Christie Eliezer
Dave Grohl
Publisher Title Transcript
Juke Honkies With Attitude! Yes

They say that in rock and roll, a minute is like a year. You blink, and today's anarchist is tomorrow's boring old fart. Last weekend's parody is triumphing at the top of the charts by the next.

This time two years ago, Seattle bands were on the same level. But Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney, still capable of great shows, are getting disenchanted. Tad's bubble blew with a ho-hum LP. Nirvana are hot, HOT, HOT. They're astonished by this success because, they shrug, that they are still doing exactly the same thing they were doing then.

If it's great for rock and roll's health that a band like Nirvana can cut through the bullshit and make it to No. 1 in America, they don't acknowledge it. Better still, they've refused the red carpet treatment. When Metallica, Guns N' Roses and Motley Crue try to pal up, Nirvana remember they're “the enemy” and shy away.

Nevermind is a very important LP. It's an LP that, like the great classics, came just at the right time making the right noises.

Without meaning to, Nirvana have cut a swathe through the best elements of rock that matters, and pulled it together. As the NME summed it up, it caught the power enthusiasts who like Metallica but couldn't stomach their lack of melody. It picked up the intelligent audience who like The Pixies and Throwing Muses but felt they've run out of steam. They've tapped into the feedback/Ecstasy of the English rock movement but have sensibility to make it big in the charts.

It's 5:30 in the evening in Seattle. It's winter. The city is bleak and snow-shrouded. After an afternoon of interviews with the Australian media (“uh, so howcum you called yourself Nir-vana, mate?”) David is about to go down to a local club where good pal Tad is a guest DJ at a Grunge Night. Earlier in the afternoon, Chris Novoselic had put his promo people in a panic when he got bored with doing interviews and just went off to Tad's house to listen to some records.

Nevermind has sold over 2.4 million in the States alone, is heading towards platinum in Australia and Britain. The royalties will soon come rolling into Nirvana's homes, but they're more interested to see what impact its success will do in America.

Will their new mainstream fans piss off Warrant and Slaughter, and start listening to Sonic Youth? Will they stop watching mindless sit-coms and turn to something more substantial? Will they listen to an anti-rape song like “Polly” and try to do something positive, like changing mens attitudes or putting pressure on judges for harsher penalties rather than mumble about getting girls to learn self-defense?

Is there any pressure on Nirvana to leave Seattle and set up a new base in Los Angeles or New York?

“Not really. It was up to us – well, it is up to us! – we can move anywhere we want to. but I certainly don't want to move.

“Seattle's a very pleasant place. LA is a shithole, it's not just the business aspects but the attitudes and the traffic and the environment. Southern California might have been a paradise 150 years ago, but it's just a concrete slab.”

Are you a local boy too?

“I'm from Washington DC. Chris was actually born in California, he's from Compton, but he grew up in Aberdeen, like Kurdt. I've been to Aberdeen, and it's not the sort of place you could love every minute!

“It's the sort of place that motivates you to keep running away, to escape. Punk is the greatest form of escapism. Certainly the two of them spent a lot of their time plotting to escape the redneck shitheads from there.”

So what sort of emotions do those songs from the first LP evoke in you when you play them? Anger? Frustration?

“No, the whole thing about the live situation is that it's just a great release. About 10 minutes before we play, we just look at the song list, and then we go out there and do it. there's nothing more than that. That one hour and 15 minutes onstage, or whatever it is we do, is one great release.

“What emotions you feel on stage depends on how you were feeling a few minutes before you got on your drum stool, you know? If you're tired, it wakes you up. If you're pissed off about something, then you beat the shit out of the drums. Drumming is not just keeping a beat, you're playing ten times as hard. It's great fun out there, sometimes you have to do other things to get it out of your system.”

So presumably you quite understand when Kurdt might smash his guitar into your kit?

“Sometimes I might take his guitar and smash it into my drums! It's just a fun thing to do. We're trying not to be The Who, or trying to do it to be the bad boys of rock and roll, or whatever it is people try to tag us up. It's fun to chop up something that cost $1,200.”

As a kid starting out, did you sit there and imagine yourself to be a Keith Moon?

“John Bonham, actually. He really knew how to put down a groove. When I started out, I used to think that playing hard and being a show-off made you a good drummer.

“But now I've learned that keeping the groove is more impressive than playing a hundred fills every 4 bars. John Bonham played drums hard but kept the groove.”

Within the Nirvana style, can you show off a little too? Keith Moon and Jazz drummer Buddy Rich were influential drummers not just because of their style but also because they were splendid showmen.

“I'm not thinking of the 2,000 people who've come to watch the show. When I'm playing, I'm listening to Kurdt and I'm listening to Chris to hear what sort of sound they're making and coming through my monitor.”

Mudhoney used to say that Americans think that someone joins a rock band because they have no ambition.

“I dunno. I started playing in bands when I was 12. I started playing guitar with friends in the neighbourhood and all I wanted to do was concentrate on becoming a better guitarist. It's just that every drummer in every band I played in sucked shit, so I figured I could play drums better than them (laughs) so I took that over.

“All I ever wanted to do was play music. By the time I was 17 I was in a band in Washington DC called Scream – not the one around now, the original Scream – and we put out four albums and did a lot of touring. At 18 I was in Amsterdam for the first time, which was like, ‘WHOAAH!’ a buzz. So my only ambition was to tour and play shows.

“I don't have anything else planned, music's about my only real love. I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school. I thought journalism was my calling. But I never followed it up because I got into bands instead.”

Do you think that maybe because you were touring from a younger age than the other two, that you might be handling the pressures of touring much better?

“We were lucky we were on the road doing what we've been doing for the last couple of years, so we were far removed from the chart success and the radio success. That means shit to us anyway, we're certainly not chart-watchers by any means.

“People say to us all the time, ‘are you freaking out about going to No. 1?’ and it's like ‘who's freaking out?’ It's nice that a lot of people are interested in us and listening to the record and coming to the shows. But as far as thinking I'm a success because our record went No. 1, well, I thought I was a success when I was 18 and touring Amsterdam.”

How disorientated have you become on tour?

“Ha, it depends on how fucked up you got the night before, I guess! It doesn't get to the point… I tell you what can be the hard part. Like you forget actual days of the week. Like every night on tour's like a Friday night. Then someone tells you ‘actually today is Sunday’ and you think ‘Oh My God!’ That's the hardest part.”

Now that you're Geffen's golden boys, have they turned on the red carpet treatment? Limos at the airport?

“They know better than to do that. We don't ask for those, and they've learned not to give us anything if we don't ask for anything.”

So how are you going to stop from becoming shitheads?

“The thing is… well, we've got more than we expected or anyone expected anyway, so it's really not a concern. We're not struggling to achieve anything, we haven't got some goal in mind.

“I think the more goals you set, the more you're likely to be disappointed. We're perfectly happy where we are. We were fucking-well perfectly happy six months ago! It's sorta like a big change for us, but at the same time, it's not. Because we're doing the same thing we were doing a year ago. The difference is that a lot more people have picked up on it.”

And the new fans truly understand what Nirvana are about?

“Some people do. I think they will. a lot of people are still learning about Nirvana, they think we're a new band. Maybe they still think we've been manufactured in some record company office in LA to make a hit record! They'll go back eventually and listen to the earlier stuff, I'm sure. A lot of the younger ones missed out on the punk explosion…”

Personally the great thing about Nevermind is the way it brought together so many good elements of rock and roll together. Do you guys wonder what sparked its success?

“I dunno. We don't analyze it. We just get up and play. Why should we analyze it when there are thousands of journalists out there who are paid to work it out and explain it and give their opinions? We'll let you guys work it out.”

Right now, there's a vibe that Nirvana are the band to get rid of bands like Guns N' Roses and whoever. Is that important to you guys? Or is that just a media thing?

“Yeah, it's definitely important to us. Ya know, I was trying to figure out the last honest rock and roll band that made a big impact, and honestly I couldn't think of one.

“If Nirvana go Top 10, then maybe it'll open doors for bands that follow us. Maybe people will realize that Guns N' Roses are all bullshit, just a mask for some insecure little sexist pervert to hide behind and go out and make a quick buck. And that's not what it's about. If people wanna hear good music, they certainly won't find it if they keep buying Poison albums, will they?”

Was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” meant as some kind of anthem?

“Hey we're not… I mean, we're just kids! We came up with the riff and then Kurdt wrote the words a week before we recorded the vocal tracks. it wasn't meant as any kind of anthem, it's just another song. Yet people seem to have this impression we've written the great teen rebellion song of 1991.

“To us, it's just another fucking song. But if people get inspired by it to get up and dance or quit their jobs or beat up their dads or whatever, that's great! It's a contradiction in a way.

“We're sick of the passive apathetic American attitude, yet with certainly the last people in the world who would want to get up on the soapbox and start preaching to people about what to do and what to think. I'm certainly not literate enough to tell people what to do with their lives.”

“Polly” is certainly a very important song.

“A lot of people don't quite understand ‘Polly’, they probably think it's a sex song. I mean, a lot of audiences are just thick, in the sense they like a song if they like the melody, not the lyrics. I mean, we have people singing along to it when we do it, but I’m not sure they understand if it's an anti-rape song. They know the words and how the words go together, but that's about all.”

There are two ways you can get around that. You can either talk about each song onstage, or you can discuss them at length in interviews. Do you get the chance to do that?

“We never talk about our songs in interviews. I don't want to generalize or anything. Kurdt writes all the words and they obviously have a specific meaning to him, although he says that usually it doesn't. Chris and I know generally what the songs are about, but we have our own interpretations. It's up to the listener to make up his or her own interpretation. People are forever coming up to us and asking for a lyric sheet, and in a way I can understand that.

“Onstage, we don't talk about the songs. We don't say anything. We might say ‘hiya’ and that's about it. People come to hear music, not to hear all sorts of things.”

Out of 20 interviews, how many journalists do you sense understand what Nirvana are about?

“It's harder now because we're doing so many interviews these days. Some of them think we came together in LA a few months ago. What we are is a punk band. That's all, three kids making a noise.”

So what's been the most positive reaction to a song like “Polly”?

“One of the best gigs we ever did was a pro-choice benefit in LA to raise money for campaigners who are trying to fight for women's rights to have abortions. In America, they're trying to stop abortion, can you imagine that?”

In America do they still see rape as a “woman's” problem rather than a “human” problem?

“Yeah, which is indicative of the overall problem in American society. Rape is one of the worst crimes. Yet the way it's dealt with… it's like, OK defend yourself and that's your problem to learn to do that. There's a big vacuum in the attitude that it's a men's problem too, and that's where we need to start educating.

“The fact that the song was inspired by a true story – this girl was abducted and raped and tortured by this guy in his van, and she finally escaped by pretending to accede to his demands. That shows a strength of character that I don't think men have.

“Women have always been denied the rewards they should be given. They're certainly the superior sex, because they can do things emotionally that men are just incapable of.”

Have you ever been mugged?

“No, but I've been jumped. The difference is when you're jumped, they don't do it for your money, they just kick your ass. Did I fight back? No, there were about five of them, so I did the smart thing and ran.”

© Christie Eliezer, 1992