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LiveNIRVANA.com > Sessions History > Studio Sessions > April 2–6, 1990 - Studio A, Smart Studios, Madison, WI, US

LIVE NIRVANA SESSIONS HISTORY:
April 2–6, 1990 - Studio A, Smart Studios, Madison, WI, US View in Google Maps

Artist

  • NIRVANA
    • Channing, Chad (drums)
    • Cobain, Kurt (vocals, guitar)
    • Novoselic, Krist (bass)

Crew

  • Olsen, Doug (engineer)
  • Vig, Butch (producer, engineer)

Set

  • [O] In Bloom
  • [O] Dive
  • [O] Lithium
  • [O] Here She Comes Now
  • [O] Breed
  • [O] Stay Away
  • [O] Sappy
  • [O] Polly

Format

  • Audio: 1-inch 16-track analog magnetic tape (session tape)

Best available sources

Source Quality Complete Runtime Lowest Gen Tracks Featured Notes
SBD #1 10.0 No 0:05:00 Official CD (Various Artists - Heaven And Hell: A Tribute To The Velvet Underground, Communion No. 20CD) • Here She Comes Now Mixed by Butch Vig, June 1990
SBD #2a 10.0 No 0:03:53 Official CD (Incesticide) • Dive Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. Dive is less complete here than on SBD#2e, but is considered to be of superior sound quality.
SBD #2b 10.0 No 0:03:27 Official CD (Various Artists - DGC Rarities Vol. 1) • Stay Away Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. Stay Away appears under the title Pay To Play. Stay Away is less complete here than on SBD#2e, but is considered to be of superior sound quality.
SBD #2c 10.0 No 0:04:31 Official VHS (Various Artists - Sub Pop Video Network, Program 1) • In Bloom Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990.
SBD #2d 9.0 No 0:03:01 Official CD (Nightly Nirvana Promo CD, Week 2 episode 8) • Breed Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. Breed appears under the title Immodium. Omits the intro found on SBD#2f, but is considered to be of superior sound quality.
SBD #2e 10.0 No 0:18:23 Official CD (Nevermind, Deluxe Edition, catalog#: 2777903) • Lithium (mix 6)
• Polly
• Stay Away
• Dive
• Sappy
Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. The intro to Dive is longer here than on other sources. Stay Away appears under the title Pay To Play.
SBD #2f 9.0 No 0:17:46 ANA(2)>FLAC • Breed
• Stay Away
• Sappy
• Polly
• Lithium (mix 6)
Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. This source is sometimes referred to as the Top Secret tape. Breed is more complete here than on SBD#2d, but is considered to be of inferior sound quality. Lithium (mix 6) cuts out slightly.
SBD #3a 8.5 No 0:18:06 ANA(1)>FLAC • In Bloom
• Dive
• Lithium (mix 7)
• Here She Comes Now
Alternative mixes by Butch Vig, April 1990. Copied from Chad Channing's tape.
SBD #3b 10.0 No 0:01:32 Official DVD (Classic Albums: Nevermind) • Lithium (mix 7) Alternative mix by Butch Vig, April 1990. Lithium has some voice-over commentary and is less complete here than on SBD#3a, but is still considered to be of superior sound quality. Audio is lossy at 192 kbps.
SBD #3c 10.0 No 0:07:42 Official CD (Nevermind, Deluxe Edition, catalog#: 2777903) • In Bloom
• Breed
Alternative mix by Butch Vig, April 1990. Breed appears under the title Immodium.
SBD #3d 9.0 No 0:04:07 ANA(3)>CDR(1)>FLAC • Dive Alternative mixes by Butch Vig, April 1990. This source is sometimes referred to as Kurdt's Tape Side A. Collectors are divided as to whether this or SBD#3e is the best source for Dive (alt. mix).
SBD #3e 9.0 No 0:08:29 ANA(2)>FLAC • In Bloom
• Dive
Alternative mixes by Butch Vig, April 1990. This source is sometimes referred to as the Top Secret tape. Collectors are divided as to whether this or SBD#3d is the best source for Dive (alt. mix).
SBD #4 7.5 No 0:04:10 Unofficial 7" (Total Fucking Godhead) • Lithium Alternative electric mix by Butch Vig, April 1990. Lithium appears under the bootleg-given title Broken Mirrors.
SBD #5 10.0 No 0:02:56 Official CD (Nevermind, MFSL Gold CD, catalog#: UDCD 666) • Polly Mixed by Andy Wallace, 1991. Mastered by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs.
SBD #6 10.0 No 0:02:11 Official DVD (Classic Albums: Nevermind) • Polly Deconstructed mix by Butch Vig, 2004. Vig isolates tracks, highlighting various elements within the song. Polly features a false start not found on other sources. The song is incomplete and has voice-over commentary throughout. Audio is lossy at 192 kbps.
SBD #7 TBC No TBC Official Video Game DLC (Rock Band) • Polly Stem mix by Universal Mastering, 2007. Polly cuts in slightly.

Notes

This session was booked with the intention of recording a second Sub Pop album. (1) After hearing Butch Vig's production on Killdozer's 12 Point Buck, Sub Pop co-founder, Jonathan Poneman, called Vig to propose that he record an album with NIRVANA. Poneman had apparently hyped the band to Vig by saying, These guys are going to be bigger than the Beatles! (1) Vig would later become famous for his production on Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream.

From the start of the session, Cobain remained fairly quiet, letting Novoselic do much of the talking, while Channing took direction from the other two members of the band. Novoselic took the lead in checking out Vig's punk-rock credentials, He asked me about a lot of punk records, asked if I could get this or that kind of sound, remembers Vig. They didn't want too clean or trebly; they wanted to sound real heavy. (2)

Vig contemplated how he could change the artificial recording environment to make the recordings match the live fury and intensity for which the band had become renowned. He considered several ideas before improvising a unique experiment that might accomplish his sonic goal. I put several sheets of plywood on the floor during tracking to make the room sound a little more live, he recalls. (2)

All the Smart songs were recorded using a British-made 25x16" TAC Scorpion control board, and were recorded to 16-track, 1" tape. (2)

For the most part, the band used their own equipment, with the exception of a Fender Bassman that Vig got Cobain to use on Lithium and In Bloom. Vig adds proudly, We [also] used my Yamaha snare drum on several songs, the same one that was also used on Smashing Pumpkins' Gish. (2)

Most of the basic song arrangements were complete by the time NIRVANA arrived at Smart, though Channing says that some of them still needed work, It took a while to get going, the drummer recalls. I think at this particular session, it was slower trying to get the sounds together. Some of the songs weren't even finished. Some of them were ideas we'd run through a couple of times and then we had to go on tour. There was a feeling of hesitancy, recording some of the songs, because of the not readiness about them that Kurt had. And there was some apprehension about what songs to record. They were so different than Bleach—it was a drastic change. (2)

Whereas the band had had two weeks of rehearsal before going into the studio to record Bleach, this time they had been forced to work out most of their songs on the road, We used soundchecks and the shows themselves to work on new songs, Channing remembers. (2)

Engineer, Doug Olsen, recalls the Lithium session as being a very down day for Cobain: Kurt was in a very sour mood. He just made everyone miserable. (2)

Vig also recalls finding Cobain's demeanor somewhat disconcerting: I found immediately that he would go into these mood swings where half an hour later he would be in a corner by himself and not talking to anyone, very maniac depressive and it took me a long time to figure out how his personality went in all these different directions. (3)

I remember a couple of times just sitting around with Krist and Chad, adds Olsen. Chad seemed a nice guy, but he seemed ill at ease. There was definitely something going on between him and Kurt, where Kurt was not psyched about something… that did come to a head at one point. (2)

Novoselic says the major difference in Lithium between the Smart sessions and the Sound City sessions was that he had improvised on his bass playing at the time. I did some work on that bassline in Lithium, he notes. I enriched the bass playing at little more [at Sound City] but that was about all we changed. (2)

Novoselic notes that there was originally another bridge within In Bloom. We recorded that song, and all the other songs at Smart, on a 16-track, the bass player recalls. And when we were listening to it, after we'd recorded it, we said, Ah, this bridge isn't that hot. So Butch just took out a razor blade and cut the bridge out of the 16-track master, and then threw it in the garbage. (2)

At one point during the Smart sessions, Vig recalls, Kurt climbed behind the kit and attempted to show Chad the fills on In Bloom. Kurt wasn't a good drummer, but he got his ideas across. (2)

Channing recalls Here She Comes Now as being one of the few takes that went smoothly at Smart, I was shocked we did that one, he remembers, that was a fun song. Novoselic says that the reason the band covered the song was because they'd been asked to by an indie label. Gary from Tupelo Records called up and said he was putting out a Velvet Underground tribute record, and he wanted us to play on it. We had never played that song before [the Smart sessions] and we hardly ever played it after. We just kind of hashed it out. We did that song in one take. (2)

The rendition of Polly captured at this session was so successful that it was used on Nevermind. Vig recalls it as being the final track recorded at Smart, done late at night and really raw. (4) Polly was recorded with Kurt and Krist playing live, Vig explains. Then we went back after the guitars were finished and overdubbed vocals. Kurt sang harmonies with himself. Chad overdubbed the cymbal crashes last. (2)

Vig doubts that there were any other songs or outtakes saved: If a take wasn't a keeper, we'd just erase it and do another one. I sent the tapes to Sub Pop; there may be something else on them. And I don't know if Kurt had any other songs finished or not, cause he didn't play me anything else at the time. (5)

The Smart log notes that Vig mixed all but one song on April 11, 12 and 13. For some reason, Vig says, I didn't mix Here She Comes Now until June 8, 1990. (2)

Many of the other songs were re-recorded for Nevermind, and often changed their titles. At the time of recording this session, Breed was known as Immodium. Stay Away featured slightly different lyrics and was known as Pay To Play. (1)

The Smart/Sub Pop recordings were initially planned for release in September 1990 as either an EP or a full-length album. Vig had thought that he might record a few more songs with the band to round out the proposed second album. (2)

Once Chad had departed, the two original members decided not to release the Smart sessions in an album format. Novoselic explains: We knew [the Smart session] wasn't going to be our next record at that point. (2)

Meanwhile, in Seattle, the tape had become the one cassette that everyone in the city had to get a dub of. They had actually made up these demo tapes, recalls Jack Endino. They gave me the tape and it said NIRVANA on it with this little hand-made cover. There were six or seven songs, plus they had put Love Buzz on the end of it. And they were calling it a demo. In other words, they were shopping it. And Krist said, Don't tell Sub Pop I gave this to you, but this is what we're sending out to try to get a deal. They were giving it out trying to get some interest. (2)

References

  1. Azerrad, Michael, 1993. Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana. Doubleday.
  2. Berkenstadt, Jim & Cross, Charles R., 1998. Classic Rock Albums: Nevermind. Schirmer Books.
  3. Vig, Butch, 1999. Entertain Us: The Nirvana Story, [radio] BBC Radio One, April 5, 1999.
  4. Henderson, Peter, 1998. Titanic! The Nevermind Recording Sessions, MOJO, [online] Available at: http://www.livenirvana.com/sessions/reading/mojo54.php.
  5. Gaar, Gillian G., 1997. Verse Chorus Verse: The Recording History Of Nirvana, Goldmine, [online] Available at: http://www.nirvanaclub.com/articles/02.14.97.html.
© Alex Roberts. August 28, 2011