Kevyn Keneagy
Kurt Cobain
Dave Grohl
Publisher Title Transcript
The Columbus Edge #2 Bleached, Buzzed and Blown With Nirvana Yes

“I'm sorry I couldn't do the interview earlier,” apologizes Dave Grohl, the drummer and latest addition to Seattle's seminal grunge-pop group Nirvana. “I thought I would go walk around and buy some new clothes… I really need pants because I wear them onstage and get them too fucking sweaty or I get too fucking drunk, take them off and then I forget where I put them.” This can be one one of the many expected perils when a band packs up their van and whips out the map.

Nirvana is no stranger to the road, and they have essentially been a touring band since their inception in 1987. Kurt Cobain and bassist Chris Novoselic met as two disillusioned art students at the Gray's Harbor Institute of Northwest Craft. They were brought together when Cobain offered some constructive criticism on a macaroni mobile Novoselic had been creating. Cobain's advice proved to be helpful, and this minimal but monumental collaboration became the foundation of the band.

The next logical step was the recording studio; the result was the Love Buzz/Big Cheese single on the now legendary Sub Pop label. The single is highly collectible and can be owned for $60 to $80. “I burned stacks of them in front of frothing, anal record collectors!” retorts Cobain.

1989 brought Nirvana's debut LP Bleach. Two years and four drummers later, Nirvana stabilized the band's lineup with Dave Grohl, formerly of the primal D.C. hardcore band Scream. As for the other drummers, “It was easier to poison them than to make them quit,” Cobain grimly reveals.

Nirvana is currently half-way through the first leg of their American tour and is beginning to enjoy the fruits of their first release on Geffen Records, Nevermind. “The tour has been great,” says Grohl. “At first we didn't feel comfortable playing new stuff because the people were so in love with the first album Bleach and the singles and stuff. I have noticed more and more people have been singing along to the newer stuff, especially ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ The crowds just go apeshit.” The crowds are also significantly larger this time around, and Nirvana has virtually sold out every venue during the last 16 shows of the Nevermind tour.

“Yeah, it is a lot different from touring for a record that people can't find and hear,” adds Grohl. “I don't know what people's expectations are, but Nevermind sold 130,000 copies its first week, so it’s doing pretty well.”

Many independent groups share reservations about signing to a larger deal because major labels have a tendency to homogenize new acts or quickly develop Alzheimer’s disease once the dotted line has been inked.

“We were never concerned with that,” explains Cobain. “The people at D.G.C [David Geffen Company] overwhelmed us by proving the fact that they were really aware of just what underground music is. Many of the people who work at D.G.C. have worked for independent labels. They said they wouldn't fuck with us. I'm sure they won't!”

Nevermind is evidence that Cobain's intuition is correct. The chunky, distorted guitars, anguish-laced vocals, and bruising drums ring just as true on Nevermind as its predecessor Bleach; however, the songs on Nevermind are more cohesive than on their previous effort and are best described as subversive pop. “We did Bleach for $600 dollars,” says Cobain. “We have always had complete control over all of our recordings. The only difference this time is we took it easy, took our time, and fucked around. There has been a two-year gap between two albums, so obviously they are going to sound different. We try to experiment as much as we can without totally changing the Nirvana sound. It's boring doing the same thing over and over again. There is some sell-out commercial pop that I like. If it's a good song, it's a good song! I just like music, good music.”

Apparently, the critics find Nirvana to be good music, for the band has drawn comparisons to the industry's press darlings, The Replacements. Although he is not a fan of theirs, Cobain does admit that like The Replacements, Nirvana's musical roots are firmly planted in punk rock. But he also confesses that he found the early socio-political confines of punk frustrating, and perhaps that is why a majority of Nevermind deals with love and relationships.

“We still base our themes on the same stuff we used to. I guess you eventually run out of subjects. You just get tired of hate, destruction, and confusion.” Nirvana's pop sensibilities may be misleading, for they are not so soft. Nirvana approaches love on the often forgotten, but most common, dark side. The American dream of husband and wife becomes a dead-end street where people are cattle. Seemingly innocent tales of abduction, torture, and rape. “The song ‘Polly’ is so clean and nice that it was only fair to throw something offensive into it,” Cobain explains. “I had to save it from becoming a top-40 radio hit.”

Searching for hits was once usually done in the music meccas of London, New York and Los Angeles. Now every label seems to be combing Seattle for their own Nirvana, Soundgarden or Alice In Chains. Bands across the country are abandoning their cowboy boots, adopting flannel shirts and migrating to Washington instead of California to play their “Seattle Sound.”

“I have heard of quite a few bands moving to Seattle,” says Cobain. “They are just imitators, they are usually the Guitar Institute of Technology students that don't have a clue as to what music is about. There will always be imitators like that… 99 percent of the bands in Seattle that were on Sub Pop were attending punk rock shows in the early 80s. All of a sudden, the Melvins and a band called Malfunkshun started playing this slow, heavy music verging on heavy metal. At that time in the punk scene, it wasn't cool to like hard rock. They were slow, but still considered punk rockers. They made people see that you could pay homage to bands like the MC5, The Stooges and Black Sabbath - that it was cool and should no longer be taboo. You see, it only takes a couple of bands willing to take a risk. No one does shit like that anymore. It's too easy to jump on a bandwagon. People have to stop being afraid. Bands around here need to take that chance. It could happen here; it could happen here in Columbus!”

© Kevyn Keneagy, 1991