Hole’s 1994 sophomore album, Live Through This, has been hailed by many as one of the most prolific records of the last half-century. The band, and their controversial frontwoman, Courtney Love, defined a generation with biting anthems filled with self-loathing critiques and moody guitars. The record, along with Love’s personal life, catapulted Hole to rock superstardom until their breakup in 2002. But before Live Through This and Celebrity Skin, before gracing the covers of SPIN and Rolling Stone, before Courtney Love married Kurt Cobain, Hole was just a gritty punk band working on their first record, Pretty On The Inside.
An eclectic mix of experimental noise, punk rock and poetry, Pretty On The Inside is criminally underrated. Only in the ’90s revival of the last few years in fashion and music, has the album began to receive even some of the credit it deserves. Produced by Kim Gordon and Don Fleming, with the original lineup—Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, Jill Emery and Caroline Rue—Pretty On The Inside is a fitting introduction for a band like Hole. Aggressive, sarcastic, chaotic—the album showcases Love’s talent with words and tendency for self-destruction, as well as the musical connection between her and Erlandson. Together, Erlandson and Love are Hole.
The stage for Pretty On The Inside is set from the very first moment—”When I was a teenage whore,” Love growls, atop distorted sludge. Erlandson transitions between heavy metal-inspired riffs and ambient guitars à la Sonic Youth, as Love spits slicing lyrics. With “Babydoll,” the band begins to hone their sound, and on “Clouds,” Hole makes Joni Mitchell completely new. “Good Sister, Bad Sister,” embodies the album’s early feminist spirit, with Love’s gutting examination of the female experience, while “Sassy” channels classic punk in under two minutes. Title track, “Pretty On The Inside,” is as close to perfect as the record gets, offering an early glimpse of the band’s songwriting skills and ability to seamlessly capture any moment.
Pretty On The Inside is both of its time, and ahead—25 years later, the album is just as powerful. Its legacy lies not only in inspiring countless bands, but also as an early ode to feminism and both the power and imperfection in being a girl. Courtney Love was a fearless leader with an undeniable energy—her willingness to throw herself completely into her music is apparent even this early on. Pretty On The Inside tackles familiar themes of female sexuality, violence and control, but does so in a way only Hole can. The venomous mix of Love’s rage and Erlandson’s guitars make for an earnest expression of early grunge—released just a week before Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pretty On The Inside feels fresher, less-produced, more-authentic.
To honor the album on its 25th anniversary, guitarist Eric Erlandson has re-interpreted Pretty On The Inside for strings. Instead of covering the songs or trying to recreate them in the same vein, the guitarist has decided to reinvent them as a classical piece called Pretty Looking Back.
BULLETT called Erlandson to talk about the album and what it’s like to hear it on violin.
On Pretty Looking Back:
If someone does an orchestral performance of a Radiohead album, it’s not as interesting because they’re already so musical. […] But taking this album and turning it on its head, and making it into a classical piece is so exciting for me. It’s kind of like “Credit in the Straight World,” which was a Young Marble Giants song. It was a very beautiful, very minimalist song the way they did it, and then we took it and made it into Led Zeppelin—it’s the same concept. There’s some really dark moments, and some of the moments that were dark on the record, the orchestra version is very light and beautiful and classic. I hate covers that are exactly the same, and I hate when a band plays an album live exactly the same as the record. We were never that type of band and I’m not interested in that. I’m just not really interested in going back and trying to recreate something that can’t be recreated because it’s a snapshot in time. Instead, what do you do? You recreate it in a new context that makes it exciting again, and makes you look at the lyrics and the music in a whole new light.
On Pretty On The Inside:
It was recorded live for the most part in four days. Recording that quickly is hard because you’re just under the gun and you have to just make it happen. But there’s something good about that, too—it’s exciting and invigorating and you’re forced to go places you wouldn’t go if you had more time. With later albums, there was definitely some moments where there was struggle to finish something or get something recorded right and this wasn’t like that at all—we were just so excited about it.
Don Fleming, the co-producer, was into this liquor called Pint, which is a whiskey, I think. He made us search every liquor store in the area to find who carried it, and finally we found a bottle of it, because he was obsessed with it. Then he made us all drink it, and we really weren’t a big drinking band to start with, so we got really drunk. Then he was just like, ‘Ok go play,’ and that’s what came out. I always appreciated that we were able to improvise on the spot like that, and connect with each other.
“Good Sister, Bad Sister:”
“Good Sister, Bad Sister” was obviously a classic riot grrrl anthem.
“Mrs. Jones” was a Bauhaus rip-off.
“Starbelly” was more of an experimental thing—Courtney and I did a noise thing, where I was playing “Fiddler on the Roof” and she was reading from a local Hollywood paper, like an advice column or something. So we took that idea and were fooling around with it.
“Clouds” is still one of my favorite cover songs that we’ve ever done. That was completely live vocals, first or second take, basically totally live in the studio. That’s why the vocals are all distorted, but she nailed it on that song.
I’ve always had a thing for “Babydoll.” Just something about the way it came together—I just started playing this riff in a really strange tuning and the way it evolved from there. It’s almost kind of prog-y, punky, noisey, bluesy—it’s just such a weird mix of everything and with those lyrics on top of it, it’s very unique.
We weren’t very good at editing back then so some of the songs are so drawn out and plotting, but the lyrical content is there. I realize now that Courtney was recycling lyrics from one song into another—like “Good Sister, Bad Sister” into “Mrs. Jones,” there’s a couple links. I’m catching these things now that I’ve been examining it, because I never really looked at it that closely before. We were just in it and then moving onto the next thing. Right after Pretty On The Inside came out, we were touring, and we’d already written new songs like “Doll Parts,” and “Violet.” Then Nevermind broke and all the sudden we were signed to Geffen within six months of its release. So these songs were kind of just put aside.
On writing for the album:
Every song was kind of different. Some came from us jamming in rehearsal, working out ideas, some started in our bedroom with just a riff and a lyric. We never had a specific process—especially back then, because everything was so raw. We were just taking all these influences and putting them together. […] We only had a few singles before this album, so we’d had a few songs, enough for a set, but we’d force ourselves to write new songs for shows. A lot of songs would come in threes—like you could tell “Teenage Whore” and “Good Sister, Bad Sister” are cousins.
On the band’s musical influences at the time:
Courtney had discovered through Mark Arm, of Mudhoney, that she could scream in key. So you can hear a lot of Mark Arm in her vocals on that album—her take on Mark Arm, anyway, which is his take on Iggy. We also had a big Sonic Youth influence going on and we were really into Gun Club, The Wipers. I was really into a lot of New York no wave, so mixing that with Courtney trying to do Fleetwood Mac, it comes out totally insane—that’s really what we were doing. Caroline came from more of a punk rock, tribal thing, and Jill was into really dark, moody, almost jazzy stuff, but really beautiful. You put all that stuff together and that combination is pretty nuts.
On looking back:
We could’ve edited things a little better, and the main thing is the recording—I’m kind of bummed because I really can’t go back and fix that. But it is what it is, and it captures that moment. If it was cleaned up too much, it would lose some of that magic. With my writing—not music writing, but my actual writing—sometimes I look back and cringe, because that’s where you’re really bare, and words can be limiting. Sometimes symbols can’t relate the right feelings, so if you can’t get it right, you cringe when you hear it again, and sometimes, bad notes are like that. But if you appreciate that it was just a moment in time, there’s nothing to cringe about when you remember that’s where you were at that exact moment. It’s like with a relationship—you think, ‘Ugh what was I thinking,’ but if you just go back and think that’s where you were and you were doing the best that you could, and you might have made mistakes, but it helped you grow. Without this album, we never would’ve made Live Through This.
On the album’s legacy:
I think it’s on the feminist angle, or the female empowerment angle, because you’re talking about 1991, Nirvana, Nevermind—everybody is going to go to that, and that’s a very boy thing. There’s three guys in that band, and Kurt was very macho in a lot of ways with his take on music—even though people don’t see him that way, if you listen to that music, it’s very aggressive. Our music was very aggressive too, but three of the people in the band were women, and they were the ones playing that aggression. At that time, that was still a radical thing, a very radical thing. In fact, not still—it was the start of a radical thing, because it was pre-riot grrrl, before all that, and I think it’s important still. If you look at pop music now, it’s just completely vapid, and it’s not expressing a real feminine experience—it’s expressing only one side of the feminine, but not the full picture that we were going for. […] Plus, the fact that it’s raw and it wasn’t played on the radio to the point where everybody is numb and sick of hearing it, like a lot of Nirvana at this point—sometimes, the things that are more important stay lurking underneath the mainstream for a long time, and have more of a visceral effect, a more subconscious effect than the mainstream mass radio, the mainstream brainwashing effect.
Check out Pretty Looking Back: An Orchestral Interpretation of Hole’s Pretty On The Inside, tonight at The Regent in Los Angeles. You can buy tickets, here.