LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE November 11, 1991 - London, UK
- Roy Wilkinson
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
|Rage||Smash and Grab!||Yes|
With their second LP crashing into the American Top Ten, NIRVANA are such a hot rock act even British telly moguls have to let them run riot at The Word. RAGE sees them slag off Amanda, take the piss out of Terry and trash the studio.
Thirty minutes to showtime at The Word studio, Nirvana have just completed a sandblasting dress rehearsal and now they're vibing full on, rockin', seriously, in the area, way to go. Or not.
Frontman and guitarist Kurdt Cobain emits a piercing snore from under the dressing room couch. Bass giant Chris Novoselic's endless legs poke from under the sideboard. Drummer Dave Grohl nods serenely in the corner. Half an hour to their debut on national British television and the trio can't get excited enough to do anything more than sleep. This is where laid back meets laid out.
Yawn. The minutes pass and they wake to realise it's more serious than they thought. This bunch may have survived untold years of touring hell in a Transit van and managed to record a classic debut LP for $600 all-in but now they face televised trial by [Amanda] De Cadenet. And De Cadenet with child at that.
"I just hope that silicon in her lips doesn't explode and splatter the studio in puckering plastic," shudders Chris. Then he remembers Amanda's going out with a tall bass player. Chris is emphatically a tall bass player so perhaps she has taste after all.
"Yeah," says Chris. "She is breeding with Duran Duran, so she's kind of special. The future of the new romantic movement is in her womb. Listen to the crowd out there. Her waters must have broken."
Talk of breaking waters is new ground for Nirvana. Their usual specialism is breaking things. This writer first set eyes on them in New York some three years ago. Then they had a second guitarist who fitted surely into the Nirvana scheme. When a stage invader knocked aside his effects pedals, axeman Jason booted him bodily from the stage and then followed him into the pit, kicking his guitar and methodically reducing the drumkit to shards of wood and steel.
Since then, Nirvana's shows have habitually mixed the sound of splintering gear with the most purely exciting rock 'n' roll on the planet. The most amazing thing is that this guitar grinding looks like the most exhilarating essence of aggression instead of some tired old rock ritual.
Anyone who was at the Reading Festival this year will know the feeling. At the climax of the Nirvana set, for no apparent reason, Chris suddenly launched his bass at the drumkit, almost decapitating Dave. Then Kurdt stepped carefully to the lip of the stage, only to launch himself forward at Olympic sprinter's speed and dive headlong into the drums. You could almost feel your oxygen being whipped away as the crowd took a communal sharp intake of breath.
It comes as no surprise to hear Kurdt learnt how to combine destruction and dozing at an early age in life. He's narcoleptic, meaning he's prone to falling asleep in any place at any time.
"Yeah," he says. "I've adapted to the problem now. I can usually tell when it's coming on. But when I was a child I used to fall down all the time and smash into glass tables and stuff. I was always in hospital."
As Nirvana chow down on a new type of TV dinner in The Word dressing room, you can almost hear the sound of stamping boots as the world catches up with them. Their first album, 'Bleach', came out on Seattle's small Sub Pop label and made them a name in both the UK rock press and in the Twin Peaks country of their base in Washington State, high on the American West Coast. Now, their second LP, 'Nevermind' has shot into the US Billboard Top Ten and they've become the Brit tout's favourite investment overnight.
"Yeah, I guess the record company's bribes have been sent out," drawls Kurdt. "Either that or everyone's got together to play this big joke on us. it definitely feels like us being in the American Top Ten should be in Ripley's Believe It Or Not or some other book of amazing-but-true stories rather than in Billboard.
"It doesn't seem realistic to us, because we never wanted anything like this. Right now we're more excited about having Shonen Knife (all-girl Japanese grunge-pop band) playing with us on tour."
Just wait till they get back home and have to face the legions of stone-washed mall dudes who must have been buying their album.
"Well," ponders Kurdt from behind unruly gold locks and furrowed brow, "if the people buying our records now are dickheads then hopefully they'll stay away from our shows. That's all we can hope for."
Throughout the afternoon the Nirvana camp and The Word have been in heated debate. The Word want them to condense their five-minute single, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', to nearly half it's length for the show. But, Nirvana won't be moved - it's five minutes or nothing. The Word's researchers are obviously clued-up enough to know Nirvana are too hot an item to pass on, so the show's producer gives way.
"Our manager didn't want us to do this," says Kurdt. "He didn't think we should bother arguing about the time. But we think we should take every chance we get to be on something as ridiculous as this.
"God, listen to that crowd. it sounds like it's a soccer match out there."
"Oh no," cries Dave loudly. "Amanda's giving birth!"
The sticksman capably breaks into one of Duran's giant pop tunes: "Her name is Rio and she gives birth on the stage/She breaks her waters na na na na na na…"
Minutes later, Nirvana are out in the studio. Dave boogie bravely as Intastella play and then joins his two band-mates to giggle as Burt Reynolds appears via satellite to proclaim Amanda "quite sexy".
Finally, Tez Christian introduces Nirvana to close the show: "Ay up, lad, steak and kidney pies and a couple of bottles of Newcastle brown at the back of the coach…" Screech! Kurdt interrupts Tezzo's spirited pro-northerner routine with a squeal of feedback. "Gravy 'n' chips, peas 'n' faggots, legs eleven, ladies and gentlemen, it's Nirvana."
Nirvana stand there on the stage, the least concerned people in the building. A floor manager windmills his arms, begging them to start. Finally, Kurdt grins and steps up to the mic: "I'd like to dedicate this song to Courtney Love from the band Hole, who is the best fuck in the world."
Yowsa, Kurdt's message to this goddess of grunge even outbleeps Shaun Ryder's fuck feast the previous week. And if that wasn't enough, the Marshall logo on Kurdt's amp has been artistically gaffer taped-out to leave the three letters "ars". Sexy subversion or what?
With a whirl of chords, the band kick in and the 20 or so fans at the front go mad. Five minutes later, the performance ends as the monitors are kicked over, Chris shakes a leg on the go go dancer's elite podium and the drumkit is kicked about. But soon it emerges that less than three minutes of this was actually shown.
Road manager Alex is ready to kill, but he's just about fended off with promises that the full recording will be shown on the show's repeat the following night. Russell, the booking agent, wanders over to thank Tez for having the band on.
"Oh yeah, great," raves the Christian. "Really sound, top and sorted, we don't have enough of them heavy metal bands on 'ere."
Strewth, Nirvana may have a good bit of hair and a few guitars, but they're hardly AC/DC. But, then again, perhaps Terry can be forgiven for his confusion. After all, both Guns N' Roses and Ozzy Osbourne have both recently asked Nirvana to support them in the States. No great temptation it seems.
"Nah," says Kurdt. "We'd support REM - we like them. And we'd support the Pixies, but that's about it."
The band file out of the dressing room, ready to pick up �140 each for their spot of TV wreckage. A total sum that's just about enough to cover the $750 that's allowed for battered gear at every Nirvana show. After all Kurdt Cobain is a man who's been arrested three times for vandalism and once had the slogan 'Vandalism, Beautiful As A Rock In A Cop's Face' stuck to his guitar. Before he broke it.
Nirvana. Just smashing.
© Roy Wilkinson, 1991