LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE October ??, 1991 - Los Angeles, CA, US

Ray Telford
Kurt Cobain
Publisher Title Transcript
Juke Nirvana: At Heaven's Gate Yes

Their new album “Nevermind” has crashed into the American Top 5, and the vibe on the street is they'll become a more important band than Sonic Youth. Ray Telford speaks to them in Los Angeles.

Two years ago when Nirvana joined Seattle's Sub Pop and came up from the exhilarating Bleach (made for all of $600) there were some who promptly claimed they were even better than Mudhoney, their close buddies.

Nirvana were – and are – loud and intense. They grew up in a backwoods redneck town of Aberdeen, miles from nowhere in a midway point between Seattle and Portland. Everybody around them was ignorant and bigoted, so they took lots of acid to cope. That gave them a local reputation of being devil-worshipers… something they took great pains not to deny or confirm, so that they'd continue to be left alone.

They claim to be ordinary American boys who exist on chili dogs and Budweiser, and hate red-blooded macho male shitheads. Their first album was full of small-town psychos like "Floyd The Barber," "Mr Moustache" and "Negative Creep" which alluded to fathers sexually abusing the pre-teen daughters.

In person they’re wired and weird. Interviews are full of long pauses and averted gazes, either one word answers, metaphysical bullshit, or fibs to bait the journalist. Right now, Nirvana are Kurdt Kobain (vocals, guitar, main songs) who's small, working class and owns a pet rat who once bit Sub Pop's boss. Bassist Chris Novaselic is six foot, born and bred in Yugoslavia, a competitive tree-climber, worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska for three years, painted bridges and has Presley sideburns. Their latest in a long line of drummers is David Grohl, as much a wind-up merchant as anybody else and goes on the road with his mom.

Nirvana are not merely just a glorious blur of noise. They work because they've got a strong sense of melody. When you grow up in the Northwest listening to AM radio as they did, they explain, all you hear is The Carpenters and Tony Orlando & Dawn, champions of soppy power ballads. Riff merchants they might be, but their classic love songs like “About A Girl,” “Come As You Are” and “Drain You” can wrench your heart. Who knows, you could even see Nirvana topping the mainstream charts one day.

Anyway, no one makes Nirvana/Mudhoney comparisons anymore. Because Nirvana have moved on. They've signed up to Geffen (whom they hate because, they insist, it's full of accountants who don't listen to music) and come up with a blazingly stunning album called Nevermind which could see them top Sonic Youth as the world's most important band.

Nirvana don't care to get into that kind of bullshit. They've toured through America and Europe with the Sonics and get on well with people. Got into a good spell of hotel-wrecking and food fights with them, from all accounts.

"Does anyone give shit about who's better? We're no ground-breakers by any means. All we're doing is trying to reproduce what it is that made us like records. It's not who's better, it's how those bands affect you.

"We listen to everything from NWA to Nine Inch Nails to Herman's Hermits to Leadbelly to Nine Inch Nails and Ministry to The Pixies and their offshoot The Breeders to Shonen Knife who are this bitchin' female pop trio from Japan, I saw them at a concert and I was jumping up, tearing my hair and crying like I was at a Beatles concert or something. Pop, heavy metal, hip hop, we listen to 'em all. 90% of bands who claim to be rock and roll are rubbish. They have a nerve calling themselves rock and roll."

Offstage Kobain looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Onstage he's a tornado – he dives into the crowd, destroys his guitar, kicks in the drum kit. Chris usually finishes a set by throwing his bass guitar 20 feet into the air… and occasionally even catches it. Nirvana have a $750 equipment allowance a week! And Kurdt loves expensive guitars.

On tour, too, much of their royalties go in paying for damages. Their right into the Hammer Of The Gods destructive lifestyle on the road. They were almost dropped from their German label because their welcome gift of a basket of candy and magazines was drunkenly trashed along with the dressing room and Nirvana set fire to the curtains of the interview caravan because they thought the questions too boring.

In Pittsburgh cops picked up their tour manager for questioning at two in the morning when they set their dressing room alight after an argument with the club manager. In Washington DC, Nirvana had to make a quick exit from town after Kurdt emptied everything in his, and then Chris's hotel room, out of the window.

Is Kurdt just trying to act a rockstar Pig?

"No, we used to do this even before we formed a band. We'd be bored, so we'd sneak into somebody's house and trash the place. We'd never steal anything, just make a mess of it."

So it gives him a thill?

"Yeah, especially when the cups turn up. It's great! The only bummer is sometimes I feel guilty I'm wrecking someone else's day for them."

How have their lives changed in the last year?

"More drugs, less stress!"

Have they got any goals, any ambitions?

"We passed them a long time ago. From the start, all we wanted was to make a record, make sure people around the world could get it, and get highly regarded as an independent band.

We're getting to that stage where we're getting into areas we don't particularly like. We don't like playing large venues which we are now. We are dealing with a music industry that's pretty rotten. We're turning down a lot of metal bands who want to support us because some of their audiences are jerks. They talk through the soft songs, yell out for songs we've done, and yell out "sell out" because we don't like to sign autographs."

So why stay on in Nirvana?

"Because Geffen'd sue my ass, that's why. Hahaha. As a kid I was obsessed with music, and with the bands I liked. It's great doing what I do, being in a band. But I don't wanna handle the bullshit part. Tomorrow if it all fell apart, I'd become a busker."

He doesn't see Nirvana as saving rock and roll?

"Us? We're just a fucking bar room band, man!"

© Ray Telford, 1991