- Johnny Puke
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
||Talkin' Shit With Nirvana
By this point, everybody knows who Nirvana is, from their original corps of fanatical Sub-Pop devotees to the legions of heavy-metal mooks who picked up their Top 5 lp, Nevermind, at K-Mart last Christmas. Our man Johnny Puke caught up with the kings of grunge-rock in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and while the Nirvana boys were pretty burnt out from interviews, they did chat a while about some offbeat topics, including some stuff that doesn't smell like Teen Spirit.
Here we are now. Entertain us.
D: David Grohl
K: Kurt Kobain
C: Chris Novoselic
J: Johnny Puke/Jersey Beat -
D: Y'know, I went to Myrtle Beach about 10 years ago and it was beautiful. It didn't seem like it was overrun with all the tourist trap scum commercial bullshit. It seemed pretty cool and they had the biggest waves I'd ever seen from the beach. I almost got killed. I went with all these guys from my rugby team, so there's all these burly rugby players jumpin' in the waves. Me and my friend Larry, we were like 12, breakin' limbs... Have you ever been to Ocean City?
J: Yeah, once.
D: It's just a strip of McDonalds, hotels, putt putt golf and waterslides. It's a shithole.
J: So how did you get from D.C. to Seattle?
D: I was in a band called Scream end we were doing a tour of America. At the time, our bass player was getting back together with his girlfriend over the phone. We got to Los Angeles and had half of a tour left to do and he just split. So we were stuck in L.A. for like a month and a half or two months.
J: The whole band?
D: Yup. We just sort of sat around. The guys from Nirvana saw Scream play in San Francisco and they thought I was a good drummer. So it was decided that if they were looking for a drummer and I was available, they'd ask me to play. So I ended up calling them up, flying out there, and doing it.
J: How long were you with Scream?
D: Four years.
J: So that was after the second album?
J: I liked Scream.
D: So did I.
J: So are they back with that Skeeter guy?
D: No, he's just living in D.C. being a bike courier. Pete and Franz are still out in L.A.
J: So how long have you been in Nirvana?
D: About a year and a half.
J: You didn't have to audition or anything, you just flew out?
D: Well, it was weird. I just sort of flew up there. I'd listened to the record and I'd learned everything. It was strange. I just practiced with them once and it was like, "okay, you're in." It didn't take long. It clicked really fast too. Two weeks later, we did a tour of Europe. That was bizarre.
J: So this is the first national tour you've done with them?
D: This is the first time I've been to the East Coast with them. We've done tours with Dinosaur Jr and we've done some shows up in Canada.
J: But you weren't with them last time they came down South. When they did the teeny shows.
D: Teeny shows?
J: They played the Milestone in Charlotte, NC. It's a house that was turned into a club. Everybody plays in the living room.
D: That's what I was used to being in Scream. Small places, little shitholes. And with Nirvana, now we're starting to play bigger places and I sometimes feel really disconnected, farther removed from the audience. Especially when there's a barrier or something. In Scream, we never dealt with shit like that. When we were over in England with Nirvana about a month ago, touring with Sonic youth, we played at the Reading Festival. There were 35,000 people there and it was a very humbling experience.
J: What about the business side of things? It seems like Scream was probably a lot more in touch with stuff concerning tours.
D: Well, you've got to think of it like, Scream was never half as big as Nirvana is now. We could deal with booking our own tour, answering our mail and stuff. Now we (Nirvana) have someone who answers all our mail for us, and the tours are booked by a big agency. I don't really like the agency too much. You know, when you're dealing with publishing companies, a major label, and getting interviews set up with like five different people a day, you have to have your shit together, and none of us could do that and play in the band at the same time. We got a manager about 8 months ago and it took such a load off our backs. Because, y'know, people would call us to do a show and we'd just forget to call them back or lose the number. When you get to a serious level, where there's a lot of business going on, it's better to work with people who understand the business than have three naive little kids come in and try and do it. We'd just end up getting fucked. If we were to have gone into our contract with DGC by ourselves, we would have gotten fucked. But as it was, we had a really good lawyer and now we have the final say in everything.
J: You got a pretty healthy advance as well.
D: The advance was okay. People are under the impression that when you receive an advance, it goes straight into your pocket.
J: You have to pay it back.
D: You don't even GET it, it's all budgeted. Budgets toward video or promotion or recording or whatever. Spending $150,000 on a record these days is normal; $100,000 is, like, frugal. So the amount of money we got for an advance was nothing.
J: Yeah, but for Nirvana.... How much did "Bleach" cost to record? $1000?
J: That's a huge jump in the space of one album!
D: It's true. I don't know, maybe it's just the label. We recorded the record at just under $100,000 and we did it in 3 1/2 weeks. Everyone was just amazed at how fast and how cheap it was. To me, I'd never done anything like that before. And sure, the studio was really big, it was this great studio that hasn't been touched since 1973, and Stevie Nicks had recorded there. So did Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar and Cheap Trick. It was all analog, no digital, the place was a shithole. It hadn't been maintained as well as it should have been, but it sounded great. Then we went into this big 1991 studio to mix, and everything was all automated and digital with computers and shit. But it didn't turn out so we had to mix it in another studio. I'd rather not wrack my brain on the business side of things, that's what we have manager for. As long as we can get out and play shows, and they're all ages... This is all ages tonight, isn't it?
J: No way!
D: That's what happens when you get out of touch with everything.
J: Is all-ages shows something Nirvana strives for?
D: Yeah, on this tour we were trying to do only all ages places across the country. When we played in Boston, we show up to this place and find it's like a party for some radio station's 10th anniversary. These two clubs were hooked up to each other and in one club there was like The Wonder Stuff and School of Fish, and all these dance bands. And then in the other club it was us and Smashing Pumpkins and Bullet Lavolta. We thought it would be all ages, but it wasn't. So we said to the club that we were under the impression that this show was going to be for all ages, and it wasn't, so we would like to come back tomorrow and play an all ages show before you open with your disco shit. And they went for it! So we did a $5 all-ages show on one day's notice, and 500 kids showed up.
J: The all-ages thing is interesting to me because it's not a desire that one would associate with the "rock business." I think it's more part of the Do It Yourself punk thing.
D: We don't want to be associated with any of the "rock bands." We may place some of the "rock" clubs... We don't want people to be turned off by this "rock band" image that people are trying to pin on us because we've signed to a major label. We're still the same people with the same music. Kurt's writing the same songs. The record is a lot more produced but... fuck, we don't want kids who are 16 or 17 years old not to be able to come to our shows because some bar wants to make money off selling beer or whatever. It's a shame to come to a town and see kids who can't get in because they're not old enough.
[Now we're joining Kurt and Chris at a booth at the back of the club. Chris is sprawled on in the bench seat with a foot that is obviously hurting.
J: What happened?
C: I got really drunk last night and I was running over cars or something.
K: He tried to jump over a car and landed on his knees.
J: This was in D.C.?
D: There's a club there called Clockwork Orange and all these people dress up like the movie. I thought it would be like a milk bar.
C: No, it's called Clockwork Orange night. The place is called The Opera... I want to go to those clubs in San Francisco where you take those new kind of drugs, those amino acids. They all taste like Tang and it's new.
J: A new kind of drug?
K: I've got plenty of Boric Acid and Mitic Acids you can have, Chris.
J: So what's this new drug? It's not just some strain of Ecstasy?
K: It's a Huey Lewis drug. It's supposedly herbal, it has like ginseng and all these other herbs in it and supposedly makes you hallucinate.
C: It heightens your perception. I guess you can hear the difference between tones and stuff. It improves your memory and makes you really aware... You know what it's like describing drugs, you just have to fucking experience it to know what's going on.
J: So you're waiting for San Francisco for that?
C: I probably won't have a chance to go.
D: Our tour manager wouldn't let us do it.
C: Oh, I'm going to.
K: We never do anything he says. Do you think he'll manage us the next time around?
J: It's not up to you?
K: Yeah, it is. We'd like to have him go on our next tour. We've been bad boys lately, missing interviews, missing sound check.
J: Talking to the people at your label, they seemed kind of pissed about the way the management company has been setting up interviews.
C: So many people want to interview us, we could do 10 interviews a day, each of us, and it just gets tedious. You just can't be grilled like that, you'll give a boring interview and it will make your life miserable.
J: What kind of stuff has everyone else asked you to talk about?
K: The label.
D: Sub Pop.
C: "The Seattle Sound!"
K: Obvious questions. I understand why they ask these questions because we don't have "a story," we don't have much of a background so there's really nothing to ask.
J: So you're rather just...
K: I'd rather just TALK to people, rather than answering these questions. Here, sit down.
[Kurt moves a pile of books and makes room for me to sit]
J: Do you consider yourself more influenced by books than music?
K: No, not musically. I'm more influenced by our environment and my friends, television.... I've never written a song based on a book or anything I've read.
J: So, do you write for yourself. Like stories or anything?
K: Yeah, I write. But it's mostly just poetry, babbling...
J: Did you ever consider publishing any of it, or maybe doing some spoken word stuff?
K: I might publish them it I can ever get around to editing all the things I've written. But I don't think I could ever do a spoken word. I'm not secure enough. It's a lot easier to stand behind a wall of guitar noise in public. It would probably take a lot of practice. I would have to start, like, reading for my friends and I can't even work up enough nerve to do that at this point.
J: That's strange, doing a rock show in front of 40,000 people and not being able to do a spoken show in front of maybe 20.
K: It's a way scarier thought to me. I just don't think I could.
J: (to Kurt): Have you ever seen a psychologist?
K: Yes, I had to go to a psychologist when I was about 12 because I refused to do schoolwork or anything else besides sit in my room. So I went to the psychologist. It was a family-counselor type thing and we had meetings with my family. We didn't come to any conclusions and I think it got too expensive so my family cancelled it. I really don't remember anything about it.
J: What was your relationship like with your parents when you were growing up?
K: Well, my parents got divorced and I moved in with my dad, and there was the typical Evil Stepmother scenario going on. She would be really mean to me and cook me bad meals and complain to my father about how irresponsible I was. So I was grounded a lot and I moved back and forth from relative to relative and back to my dad's house, over and over again. I eventually moved in with my mother around 9th grade and I lived there until I was in 11th grade, then my mom kicked me out. I brought home this girl, and we were having sex upstairs, and my mother... It was funny because we were trying to be really quiet and my mom kicked open the door. She looked about 20 feet tall, silhouetted by this blinding light behind her, and she yells, "Get that whore out of my house!" So I packed up my stuff and moved out that night, and lived with some friends for a couple of weeks. Then I moved back to my Father's house. By this time, our relationship wasn't very good at all, so I have to prove to them that I as more of a responsible person. In order to prove it to them, he had me pawn my electric guitar, swear I would stop smoking marijuana, and join the Navy. So I pawned my guitar, went down to the recruiting office and took the test, and got a high score. So the recruiting officer comes to my house the next day and was ready for me to sign up. And I went downstairs and smoked a little bit of pot, came back upstairs and announced to my father and his family that I would never see them again. I packed up my things and left. I haven't seen them in six years.
K: Yeah, it's been even longer than that.
J: Your mother too?
K: No, I still hang out with my mom. But I haven't talked to my dad in six years. (He laughs) I would be in the Navy right now. He's tried to contact me within the last year. He's told other family members that he's really proud of me now that I've become a successful rock musician and I'm making good for myself.
J: And he probably regrets making you pawn that guitar.
K: Well, he probably does. But I can't be stubborn for the rest of my life. I can't deny my father. So I'll probably eventually talk to him again.
J: Do you think it's weird that for a band as relatively young as Nirvana, you are so steeped in bootlegs?
K: Yeah, it is weird. Some bands find it flattering to have bootlegs out, but I don't really. I like the live stuff. Also we've had a two year gap of releasing nothing, so I guess there's a demand for it, for hearing something by us. Most of these bootlegs are just... they can't even be considered demos because they're just things I recorded on a boombox with some friends. A few of the bootlegs are recordings we did with Butch Vig about a year and a half ago. We recorded an album for Sub-Pop before the whole getting-off-Sub-Pop deal, it took a long time to get off Sub-Pop and onto another deal.
J: I understand that Nevermind will carry the Sub-Pop label also.
K: Yeah, that was part of the buyout agreement, that and $70,000. And a point for the next two albums.
J: What's a point?
K: A point is a percentage, 1 percent of sales of our next two albums.
J: Going back to the bootlegs, do they piss you off?
K: Like I said, I like the live stuff, but it's really embarrassing to have stuff out that you don't want out. Some of those songs weren't even finished, I hadn't even finished writing them. It pissed me off knowing that there are people out there making a lot of money off of us. I don't consider them fans. Most bootleggers are just scum.
J: Do you have most of the Nirvana boots that are out? Do the people who put them out ever send you copies?
K: I have a lot of them. But no, not at all, that really pissed me off. They should at least send us a couple.
J: I always got the impression that the Nirvana thing was more of a live thing as opposed to "product."
K: No, I think our recordings are just as vital. People can't expect us to put on a fantastic show every single night. We try hard but we get tired. It's getting really boring and expected of us to trash our equipment and jump around a lot, jump into the audience. We'll eventually tone down on that, we're still having fun doing that now. It'll be interesting to find out what people's reactions are to our live set in a couple of years, when we do tone down. Because I think that's what people expect all the time, so they might hate us if we just stand there and play like a normal band. It's a Catch 22 thing. If you keep doing stuff like that, you turn into a circus act. Maybe we should get some high wires and trampolines. Actually, we wanted to have a trampoline. Set it up in front of the stage, but I don't think insurance would allow it. I suppose it would be possible to get everyone to sign an insurance waiver as they entered the building. It would be kind of neat, having ropes hanging from the ceiling and stuff...
J: Let's talk about sex. What does "Polly" have to do with rape?
K: It's just a story about two people who are into S&M. The man kidnaps the woman Polly and attempts to rape her. Well, he does rape her and he keeps her in his house for a while and they eventually fall in love. Then she escapes but she's afraid of being alone, that's the whole story.
J: Where did the influence for that come from?
K: I really don't know.
J: Do you know anybody into S&M?
K: Not personally. I know some people who are but I don't KNOW them. I know this one guy who carries his sperm around in a little jar and drinks it whenever he can. He also makes a little art sculpture with pieces of his feces inside them. They're hollow, little round art sculptures and he paints them and gives them to his friends.... One time, Beat Happening was playing at this place called The Boxing Club. It was a secret S&M men's society like the Kiwanis of S&M. We went downstairs and broke into the secret part of the club and read a lot of literature on scatology. There were some really graphic pictures and they had all these shackles and things on the walls.
J: My roommate tells a story about when he worked at a nudist colony in Florida and this guy had a whole apartment covered in shit, back up in the heating ducts and on the ceiling. When the housekeeping people investigated a complaint about a strange odour, this guy answers the door naked and covered in shit.
K (laughing): I read about this guy who was arrested because he would put on a wet suit and jump in Sani-Cans. Do you know what a Sani-Can is? It's a portable toilet. Anyway, he would climb down in these things and masturbate and wait for people to shit on top of him.
D: I remember the first time I met Tomas, the singer from Beefeater. I always knew he was sort of a nut. The first time I met him, I was over at Dischord House, he came up and he had this necklace on and it had this big old dried up white piece of shit on it. I remember seeing it and thinking, Jesus Christ, this guy has a piece of shit on a necklace! And he wore it for a fucking year and a half and he never took it off.
K: There's a male stripper in Seattle called El Marko who can put a black ink marker up the shaft of his penis and write his name with it. One of those really big markers, y'know? He signs autographs and stuff with it.
K: I adopted a little kitten one night that had diarrhoea and I woke up in the morning covered with diarrhoea, kitty diarrhoea all over me.
J: I got shit on by a seagull the other day while I was talking to a bunch of tourists on my job.
D: My roommate Barrett moved over to England once for this girl, this very beautiful rich girl. They had a fling for about a week before she was to move to England. She wrote him all these postcards, like two a day, and called him all the time - "Look, I need you here, I'll pay for everything, just come over!" So he flew over there, it's a really long story but she turned out to be this cheating asshole and she treated him like shit. She was sleeping with another guy in the same bed and stuff. He finally said, "Look, either you love me or you don't." so they had this big meeting in the park, and she was reading him this letter as they were sitting there. Stuff like "I love you but I can't be with You right now." She folded the letter up and they were sitting there quiet and sort of somber and this big pile of bird shit just lands right on her head!
D: I shit my pants in Barcelona. I had this flu really bad. It was like one of those "I think I have to fart - but it comes out shit" kind of things. We were at this grocery store and there was no bathroom so I had to sit there with shit in my pants for the next three hours. Nobody found out, either. Oh, here's a good one! Once I was on this lacrosse team and I was at practice and had diarrhoea really bad. So I went up to the coach and told him I had to go really bad, and he said "All right, make it quick!" So I run down to the woods and took a really big shit, except it was total diarrhoea. I felt like hell and I'd been down there for a while, and I knew the coach would be mad and make me do laps. So I got all these leaves and I start wiping my ass. Leaves don't work, so I still had shit all over my butt. Well, an hour and a half later, my friend's dad came to pick us up in his car. When we were in the car, my friend's dad says "Did someone step in dog shit?" We both were like, "I don't know." So he says, "check your cleats." So we're both sitting there checking our cleats and I know full well that it's my ass that's stinking.
J: So I guess talking about shit is better than talking about DGC or something.
D: They're the same thing.
© Johnny Puke, 1992