Hole - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
It’s a shame Hole’s prolific legacy is so inextricably linked to the desperate public antics of frontwoman Courtney Love. As a legitimate and eclectic contributor to the early 90’s grunge movement, Hole brought the rawest form of riot grrl power to the grunge boys club and redefined the mainstream’s notion of a woman’s place in rock. This was both a good and a bad thing. In a relatively short period of time, Courtney Love proved she and her band could rock harder than any of her angst ridden male counterparts, however, while doing so Love also became the poster child for the movement’s tainted ideology, corporate homogenization, and narcissistic overindulgence. As if being the widow of the late iconoclast Kurt Cobain didn’t detracted from Hole’s public legitimacy enough, Love went on to actively cultivating a lewd and lascivious public persona that singlehandedly shattered the band’s artistic integrity in the latter half of their career. Public relations nightmares like giving slanderous interviews while intoxicated, innumerable stints in rehab, ongoing court battles with Cobain’s former Nirvana band mates, child custody struggles, and numerous failed court appearances and subsequent arrests have, unfortunately, overshadowed the fact that Hole created Live Through This (1994 Geffen), one of the quintessential albums of the grunge movement. By the late 90’s, Love was better known as the most controversial woman in rock than she was for being an artist and musician, so it wasn’t surprising when Hole finally buckled under the force of her downward spiral in 2002. If anything, Courtney Love will go down in history as Hole’s mad genius and worst enemy.
Courtney Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson formed Hole during the winter of 1989 in Los Angeles, California with short lived members Jill Emery (bass) and Caroline Rue (drums). Numerous lineup changes within the rhythm section would become the norm for Hole, with Love and Erlandson the only constants throughout the group’s lifespan. A self professed rock groupie, Love had previously moonlighted as a stripper and independent film actress when she wasn’t being ousted from various punk and riot grrl outfits like Sugar Baby Doll and The Pagan Babies due to her irrational personality. Thriving on raw power, violent amounts of guitar distortion, and a screamo aesthetic with the volume turned up to 11, this early incarnation of Hole encapsulated a late 80’s DIY movement that was too underground to even be considered alternative. The band played their first gig after only three months of rehearsals and began releasing 7” singles shortly thereafter on L.A. based indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry. Produced by Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon and Gumball mastermind Don Fleming, Hole’s debut full length Pretty On The Inside (1991 Caroline) largely focused on abrasive punk rock with slight hints of a melodic underbelly that would rise to prominence as their signature sound on future releases. Pretty On The Inside was a moderate success in the alternative world but Hole still languished in the underground. That all changed on February 24, 1992 when Love married Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the time, Cobain was arguably the biggest rock star in the world and the surprise wedding thrust Love into a celebrity limelight she simultaneously craved and loathed in equal measure. The birth of the couple’s daughter, Francis Bean Cobain, six months later only exacerbated the media scrutiny on both Love and Cobain. The upside of being Mrs. Cobain, however, secured Hole a lucrative eight album contract with Nirvana’s label, Geffen, who rushed Hole back into the studio in 1993 to begin work on their sophomore full length. By this time both Emery and Rue had been replaced by drummer Patty Schemel and bassist Kristen Pfaff.
Characterized by the perfect blend of guitar dissonance and driving melodies, Live Through This (1994 DGC) was a remarkable creative leap forward that garnered huge critical praise. But it was the suicide of Kurt Cobain a mere week before the album’s release that made Live Through This a massive commercial success. Regardless, Live Through This spawned the mainstream radio hits, “Miss World”, “Violet”, and particularly the funereal alternative dirge “Doll Parts”, eventually going platinum and making numerous best album of year lists. Tragedy struck again just two months after the album’s release when bassist Pfaff died of an apparent heroin overdose, causing the band to postpone their subsequent tour. Pfaff was replaced by bassist Melissa Auf der Maur (who came highly recommended by Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan), and Hole finally embarked on a year long tour supporting Nine Inch Nails in September of 1994.
After releasing the b-sides and live cuts compilation, Ask for It (1995 Caroline) Hole went on a quiet hiatus for the next three years while Love pursued a film career, earning a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Larry Flynt’s late wife, Althea, in the 1996 biopic The People vs. Larry Flynt. Around this time Love traded in her grungy smeared make up baby doll look for a more mature and sophisticated public image befitting a Hollywood starlet, inviting even more tabloid scrutiny when she became briefly engaged to up-and-coming leading man Edward Norton. Hole made several attempts at recording a third full length album throughout 1997 but a severe case of writers block resulted in nothing but scrapped recording sessions. Determined to finish the record, Love invited fellow musicians Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, Jordon Zadorozny of Blinker the Star, and Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go’s to assist in fleshing out the material. Corgan’s involvement came under intense scrutiny when a rumor circulated that Corgan, not Love, penned the majority of the album’s tracks. Corgan and Love have consistently denied the rumor with Love stating Corgan only offered constructive feedback on five of the album’s twelve tracks. Perhaps sensing grunge’s waning popularity, Celebrity Skin (1998 Geffen) abandoned the grunge aesthetic for unadulterated power pop, spawning the hit singles “Malibu” and “Celebrity Skin” along with heaps of critical praise. Celebrity Skin also earned the band two Grammy nominations for Best Rock Vocal and Best Cinematography for the “Malibu” music video. Hole embarked on a year long joint tour with Marilyn Manson throughout 1999 but dropped out after a few months when a rift developed over profit sharing.
Hole amicably lost bassist Auf der Maur the following year when she replaced longtime Smashing Pumpkins bassist D’Arcy in 2000. Over the next three years Love became mired in a highly publicized drug problem that eventually resulted in a custody battle over daughter Francis Bean with Cobain’s mother. Love subsequently logged more court time in a lengthy legal dispute with former Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Noveselic over the band’s royalties. By 2002 it was more than apparent Love was in no condition to reconvene with the band, and Hole announced their disbandment later that year. Erlandson continues to play as a sought after session musician and producer and Love released her first solo album, America’s Sweetheart (Virgin) in 2004. Currently, Courtney Love is working on her second solo release titled Nobodies Daughter, with producer Linda Perry.