LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE March ??, 1992 - Alexandria, VA, US

Dan Hedges
Dave Grohl
Publisher Title Transcript
Circus Nirvana Thrashes America Yes
Circus Nirvana Smells Life At The Top Yes

America. A wonderful country, no? Where else can you score a burger and fries, make a deposit into your Christmas Club account, have your soul saved and your darkest carnal cravings satiated—all without leaving the comfy, hermetic cocoon of your '78 Coupe De Ville?

And where else can three guys from the edge of nowhere (who cheerily admit they can barely walk and chew gum at the same time) suddenly find themselves blaring from every car radio in Creation? Both critics' and consumers' darlings, they're already platinum-tinged legends in their own lunchtime—thanks to a three-and-a-half chord, fuzz n' feedback rant that was partly inspired by a deodorant.

But that’s Nirvana's story, and it's one that's finally paying their bills. With their second album, Nevermind (and its love it/hate it “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), Aberdeen, Washington's favorite underground, punk/grunge garage combo has waxed triumphant these past six months. Magazine covers... big-time TV slots… sold-out gigs at venues thrice removed from the toilets-with-bouncers they've played in for five years... Nirvana is the sound of the moment and maybe even the hour—though the three musicians seem bewildered when it comes to explaining why.

“I think people have caught on to us because it’s been so long since a record has come out that's so ...different,” drummer Dave Grohl muses, taking a mid-tour breather at his mom's place. “It's not some technical, masturbatory, ‘see-what-I-can do?’ record for Guitar Institute of Technology students, who can sit around trying to figure out the licks for the next two years. It's a record with twelve songs on it. The label didn't do any massively insane promotional hype. They just put it out. It was all pretty organic.”

Don't call it metal, though. The three musicians cringe at categorizations, though as bassist Chris Novoselic has pointed out, “We sound like the Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath.”

Grohl doesn't disagree, but notes that the metal bands that Nirvana is often lumped in with (thanks to “Teen Spirit”) fall into “this little cookie-cutter mold. They go out on tour, molest some girls, get really fucked up, someone O.D.s, and they have to cancel the last leg of the tour. So they come home, go into detox..."

Nirvana is a different animal and, as he stresses, “There are bands like the Melvins, or Earth from Seattle, who are heavier than any metal act. In a lot of ways, heavy metal is this macho, sexist, headbanging attitude that's gotten out of hand. We don't want to have anything to do with that attitude. We're normal people.”

Relatively anyway. The official party line is that Nirvana was born at a rural Pacific Northwestern art college where (according to their record label's press releases) vocalist: guitarist Kurt Cobain was “a sawblade painter specializing in wildlife and seascapes,” and Novoselic's passion revolved around gluing seashells and driftwood onto burlap.

But as Grohl warns, you can believe all this at your own peril. “The band bios that record companies send to press and radio people are so stupid,” he says. “They all say the same thing. ‘We're the best band in the world.’ So we thought we'd write our own and put in all those ‘rock band meets in art school’ clichés. It's all lies! But it's sort of unfair because nobody knows. Radio stations are still going, ‘This next track's from Nirvana, three guys who met in art school and walked around reading Rod McKuen poetry....’ He laughs, “We should issue a public disclaimer.”

In truth, earlier versions of the band (Novoselic, Cobain, and a succession of drummers) had been paying dues for several years by the time Grohl came aboard 18 months ago. Familiar faces on the Seattle/Tacoma club circuit since 1987, they'd signed with the tiny, alternative Sub Pop label (former home of Soundgarden) and struck modest pay dirt with their debut LP, 1989's Bleach, and a four-song EP, Blew.

Grohl (veteran of the Washington D.C.-based Scream) first crossed paths with his future bandmates backstage at a Melvins' show in San Francisco. “There was this guy who was about six-foot-seven, really huge,” the drummer explains, tongue-in-cheek. “He's telling a story, and he's really loud and obnoxious and jumping around [Novoselic]. Then there's this other tiny weasel of a guy sitting in a corner, not talking to anybody and looking like he's taking a shit [Cobain]. I asked Buzz from the Melvins, ‘Who are they?’ And he said, ‘Nirvana.’ Looking at the cover of Bleach, everybody gets the impression they're burly, loggers-in-flannel guys. When I joined, I didn't know what to expect. But it was good music. It was something to do.”

It's also helped keep a couple of million listeners gainfully entertained as Nevermind continues to sell by the truckload. “Now that I'm home, I'm seeing friends of my mother who are into this band,” Grohl admits. “I'm seeing two-year-old kids singing along to ‘Teen Spirit.’ I've seen stockbroker yuppies slam-dancing to it on a disco floor. It's spreading like the plague. Hopefully, the original following who bought Bleach are listening to Nevermind and realize it’s the same trip. The same ideal. The same band.”

But is it the stuff that modern, cutting-edge heroes are made of? Not exactly. At the moment, Nirvana have half the eves and ears in the Western Hemisphere focused on them, but as Kurt Cobain has admitted, “We've never cared much for professionalism as long as the energy was there. Like our live shows—we're out of tune and use a lot of feedback. That's not on purpose or because we don't care. We're just musically and rhythmically retarded, and we play so hard that we can't tune our guitars fast enough.”

Dave Grohl agrees. “We just wanted to make pop songs that people could sing along to, without being your average pop sing-along band. I’m sure that some of the people who come to see us have the same initial reaction that I first had, ‘This is Nirvana? They're just a bunch of skinny, burned-out little creeps.’"

If record sales are any indication, nobody seems to mind—though as the drummer points out, the three aren't comfortable with the sudden attention. “If anything, we're trying to deny the fame,” he says. “All of us are shy, semi-retarded, insecure idiots.

Like, I'll go downtown to a bar. There'll be four meathead jock Marines drinking beer, and I'll hear 'em go “Nirvana! Yeah!’ and realize they're talking to me. It's like ‘This is my fan club?’ It's scary. We don't want to be recognized on the street. We have lives outside the band. Fame isn't what we were looking forward to at all.”

As rock musicians have insisted since the first drum solo crawled from the primordial ooze, all that counts is the music. Nirvana's angle on things is no exception, As Dave Grohl insists. “We don't want to give people what they expect. On tour, we get so bored with doing the same fucking songs every night that we'll pull out these little gems that we write at soundcheck. We don't want to come off as some money machine. tool around the country and milk the record for all it’s worth, We just want to get out and play.” He laughs. “I guess it’s kind of like therapy, you know?”

© Dan Hedges, 1992

"Tour… tour… tour," Dave Grohl of Nirvana says in Virginia, so fried-out that he's starting to drool. "Ever since I've been in this band, we've been touring. Five nights of playing. Two days of doing press. When we're not on stage, we're eating, or sleeping, or shitting, and that's about it. It's enough to drive anybody insane." Scoring triple platinum with 'Nevermind' has its bright and darker sides.

That's life at the Top O' The Charts, ladies and gentlemen. For drummer Grohl, guitarist Kurt Cobain, and bassist Chris Novoselic, scoring triple platinum with Nevermind has its bright and darker sides.

Sure, the three can finally afford to order extra-large Cokes with their burgers and fries. And the band's grunge-pop success (along with that of fellow up-and-comers Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam) has definitely put the Pacific Northwest on the rock map.

But it's also sent record label folk, hordes of them, winging toward Seattle to wave contracts at anything with a lumberjack shirt and a pulse. And for Nirvana, it's meant that lots of people suddenly want them to explain what they're doing. Why they do it. How they do it. And what it all means to the Future of Mankind.

As Dave Grohl insists, "We're the last people to analyze anything we do. It's usually by mistake or luck. MTV had a lot to do with how the record went, exposing kids in the midwest who don't have an alternative record store that sells music from the subculture. But if you want to know why we've taken off? We have no idea."

Nirvana's mainstream TV appearances (as on Saturday Night Live last January) have introduced them to a wider audience. But more importantly, the exposure's proved (in an era of studio gimmickry) that the band is the same grungy slopfest onstage as it is on your tape deck. No mirrors, no tricks… maybe a guitar gets trashed during the final chord. What you see is what you get… which just might be the cornerstone of Nirvana's success.

"We take advantage of live television," the drummer points out, "although TV station floor managers in England flip us out. They're so uptight. They're all running around like chickens with their heads cut off, 'Ohhhhhh nooooooo… what are we gonna dooooooo?!' We'd decide, 'Let's send these people to the hospital, put em in straightjackets.' So we'd blow the roof off the place. Then we'd see em at a pub afterward, and they're drunk and going, 'Ish gr-rrreat whassh you guys played. Never head a band so wunnerful…'"

A band of the people? A band that's all things to everyone? Not quite… though Nirvana's goal has always been, Grohl recalls, "to shake things up with songs you could sing to, but not be your average pop sing-along band."

Before work began on Nevermind he goes on, "We went into our rehearsal space every day for months. We came up with so much stuff where'd we'd go, 'God! This is the best thing we've ever done!' Then we'd forget how to play it. So many songs got thrown away until we finally said, 'Maybe we should start recording them on a cassette.' So we'd record them on a cassette, then lose the cassette…"

Nirvana's '89 debut, Bleach, fared well under the wing of Seattle's tiny Sub Pop label. Due to the success of Nevermind, Bleach is enjoying a second wind as it climbs the Billboard chart. But even after it became crucial, career-wise, to move to a more global company, "We were wary of having other people make decisions," Grohl admits. "Even suggestions were a threat. We decided that DGC was the only label worth a shit. They might even be worth two shits. They knew where we were coming from."

Whether Nirvana's newer fans totally understand where the band's coming from is another matter. As Grohl notes, "Everybody and their brother knows 'Teen Spirit,' but we get people in the front row who look puzzled if we play anything off Bleach. We had a strong underground following before Nevermind. That's how we thought it would stay. We looked at Sonic Youth and saw them jumping into the major market. We thought, 'It worked for them, so maybe it'll work for us.' We had no idea it would get this insane."

Fame at last.

"Yeah," Dave Grohl says grimly. "Our first big dose was when we found out we were going to be on the cover of a major magazine. We thought, 'Jesus, that means our faces are going to be on every newsstand and in every 7-Eleven in the country.' Now, it sounds cool. But to have every serial killer in America staring at your picture as they're paying for a six-pack? I mean, think about it. That's scary."

© Dan Hedges, 1992