- Al Kowalewski
- Cake Nunez
- Kurt Cobain
||An Interview With… Kurt Cobain
Blah blah blah… a Nirvana interview!? Yeah, we fucking love the band and
the guys in it are great people. They have a lot to say and are blazing a trail
every other band out there wishes they could follow. If you want to know the
basics, (as if you don't know who they are by now) read the interview we did
in Flipside #62. This one just covers the things happening now. We started this
chat off with Cake and Kurt rapping about some side projects he's been
Kurt: …That was Dylan's project. I think it came out on Caroline - Sub Pop and it was distributed by Caroline. They made these ads that said "Featuring Joe Preston, the bass player from the Melvins" and they made it seem like it was his project - but it was really Dylan's. He was the brain behind it. They're just some songs that he wrote and he asked me if I wanted to sing on it, and that's my involvement. I sang on one song on it.
Cake: Is it called "The Bureaucratic Desire For Revenge" or something like that?
Kurt: I don't even know the name of the song, they probably named the song after we recorded it. I have a CD copy so I haven't gotten a chance to listen to it because I don't own a CD player.
Cake: I've seen so may bootlegs of you guys, are you pissed off about that or what?
Kurt: For the most part I really don't care. I like to hear live bootlegs and I would appreciate if the people that make them would send me a copy but that's the case, nobody sends me anything. But when embarrassing things come out like stuff that I've done in my basement on a 2-track or a boom box that are basically just unwritten songs or pieces of songs, songs I'd like to put together someday into a song - when those come out it's really embarrassing and it frustrates me.
Cake: Like when you were playing Jabberjaw and all these people were singing "Polly" when you were doing it and Chris goes "How the kick do you guys know that song?" and somebody goes "Bootlegs!"
Kurt: Right. It's really embarrassing also when they take it upon themselves to title the songs for you. There are some really dorky ones like "The Rocker" and "The Eagle Has Landed." Oh God!
Al: Well, you've gotten a little more popular since our last interview… what's it like, how did you do it?
Kurt: You mean, what is it like being in the Beatles! I hope to eventually someday turn into Pete Best - just brush it under the carpet and forget about it.
Cake: That's something you said in BAM magazine, how you wanted to destroy your career before it gets out of hand.
Cake: But I can understand, you probably want to do something different.
Kurt: Well, we're definitely gonna do something different. I don't want to go so experimentally overboard to where it seems obvious that we're trying to destroy our career, you know. That BAM article was really embarrassing for me because they made it seem like I was just this self-destructive-heroin-taking little dork. I don't need that kind of shit from them! I don't need a second rate Freudian evaluation on my career and how I'm adapting to the success. It's really stupid. I think we've taken it well, really. I've had a few weeks off of touring too - we were on tour for seven months, and I wasn't in the best of health. It was draining definitely It's really hard to decipher what is going on in your reality - we couldn't even tell how big we were getting. We were on tour playing shows every night and getting reports from our manager telling us "Yeah, you're selling as much as Garth Brooks and Michael Jackson." That reality just didn't sink into our heads at all. I've never been aware of that, I never really cared. I didn't even know that we had sold 50,000 copies of "Bleach" until everybody started talking about how many copies of "Nevermind" we had sold. I never paid attention to it. I'm glad we survived this tour because it was really stressful to all of a sudden be expected to carry on the traditions of an arena rock band. We were only expecting to sell at least as many as Sonic Youth, we were just hoping to use the corporation to get good distribution. That's all we were hoping, or asking for.
Al: But then it took off. Was there anything obvious to you that helped that happen?
Kurt: Well, I don't know. If you listen to the record ("Nevermind") it's really not that much different than a Skidrow album - I mean it's commercially accessible for the general public. They can listen to it and it is easy to digest.
Cake: Well, I think there's a definite difference in the lyrics. Yours are really thoughtful, unlike Skidrow, you have to admit to that?
Kurt: Oh, I do. I mean I don't want to burst my bubble or anything but we're fucking 100 times better than Skidrow or Poison! Or any of those bands. What I'm saying is that we're in the same league as them as far as accessibility. It's easy to listen to our music. It's not like it we were the Melvins or Jesus Lizard - if they were to sell as many records as we did then that would be a phenomenon. That would be amazing! We're a rock and roll band and it's pretty obvious.
Al: I'd put you in a league with the Melvins or Jesus Lizard before Poison or Skidrow!!
Kurt: I would hope we're in that league! That's the kind of music I listen to when I'm home, that's the kind of world I want to be a part of. But still, there's so many clean, nice, accessible songs on our album… I don't understand why everyone is so enthusiastic about it
Al: Did you approach it that way? To write more accessible songs for your major label debut?
Kurt: No. No, it just sort of worked out that way. We did some demos at Butch
Vig's Studios in Madison, that have come out as bootlegs that are pretty close to what "Nevermind" turned out to be like. It would have turned out the same way if we would have had the same amount of time in the studio for an independent release - if it was on an independent label it would have turned out similar. It still only took us a week and a half to record. We had a two week lock out but we took our time, we slacked off, I was writing lyrics in the studio, I was being real lazy about it.
Kurt: Look at the time Rod Stewart spends in the studio and ifs a hunk of shit!
Kurt: We could have done it in a week if we wanted to, we were pretty much prepared for it. I'd like to go back to an 8 track for next year.
Cake: Like Mudhoney, that's cool.
Kurt: Yeah, Mudhoney are sticking to their guns and it's great.
Cake: Mark Arm told me that they have to go to 16 tracks next because they want to add tambourine tracks! You guys have a split single with Jesus Lizard coming out soon.
Kurt: Yeah, were gonna record it soon.
Cake: There's other things also, like a Sub Pop single…
Kurt: Um, yeah, I think we have to put out another Sub Pop single…
Cake: Is it a contract thing…
Cake: Limited edition of 100,000! Is Geffen going to keep putting out singles?
Kurt: Yeah, we're gonna put out a "Lithium" single within a couple of months. It's gonna have a doll theme. I've been collecting old dolls for most of my life and I make dolls out of clay that are replicas of 18th century Yugoslavian dolls. They're really weird, they have elongated heads and have really long fingers. Kinda like a Brothers Quay video. It's gonna be a rip off of a Brothers Quay video because we asked them to do our video and they refused. There's not much of a theme other than the dolls doing weird, surreal things with each other. When Courtney goes to get another ultra-sound we're going to video tape the baby in her womb and put that in the video too.
Cake: The "Sliver" single was probably my all time favorite rock song…
Kurt: I like that song too, ifs my favorite song to play live. We're gonna put out a record pretty soon that is a compilation of Peel Sessions and BBC sessions that we've done that have all come out on bootlegs and we'll put the "Sliver" single on that also. Just because a lot of people haven't heard that single and I'd like them to hear that song.
Cake: And then I heard about a possible Peace Of Mind/Jabberjaw thing.
Kurt: Oh, what's this?
Cake: A Jabberjaw compilation someone is putting together. I heard you guys might be on it under the name Negative Creeps or something like that.
Kurt: I haven't heard anything about that.
Cake: So I guess that's a rumor then. You said your next album will be in a different direction, I heard you guys want to use Steve Albini for your next album?
Kurt: Well, ha ha, that's an obvious choice. It would be nice, I like the drum sounds that he gets - but now that I think about it more I really don't care about the drum sound all that much…
Cake: Get Bob Rock from Metallica to produce you!
Kurt: Yeah, ha ha ha.
Cake: You guys have a Cheap Trick sound on the song "On A Plane", is that deliberate? Like off of "Dream Police" or
Kurt: That's weird! I was just listening to both of those records today. I don't know. That song came out way too clean. I'm not happy with the way that came out at all. It should have been a lot rawer, we play it a lot better live I think. I'll admit, I like Cheap Trick, that first record is great. I keep forgetting how punk rock it really is. It's pretty raw for a commercial rock record.
Cake: You have Kirk Canning from Spoon playing Cello on "Something In The Way"…
Kurt: Yeah, I haven't heard Spoon yet, they're on tour right now. I guess because I just talked to Chris and they stayed at his house. I wanted cello on that song and it ended up being the last day in the studio and I told Chris, "Geeze, maybe we should try to find one." And it just so happened that Kirk was there at the apartment we were staying at and he said "Oh, I can play cello!" So we brought him in the next day.
Cake: That's how spontaneous it was!
Al: Who came up for the design of the cover of "Nevermind"?
Kurt: I guess I'll take the blame for that. Dave and I were watching a documentary on babies being born underwater and we thought of the image. There's no special story behind it at all.
Al: Was it something you had to set up to shoot or…
Kurt: We just asked the art department at Geffen to come up with a baby in the water and we choose from a bunch of pictures. We thought it looked good with the dollar bill with the fish hook on it…
Cake: Like innocence trying to get corrupted or something?
Al: They had no problem with the naked baby?
Kurt: No, no, we were expecting that their might be a problem with it but there wasn't any at all. We thought their might be a problem at some retail stores but we were prepared for it - we were going to have a sticker that said "If you are offended by this you're probably a closet pedophile." (Laughter).
Cake: I noticed in other interviews that you always show your support for like K Records or the Melvins, who I guess were one of the first bands that influenced you…
Kurt: Yeah, I've witnessed about 200 Melvins practices in my lifetime, if that doesn't rub off on you in someway then you've got to be a really jaded person. There's just no way I couldn't have let the Melvins influence me, they're just such a great band. And K Records is a really good label, it turned me on to a lot of really good music that I had never heard before - like the Vaselines and
Talulah Gosh and all that cutie stuff from England. There's a whole another world of underground music that I wasn't even aware of - I started getting into Jad Fair and Daniel Johnson and all that stuff.
Cake: That would be cool if you wrote a song together with Daniel Johnson. Can you imagine that!?
Kurt: We'll do it!
Cake: The English press seem to write a lot of stuff about you, like they said you had ODed, which obviously isn't true. One minute they love you and they next they attack you.
Kurt: Oh, has the backlash begun now. I haven't been keeping up on the English press.
Cake: I just read one "On page three, Kurt ODs in Australia." I'm like, what? I called Courtney and she goes "He's right here!"
Kurt: God!!! They announced on MTV in Europe that Courtney and I had both died of a drug overdose. We had friends calling up for days really upset thinking we were dead. I don't know. I'm just now learning to accept all the rumors and all the lies that are involved in being a big rockstar. It bugs the shit out but I just have to deal with it. I
DON'T TAKE drugs. I HAVE taken drugs in my life and every once in awhile I may dabble in drug taking but I am definitely not a drug addict and I don't like to condone anyone using any kind of drugs. They're a waste of time.
Cake: The media is your worse enemy when you're in the spotlight. They look in every nook and cranny. Any move you make if you look sick "Oh, he's on drugs."
Kurt: Yeah, right. I was almost dead from touring. My body wouldn't allow me to take drugs on tour even if I wanted to. I'd die in a day.
Cake: Don't you have a condition that makes you fall asleep or something?
Kurt: I've got narcolepsy and I can see how someone would think I was nodding off when I'm just falling asleep. Just being on the road is stressful enough physically, there's no way I could ever take drugs. I just couldn't do it.
Al: Being a band of your size, is there more of that offered?
Kurt: No, not at all! Backstage at our shows is pretty sedate, I mean it's really boring - there's no groupies, there's no drugs and we haven't even drank for a long time! I haven't drank for months and Chris quit drinking. We wanted to survive this tour so we even quit doing that. It really bugs me a lot to be accused of being a drug addict - there's constantly articles being written about it. It sucks because I kinda feel a responsibility to kids who might want to start taking drugs. In a few interviews Chris and I have talked about smoking marijuana, and we read it back and thought, "Geeze, that probably influencing someone." I've done enough pot in my life where I don't need to do it anymore. I learned too late that it destroys your memory and now I'm suffering for it. I think ifs really lame for journalists to write and accuse me of taking drugs because kids are going to read that article and then they're going to do drugs because I do. That's really lame.
Cake: What are your feelings on whole Pearl Jam, Soundgarden thing. I hate to put Soundgarden in that class because when their first EP came out I thought they were like Robert Plant fronting the Butthole Surfers, I thought they were amazing.
Kurt: They used to be great, they were even better in like '85 when Chris Cornell had a Flock of Seagulls haircut! They were just like the Butthole Surfers, they were amazing.
Cake: Now they're totally into this metal thing, they're touring with Guns and Roses… That's the tour you guys turned down?
Kurt: Right, we turned down Guns and Roses. That would be a big waste of time. I can't comment on Soundgarden because I know them personally and I really like them a lot, but I have strong feelings towards Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains and bands like that. They're obviously just corporate puppets that are just trying to jump on the alternative bandwagon - and we are being lumped into that category. Those bands have been in the hairspray/cockrock scene for years and all of a sudden they stop washing their hair and start wearing flannel shirts. It doesn't make any sense to me. There are bands moving from L.A. and all over to Seattle and then claim they've lived there all their life so they can get record deals. It really offends me.
Cake: What was the inspiration for the track "Endless Nameless" that appears on the CD?
Kurt: It's a little taste of what our next album might sound like. We were screwing around with those kinds of sounds at the time we were recording "Nevermind" and at the last minute we decided to record that song. We've been fooling around with a lot of noise and different guitar effects pedals and stuff. I don't want to get too experimental to where we turn into a punk rock version of Rush or Yes! I hope we have enough sense to know when to quit.
Cake: Have you seen the "Teen Spirit" ad on TV?
Kurt: No, someone told me about that. I've been waiting for them to jump on that. I was kind of afraid of being sued. That isn't why I wrote the song, I didn't even know that product existed.
Cake: Well they did jump on it!
Kurt: When you're in the public eye you have no choice but to be raped over and over again - they'll take every ounce of blood out of you until you're exhausted. Weird Al Yankovic is… his whole album is devoted to us! In the beginning I talked to him on the phone and he's like "Hey Kurt, how ya doing? I'd like to record your song 'Teen
Spirit' for my next album." I thought, ok, that's fine, I liked "Mother One Rides The Bus", I thought that was kinda clever. Then all of a sudden he's done a video in mockery of our video and the album has a picture of him naked in the water with a dollar bill. I think it's gone a bit too far! We weren't prepared for something like that. Legally he can do stuff like that, at the time I thought he was just going to record our song but he's trying to revive his career based on us. I don't know, I guess ifs no more offensive than a bootleg. Journalists are grovelling for any kind of article about us, like they're going down to Aberdeen and talking to kids that look to be in my age range and they look like they could be my friend and these guys with tractor hats and moustaches are claiming to be my friends. They're saying "Yeah, Kurt slept on my couch for six months, it was great!", "I sold him his first amplifier!"
Cake: Then you'll have all these people writing books on you!
Kurt: Well… it won't last. I'm looking forward to the future. It will only be another year and then everyone will forget about it.
Cake: The last time you played here you played at the Sports arena, what are you going to do the next time you play here?
Kurt: That's a big problem… I was thinking about some kind of a system that we could work out so we could go on some kind of a club tour - somehow kids could prove that they were into Nirvana, with an old worn out "Fudge packing" shirt or something… It would be great to do something like that but it's not very realistic. It just doesn't seem possible. We'll just have to wait until our next record comes out and it bombs, then we'll loose the audience that really doesn't matter in the first place, all the kids who just turned on to "Nevermind" in the last year, and we'll have our old fans back probably. I don't even know if that's realistic, but it's a nice thought.
Cake: A friend of mine just got a Nirvana fan magazine that Rip put out - "40 pages of Kurt, Chris and Dave! All color, all grunge!".
Kurt: It's weird that things like than can happen. I guess if magazines have done an interview with you then they have the right to put out booklets like that and make a bunch of money out of it and you don't get anything. It's kind of embarrassing too, like a pin-up model! We're going to put out our own fanzine and I think we're going to do a compilation tape to go along with it of some of our favorite songs. Just like if you were going to make a tape for your friend, of old punk rock records. I don't know what the fanzine will be about, I don't want it to be a homage to the band. I'm thinking of getting a bunch of people to contribute to it and just write what they want on any subject.
Cake: In the song "Lithium" you have a line that says something like "Lite my candles, in a daze, because I've found God." Is that your view on people who are brainwashed by religion?
Kurt: Yeah, I guess you could say that. The story is about a guy who lost his girlfriend, I can't decide what caused her to die, let's say she died of AIDS or a car accident or something, and he's going around brooding and he turned to religion as a last resort to keep himself alive. To keep him from suicide. Sometimes I think religion is ok for certain people. It's good to use religion as a last resort before you go insane. I have this relative who I really love a lot and she really inspired me because she was a musician and I used to go to her house all the time and she because really disillusioned with her life and became suicidal. And we felt that she was gonna kill herself. Now she's a Born Again Christian - and because of religion she is alive still. I think that is ok.
Cake: I have a lot of friends who are ex-drug addicts, and when you take the drugs out you have to put in something more powerful, like God.
Kurt: That's the truth.
Cake: I guess it's cool because they ARE alive. That is a point. You guys are planning a big tour this summer, I hate to say like Lollapabooza, but not called that, something else.
Kurt: It's going to be called the Lollapa-loser tour!
Cake: Who will touring on that?
Kurt: Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, hopefully the Pixies or the Breeders, Shonen Knife, probably Jesus Lizard if they're available or the Melvins and this band called Bjorn Again - they're amazing. We want to have it at around the same time as Lollapalooza to show that there is an alternative to false alternative macho metal.
Cake: Like Chili Peppers…
Kurt: Yeah, and especially Pearl Jam. I can't really call Pearl Jam "macho" but it's not the kind of stuff that I am into.
Cake: I call it "lame macho".
Kurt: I don't mean to slag them so much but I can't help it! They really get on our nerves because on MTV they put us right into the same category with them.
Al: How big a role does Geffen have in your plans? It's everybody's big phobia that the major label will take away your artistic freedom, or at least play a big part in forming it.
Kurt: We've never had a conflict with Geffen, not one. Our A&R man lets us do what ever we want - and legally we can do whatever we want because we have a really good contract. Our lawyer worked at getting us one of the best contracts I've ever heard of. The people that work at DGC are really good people, a lot of the employees are people that worked at independent labels like SST. They're totally aware of what our band is like. Now that we sold a whole bunch of records we have even more control - even though we don't need to stress anything. They let us do whatever we want.
Al: Do they try to treat you like traditional rock stars just because that is what they are geared towards - because of Gun and Roses or whomever?
Kurt: Not at all. There's been a few times where limousines shows up at the airport when we get there, but sometimes that's not DGC's fault, it's just the promoters fault. There are some places where the representatives of DGC aren't that hip to underground music, so there's a lot of learning going on at the label. No, they don't treat us like rock stars. Plus, DGC is a subsidiary of Geffen, Guns and Roses are on Geffen and DGC pretty much just has Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth and, us and, uh, Nelson. I forgot all about them!
Cake: How was your Australia/New Zealand/Japan tour?
Kurt: Well, it was just a continuation of our other tour, and by then I was just a walking zombie, I didn't have very many emotions left. But still, playing live was good enough, it made me feel good. Especially in Japan because the environment was so different than anywhere else. We were playing clubs to a couple of thousand people… all in seated areas - the kids weren't allowed to leave their seats. There were like 30 bouncers with three piece suits to restrain any kids who were having too much fun. You play a song and then they clap… politely, then there was dead air. It was really bizarre! We got to hang out with Shonen Knife while we were there.
Cake: So you're taking time off and living here in L.A.
Kurt: Right, living and relaxing.
Al: Where are the other guys?
Kurt: Dave is in Washington DC with his mother. Chris is living in Seattle, he's got a house there. I'm looking forward to finding a place to live up in Seattle - we want to move up to Seattle. I'm just taking time off right now, I need to relax. It feels like I've been on the road for the last three years… We've always toured a lot, we've been to Europe three times. Before we started the last tour we decided to go out before the record came out so that fans who have been into us for years could see us in smaller clubs before it got any bigger. It took years off of our lives to go on tour for so long, but it was worth it. The last time we played in New York it was in a club of 1000 people, so we don't know what it's like to be on an "arena rock" tour yet - or even if we're going to, I don't know. We did a short tour with the Chili Peppers and played arenas and it was really weird, like playing on a different planet.
Cake: And you guys did a cover of "Baba O'Rielly" by the Who!
Kurt: Yeah, we just got on the stage and I'm like "Chris, I feel like we're the Who!" and he said "Hey, lets play 'Teenage Wasteland!'" we didn't know how to play it but the "Louie Louie" chords worked out.
Al: What about "Saturday Night Live"?
Kurt: It was really scary. There's a lot of stress to play on a television show live, you can hear every little note that's missed. I don't know, it kinda bugs me.
Cake: At the end of the credits Chris and Dave acted like they were making out!
Kurt: Yeah, we got a lot of irate letters about that. "I used to like you guys but now that I found out that you're fags…"
Cake: Well, we don't really have any more questions - thanks for doing the interview with us.
Kurt: Well you know I've been wanting to do fanzine interviews this entire time and so far only a few have approached us. I think they just assume that we wouldn't even want to talk to them at all. That was bumming me out.
Cake: I saw the interview in Your Flesh…
Kurt: Yeah, I don't know what happened with that at all, I don't have any excuse for it… We fired our publicist over stuff just like that. We said get us a list of fanzines to do and we gave them a list also - but nothing was happening with it, we just kept getting metal magazines! I mean it's still obviously a corporation, so there are bad sides to it. But the Your Flesh thing, that's expected. I totally understand their attitude, when Husker Du came out with "Candy Apple Gray" I wrote them off as being corporate sell-outs - and I didn't even listen to the whole record. I just thought it was too commercial sounding and I didn't like them anymore. So if I was 18 and a fan of Nirvana in the beginning and all of a sudden they became these big pop stars, I'd slag them off. I totally understand that, that kind of attitude. It's a totally natural thing. But if you sincerely like a band, you'll stick with them no matter what they do… unless it's so embarrassing that you can't handle it. I don't know, we're not going to put out solo records… They even announced the band on MTV now as "Kurt Cobain and Nirvana". That's ridiculous... the Melvins are putting out solo albums though.
Cake: Do you think you'll ever do any music with Courtney?
Kurt: Oh, I don't know, we play guitar together. There won't be a "Kurt and Courtney" album, like John and Yoko… Yoko was the first female punk rocker…
Cake: Totally! Especially in "Don't Worry Kyoto", Goddamn… if not for her no B-52's or Lydia Lunch or Lene Lovich…
© Al Kowalewski & Cake Nunez, 1992