- Medwin Pregill
- Krist Novoselic
|Columbia Daily Spectator
||Pus Free Pop
Fast thrashy hairgod band makes brilliant debut album on hot trendy independent label, tours like crazy, gets big contract on big label (big money?). Long anticipated second album arrives, well-produced, slick, catchy choruses, cool lyrics, melodies, harmonious, ballads, STRINGS EVEN, shock and indignant cries all round. Critics, fans they sell out. Fuck you says Nirvana.
This is what's gonna happen when Nirvana's new album comes out next week. Nevermind is there major label follow-up to Bleach, their stunning 1989 debut on Sub Pop. In the fall of 1989 Soundgarden caught national attention for Louder Than Love, Seattle got hot, grunge was harder and faster and cooler than ever and Nirvana became one of Sub Pop's most popular acts. They hit the road, toured the whole universe (twice) and then, last spring, they were signed by the David Geffen Company. The April issue of Spin reported that they got $750,000, the biggest contract ever received by an independent band.
Two weeks ago Nirvana's bassist Chris Novoselic was nice enough to let me interrogate him by phone. I sat in my closet in Wallach, he sat in his home in sprawling metropolitan Tacoma, Washington, and drank beer, and we talked about really, really important stuff. He propounded the band's philosophy, and I was enlightened.
Some people believe that pop music is an art, that a song written in a certain way, verse-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus whatever, can achieve something beyond disposable entertainment. Nirvana are a band with that philosophy of pop, seeking to produce what Novoselic called “three minutes of bliss” - gorgeous, stunning, captivating, elevating… liberating.
Chris and I spent the majority of our conversation discussing the significance of what very much appear to be, at least superficially, the symptoms of the Big Sellout. The biggie is the DGC contract, the rumored sum of which - three quarters of a million dollars - is “absolutely not true,” Chris assured me. Their primary motive for signing with a big label was to get more attention, “just to know we could actually have our records in stores.” (As nice as their staff apparently is, Sub Pop has a really hard time shipping product on time and an even harder time meeting demand once it's out.) The band appreciates DGC's efforts to promote the new record, like the staff, and “are proud to be label-mates with Sonic Youth and Teenage Fanclub,” said Chris.
Novoselic and his bandmates see greater exposure for themselves and other bands such as Dinosaur Jr. and L7 on major labels as an opportunity to exert a positive influence on the mainstream. When bands with “something to say” like Jane's Addiction get attention, popular music benefits from diversity.
“We're totally aware that we're a commodity for the label,” he admitted, but rather than feeling pressure from the label to conform to some executive dirtbag's conception of commercial, he thinks that the band has the upper hand in this situation. “They know it works, so why would they fuck with it? They're there to help us, to put our records in the store. We're satisfied ‘cause they work for us.”
In other words, fans who think Nirvana are in it for the money should jump in the river, because the band did it so YOU could find the record and enjoy it, dirtbag. “Besides,” added Novoselic, “the worst thing they could do is drop us.”
Now, people are kind of evil, and they do lie sometimes, in fact a hell of a lot, but Chris shits us not; No way has Nirvana sold out, and the best proof is the album itself. The band has refined its songwriting and playing, and no doubt somebody is gonna protest because of one ballad, but Nevermind is a great, great album, and anybody who says it sucks has pointy rocks in their head. It's a big, mighty, crashing, ecstatic record, and this really is a monstrous band. By the way, the ballad is about bondage and rape.
Musically, the big change from Bleach is that several of its songs are more accessible than those on the first record. Singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain always wrote cool songs, but, as I complained to Chris, a lot of the lyrics and melody on Bleach were frankly incomprehensible due to its subterranean production, an astounding amount of feedback, and the fact that Kurt kind of used to scream a lot. Incredible screams, like terrifying screams, hoarse, agonized, godlike screams. Brrr, scary.
Nevermind sports fairly good production, and rather than washing out the Bands rear edges this only Focuses attention on the songs killer arrangements. Nirvana's greatest talent lies in building threshy, muscular riffs on top of what are essentially really great, catchy pop songs, placing the band with the likes of Screaming Trees, Dinosaur, and Lemonheads. “Everything is for the sake of the song,” said Novoselic, who called Revolver and Rubber Soul two of his favourite records.
Kurt Cobain claims that the album's name is a commentary on the fake, affected apathy of youth, as is the first song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” with the telling lyric, “I find it hard, it's hard to find, oh well, whatever, never mind” before breaking into the chorus, “Well the light's out, this is dangerous, here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.” A lot of Kurt's lyrics are annoyingly ambiguous, as in “Come As You Are,” which is purportedly an old-fashioned love song, the chorus of which is simply, “And I swear that I don't have a gun.” Chris declined to comment on the meaning of any of their songs, eventually citing that their music is “just all energy and cool lyrics.” (I insisted, and was told “Well, we're just kind of drunk and stoned most of the time.”)
Nirvana wanna make you sing their songs all day, all night, in your sleep, till they drive you crazy. Nevermind is like an incredibly contagious disease (except of course without the pus, and death, and other gross crap). Perhaps a better allusion is to the spiritual state of self-annihilation the band's name evokes, chosen deliberately to describe their music, especially it's punk edge: freedom, escape and most of all, total release. Maybe the best band in the world (and, by the way, playing the Marquee downtown on Saturday night with Melvins).
© Medwin Pregill, 1991