It’s impossible to overstate the influence Pretty On The Inside had on me as a musician. Of course Live Through This is a masterpiece, with Courtney’s abrasiveness set against gorgeous melodies that break through the distortion, and mature songwriting skills from her and guitarist Eric Erlandson. But I already knew that melodic and loud was a possibility. From the start, I was drawn instead to the grittier side of Hole. Lucky for me, the very first time I heard them was on the “Violet” CD single, which in addition to the classic A-side contains a live rendition of “Whose Porno You Burn Black,” (a tweaked version of the end of “Burn Black,” a single track from 1991.) “It’s all whores, it’s all pain, it’s all disease man, it’s all the same!” Courtney screams, and I immediately knew I needed more of that raw version of Hole. Sure enough, there was more of that on POTI — within the first five seconds, in fact, as “When I was a teenage whore” comes grinding out of the speakers.
The rhythm on POTI is brutal, the guitars a slash of sonic meanness. Produced by Kim Gordon, (a piece of trivia I was proud to know and tell all my friends) and Don Fleming, it features a different lineup than what many people consider classic Hole, featuring Caroline Rue on drums and Jill Emery on bass — and with a different rhythm section, the vibe is very different, jumping along rather than gliding as on later Hole releases. The music can be derivative in places, but we forgive the blatant rip-off of Bauhaus’ “Dark Entries” in “Mrs. Jones,” because who doesn’t want to shred those four descending chords while growling “cry me a river baby, just take me home.”
“Mrs Jones” live in Paris 1991.
And it was vulgar. Holy shit was it vulgar. Abortions, jizz, blood, fucking, spread legs, dicks, no punches pulled, many punches thrown. There are other female fronted bands with obscene lyrics, but so often they are (very fun) taunting call out songs. That is here as well, but much of the vulgarity was internal. 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. The collage-style artwork of the album and Hole flyers of the time also hammered home the ‘beautiful-turned-ugly’ aesthetic.
Sometimes people ask me how I can enjoy Courtney’s music, when she herself is such a messy person and has said some very strange and fucked up things in her time. “I’d love to have a drink with her, I’d never lend her my guitar” is what I like to answer. 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.
Live footage (once only obtainable through aforementioned trading circles and eBay, now easily found on YouTube) reveals the rawness of these tracks even better. In particular I’d like to recommend this show from Boston in 1991 (watch out for the ‘artistic zooming in and out’), and this early 1990 version of their later-polished cover of “Gold Dust Woman.” Courtney is aggressive as she delivers these songs, a quality she never lost, even as Hole became a glossier sounding band. On stage is where all artifice falls away. (On stage and in cars – and good god does POTI absolutely RIP when coming out of a blown aftermarket sound system in a Buick Skylark; I was once mentioned in a local zine for doing just that in our high school parking lot.)
Hole- “Gold Dust Woman” 1990.
Which brings me to my bias: I like to think I have a special window into the feelings Hole songs, and especially the ones on POTI, evoke, because I have performed in a Hole cover band, Teenage Whores, for the past seven years. (Nothing is funnier than telling people you are a professional Courtney Love impersonator.) But I don’t have a monopoly on them. Watching over a hundred people scream “is she pretty on the inside, is she pretty FROM THE BACK?” thirty years later is a testament to the staying power of this album. The fact that it’s usually a majority non-cis male audience that comes to see us speaks volumes as well. The expectation to perform attractiveness in a society-approved fashion is something I think they all understand. Courtney didn’t perform it — she was vulgar, and strange, and exorcised her demons (or rallied them around her) in public for all to see. She was crucified for it.
In 1991, Pretty On The Inside was a revelation, and it remains so to this day.
Full disclosure, this is a post about a t-shirt. I also wanted to give a little love to the album monuments to thieves by His Hero Is Gone, so yes it is also a double appreciation post, but it really is more specifically to express my excitement about this shirt by Julien Baker which (lovingly) copped the art from the album.
The album came out in 1997 and is a classic by the seminal Memphis hardcore band, while the shirt was released in May 2020 as a benefit for ACLU of Tennessee. It being a clear respectful nod to the DIY culture and city from which Baker came, plus it being for a great cause, led to me pretty much immediately parting with my money (my actual shirt is not pictured since its currently covered in cat hair). As a very nerdy music fan, one whose life is also intrinsically and deeply linked to DIY culture, this is one of the things I really adore and keeps me attached to particular artists- when they keep their roots in focus and find ways to work that into their continuing practices as they move up in the industry. It’s not always particularly easy to do this I know, so I do also always love to see it. Especially a deep cut such as this.
Speaking of deep cuts, I definitely wondered at the time this came out how many of Baker’s fans got the reference or would enjoy listening to something by HHIG? I’m pretty sure her fans run a wide gamut ranging from dedicated indie fans to people more on the punk end of the spectrum aka myself. I for one am definitely someone who will think nothing of blasting through something like monuments to thieves and then immediately following it up with a full run through of Baker’s acclaimed 2015 debut album Sprained Ankle and then hitting a Fugazi record seamlessly before steering things back around again to Grouper– I’m sure I’m can’t be the only person in her fanbase that has those listening habits.
As a fan, that may be one of my favorite aspects of her aside from her startling music (as well as her introspective and intelligent takes on many other subjects), not only that she still finds ways to incorporate her punk and DIY roots into her work but that she is such an ardent and unabashed fan of heavy music to begin. I have to say that’s absolutely not what I was expecting the first time I heard her, but I was very excited to find that out about her and I am 100% here for it.
The original artwork for monuments to thieves
While you can stream Baker’s work on pretty much any major platform (including her stellar new record Little Oblivions), His Hero Is Gone is a little more difficult to find in streaming land- this album is not currently on Spotify or Bandcamp- but luckily it is on YouTube. You can listen to and enjoy this classic bit of 90s hardcore crust below.
godheadsilo- thee friendship village e.p.
Kill Rock Stars 211
7inch vinyl 1993
godheadsilo is one of those bands where I am right in the weird grey area of having been just a bit too young to have seen them play live the first time around, during the mid to late 90s, as they likely would not have been playing on a NJ pop punk bill back then, and that was the only way I was able to see live music at the time. My world was more limited back then in terms of where I could go since I couldn’t drive yet (and the internet being a much smaller and more primitive place at the time too), so there was no way I would have seen them or had much access to hear them anywhere else other than a VFW type show in my immediate area- which to my knowledge they never played a show like that in Northern NJ during my time of attending DIY shows as a teen. They went on hiatus for several years starting in the late 90s after drummer Dan Haugh suffered a catastrophic hand injury that left him unable to play for many years, and when they re-united for a show in 2015 and a later tour in 2017, I was still too unfamiliar with them for it to have piqued my interest at the time (though if I could go back in time four years….).
I also admit I probably wasn’t ready for something like this in the 90s anyway because like many teens of that era getting into punk and underground music, I cut my teeth first on pop punk and ska, which was very abundant at the time and is very accessible, so something like this I would have had to mature into a bit I think. I definitely saw the name many times over the years- mostly in Kill Rock Stars and/or Sub Pop ads and inserts in the 90s and then sporadically later on, but never gave them a listen to relatively recently.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love experimental and noisy stuff, and heavily distorted bass and drum bands particularly, so while in their heyday my teenage self would have preferred a pop punk record, this is now something that I will reach for before I ever touch a pop punk record (I do still like the early Lookout! stuff but really can miss just about everything else in the genre these days). How I came to explore them more finally is that they randomly came up on a playlist during the early Covid lockdowns, I think specifically while listening to Lightning Bolt. Spotify suggested them to me on the “radio” feature, so I got invested in listening to them since I had all the time in the world to dig into stuff extensively and really ended up enjoying what I was hearing.
This specific EP I acquired on Discogs a few months ago for a couple of bucks after tearing through all of the albums available on streaming services. While not my favorite thing I’ve listened to by them- that would be the 1996 album Skyward In Triumph– I do dig it and really love the artwork. All four songs could work well in any of their other albums, and being their first release (aside from a 1992 comp track), it serves as a nice little intro to what the band would go on to do so well throughout their all too brief career- the huge walls of sound, the whisper to scream distorted vocals, the noisy interludes, the massive pounding drums. The blue print is all right there in this EP.
In an interview that came out during their 2017 tour, both band members gave different answers as to what the future of the band could or would be, one seeming to want to do more, the other being non committal. You can read that interview here and speculate, but as of right now, nothing more has come from the band. Perhaps the closest thing might have been Three Men and a Baby, which was a long lost album that bassist Mike Kunka recorded with The Melvins in 1998 under the moniker Mike & The Melvins that finally saw the light of day in 2016.
Listen to the EP below. (Note- whoever uploaded this to YouTube reversed the side order and the two songs from the B side “You Must Pay” and “Precipice of Ice,” actually play first before the two songs from the A side “Friendship Village,” and “Master of Balance.” They also listed the tracks in the wrong order in the description)
One of the things that was important to me when starting this blog was to give a space to write about some of the obscure and/or random music I have collected over the years, as well as some of the more quirky and weird stuff I have accumulated too and the odd random piece of merch or other interesting ephemera. A lot of the music I do have in physical format, but some only in the digital realm and never had in a physical form. The one thing that unites it all is that all are things that likely are not to be talked about very much in other music blogs.
Sure I want to have reviews of new releases and show coverage and all the good stuff. But to me, the really good stuff is a long dissolved band I saw once in 1998 and I got their demo tape, or a 7inch with a grainy black and white cover that a band put out in the late 80s before promptly dropping off the face of the earth, leaving me to find their record in a run down shop for $2 in 1995. Or even much more recent things like one-off Bandcamp projects that 12 other people downloaded at the time. And let us not forget the gems of thrift stores or the used bins of far off record stores I have gotten to explore while touring (or the demos by bands I got to play with along the way).
So this is the place for it, the Undercroft, where I will pick random things from my collection that I enjoy, to not only talk about about why I like it, but share how I came to acquire it (if I know/remember…and there’s a good chance that I will) or any particular memories around it either as a physical item or the music itself; not much is really off limits here. The other FTA staff members may join in from time to time as well.
I will also to the very best of my ability share a link so you can hear said music too (or peppy workout record from the 70s…I went through a phase, it was a whole thing…) and invite your thoughts on it as well. These are all things that have stuck with me for one reason or another, maybe I loved something or maybe I just couldn’t stand to throw it away. But the common thread is I either want to bring wider attention to it, or giggle at myself over it (see above RE workout records). In any case, I look forward to sharing some of this epic randomness with with you so stay tuned!