LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE September ??, 1991 - London, UK

Interviewer(s)
James Sherry
Interviewee(s)
Kurt Cobain
Dave Grohl
Publisher Title Transcript
Metal Hammer No Compromise - No Restrictions Yes
Earshot Records Nirvana: Interviews 1990 - 1992 "My Dad Was A Codeine Freak" Yes

Although Nirvana's first major label album, 'Nevermind' (Geffen) can be seen as a new beginning for the band, it is by no means a sell out; just an expansion on their overall sound. Nirvana no longer feel that they are restricted to the one style and aren't afraid to experiment a little. Obviously some won't agree, and would prefer to see Nirvana still sticking to the full-on Grunge sound that they began with, but not being a group to play by any standard rules, Nirvana say 'Fuck 'em all!' The question is, have Chris Novoselic (bass), David Grohl (drums) and Kurt Kobain (guitar/vocals) actually been accused of 'selling out' yet?

Kurt: "The only time we really think about anything like that, is when we're asked it. No one's actually come up to us saying, 'I hate you now!'"

It does happen to a lot of bands though; especially if they come from a real 'indie' scene/movement.

Kurt: "It is expected by bands when they do eventually sign to a major and I used to think the same thing a few years ago, but us signing to a major has got absolutely nothing to do with the slight change in sound."

'Nevermind' doesn't exactly follow on from their debut 'Bleach', it's streets ahead of that. Kurt's vocal melodies and soaring guitar sound have been brought forward, resulting in what could be called a more 'poppy' sound, but still keeping the heaviness in yer face!

Kurt: "I think we were a pop band, even before we recorded the 'Bleach' album. 'About A Girl' is the only pop song that ended up on the album, but we'd written many like it before. We've always liked pop music."

David: "Also, I think people who've just bought the 'Bleach' album and think it's great will then see the new record's on a major label, see the difference and think we're a bunch of sell outs, but 'Bleach' was recorded two years ago, so we've obviously changed a bit since then."

Last year's 'Sliver' single acted as a warning of what was to come.

Kurt: "Yeah, I think we've been warning people in every interview we've done that things are changing. It won't be a big shock. Hopefully people will be pleasantly surprised."

Has life changed a lot for the band, now that things are being done on a more professional basis?

Kurt: "We're much more relaxed with what we can do now. We don't have to worry about our record company and things like that anymore. We've also got a manager now, so we don't have to deal with any business stuff. We make the decisions, he just has to take all the phone calls and tell people to fuck off!"

David: "The main difference is the fact that we've suddenly got a schedule to stick to and we're actually working constantly. It gets pretty mad!"

With the buzz that's currently flying around about Nirvana, they've become the band that everyone wants to talk to!

Kurt: "Imagine this though; we're ready to go home, we've been here for two weeks. We've got quadruple that amount of time to go yet. And every day we're going to have interviews… oh Jesus!"

David: "I quit!"

And what of the future?

Kurt: "We've got a whole load of new songs and we're thinking about going to record them at the same place as we recorded 'Bleach'. It'll be very different from 'Nevermind' in both of the extremes, as far as being mellow and being heavy and abrasive. It'll be like there's no middle ground. So far, that's the way the songs have been turning out. I mean, we like doing lots of different styles. Sometimes the more abrasive stuff can get a bit boring because we've been doing it for four years but that doesn't mean we're going to stop, we're just going to experiment with it more."

Stick with this band; they have the power to send cracks ripping through the whole scene. 'Bleach' and 'Nevermind' are just the beginning. Believe it.

© James Sherry, 1991

James Sherry: So, how fucked up were you at Reading when you played? Because it was total chaos, It was fucking excellent, I thought. I mean…

Krist Novoselic: I had a good buzz going but I wasn't really fucked up.

Dave Grohl: I was sort of, I had a nice little buzz going, then once I got on stage and looked at how massive everything was, I sorta like sobered up. Boing!

Kurt Cobain: Yeah, yeah.

JS: You looked like you were having loads of fun anyway.

DG: Yeah, it was great fun.

JS: Have you played festivals like that before?

KC: First time.

JS: Was it really nerve-wracking or…?

DG: Y'know, I was…

KC: I was really relaxed. I don't know why…

DG: I was really nervous at first. I mean, I woke up that morning really early, like my fear of playing in front of so many people woke me up. I woke up like “Oh my God, I'm going to play in front of twenty thousand people!” Like, Jesus… But then after like the first two songs everything was alright.

JS: that's cool. Did you think the festival was good overall, did you enjoy it overall?

KC: Yeah, definitely.

KN: Excellent. We were only there for the first day, we had to leave. But, umm…

KC: But that night after we played, Sonic Youth played, all our friends were there y'know? Babes in Toyland, Mudhoney, Hole… Everyone was there, so we all got drunk and had a great time.

JS: It was fucking brilliant this year.

DG: Yeah…

JS: So how's it going with Geffen? Is everything going really cool with them?

KN: Going great.

JS: Has anyone… Have you had many sell-out accusations given you've moved to a major label?

KC: No, no one's accused us, no one's actually come up to us and said “I hate you now!”

JS: Yeah, “you've signed to a major now,” because some bands do get that.

KC: Yeah, It's expected too. I used to think the same thing a few years ago. But I think We've been a pop band even before we recorded the “Bleach” album. “About a Girl” is really the only pop song that ended up on the “Bleach” album but we had written many like it before so We've always liked pop music. We've always been the same band.

DG: And also I think if people who just bought the “Bleach” record, like you say, a couple months ago and they think “wow this is great,” then they see that the new record is on a major label they'll think “gee, There's such a big difference, what a bunch of sell-outs.” But I guess, what, it was two years? Y'know? There's been a massive time.

KC: Over two years now…

JS: What made you choose Geffen?

KN: Sonic Youth was on there… We talked to a lot of different people at a lot of different labels and they seemed they really had it together for what we wanted to do. And they really understood where we were coming from.

JS: I mean, they've been signing a lot of good bands.

KN: Yeah, they just did Teenage Fanclub, and I hear they're chasing Nine Inch Nails. I hope that turns out.

JS: What? Geffen are…?

KC: Yeah… that would be great.

JS: Have things changed a lot for the band since you signed to a major?

KC: Not necessarily.

KN: We are more relaxed with what we can do now, we don't have to worry about our record company…

KC: We've got a manager finally and so the manager deals with all the business…

JS: So you don't have to deal with that kind of stuff.

KC: Well, but he still keeps in contact with us every day and we make the decisions. It is just nice that he has to take all the phone calls and tell people to “fuck off.”

JS: Yeah. Do you find people have treated you slightly differently since you're on a major label? People in the business and stuff like that?

DG: We got a really nice caterer while we were in Germany.

JS: So when does the album get released?

KN: September 24th.

DG: 23rd.

JS: What kind of reaction are you expecting from it?

KC: I dunno, hard to say really.

DG: Hopefully a good one.

KC: We've read a few reviews of the single and they're more than positive. Better than I expected.

JS: I think, since the “Sliver” single anyway, people are going to kind of expect the pop kind of stuff that's going to be on there. It's not going to be like some huge surprise.

KC: Yeah, I don't think so. I think We've been warning people in every interview We've done over the last two years.

JS: So how much time did you spend on the album's production, to make it brilliant basically?

KC: We spent about three weeks.

JS: Who produced it?

KC: Butch Vig.

JS: Are you all pleased with the production overall?

DG: Yeah! It's great!

KC: It's a good mixture of commercial accessibility and still steamed grunge.

JS: A classic has got to be “Territorial Pissings,” I think that's fucking excellent.

DG: You like that one?

KC: that's one of our favorite songs.

JS: I didn't think you were going to do that one live but when you played it, it was insane. So, when are you going to put a tour out there?

KC: we're coming back in November.

KN: we're going to go all the way down to like, Italy and Austria. we're going to go back to the United States and we'll be in the United States about five weeks and the day the tour’s over, or the day after the tour’s over, we fly out here.

KC: Start all over.

KN: Keep crankin’…

DG: I suppose that's probably going to be the big difference being on a major

KN: Oh and jet lag! Aggghhhh…

DG: Everything's all of a sudden…Everything's so scheduled…

KC: Everything's so organized. we're actually working constantly.

JS: How tiring is it overall? Is it pretty…

DG: So far so good.

KN: It gets pretty mad.

DG: When we come here next time I'm sure we'll be fucking ragged out.

KC: Imagine this though, I'm ready to go home, We've been here for two weeks, We've got quadruple that amount of time to go! Way more than that. Ten-fold. Every day we're going to have interviews. Jesus!

DG: I quit!

KN: See, We've been playing live shows for a while, really, We've got no new material. I mean We've been playing new material but not out, We've been playing these new songs that we're really excited about and people’s reactions are just kind of a little reserved because, you know, when you're playing new songs somebody’ll be just kind of listening.

JS: And if they don't know it…

KN: Yeah…

JS: And then as soon as you go into a song everyone knows It's like…

KC: Yeah, right, so it'll definitely spice things up.

JS: But the new songs have been going down really well so far.

DG: “Teen Spirit” especially, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” seems like — It's got that heat.

JS: Quite a few people I've played the album to and people who have heard the album have just said There's such a buzz about it at the moment, everyone keeps going on about it so…Shit, so when it finally gets out it should be fucking explosive. So have you got plans for a follow-up yet or anything yet?

KN: A record?

JS: Have you written any new songs…Recorded?

KN: Well We've got some songs…

KC: Yeah, we have some songs.

KN: We've kind of got some ideas that we want to do.

KC: we're thinking of recording a few songs, going back into Reciprocal and recording on the same equipment we recorded “Bleach” on for a few songs. it'll be very different than this one…

JS: Yeah. In what way?

KC: In both of the extremes as far as being mellow and being heavy and abrasive. It'll be like There's no middle ground — so far, that's the way the songs have turned out.

JS: What kind of stuff do you prefer doing? Is there any particular style you prefer?

KC: Yeah I like doing all of it. I mean… erm… The more abrasive stuff is- sometimes can be more boring because We've been doing it for four years. But that doesn't mean we're going to stop. It's just that we're going to experiment with it more, I dunno… Like some of the songs will sound like The Raincoats and some of them will sound like Big Black.

JS: How do you feel about the way that the press is finally waking up to all this kind of stuff?

KN: It's great.

JS: Now that these bands are starting to get major deals and things like that they seem to be opening their eyes a bit more…

KN: It's good for the public to be exposed to them. Because I think the music is valid music, really high quality, really valid music. Compared to a lot of stuff that you see in the magazines, that's kinda popular…

JS: Corporate rock stuff that's…

KN: Yeah, so, if someone's going to go out and buy a record they're really going to get their money's worth. Really get something out of it. Instead of the ol' redundant stuff…

KC: That stuff seems to be dying out, you know.

KN: I'm happy that we're getting a lot of exposure and stuff, hopefully our record will get out there and people'll spread the gospel about all these cool bands…

KC: When I was fifteen I would have loved to have read about any kind of underground bands.

JS: Have you had kids coming up to you for autographs and things like that?

KN: Yeah.

JS: Having people treat you like rock stars? How do you react to that?

KC: It's calmed down now. At first we were floored by it, we couldn't believe that people — punk rock, supposedly punk rock people — wanted our autographs. It seems like the underground has completely reversed itself. There's still a lot of good vital things going on in it but the rock star part of it — I don't necessarily think it can simply be thought of as ‘we're rock stars and they want our autographs,’ It's just that they appreciate our music so much that they want something extra. They just wanna… It's an excuse to come up and talk to us also.

JS: Yeah, there is that as well, yeah, definitely.

KC: I just assume, I would rather just talk to somebody than give them an autograph, so usually when I do give autographs I usually just take their pen and put an X on their program.

JS: Is it- I would have thought it was mainly more metal kids that come up and do that kind of stuff?

KC: It's hard to even tell the difference between punks and metal kids anymore at our shows, especially in the States because it seems like There's this new breed of people who just naturally like both of the styles. And a lot of them have… A lot of them dress like Mudhoney and have middle-length hair and they just like Rock ‘n’ Roll and they don't even care to be classified anymore. So It's a mixture of the rock star and the punk rock thing at the same time and It's not as boring as the crossover thing.

JS: Yeah. So are you going to stick as a three-piece band or is there any thought of getting a second guitarist or anything like that?

KC: It's been… We've been talking about it lately. There's no way we would get another guitarist in the band unless we were 100% positive that they would work out. It would have to be someone that has an original guitar style. I couldn't think of any musician in any band right now who I'd want to play with, so we'll just have to come across — we're not going to seek out anyone — we'll just have to come across someone, then we might consider it but… We weren't a four-piece when we recorded the “Bleach” album, we told you that probably, so… We've always done it as a three-piece. But y'know, you're pretty limited that way. It's hard for me to concentrate on singing and playing…

JS: Having fun, rocking out… Was it you who threw yourself on the kit at Reading or…? All I saw was, I looked away and suddenly there was these two feet poking out… That was fucking excellent. I mean, when you play do you enjoy that kind of stuff? Because it seems like recently, watching bands, they're doing that kind of stuff and trashing equipment and being stupid and its getting much more popular with bands — which is good I think.

KC: Yeah…

JS: Mudhoney played the Astoria, to a totally packed Astoria, and just pissed around for about thirty minutes — that was fucking brilliant.

KC: It's great, It's a good time. I think It's a natural thing too. It's really natural for rock bands to throw their equipment around and fall down…

JS: Yeah. Do you think It's something about the Seattle bands? What do you think it is about Seattle that's brought on so many of these bands? There's so many bands in one area and so many things going on in that one area, what was it that happened there that made it all sort of explode at one time?

KN: I don't know…

KC: I think for a long time, in the back of everyone's minds, while they were pretending to be punk rockers, they all liked Aerosmith and Alice Cooper but it wasn't cool or hip to admit that. Then, all of a sudden, the Melvins and Soundgarden started playing the slow, heavy stuff and it sounded a lot like… well, similar to Black Sabbath and stuff like that. Then everyone said “OK! It's cool now. I can finally admit it.” It wasn't something that everyone just jumped on, it wasn't like a trend at all. It was just something that was taboo that no one talked about until someone finally did it and everyone went “yeah, we're free!”

JS: So how far do you want to take the band? Do you see it as a Top 40 single band, a huge thing?

KC: It doesn't matter… It doesn't matter. I don't really like playing on really huge stages where There's a barrier dividing you and the audience from each other. that's not very fun.

JS: But that's going to be inevitable in time isn't it? If the band gets huge those are the kinds of places you're going to have to play.

KC: Yeah, well, I think we'll have to think of something, like, umm… we'll do two weeks at [inaudible]…

JS: Yeah, that kind of thing. that's the way to do it, I think.

KC: Well, I'm sure we'll do that a lot, we can do stuff like that. But when we do play the larger venues, we'll have to work out some kind of agreement with the security and the venue to take away the barrier or at least move it in closer, so we can be closer. Because I have to jump into the audience at least every other show and if I can’t even jump twenty feet over the top of a security guy, what’s the point?

DG: Could you have cleared that at the Reading Festival?

JS: How big was that? You don't really see how big that pit is…

KN: There's a whole, like, twenty feet…

DG: Plus the stage is like eight feet high.

KN: Then there's like a little press walk…

KC: So I jumped out into the press part and then I was this far away- I was about a foot away from everyone and I tried to jump up into the crowd but they were so violent that they just grabbed onto my guitar, my hair, my arms and just started pulling on me.

JS: Oh shit, isn't that kinda stuff pretty scary?

KC: Well, yeah, cuz I didn't understand… I mean, I'm only just the fucking guitar player, y'know, so why rip me apart? I just want to jump on top of you, y'know? No, the only thing that annoys me about it is that they don't have any respect for my effects pedals, they always jump onto the effects pedals, rip my guitar out. But There's no sense in there being a rock show where There's seats and you can't even smoke. that's the way it is at this venue called the Moore Theater in Seattle. The bouncers are Nazis, you can't even have fun, you can barely move without a bouncer running you out and beating you out. It just puts a dampener on the whole evening, so we're never going to play that place again.

JS: It used to be a bit like that at the Astoria. They used to have a bit of a bouncer problem. Do you have your own security at all?

KC: No we don't but you do have the opportunity at times to hire…

KN: That'd be a good idea!

KC: … to hire people and you can do that. Like, I think that's what Mudhoney did last time we played with them here at the Astoria.

JS: Yeah, I think they had their own security on when they played here recently as well because the security were actually helping people over the barrier to dive but controlling it so they didn't run all over the stage and stomp up and down on the effects pedals.

KC: Yeah.

DG: But do you know what was amazing, the first time I'd ever seen this, when we played at the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium. There's the barrier — There's probably something like twenty thousand people there — There's the barrier and just maybe like twenty or thirty security guards standing by the barrier. I was thinking, God, if someone was to come over the barrier they’d just get mauled! They had to pull people over the barrier because people were being crushed and someone would just raise their hand up like “pull me out” because they're crushed and It's so hot. And two guys would just pull them out.

KN: And wasn't it where they were passing people when somebody had passed out and there were medics there and they'd grab them and put them on a stretcher. An ambulance…

DG: Now I can see how kids were being killed at the… Donning Festival or something.

JS: Donnington.

DG: If you were to pass out, you'd just slip in…

JS: Yeah, that was during Guns n’ Roses’ set, two kids died, it was such a total crush.

KC: Really?

JS: Yeah, it was really horrible.

KN: That sucks.

KC: Can you imagine dying for Guns n’ Roses? Such a waste.

KN: What a waste!

KC: Yeah, those guys probably didn't even like…

DG: Stop playing.

KC: … send the family flowers or anything. Like, when The Who, when that… When was that again?

KN: Eleven people died. Cincinnati. 1979.

KC: Yeah, The Who concert, those guys were really affected by that. They felt terrible.

JS: I mean, Guns n’ Roses got into so much hassle over that. They were banned from, they played at Wembley Stadium on Saturday and they were banned for swearing on stage, they're never going to be allowed to play there again.

KC: For swearing?

JS: No, it's true! London Council sent them this letter, or someone did, saying that “if you swear on stage…” And the band ended up signing all these contracts saying they wouldn’t swear on stage and Axl walked out on stage with this contract saying “fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…” All this kinda stuff. That kinda stuff’s cool.

KC: That's great, yeah.

KN: That's awesome.

KC: There are a few rebellious Rock ‘n’ Roll qualities Guns n’ Roses have that I kinda like.

JS: Do you ever see yourselves playing with bands like that?

KC: Yeah! Yeah, we're thinking about going on tour with Guns n’ Roses for a couple of weeks just for the hell of it. Because it’d be a ridiculous thing, y’know, just so funny. If you have the chance, go for it. It's not a career move necessarily, It's just it’d be funny. We’d never have to worry about meeting the band or anything because they never hang around with each other anyhow. Yeah. It’d just be kind of a thrill to play in front of that many people, it’d be like a joke.

JS: And also their reaction as well. To having a band like that when they'd be expecting a normal safe rock band and then they get their heads blown off… So, I mean, this single that's coming out off of the album, is this the only one you're going to release or are you going to release a couple more and try…

KC: We'll have a couple more.

JS: … and go for a hit single and see what happens?

DG: I don't know if that's the intention.

KC: We're planning on releasing three singles. Three videos this year once the album is out.

JS: Yeah, I was going to ask about videos, what kinds of ideas have you got? Are you going to just do a straight performance video or something a little bit different?

KC: Well, we just finished a video, our first video, for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — it came in American formats, so they have to transfer it, then you can see it tomorrow. But it was kinda typical, we just… It was pep assembly themed. We invited a few hundred people to come down, fans, sit in the bleachers and watch us. We filmed them watching us, we were playing, we had four cheerleaders with Anarchy As on their sweaters and they were trying to rile up the pep assembly kids. Then the pep assembly pupils start dancing and falling on top of each other and they eventually just mob us and knock us over and start dancing together. Just…Kinda fun.

KN: We have to get going now… Sorry…

JS: That's alright.

© James Sherry, 1991