As Live Through This turns 25, the band discuss the trauma and pop tactics that charged its release as well as their comeback
Raw, beautiful and highly angry: 25 years ago the grunge movement birthed its most powerful album. A raging takedown of body fascism, self-doubt and sexual assault in pre- #MeToo America, Hole’s Live Through This was weaponised feminism with frontwoman Courtney Love as its seethe general. Yet the release was marred by tragedy, going on sale only four days after the body of Love’s husband Kurt Cobain was is available at their home in Seattle and two months before Hole’s bass player Kristen Pfaff died of a drug overdose.
” When it came out, there was so much horrible other stuff happening in my life that I didn’t even think about it ,” Love says of just how commercial a record dealing with brutal personal trauma came to be. Across the album’s 12 ways, Love was dealing with her experience in the only way she and her non-college trained community knew how.” We were from the kick, punch, scream, scream until they leave us alone and/ or a combo of that with a guitar kind-of generation; we didn’t have speech for that kind of stuff ,” she explains. Even so, notions for lyrics came thick and fast.” It’s really about:’ Do I have something to say ?'” Love says of her approach to songwriting.” And when you’re young you have a lot to say .”
If the content on Live Through This was gritty and rough, then its sound was surprisingly tuneful- a sonic quantum leap from their scuzzy earlier material. Here there were lush nods to 1970 s classic stone that would become even more overt on its Fleetwood Mac-worshiping 1998 follow-up, Celebrity Skin.” We had been flirting with pop from the beginning, but needed to get out a lot of angst before refining our voice ,” explains Hole’s guitarist Eric Erlandson of their musical makeover.” Soon after we had recorded[ 1991 debut] Pretty on the Inside, the tide began to shift. Not just for us, but for everybody in the so-called underground at the time .”
The clatter of Sonic Youth and Steve Albini’s Big Black- artists that Love had referenced in a newspaper advert when forming Hole in 1989- made style for the slickness of Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. These bands were still loud and confrontational but also deeply melodic, preferring traditional song structure over noodling experimentation. Erlandson recalls a pivotal night at Los Angeles’s underground coffee shop Jabberjaw, when they find Nirvana play sungs from their then-unreleased album Nevermind.” This was the first time we began to understand how the dynamics of the Gremlin and tight Beatles-y pop song construction could be married with punk and noise ,” he says. When touring Pretty on the Inside they wrote two key singles for Live Through This: the caustic but glossy Billy Corgan breakup song Violet and the harmony-laden self-examination of Doll Parts.” This melodic germ had taken us ,” says Love.” I was very happy about it .”
In October 1993, Love, Erlandson, Pfaff and drummer Patty Schemel ran from LA to the Triclops Studio in Marietta, Georgia, to record their second album, and their major label debut after being signed to David Geffen’s DGC Records in 1992. Love was happy because the studio was close to the home of her idols REM and even happier that they had made the decision to fully commit to the two weeks of recording day.” We didn’t do any medications, which was great, because we liked narcotics ,” Love explains. Well, that was the idea.” I was on medications, but I didn’t bring them into the studio ,” confesses Schemel. However, when Cobain visited, an associate “whos not” in the band started to bring illicit substances into the room.” All of sudden there were medications,[ brought in because] Kurt came down … and alcohol and there hadn’t been much of that, so I got really mad at that guy ,” says Schemel. But Cobain attained himself useful and sang backing vocals on a couple of tracks. Kinda.” It was a side note and not taken seriously ,” adds Erlandson.” He patently didn’t, when you hear what he actually sang and mumbled !”
When it came to nailing their revamped voice, Love knew that how the drums were recorded would be vital in getting the tone she wanted.” That was one thing where I genuinely did lean on Kurt, because he understood drums ,” she says.” So I built him stimulate me a little map. Somewhere I still have Kurt’s little map of drums. It is so cool .” Schemel joined the band in mid-1 992, replacing Pretty on the Inside-era drummer Caroline Rue and adding her own postage.” Caroline’s style was a little bit more tribal but was amazing and so worked for those[ early] ballads ,” says Schemel,” but when I came it was more about dynamics and putting the drama into those[ new] songs.
The drummer also remembers how powerful it was to hear Love’s previously private thinks surrounding her relationship with Cobain and daughter Frances Bean come out in her music. “[ I was] hearing her feelings around what was happening to them and what was happening in her life through the lyrics. She didn’t really talk about that at all … It would come out in a song .” These related to the battle Love and Cobain went through to maintain custody of Frances Bean( following a child welfare investigation in 1992) on I Considered that I Would Die (” I want my newborn/ Who took my baby ?”) and self-image on Plump (” They say I’m plump/ But I throw up all the time “). They also referenced her doubt around the early days of her relationship with Cobain on Doll Parts (” I love him so much it just turns to detest “) and, on Asking for It, the time she was sexually assaulted when crowdsurfing.” All lyrics I’ve ever written are from a realistic place ,” explains Love. She also nixed plenty for being too outrageous.” Some were too vulgar, which was a big thing for me back then, because I was all about vulgar and I didn’t give a shit .”
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