweat soaked and blissful, having spent my day experiencing what I’d been dreaming about for the duration of lockdown.
For what I thought was my last Frank Turner show for the foreseeable future, it would be plenty to hold me over until next time. Sure there were the two Hammerstein shows coming up, but I couldn’t make either one of them, or so I thought. I had to work on Tuesday night, but as it turned out, what I thought was a conflict on Wednesday was actually happening on Thursday and all of a sudden I was free for the show, thus I was Hammerstein Ballroom bound Wednesday evening for Frank Turner Round III.
Finding a parking spot a mere three blocks away from the venue was the first omen that it was going to be a good night. The second was running into Derek Zanetti of Homeless Gospel Choir and Doug Murphy, Turner’s sound guy and general tour jack of all trades on 8th Avenue as I was walking to the ballroom. As I entered the hall I was pleased to see that the room was about halfway full with Turner due to hit the stage shortly. Clearly playing an opening set is different than being a headliner in that respect. At just about 7:30 sharp Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz appeared onstage and introduced both Frank Turner and Matt Nasir and they proceeded to commence the evening’s festivities with “If I Should Ever Stray.” Three shows and three different opening songs. Again, the set was heavy on the “hits”, something which you’d expect a seasoned artist playing the role of opener to do.
Frank Turner at Hammerstein Ballroom 10/6/21
It was funny however that on Sunday, Turner had joked how it was comforting to play to crowds that actually knew his songs because this hadn’t been the case thus far on the Counting Crows tour. Well the looks and inquisitive stares which came in my direction as I sang along (rather loudly) to most of his songs sure made me appreciate what he’d said a couple of days prior. I was surprised to get yet another new one from Turner called “Little Life,” which he performed while Nasir was on his “union break.” This one has me highly anticipating the release of FTHC.
Closing out his set with what has to be his best known song outside of Frank Turner circles, “I Still Believe,” Turner had finally succeeded in getting the entire room to sing along to the chorus:
Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.
Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something so simple, something so small.
Who’d have thought, that after all it’s rock ‘n’ roll
Yes indeed, in times like these, who WOULD have thought that something as simple as rock n roll could save us all?
Scroll down for pics from all three shows (photos by Ray Rusinak)
Multi-instrumentalist Peter David Connelly began recording Without Love for college credit at the famously non-traditional Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. But like so many things, the project was interrupted in March 2020 by the pandemic. He had a decision to make—DIY or die. Okay, not literally die, but he would have had to abandon the project or do it on his own without access to the college’s state-of-the-art equipment. And so, with a portable Tascam in the back room of a used clothing store, he embraced the warm and intimate music he could create in solitude.
Check out the new video for “Someone To Hang On To” directed by Jolie Maya-Altshuler and the Q&A with Connelly below.
What was it like to have your recording sessions interrupted by the pandemic and what was the decision like to work on your own? What was that transition like?
I knew that I was going to be working on my own for the majority of the record anyway, but it was very frustrating that I wasn’t able to do more on campus. The only performances that I got at Evergreen were the drums on “Slow Goodbye” and the lead vocal on three songs, and everything else was done in my apartment or my rehearsal space. The other effect of the pandemic was that I had less guest appearances than I had initially planned, especially vocals. But hopefully that can be rectified next time around.
Did you have much experience with home recording and producing?
Oh definitely, although my skill set as an engineer is rather limited. Sometimes I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because so many modern records have this normalcy to the way they sound that I don’t care for. I want to improve my skills, but I don’t want to learn the rule book. I’m more interested in doing odd things like the end of “Thought Maybe I’d Place My Soul to the Devil,” with four distorted drum sets bashing away like crazy.
Which instruments are you most comfortable with? Did you learn to play a new instrument or did you try new techniques while recording this album?
For the most part I’m a drummer, and that’s always the instrument I’ve been the most comfortable with. I didn’t really learn a new instrument, but there are always unusual recording concepts that I try to achieve, like the two out-of-sync drum machines in “Fingerprinted,” or the twin guitar leads that close the record. Also if you listen really closely you can hear my cat meow at the very end—that was a happy accident.
Winona the cat
Was the pandemic a more creative time for you? I’ve heard mixed things from different artists about how they experienced the pandemic.
It certainly was—I haven’t written a song since I got vaccinated! I’ve noticed that I get a big burst of songwriting activity every time something shocking or frightening happens, and Covid was and remains very shocking and frightening. There were also several songs I wrote around the beginning of the pandemic that I didn’t put on the record, for one reason or another.
I understand what you mean! Can you tell me about the recording of “Someone to Hang On To?”
That one took forever! I must have done ten separate sessions over the course of the whole record just trying to get a rhythm track I liked, and “Someone To Hang On To” was one of the first songs attempted but one of the last completed. Every time I thought that I had a good take it ended up too fast, or I didn’t like the feel, or the drum sound wasn’t right. But I’m glad it took so long, because the final version sounds much better rehearsed than it would have been otherwise.
Did you play all the instruments on “Someone To Hang On To?” With backing vocals by Giselle Gabrielle?
Yes, that’s correct. I rehearsed it with an outside guitar player and bass player, but because of the pandemic I ended up playing those parts myself. That ended up being true of most of the album, actually.
Can you tell me a little about creating the music video?
That was really Jolie’s project more than mine—some of the footage I wasn’t even present for, and I haven’t even met the majority of the people in the video. My main contribution was that I wanted to be seen playing the Glockenspiel part in a variety of bizarre places, like those shots on the beach.
Do you have any performances planned?
I had a couple last month but there’s nothing else set up at the moment. I’m not comfortable inviting people to an indoor concert where they don’t have to show proof of vaccination, so touring isn’t really possible right now. I plan on doing at least a West Coast tour in Spring 2022.
How do you perform these songs live since you play most of the instruments on the recording?
I’ve played some of them at shows, but a few of the tracks were so spontaneous that I would have to relearn them—I would have no clue how to play “Before College,” for example. The plan is to get a rhythm section and I’ll play piano, but some of the songs wouldn’t work with drums at all. I never think about these things when I’m recording. I never see myself onstage delivering the material until it actually happens.
What are you studying in college and what do you hope to do with your degree?
That’s a good question. Although I’m enjoying my time at Evergreen, I have no idea how it’s going to prepare me for the job market (shudder). All I want to do is keep making pop records.
What is the scene in Olympia like these days? Do you have a close-knit group of people to collaborate with?
It’s taken a big hit due to the pandemic, like I’m sure most places have, but there are always a few cool bands around. There’s a band called Thin Veil whose record I play over and over. Cold Sweats is an exciting, New York Dolls-style rock ‘n’ roll band. Jessie Branch has the sickest set of pipes Olympia has ever heard. And Table Sugar was my absolute favorite, but I think they’re over now.
Did music venues and record shops in your area survive the pandemic?
The one record store survived. Maybe half of the venues did. But Olympia has always put on a lot of house shows, so proper venues aren’t really the only option. Hopefully there will be more of those once people start becoming more comfortable indoors.
What’s next for you creatively?
I really want to make a double record, since I was a teenager that’s been a real ambition of mine. Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything? has always been a template for the double album I aspire to, but it would require an enormously prolific period for me songwriting-wise to make a record that could even potentially hold a listener’s interest for 80 or 90 minutes. I also want to make the process of songwriting more loose, and not think about verses and choruses as much. More instrumental passages, and more weirdness. Pop music is often so sterile these days, especially guitar-oriented bands. I don’t ever want to do anything that negates my identity as a fucking weirdo.
After the wild and excessive 1980s filled with loud clothing, crimped hair, and cheesy metal, things started going in an entirely different direction in the dawning of the ’90s. Suddenly from sleepy, rainy Seattle came this heavy music with a dismissive attitude and slacker aesthetic. People started wearing flannels and stopped washing their hair. Grunge had arrived.
On September 24, 1991, Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, dropped which fully cemented grunge in mainstream culture. Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic recorded an album with producer Butch Vig that proved to be both commercially successful and an inspiration to multiple generations of musicians. As the band’s debut on a major label (Geffen Records subsidiary DGC), the album went on to “dethrone the King of Pop” in January 1992 when it reached number one on the Billboard charts taking the spot away from Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.
It seems every musician and fan I know had a Nirvana moment. Here’s mine: I was 13 and helping my best friend babysit. She pulled out this cassette with a baby floating in a very blue swimming pool. “You have to listen to this.” When she pressed play, my earholes were filled with the most perfect aural concoction that gave voice to my newly acquired teen angst.
Nevermind on cassette
For the thirty year anniversary of that groundbreaking album I spoke with a slew of musicians who also had their Nirvana moment.
Both the song and video captured the essence of Gen X life, I think
– Taína Cojoba
“My friend got the single of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and he played it for me over the phone. And even hearing it through the phone blew me away,” said Jason Caperton, guitarist in The Library.
As of today, thirty years later, the anthemic song has over a billion streams on Spotify, a platform that didn’t even exist in the ’90s.
Taína Cojoba, vocalist and bassist for Invading Species, remembers moshing to the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with her brother back in Puerto Rico when it came out. “I likely would have never admitted this back then,” she laughed. “In the 1990s I was staunchly anti commercial music (DIY or die!), so Nirvana was more of a guilty pleasure for me. I liked it because it was dark and sarcastic—not your common commercial love song by pretty people. Both the song and video captured the essence of Gen X life, I think.”
Still frame from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video
For those of us who felt like outsiders or misfits, music helped get us through it. Especially when that music was delivered in a delicious snarl with bouts of raspy screaming.
Something about the songs and Kurt’s tortured voice really resonated with me at a time when I felt like I really didn’t fit in with the world at all
– Tania Cross
“I’m so happy, ‘cause today I found my friends, they’re in my head. I’m so ugly, that’s okay, ‘cause so are you, we broke our mirrors,” Cobain sang in “Lithium.” And we listened. And listened. And…
“I think I was either in 7th or 8th grade when I first heard the Bleach record,” said Tania Cross, a Brooklyn-based artist and bass player. “Back then all we did was traffic in over-dubbed tapes and I have no clue who turned me on to it, but I never stopped listening. Something about the songs and Kurt’s tortured voice really resonated with me at a time when I felt like I really didn’t fit in with the world at all—this would have been 1990 or 1991. I was very much a pubescent teenage girl stuck in Catholic school and Nirvana was sort of my gateway drug into riot grrrl music, which got me through high school and the fuck out of my home town. I had a dual cassette recorder that I kept on my bed under my pillow and I would listen relentlessly with my ear on the speaker, trying to decipher lyrics and figure out this new music from the West coast and my mom would barge in my room and scream at me for it—very Twisted Sister style!”
Cross went on to say that she feels so lucky to have seen Nirvana live during the InUtero tour in 1993.
“The band were these regular humans in front of me playing in this wild fantasy world with all of their own vulnerabilities and torn sweaters, and directing the crowd to treat each other with respect and dignity. I’m pretty sure I probably cried—I was 14—but it definitely was a game changer of a performance,” Cross reminisced.
Steve Myers, vocalist for Mighty Fine, said he saw the hype build up over time. “In college I was working at a record store named Paradise in Baton Rouge the first time I heard of Nirvana. Around the time I was hired, the indie record snob kids were all about Bleach and the buzz was at a slow and steady build. I remember the record being sloppy but relatable and, dare I say, a little funky for a hard rock/punk record. The band stood out to me partly because you could see the changing of the guard coming. Nirvana was relatable, knew how to pay homage to what came before, all while making their music seem new, rebellious, melodic and cool all at the same time which is hard. Then sprinkle a little indie rock attitude and the world goes boom. It reminded me of when RUN DMC made dressing like Grandmaster Flash a thing of the past seemingly overnight.”
I respect Cobain’s courage in expressing the dissonances and conflicts that exist beneath our relationships and identities
– Amy Klein
Amy Klein, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, said Nirvana’s music helped her process deeper emotions she didn’t know how to express.
“I remember the first time I heard Nirvana on the boombox in my older sister’s room. I felt the wildness of the music, how it raged against conformity, without having any of those words. Still a kid, I felt the feelings within Cobain’s guttural snarl, heard him protest against the superficial surfaces of easy sentiments. I lived in suburbia, and Nirvana opened a door for me to an alternative understanding of that white picket-fence culture. Songs such as ‘Polly,’ ‘Rape Me,’ and ‘Heart Shaped Box’ gave voice to the violence and the trauma which lived within us. I was almost afraid to listen to those songs because I knew that darkness felt real—and was part of me. Today I respect Cobain’s courage in expressing the dissonances and conflicts that exist beneath our relationships and identities. Nothing about Nirvana is ever easy or expected,” Klein said.
We can’t talk about Nirvana without talking about that very sad day in April 1994 that Kurt Cobain passed away by suicide at the age of 27, leaving behind wife Courtney Love and their baby Frances Bean Cobain. Most Gen Xers and older millennials remember the moment they found out about his death. For me, I was in the backseat of my father’s car with two friends on the way to see a movie in Myrtle Beach. We had the radio tuned to the alternative rock station and that’s when the DJ broke the news. My friend Adam began sobbing and my other friend and I were just stunned. It felt like one of our own friends had died.
Jamie Frey, vocalist for NO ICE, said Cobain’s body was found on the day of his 8th birthday although he wasn’t entirely aware who Nirvana was at the time. It was later that he began listening to them, first on the radio, and later when he was able to buy his own CDs.
“I can safely say that you’d hear a song from Nevermind just about every hour of radio programming. In that alternative format, Nirvana was The Beatles or Pink Floyd. Totally ubiquitous. I started picking my own CDs and eventually I bought the one with the baby on the cover and listened to it 8,000 times,” Frey said. “I feel like I can recount every second of the album in my head perfectly, I’ve heard it so many times. It is the sound of a breakthrough of a young rock band to a young rock fan, and like most rockers my age, it is an essential part of their origin story. Now, at 35, I’ll take Hole’s Live Through This any day of the week, but as an adolescent boy it was a whole new universe to me.”
Kurt Cobain’s relationship with Hole’s front woman Courtney Love was also part of his mythos. I vividly remember staring for what felt like hours at the photo of Cobain and Love on the cover of Sassy Magazine. While Love has been vilified and even accused of murdering her husband, it seems to me that they were both people battling addiction and various physical and mental problems. The month before Cobain died, he had gotten out of rehab. He also suffered from depression, chronic bronchitis, and an undiagnosed stomach condition that caused him intense pain.
But in the short amount of time he had on Earth, he touched countless fans leaving a legacy that we’ll be talking about decades to come.
“To this day Nirvana has always stayed with me,” said Tania Cross. “I still listen to them regularly. I do wonder what records could have been made if Kurt hadn’t died, but I’ve never begrudged him for leaving when he did. I’m forever grateful for all the other bands he turned me on to through covers and interviews and his enthusiasm and love of music.”
Pretty On The Inside was released on September 17, 1991.
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 a few 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 sounding feminine rage—messy, crass, chock full of discomfort and chaotic screams that really make the album feel as though it might 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 also don’t believe the album would have come across so strongly had it been produced in a more glossy way, 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.
Pretty On The Inside is absolutely a more primitive and raw 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 and knew then that was what I was meant to do; 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.
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
As for myself, I can recall a feeling of what the hell is happening right now? the first time I heard that album and just being absolutely pummeled with the ferocity barreling towards me from the speakers on my little childhood stereo; I had never heard anything so explosive up until that point. The album and the band absolutely clearly affected many younger women at the time and in the years to follow. For me personally, the songs from Pretty On The Inside are always my favorite to play when the cover band performs.
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’?”
Wright 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 also 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 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 think 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 and left alone to raise a toddler who was not yet even two years old.
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, go back to work, get back on the road. All the while existing in the public eye with horrific barbs and insults being slung at her from the press and Nirvana fans the world over. Despicable jabs that somehow she had caused Kurt’s death or even worse, killed him herself via a hitman (yes, this is an actual theory). 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).
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 also never given the option to step away from the public eye to heal and take care of 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?
And yes, Love has also said her fair share of things that have raised 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 and if they were not those things…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 can be traced back to albums like this and brash and bold women 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 “unclean” and “dirty” 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.”