Kirk Gee
Dave Grohl
Publisher Title Transcript
Rip It Up Nirvana On Earth Yes

“So are you really called Rip It Up?”

Well, I'm not, but our magazine is.

“Wow, that's really cool!”

Just moments ago Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl was sitting comfortably at home in Seattle watching TV and listening to a band practice downstairs, when all of a sudden he's told he's got to talk to a magazine from New Zealand.

Maybe not the perfect way to spend a Monday night, but when your band has just knocked Michael Jackson out of the No. 1 spot on the US chart and is basically the proverbial ‘next big thing’ come to life, it's the sort of thing you have to deal with. Grohl joined Nirvana just post Bleach and remembers the band being somewhat unusual.

“They wore berets, sunglasses, sandals and had goatees. Kurt would do interpretive dances while Chris recited Rod McKuen's poetry,” remembers Grohl. He fitted in pretty well, and now Nirvana are one of the biggest bands in the world. How does that feel?

“It doesn't really affect us directly, it doesn't touch our personals lives much. It does in some ways, like now there's no way to ignore the band, because the band is pretty much everyone's life, you just can't escape being in Nirvana at the moment.

“As far as this whole success thing goes, it hasn't affected the band at all. We're not doing anything differently to how we did it before the record came out, besides doing more interviews and bigger shows.

“Sure, we're comfortable now, because the record has done so well there's not so much to worry about except for all this weird stuff, like people asking for autographs, which we've never ever wanted to do, we're very much against that sort of thing. It's really uncomfortable because you want to say no so bad, but you have to explain, like ‘Look, this is not what we're about, we're not some rock star idols, we're just playing music and we're people just like you.’ And you end up feeling rude after five minutes of ‘Please? No. Please? No. Please? No.’ It's weird, along with this whole success thing has come a few things we've never imagined dealing with, which you just have to endure.”

When bands like yourself or Firehose or Soundgarden or Sonic Youth or whoever sign to a major, the first thing people inevitably cry is ‘Sellout!’...

“So far no one has really accused us of selling out, there's just no reason. I'd ask them, ‘Why do you think we've sold out? Is it because we're on a label that will give us good distribution? Is it because we made a video for MTV? What is it?’ We're not out to play the whole music industry game - if anything we're out to change it. I just don't understand how anyone can call a band like Sonic Youth a sellout.

“The Difference between an indie label and a major is that your record is going to get out to a lot more people and that's the bottom line. The issue was never money, it's distribution, it's getting more people to hear the record and being with a label like Sub Pop, which at the time was having distribution problems, signing to another label with a better set up was just logical. If we were to sign to Touch and Go or Waxtracks or Dischord it would have been the same record and the same sound. I can see how people in the underground who started listening to Nirvana around the time of ‘Love Buzz’ would feel duped because so many people know about the band now.

“Like sometimes, for me anyway, there will be a band that you know and love and cherish, and it's like yours, and it's a very personal thing. You maybe turn some friends on to them, then all of a sudden the band's really popular, so you end up sitting around saying, ‘Well, I remember when the first single came out, and I don't like this stuff so much’.”

It is strange that people are down on bands that go on to majors, as not one of them has turned into Milli Vanilli or anything, and it's such a relief to see good bands up there doing well as opposed to Extreme or Warrant or someone.

“Well, when we started looking at labels, we had our guard up and we were really defensive and scared. Scared that we would sign to a label that wasn't going to understand where we were coming from and of all the labels we talked to, DGC seemed like the only one that would understand us, not only because they had Sonic Youth, but also because the people there really loved music and weren't scared of any money issue. They weren't scared of taking this chance with a band coming from the underground.”

That's probably the best thing about your album's success, the way you've come from being a dodgy punk rock band to being No. 1. It’s sort of vindicated my musical taste, after years of being ragged for liking ‘punk rock’, a punk rock band is now the coolest band around!

“Yeah, that's been kind of surprising, first of all no one expected this and it's amazing that so many people would open up to something like this. I’ve listened to punk since I was 13, and my friends have laughed and sort of mocked me, but now it seems that punk rock is becoming a household word, even Grandma knows what punk rock is these days, and even though it’s a little different to its heyday it’s still punk.”

The attitude is there, which is what counts. It was like seeing Kurt and Chris on MTV with Kurt in a ballgown and Chris hassling the host majorly. Pure bad attitude.

“That was the reasoning behind going on the Headbanger's Ball, to sort of clear up the myth that we're this heavy metal band. We never have been a metal band and never will be. The music isn’t metal at all, I mean who cares what it is anyway. There’s a lot more metal kids getting into Nirvana and I think they realise we’re not a metal band, we’re meant to be punk or whatever.

“Actually, to us we're a pop band because there's melody and hooks and simple songs, no intricate riff running. We also don’t have anything to do with that heavy metal attitude, the way it comes off as this male macho muscle-flexing audience just grabbing girls and whatever. We don’t want anything to do with that scene, so hopefully by having these kids listen to us they’ll realise that there is something outside of that typical glamorous attitude.”

Nevermind does deal with some pretty intense subjects, like apathy and rape and insanity and just plain love.

“It's strange because with that many people listening to the album, you stop to wonder how many people are actually understanding what we’re trying to say and we’re really not into pushing issues onto anyone, we’re just trying to get people to think of their own accord. That’s one of the things about putting out a record with no lyrics, people have to focus more to work out what’s going on, and they wind up with the melody stuck in their head.

“On the next single we do we'll have all the lyrics to the album so people will have the words to go with the songs. I don’t know, you can’t expect everyone to understand you, so if even 2 percent of our audience learns something then I suppose that’s a step forward to somewhere.”

What about this music boom in the Northwest? It seems like everyone in Washington state is either in a punk band or a lumberjack or both, in Tad’s case.

“I don't know, people ask why there are so many bands becoming successful here, but there's no reasoning behind it. There’s a million bands in every city whether it’s Seattle or DC or New York or Austin or wherever, they’re all just cities full of good bands, but it’s like there’s this focus on the Northwest, so there’s also all these bandwagon jumpers. There are lots of great bands here though, there’s Mudhoney and umm, there’s Tad and, ummm, that’s it really. There’s only two good bands in Seattle!”

There's lots nearby in Olympia though, like one of my favourite bands of all time, Bikini Kill.

“Oh yeah, they're great, but they've just moved to DC. I lived in Olympia with Kurt for, like, eight months and the scene was cool because it was so small, and everyone had a band with everyone else and it was this incestuous thing with everyone in a different band each week and a lot of good came out of it. The attitude in Olympia was hard to explain, it’s sort of like all these people holding onto their childhood and reliving it, it’s weird.

“I'm from DC and I moved straight to Olympia, which at first bugged me, I think people thought I was like some rocker skate guy, I just did not fit into Olympia, Washington. There’s great scenes like that everywhere though - all these bands that really should be discovered, but probably never will be, like the Melvins and Urge Overkill and stuff.”

That stuff is actually popular within a subculture down here, we're really quite onto it.

“That's cool, because here it's like kids watch MTV and use it as some sort of catalogue, like be it rap or rock or dance or whatever, it's the only way kids are discovering music. No kid is going to take a chance on some CD if he’s only got $15, he's got to know what he's going to get is ‘right on’. It's hard to expose people to new stuff.”

Speaking of new stuff, are you guys working on new material?

“Yeah, we're writing stuff, sort of back to the real heavy Melvins meet Devi trip.”

It sounds like Devo? That's so cool, I always loved Devo but everyone seems so embarrassed by them here, I get a real hard time for listening to Devo, even after Mudhoney covered a Devo song live down here.

“Mudhoney covered Devo? Which song?”

‘Gut Feeling’

“Oh man, that's so cool! Devo are great, they were one of the first bands to really break through from being underground to the mainstream.”

Now that you've broken through to the mainstream yourselves, what happens? Where do you go from here?

“We're going to tour and stuff for a while, then record I guess. I don't know, that's the crazy thing about success, all of a sudden there's a schedule and I have to think in terms of six months ahead, which I've never done before. Success is scary.”

© Kirk Gee, 1992