Phil Sutcliffe
Kurt Cobain
Publisher Title Transcript
Q #85 King Of Pain Yes
TBC Unedited interview transcript and notes Yes

On the eve of the release of In Utero, the hungrily anticipated successor to the planet-rogering Nevermind, Q meets Nirvana and delves into Kurt Cobain's curious world of heroin abuse, acute paranoia, wilful self-destruction, shoulder-shrugging nihilism and child-like love. "I wish I could have taken a class on becoming a rock star," he confesses to Phil Sutcliffe. "It might have prepared me for this."

IT'S AROUND MIDNIGHT. KURT COBAIN sits forlorn at the head of a long, empty table in a Manhattan hotel conference room. "It's impossible, it's not worth it," he says in one worn-out sigh. "I think if this book comes out there just won't be a band any more." This book is the notorious, though still unpublished, Victoria Clarke and Britt Collins version of the Nirvana story. Since last autumn, rumours of its contents have moved Cobain and his wife, Hole singer Courtney Love, to counter-attacks ranging from legal pressure to threatening answerphone messages ("If anything comes out in this book which hurts my wife, I'll fuckin' hurt you!").

A few minutes earlier, Love had interrupted the interview in some distress, clutching her stomach, as if that was where the hurt was, and asked for a private word with her husband. She'd been checking through proofs of the book supplied to the band that evening by the prospective publishers, who are so alarmed by the prospect of litigation that they have offered Nirvana not only a preview but various options on right of reply and text approval too.

As is well known, the most vexed area of the Clarke-Collins investigations concerned Love and Cobain's flirtation with heroin, which probably began in late 1991 and went critical when she found she was pregnant the following January. Love says that after doctors confirmed the baby would be unharmed if she quit at once, she entered a detox clinic and stayed straight from then on. Their daughter, Frances Bean, was born, normal and healthy, on August 18 last year. However, an article in September's Vanity Fair quoted Love, falsely she swears, as admitting she'd carried on shooting up for two months after the positive pregnancy test - a line Clarke-Collins were alleged to be pursuing through concerted efforts to obtain confidential medical records.

It's not just a matter of the Cobains' "good name". A Los Angeles court took the Vanity Fair piece as prima facie evidence to remove Frances from their home for some weeks (she was placed in Courtney's sister's care) and then, until March this year, compelled the couple to continuously prove they were fit parents via the indignity of supplying regular urine samples to confirm that they hadn't resumed drug-taking. These were the memories revived by reading the book proofs.

"I'm just in a haze right now," says Cobain in his slow-motion Northwestern drawl. "For the last six months there have actually been a few positive articles written about Courtney. We thought the curse had lifted. Now this. I can't decide whether I like playing music enough to put up with the shit that's written about us, especially the shit that's written about somebody I totally love.

"I wish I could have taken a class on becoming a rock star. It might have prepared me for this. Those women have gone out of their way to try to destroy two other people's lives. Or they're so numb they thought it wouldn't bother us."

Looking up from contemplation of the smudged red varnish on his fingernails, he gives the reserved hint of an ironic laugh which is all the public merriment he permits himself. "The strange thing is I used to be an extremely negative person," he says. "My attitudes and opinions have only got more optimistic in the last couple of years and that's because of having a child and being in love. It's the only thing I feel I've been blessed with. That's the life I want. For years, that's the life I was searching for. I wanted a partner. I wanted security. I wanted a family. Everything else is totally irrelevant.

"I know it seems as if I'm a complainer."

KURT COBAIN, NOW 26, IS A CAREER put-upon-artist, constantly offering cues and clues to connect his difficult life with his roaring, howling yet somehow listener-friendly music.

His apprenticeship in angst was served after what one of his new songs mocks as "that legendary divorce": idyllic childhood in the remote timber-trade town of Aberdeen, Washington state, shattered at eight when his parents split and he began shuttling from mother to father to aunts, uncles and grandparents (an experience obviously not unconnected with the heart-stopping primal screams of "Please don't go!" from a child to his mother on the 1988 Sub Pop single, Sliver).

What's ultimately unfathomable is that although he had no family background nor education in any of the arts, after a few years he began to put his feelings into painting, sculpture, poems and music - in addition to vandalism, drug-taking and all-round obnoxiousness, that is. 

Furthermore, he revealed a natural aptitude for the lifestyle of the tormented artist. In his teens, he actually offended the very last relative or friend who would put a roof over his head, and for a time lived on the street - as if tiny Aberdeen were an alienating metropolitan hell. He slept out in cardboard boxes on people's porches or the river bank, as recalled in Something In The Way: "Underneath the bridge/The tarp has sprung a leak. And I'm living off of grass/And the drippings from the ceiling".

Looking back with his strong instinct for candour as well as Art, Cobain has acknowledged that he wasn't entirely the victim of circumstance; in part, he was experimenting with himself, playing a rather arduous role in a boho romance to see what emerged.

However, from his teens, there had always been one aspect of his suffering that was utterly involuntary - frequent, excruciating and unexplained stomach pain. Although it was often dismissed as psychosomatic, purging emotional traumas through his creative endeavours afforded no relief and it was this plain physical agony, by Cobain's account, which eventually led him to adopt another of the stock images of the artist: the strung-out addict teetering on the brink of self-destruction.

According to Michael Azzerad's authorised, yet vivid and startlingly honest Nirvana book, due out in October, on tour in Europe and with Nevermind running riot in album charts everywhere, Cobain decided his stomach pain had become so constant and unbearable that he would try heroin as an anaesthetic. He insists he persuaded Courtney Love to share the highs and the habit, not vice versa as has often been mooted.

For him, though, it got out of hand. It did kill the pain but, says Azzerad, he also recognised a compulsion to take the experience all the way to the pits of addiction. While he detoxed at the same time as his wife, for him it didn't take. He went back to the drug and could not finally accept the "cure" until his baby was about to be born. In early August, '92, he entered a Los Angeles hospital where, days later, in another wing, Courtney went into labour. She gave birth with her husband at her side - vomiting and semi-comatose with withdrawal symptoms.

Maybe that's when he stopped playing the game of art with his life. He cleaned up. Within a few months, a doctor suggested that his stomach pains might be caused by trapped spinal nerves. Subsequent treatment and exercise relieved the former soul-destroying eruptions. Thus, to the surprise of many, Cobain came to record the follow-up to Nevermind in rather good shape.

Yet if, after all, Nirvana's main man wasn't going to take romantic artistry the whole way and actually self-destruct, the people at their record company, Geffen subsidiary DGC, realised they could now move on to worrying about the new album. In particular, there was the art-purism fuelled and commercially suicidal tendency towards "back to the roots" American noise-punk - as in catastrophic unlistenability - when all any sensible executive (or, indeed, fan?) could wish for was a facsimile of the sound that made the universally acclaimed, unimpeachably pulverising Nevermind sell nine million worldwide.

The appointment of Steve Albini as producer just about put the tin lid on the panic, for had he not been a member of the very horrible Big Black, the unspeakable Rapeman? Had he not produced the cochlea-crunching Pixies, the timpani-trashing Breeders? Yes, it was that Steve Albini.

"I HAPPEN TO LOVE STEVE Albini," says Dave Grohl, 24, Nirvana's ever upbeat drummer. "He really prides himself on being the biggest dick you ever met in your life and he does a good job of it. He's also an incredibly intelligent producer."

Had the record company tried to stop Nirvana using him?

"No. We didn't say 'We wanna', we said 'We're gonna'," says Grohl. "After Nevermind, we had the power. Our A&R man at the time, Gary Gersh, was freaking out. I said, 'Gary, man, don't be so afraid, the record will turn out great!' He said, 'Oh, I'm not afraid, go ahead, bring me back the best you can do'. It was like, Go and have your fun, then we'll get another producer and make the real album."

Certainly DGC could afford to contemplate the loss. Two weeks in Pachyderm, an outback Minnesota studio - Nirvana's choice - cost, Cobain maintains, $17,000. Peanuts. And the sessions went without a hitch.

Albini's style of recording was exactly what Nirvana had hoped for to capture the true essence of the sound which, they felt, had been smoothed and prettified on Nevermind. First, he festooned the room with mikes to catch every nuance of each instrument (four or five for the snare drum alone). Then he blasted through, first-taking almost every song. In a fortnight, Nirvana walked away with cassettes of the album, In Utero, three very happy men.

Which is when the rumours set in: initially, that the album had indeed been rejected by DGC as a mass market impossibility. Then the story shifted tack - partly because Steve Albini had joined the fray with dark, non-specific hints that his work was being adulterated - to suggest that Nirvana had bowed to label pressure and heavily re-recorded or remixed, cravenly dumping "alternative" integrity for commercial gain.

What was it all about?

"The truth is Steve Albini is very paranoid. I've never worked with so many people I respect as I do now at DGC," says Kurt Cobain, former scourge of "corporate rock whores". "Some of them didn't like the record and told us so. Some of them loved it. Either way, we did what we wanted because our contract gives us 100 per cent artistic control."

It was all smoke and no fire then?

"Those tapes we took away from the studio sounded very different when we played them at home," says Cobain. "For three weeks none of us could work out what was wrong and we didn't know what the fuck we were going to do. Then we realised it was the vocals and the bass weren't loud enough. The mixing we'd done with Steve Albini was so fast it was ridiculous, about one hour per track. We decided to remix two songs, Heart-Shaped Box and Scentless Apprentice, with Scott Litt (R.E.M.'s producer). The rest we were able to improve during mastering. That took care of it. We're totally satisfied now."

"This album sounds like Nirvana!" Grohl enthuses. "Nevermind's only flaw was that it had no flaws. Play it alongside our live tapes and it's a sharp, thin thing compared to this big boom, this rumble, this khhhhhsss (a fair impression of megawatt static issues from the back of his throat). In Utero is boom and rumble, man!"

So that's all right then, at least until the reviews come in. The album isn't the easy-listening option.

Except that when Nirvana made their concert comeback with a short-notice gig at the Roseland dance hall in New York, they threw another curveball. Live, for an hour, the scattering of songs from In Utero fitted seamlessly with the Nevermind material - a familiar, incendiary roar, nothing outlandish. The masses moshed, the industry enclosure bobbed and grinned.

But then on came the lady cellist. Nirvana pulled up stools and played a five-song acoustic set, including Polly and Something In The Way from Nevermind and a Leadbelly song called Where Did You Sleep Last Night. Then they walked off. In silence. Launching their "new campaign", a multi-platinum band had actually made their audience forget to want an encore. When, after five minutes of shuffle and mutter, Nirvana did come back with a full-on electric Smells Like Teen Spirit and the feedback workout Endless Nameless, it was hardly by popular demand.

They surely had put a different complexion on the evening, though - white in the case of DGC faces who came fearing they would be confronted by a wall of impenetrable noise and went away terrified by acoustic ballads.

I'M GLAD TO HAVE THAT SHOW BEHIND US," SAYS bass player Chris Novoselic, 28, very quietly because he's hungover. "I'd been kinda anxious about it, but we really flowed. And we pulled off the acoustic set, even though I was a little disturbed at the way they writhed around while we did it, like, Guys, gym class is Monday morning!"

Novoselic and Grohl both conduct their interviews in the hotel lobby during the afternoon while they're waiting for Cobain to come down for a photo session. They'll wind up waiting for two hours. The frontman always apologises profusely to his "co-workers", as he puts it, and even to journalists for these delays, but always does it again.

On the whole, the famously tall bassman, Cobain's fellow Aberdonian and faithful friend since 1985, copes with this small frustration and many greater ones in the life of Nirvana by striving to retain a "cohesive" personality: "I like to be congenial. Nice." But he admits that his alternative tactic when the going gets too fraught is to beat a retreat.

Last year when fame came charging over the hill, when his dear pal Cobain lost himself in heroin and Novoselic and his wife, Shelli, ended up not coming to his wedding because of a row over their disapproval of the drug, when there were even disputes about songwriting royalties, Novoselic's reaction was to withdraw to Seattle and "tinker on a motorcycle".

Grohl had similar instincts. The last to join the band (in late '90) but close to Cobain having lived with him for eight months when he moved from Washington DC to Washington state, he has developed a very bleak view of the music industry. "It's so full of arrogant people, people who have no shame, people without a shred of decency, people who are just out for fuckin' money, money money. That's why I refuse to deal with it; it's too much of a headache."

Compared to Novoselic's restorative contemplation of his motorcycle, Grohl was hyperactive during Nirvana's lay-off, but he was escaping into normality too: spending time with his fiancée in Seattle, his mother in North Carolina; driving back across America by motor bike and truck; touring the States for a fortnight with his previous band, Scream - humping their own gear into CBGB's and the like - until only three days before Nirvana's comeback at Roseland.

While Grohl could take a break from the phenomenon of "the band who saved rock" with the basement-level combo of his teens. Novoselic was looking inside to recover the particular free and provocative spirit he brought to Nirvana when he formed it with the far less outgoing Cobain.

"Oh, I wouldn't dwell on trying to be provocative," he says, "but I guess I've always been politically aware, at least, going back to when I was 17 and spraying slogans on the walls. I suppose those attitudes are still there in what blurts out of our mouths against sexism, racism, or about Bosnia. My favourites were slogans like 'Nixon killed Hendrix' or 'God is gay'. In Aberdeen that one was good enough for the authorities to paint it over the next day (and it made the lyrics of Stay Away on Nevermind).

"For me, the point is to do anything spontaneously - open the car door and I'll hop in. That's what happened with that 'controversy' at the end of Saturday Night Live last year when we were all kissing one another. It wasn't planned. When we finished playing, I just looked at Kurt and Dave and started chompin' them. It was funny. But they cut it out of the repeats."

At last, Cobain appears, Courtney Love at his side. Unaccountably, he's wearing a woolly cardigan and a sheepskin-lined leather flying helmet with poodle earflaps. But when someone reminds him it's 90F New York outside rather than midwinter Aberdeen, rational revisions are made to the incipient outburst of rock star eccentricity. The centrally heated headgear is ditched, the cardy removed and he asks Love to give him her nice cerise striped blouse, which she does without question.

AROUND MIDNIGHT IN THE CONFERENCE room, Cobain's still wearing it as he chomps on a tuna and mayonnaise sandwich, abstemiously bought from a nearby deli rather than room service. "The acoustic set was a very last-minute idea," he says. "I'd never done anything like it. It was strange because I could hear people talking louder than I could hear the band. Very rude. I mean, even if I don't like a band that much I'd still have enough respect not to do that. But I guess that's New York for you.

"I don't want to react in such an extreme way as maybe U2 have by turning their show into a kitsch vaudeville act and be so sarcastic about the whole idea of being a rock'n'roll star that it becomes a sick joke."

Surprisingly, though, Cobain reckons that, to some degree. In Utero represents a softening of his attitude to communication with Nirvana's audience. He claims to have given up on complaints about the conspicuous multitudes of "jocks" - translation: "macho knuckleheads" - who like his band. In fact, to make it easier for them, he says he's become more straightforward on the lyrical front.

However, this is a welcome development for all who like to know what a song's on about.

Nevermind purveyed many a stimulating image; Smells Like Teen Spirit's "I feel stupid and contagious/Here we are now entertain us", for instance, has gathered laurels as a pithy summation of post-Reagan-Thatcher era '90s sourness. In general, though, Cobain's writing has seemed a matter of banging images together with six-inch nails rather than crafting the smooth dovetail joints that might have made his meaning clear (or forced him to work out exactly what it was).

The handsome face, carved lean by hard luck and trouble and years of not eating his greens, breaks into an almost boyish confessional grin.

I've always painted abstracts," he says. "I love dreams that don't make sense. I'd much rather watch a film that doesn't have a plot. Most of my lyrics don't connect because I've taken lines from lots of different poems of mine and put them together. I'll make up a theme well after the fact, oftentimes while I'm being interviewed.

"But there are a few more obvious subjects on this album than on the last. Scentless Apprentice has a story based on a book I can't stop reading called Perfume by Patrick Susskind. In Rape Me, I was trying to write an anti-rape song in a very bold way. What I've realised is that in order to get your point across, you have to be obvious. That's how most people want songs to be. They need it thrown right in their face."

So it can't be coincidental that In Utero is full of images relating to babies and childbirth from the title onwards? This must be an album about Kurt Cobain becoming a father.

He grins. "No, it is coincidental. I've always been fascinated by reproduction and birth. I've been painting foetuses for years and making foetus dolls out of clay. There's just something glorious about pregnancy. I've got so much respect for women because they bear children. They seem the more sacred humans to me.

"Seahorses interest me, you know. The female carries the babies first then transfers them to the male who actually gives birth. Shared pregnancy."

It sounds as though you think we should try to go the same way?

"I think so. I think we'll get there."

© Phil Sutcliffe, 1993


Phil Sutcliffe: Can we start on the concert, it was different for you and for any band, the way you presented the acoustic set. What was the thinking behind that?

Kurt Cobain: It was a very last-minute idea. Last week. We'd been toying with the idea for a month or so. But we finally found the cellist two days before we were scheduled to leave for here and she was only available to practice with us for about three hours so we ran through the four or five songs in that three hours — which gave me quite a heavy bit of nervous tension before the show because I'd never done anything like this at all. I didn't know what to expect. It was like, I didn't want it to seem like…For years I've always loathed the idea of acoustic sets because of the indulgence aspect with Zeppelin making a big production out of it, sit down for an hour or so, which seems to take away the whole energy that's given off by the electric part of the set. The soundcheck turned out really good but once the venue filled up and we got on stage it made the monitors sound completely different — the guitar sounded like a banjo and I couldn't hear the cello. I could hear people talking louder than I could hear our band. That's a New York audience for you. Very rude.

PS: Around me people were talking all through, very loudly about the music, then at the finish of the number saying, 'Hey that was really good!' [Kurt crunching his sweet loudly; note he has the remnants of red varnish on all his nails.]

KC: God! At first I was really pissed off about it, then I realized it's New York and the New Music Seminar is on. You can't expect an audience in this kind of environment to pay a lot of attention to you and accept something as different as Nirvana doing an acoustic set. Although we've had a couple of acoustic songs on both our records, it's not what's expected from us. Then there's the particular effect of finishing the set with it…Wha?

PS: It emphasizes it, places more of a burden on it.

KC: That's true, I think it wouldn't have gone over so well if we hadn't have come back out on stage and played a couple more songs.

PS: What did you think of the reaction when you went off after the acoustic set and there was more or less silence.

KC: I didn't notice that, it didn't even cross my mind. Maybe they hated us. [Laughs mildly — voice generally is a low drawly murmur.]

PS: Well it shows you were different and you provoked a different response. Maybe they couldn't come out of the acoustic set into themselves making a load of noise. Is this a rock show, sort of puzzlement. Then, when you came back on and played Teen Spirit they knew what to do again. So would you do it again?

KC: I'll do it again if I can make sure that the monitors will sound better next time. I've tried to play acoustic guitar live a few times and it's just never worked. It's never sounded like an acoustic guitar by the time it's been put through the PA and monitors. It's really hard to mike an acoustic guitar and get the same sound out of it as when you play it in a room. So maybe we'll leave it to surprise shows, when we play small pubs and so on. I'd rather do that, I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

PS: How did you feel about it in relation to your previous reservations about it being an indulgence?

KC: We knew it wouldn't be as indulgent as a Led Zeppelin acoustic set. We made sure we'd only play four or five songs, go off the stage and then play some more electrically.

PS: What about the Lead Belly song — was that the first time you'd played it?

KC: I've been playing it for years myself but that was the first time the band's played it. It was thrown together at the last minute so we weren't tight enough, it didn't seem familiar enough to relax and enjoy it. I should still be able to enjoy it whether or not my guitar sounds good to me. I should know it's going to at least sound good in the audience — which I've been told by at least ten people it did last night.

PS: Uh, you lost the volume up toward the back I think. Which is where I was. I've been very puzzled in recent years about why people come to concerts to talk. There was somebody politely asking "Would you mind not talking?" and the answer he got was "Fuck off!" [with two fingers.]

KC: That's New York for you. Maybe it'll go over better in Idaho. There's been times when we've played "Polly" — that's with an electric guitar — and people talk through that as well.

PS: I guess you discover what a concert's about. A lot of it seems to be about socializing.

KC: It does. I was hoping because it was such a spontaneous event our truest fans would be in the audience, the ones who I would expect to have enough respect to be quiet during the acoustic part. Very odd! [Laughs]

PS: In a few articles I've read you seem to be having an unusual time in that all of you seem to express reservations about your own audience as if you'd prefer not to be liked by some of them — such as 'jocks.'

KC: Yeah, there are quite a few of them in our audience. At this point if they haven't realized our opinions about certain things then there's no hope, there's no point in us talking about certain things. They're still going to show up, they're still going to cause problems and carry on the tradition of being macho and disrespectful towards women. I'd rather talk about other things than try to change their attitudes and opinions about lifestyles. Last night was a good testament to that. I've been realizing for a long time that there's no changing people with what we say in interviews. It doesn't do any good. I'd rather play music with Chris and Dave and concentrate on that. I'd rather please ourselves. I still like playing live shows, I still like playing with Chris and Dave so who is in the audience is not going to bother me anymore.

PS: That's something from experience that's made you decide you have to set it aside?

KC: Yeah, I don't want to react in such an extreme way as maybe U2 has by turning their show into a kitsch vaudeville act by being so sarcastic about the whole idea of being a Rock 'n' Roll star that it becomes a sick joke. I'm still a serious music fan. Even if I don't like a band that much I'd still have enough respect not to yell and scream or talk during an acoustic part, there's one point of the show where this girl was hoisted above everyone's heads and all these men in the audience started catcalling her and yelling — that really upset me, but what am I supposed to do? Throw my guitar down and start yelling at them about it? It doesn't do any good. All you do it get ridiculed for it. Fugazi do that all the time and they get nothing but shit for it.

PS: So these things are going through your head while you're playing?

KC: Yeah, it's pretty distracting. Especially when I'm trying to remember the songs, that was enough pressure right there; remember the songs and hopefully do a good job.

PS: The album, why did you choose Steve Albini and did it work as planned?

KC: Yeah, it did. We got the sound that we wanted. Exactly the same sound that I have been carrying in my head since the beginning of this band. I always had wanted to record a record which has a very personal ambience to it — that sounded as though you were standing next to a band in a room, that you're hearing all the reflections off the walls. We recorded in a studio a little bit bigger than this room and that's exactly how it transferred onto tape. The reason for that is we used a lot of microphones. The theory that I came across one night when I was thinking about how to get a band across on record was I realized microphones are directional and they only pick up the surface of whatever the microphone's pointed at and within a radius of a few inches. I thought if you pointed three or four microphones at the snare drum you'd be able to get the real sound of the snare drum. It sounds ridiculous to 99% of producers because that's not the way they've been taught, it's not the standard way. But I've always liked to experiment so I thought I would like to do something like that — ever since we started recording I've suggested it to producers — Jack Endino, Butch Vig — and they weren't willing to do it. They just said it isn't the way to record. But listening to "Surfer Rosa" and "Pod" I sensed that was what Steve was doing, though I didn't know — I'd never read any interview where he explained his recording process, but I just felt he might be doing it. And I'd heard he was very much into experimenting so I thought if he didn't do it this way then he might be willing to try it. But it turned out that's exactly what his trick is. We used maybe 30 microphones taped to the walls, the ceiling, the floor, all over the place.

PS: And then the whole band played live?

KC: Yeah, that's exactly how it was recorded. I had five or six microphones in front of my amplifier. A few up close, a few a couple of feet away and that's how we recorded, that's how the vocals were recorded — with five microphones.

PS: You recorded vocals with the band?

KC: No, I did vocals and guitar separately. We used a ridiculous number of microphones, they play a big part in his theory of recording. He uses a lot of old German microphones from the Thirties and other brands I can't name, but very specific ones. I never really wanted to become this much of a tech-head. I always figured if you just played passionately it would come out that way but it's not like that. It's a very strict and meticulous job, something I've had a hard time with ever since I've started recording. It's mathematics and I've always been terrible at math. It's a very long, tedious process which just goes on for hours and days and days. Mind-boggling! It's like trying to cram for an exam the night before, it's definitely not as easy as a lot of people think — put up a few microphones and play, that's not it.

PS: Mixing, if anything, is even worse. That can take days on just one song. But you recorded in a couple of weeks?

KC: Yeah, which is very fast for a lot of bands on major labels and really into their art form. Metallica spend months just doing the drums — I've heard stories — I've heard it enough times to believe it, from people who've worked with Metallica, to believe it. I've heard that James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, the drummer, will record each drum hit — he'll hit his snare and they'll cut that piece of tape out, paste it to another piece of tape with another snare hit on it, to layer this drum beat, then they'll run it through a computer to make sure the timing is exact. By that time, to me, it seems all the energy, all the human elements, must have gone and you might as well play with a drum machine. For a band like us to record in three weeks is a ridiculous amount of time. We recorded our first record in two days.

PS: Like the Beatles recorded their first album in twelve hours.

KC: Really? Wow. Then as the years went on they started getting into the technical side of it. Well, I don't plan to go any further than a few weeks with every record — unless we decide to use a completely different…Like samples, sounds which require a lot of samples.

PS: You're not averse to samples?

KC: Probably not, because I'm always looking for new ideas, experiments. But if I were to sample, I would sample from obscure things. I wouldn't base a song on a guitar riff from someone else's song [Room service brings Diet Coke for me and mineral water for Kurt]. It's real easy to take a dance beat and take well-known guitar parts from well-known songs. If I was to do it I'd do it from children's records and sound effects' records, things like that. [His drawl has an oddly English upper class air to it.]

PS: The singing on this album — you're famous for your screaming, so to speak, but on one or two tracks it seems about as far as a human being could go in letting something rip vocally.

KC: I didn't notice I was screaming any more violently or louder than on other recordings.

PS: "Scentless Apprentice" was one I thought…

KC: I dunno. I did all the vocal tracks in about six hours for the whole record, kept knocking them off one after the other. It just happened to be a good day. Sometimes my voice will go out within a couple of hours. That happened a lot on the "Nevermind" sessions.

PS: Are you still doing this thing of the darkened room and closing your eyes to sing?

KC: Yeah, I think the lights were dimmed. [Anton Brookes brings a tuna sarnie in from the deli, not room service. Kurt unwraps it noisily.]

PS: There's some kind of abandonment in your vocals. What is it?

KC: I dunno. If I'm to sing on a really aggressive song I just scream as hard as I can.

PS: Is it an emotional thing for you or a technical thing?

KC: Probably both equally as much.

PS: "Scentless Apprentice" is one of several songs on the new album where it seems to be very personal. It seems to relate to you having a baby?

KC: Not at all! [Laughs] It's based on this book called "Perfume" by Patrick Susskind. Amazing story. One of my favorite books. I've read it six times, I can't stop. Every time we're on a trip, on a plane, it's always in my bag so I end up reading that instead of new stuff. It's about this perfume apprentice in France — I think it's in the late 1700s — he has this incredible disgust for human beings. He's been an apprentice for so many years that he feels his life is pretty much useless. He knew he could be a perfume master — I can't remember what they're called — he knew he had the talent to be one of the best in the world, but he hated the idea of producing this substance that was mainly used to cover up the smell of human sweat, the smell of human flesh. The way it's written is just so detailed it makes you want to cut your nose off, you feel and smell so much while you're reading this book, it really attacks your senses. And I've felt that way at times, like, quite a few years ago, I was so disgusted by human beings that, I've felt that, how do you get away from everybody?

PS: So it's personal in a way?

KC: Yes, though I've never been as extreme as the person in the book.

PS: Well, you always associate what happens in people's lives with their work and there's quite a lot of images about babies and births in this album. Is that coincidental?

KC: It is coincidental, [A gentle emphasis] because I've been fascinated with reproduction, birth, death and life — but especially birth — for years. I've collected paintings and books that deal with that subject. I've been painting fetuses for years, I've been making fetus dolls out of clay forever. There's just something really glorious about pregnancy and just supporting the woman. I just can't imagine what it would be like to be pregnant you know? It just fascinates me. I've got so much respect for women because they not only — not only because I love them — but because they give birth and so they seem more sacred to me, they seem the more sacred of humans [Is it Robert Redford his accent reminds me of?] I'm also kind of interested in sea horses' reproduction. There's a male and a female, the male impregnates the female and the female grows the babies then transfers them to the male who carries them until they're developed enough that he gives birth. I think it's the only being on this planet that does it that way.

PS: A sort of shared pregnancy? You think we should work on it?

KC: I think so. I think we'll get there. [Laughing gently]

PS: I'm sure women would wish for it. It may be connected in some sense, but I want to focus on "Rape Me," I think it's going to disturb some people.

KC: Yeah, I know. I have to admit it's a bad choice for a title; I didn't think about it hard enough [He says through his sarnie]. In a way I was trying to make a point that in order to get a point across you have to make things as obvious and bold as you possibly can. Like if we wanted our audience to at least question whether they were homophobic or sexist or racist we'd have to give out leaflets or flyers to each person at the door with some little manifesto written down — very simple. That was my way of putting a twist on an anti-rape song. Instead of trying to be really artistic about it or in any way cryptic, I decided to do it in a very bold in-your-face way. At the time it didn't even seem as though it would affect it because at different times of my life I've felt that people are so jaded that they wouldn't even question the topic, you know? I titled that song about two years ago and since then, since I've supposedly become a lot more optimistic and had a lot better attitude than I did before, I should have thought about it more. But we've always known that song by that title and we haven't questioned it. I should have actually. I kind of regret it — and in a way I don't. I mean, I just don't like the idea of a woman walking round in her apartment humming "Rape Me." It's kind of an offensive thing to do because it's kind of a catchy song too and some people have found themselves doing that so I've gotten a bit of flak for it.

PS: When you're singing it, I mean, are you thinking as a man or as a woman, saying "rape me"?

KC: As a man.

PS: So it's most directly about homophobia?

KC: Yeah, I mean men get raped as well. I really don't have any answer for it. I really was thinking at the time that I wanted to write an anti-rape song but I wanted it almost to be about me or other males although the most important thing would be to address rape against women in the first place, get that out of the way, and address other kinds of rape — not only physical but media rape and everything else. Since…After I wrote the song, the bridge where it says "My favorite inside source," is…Whatever it says after that, I threw that in six months ago. It's my way of bitching and complaining about the media, the way they treated us...There's all different kinds of elements to it.

PS: A lot of the time with your lyrics — although that was one that was supposed to hit you right between the eyes — a lot of the time it seems to be you use images within the one song which are very different. Not obviously connected.

KC: Right.

PS: I wondered if that had anything to do with your painting and sculpting approach to things at all?

KC: Yeah, it does. I've always painted abstracts, I've always thought abstract. I love dreams that don't make sense, I'd much rather watch a film that doesn't have a plot. For me, the reason why most of my lyrics don't connect is that they're all pieces of my poetry. I've used lines from all of these different poems — and in the first place none of the poems are about anything, they're not thematic, and then I take lines out of each of them, put them together — and I make up a theme to the lyric well after the fact, oftentimes as I'm being interviewed. Or someone will suggest something and I'll think 'Hmm…That's a good idea!'

PS: And the point is you think that's OK?

KC: Yeah, that's the way people should interpret most of our music. Which is why this album is a bit different because there are a few obvious subjects in the songs on this album, a few themes. It's the first one I've ever written where the lyric's based on a book or a story, I might have been inspired to write a poem where one of the lines was from a book but this is the first time I've used it in its full context.

PS: So the whole song is one context?

KC: Right. And that's how most people want songs to be. They need it. That's pretty much my reasoning for writing more that way, because people need things thrown right in their face.

PS: You're adapting to listener reaction then?

KC: I didn't have the audience reaction in mind at all when I was writing these songs. I've thought about it since. Although I know that's what needed to be done and that's what people expect, I still wanted to do something different for myself in the first place.

PS: You mentioned you've had a hard time off the media. Do you want to say anything about that?

KC: No, if I say one quote about it in the article, that'll be used in twenty more articles and people will notice some connection with something I said in another interview and people will come to the conclusion that I'm complaining about it all the time, that I'm always bitching about it. I'm not. It's not on my mind all the time. What I say is scrutinized to the point where I'm afraid to say things. But anyone in their right mind would know that we'd be upset and offended by many of the things that have been written about us. So I really can't any more…I started to when I was doing interviews three weeks ago, I was trying to defend myself and straighten out a lot of myths but it isn't going to do any good because people are going to think I'm a complainer — they already think that now so…

PS: One factual thing, in England there was the story about you leaving messages on these authoresses' answerphone — is that real or fake or what?

KC: That's me. I've never denied it [Though management did].

PS: On the album there's been another whole legend about Geffen blocking it and so on. What's the truth?

KC: The truth is Steve Albini is very paranoid and I've never worked with so many people who I respect ever. I've had a lot of co-workers who do their jobs — and at this point I do have to consider that this is my job, it's how I create my income — everyone at DGC has been nothing but supportive and truthful to us, they tell us what they feel. We could disprove the myth about them wanting to not put the album out by making copies of the contract we have with DGC because we have one hundred percent artistic freedom and control. We can do anything we want. I know there are a lot of major labels who put a lot of pressure on their artists to do something different with what they've recorded. I can understand that paranoia, but honestly …Some of the people at DGC didn't like the record, they didn't think it was a very good record. Our A&R man for one didn't like the record and he called me up personally, as a friend, to tell me he didn't think it was a good record. The only thing I felt was kind of sad because I wanted everyone to like it, of course. But some of them don't. Some of them love it. But that had absolutely no bearing on our decision to remix two songs. And the mastering was a very important part of what happened which I hadn't realized before, because when we bought the tapes home from the studio and put the tape in our home studios, it sounded very different to what we'd heard in the studio. For about three weeks we were baffled ourselves, we didn't know what was wrong. So I wasn't looking forward to hearing it when usually I'll listen to what we've just recorded a lot to scrutinize it. I just could not put my finger on it at all. I couldn't tell what was wrong. Then after about three weeks we all realized the vocals weren't loud enough. We just hadn't spent enough time on the mixes. The mixing we did with Steve Albini was on the average of one an hour. It was so fast it was ridiculous. We haven't recorded that way for a long time. That's not the way we want to mix anymore. It's not a matter of money because we've spent a lot of money and the actual recording of this album cost seventeen thousand dollars, which is nothing for a major label release — it just took a long time to figure out exactly what was wrong. We decided to take a chance on remixing two of our favorite songs to make sure the vocals would be loud enough. They're two of our favorite songs, "Heart Shaped Box" and "Scentless Apprentice." The rest of them we thought we'd take the chance of improving them during the mastering. Mastering is an amazing thing. You can really change a lot of things. You can take the vocals completely out or turn them up four or five more decibels. That took care of it. We'd realized the bass wasn't audible enough and the vocals were way too quiet and that's about it. But that's all we changed and now we're a hundred percent satisfied. I wouldn't change anything now — though there was that three weeks when it's true we didn't know what the fuck we were going to do.

PS: You sound very friendly with your corporation. Have you changed your views on "corporate rock whores" and so on?

KC: [Small laugh, just the expulsion of air through the nose, not actually voiced, which is his usual way of expressing merriment with severe reservations] I've always liked DGC and I've always liked the people there. That's why we chose to sign with them. That slogan was just a joke, no more than our way of telling everyone to back off on that retarded punk rock idea that all corporate labels are evil. Because they're not. We know there are some evil ones out there because we met them during our wining and dining stage. You could tell how controlling they would be. But DGC is really different because it's practically an independent label. It's really small, a subsidiary of Geffen. I know the names of all the people who work at DGC and I know them on a personal level. It's not like walking into the tower of MCA.

PS: Was it a joke that went too far then? Didn't you have a big row with Pearl Jam about the corporate whore argument to the extent that Eddie Vedder wrote you a letter begging you to lay off?

KC: No, he never wrote me a letter…

Courtney Love: Kurt! [I look around and Courtney Love stands there in jeans and a short top rubbing her bare tummy, looking oddly meek and beaten down.]

KC: Yeah?

CL: Where are you?

KC: I'm right here. [She gestures for him to come out, he gestures no, she gestures insistence, he goes. He returns, obviously distracted, and gets settled.]

KC: Um, I just don't like Pearl Jam. It's as simple as that. They suck. Eddie happens to be a nice guy. I am good friends with some people who are in really bad bands. Eddie is a friend of mine who I have respect for because he's a nice person. Probably all the other guys in Pearl Jam are nice people, but I don't like their music. But…It's just one negative thing said about one band, you know? For some reason English bands can get away with slagging off everybody and their mother all the time but I can't.

PS: You've been in the middle of one of the most extraordinary explosions of success, fame, that's happened in the last ten years — I have a feeling that the success of Nirvana may well not have changed you very much, you may have sidestepped it, but that being a husband and a father has been a much more changing experience. Is there anything to that?

KC: Yeah. How do we really know that the majority of people who become famous, or rock stars, really do change as much as it seems?

PS: It's a received expectation.

KC: I don't understand why.

PS: I suppose it seems such an extraordinary thing to happen to people that it must affect their characters immensely. Especially if someone has gone out of their way to become famous it seems people frown upon that more and will accuse them of wallowing in everything that goes along with fame. The more I've read about you, you seem to have been doing whatever it was, including drugs, before you got famous. You were leading your own life and you carried on leading your own life it appears…

KC: Actually, I'm carrying on with a life that's very different than what I had before — my attitudes and opinions have only got better. I've become more optimistic.

PS: Oh, that's what you mean by 'better'?

KC: Yeah, about eight years ago I was an extremely negative person.

PS: As in "Negative Creep"?

KC: Yeah. Having a child and being in love with someone is something that everyone wants. It doesn't happen very often. It's the only thing I feel I've been blessed with. I could give up everything for that and I've often wanted to in the last two years. Almost every other day I want to quit this band. It has nothing to do with Chris and Dave, the way we get along, or my lack of creativity, it has nothing to do with our music. It's only because of everything that goes along with it…It's a nuisance. I dunno, I'm really naïve about what happens with people when they become famous. I never paid attention to…Uh, when I used to buy Creem magazine I never read about Van Halen or any of those bands, I just used to look at the pictures, maybe skim through a little of the article. Then I started to look into it a bit more closely and when I was in a punk rock band I used to buy NME and Melody Maker and still do to this day, and it's probably because I haven't paid attention to mainstream press, but I don't know of any other band that's been picked apart as much as this band. I'm sure that perception has a lot to do with it affecting me personally. I'd love to see some old Led Zeppelin interviews because I've heard that they were completely crucified by the press all the time, their lives were blown totally out of proportion. It's really surprising that they could survive that — because I barely have. When I talk about surviving, I don't mean dying over it, I mean quitting your band and giving it all up. I can't compare the two. I can't decide whether I like playing music enough to put up with the shit that's written about us all the time, especially the shit that's written about somebody who I totally love more than anyone I ever have. It's hard to decide whether it's really worth it all and it's pretty pathetic that you have to make a decision on something that's as simple as music, a thing you enjoyed as a pastime when you first started, to give up because of that. I dunno…I've quit this band well over thirty times in the last two years.

PS: In your head you mean?

KC: In my head. And I've got to the point of calling up my manager and calling up Chris and leaving messages at four in the morning saying, "This is it!" It's always been after reading yet another article…There's a few weeks resting period to recover in, then they bring in another one. The whole Britt and Victoria thing, I wish I would have known about that, I wish I could have prepared for it. I wish I could have taken a class on becoming a rock star. People dig through your garbage and they fester in their minds. They get these ridiculous ideas of what you're like, a lot of the time based on one article. These two women have gone out of their way literally to try to destroy two other people's lives. They're either so cold-hearted or so numb that they thought it wouldn't bother us if that's what they did…

PS: The real issue is heroin and the baby I presume…?

KC: That and everything else they've written. We're just now reading the book. Their publishers are so afraid of us suing them because there are so many obvious misquotes and whole made-up chapters that they've given us the option to edit whatever we want out of the book, or write a little essay at the beginning of the book — or something else, there's three options. They're so afraid to go to court over this that it's not worth it because it's a badly written book — these women have shown their publishers that they're not the people they thought they were in the first place. They've dealt with them over the last few months and realized it's a very touchy situation. I've been reading it tonight, Courtney was reading it, that's what she came down for, she was really upset — it's the Vanity Fair article magnified a hundred times worse. They really went out of their way to find people who it's obvious are enemies of ours, people who never really knew us or who claim they met us before — it's amazing, Courtney was just telling me some of the people who spoke to them, who I thought were friends of mine. I'm just in a haze right now, I'm really upset about it. It's just amazing. For the last six months or so there have actually been a few positive articles written about Courtney, defending her, and we thought our curse was finally over — but then there was the DGC thing, and now there's this. If this book comes out there's no point in trying to defend myself. I've vowed never to do another interview before. But I thought I could say something to defend myself and I also have something to say about this record because I really like this record. I have an excitement about it, I actually want to promote this record, for the sake of promoting it. I dunno, it sounds to me if this book comes out then there won't be any more interviews, there probably won't be a band. It's impossible. It's not worth it. I didn't enjoy myself that much that it's worth dealing with this. If I'm going to have to deal with this all the time, fuck it. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life numbing my brain with drugs to avoid the pressures of it. I'd rather just give up, start another band, play anonymously when I feel like it, put out records — probably with Chris and Dave but with a different name. Don't promote it. Who knows? It's not worth it. I adore my wife and my baby. That's the life I want. That's the life that I was searching for years. I wanted a partner, I wanted security, I wanted a family, stuff like that. It's more important than anything else. Everything else is totally irrelevant. You see I'm back into the state of mind I'm in every few months or so. Within the last two years, the negative articles have been coming out, but more and more I've been learning to ignore it and then since the baby was born there were a few positive articles counteracting this stuff. It looked like I would be able to deal with it. But it sounds like this book is too much. I shouldn't even be saying anything, but…


[says he was out watching Pavement, "three of the guys doing some kind of thing there, and there was this annoying MC there, wanted to kill the guy. Good thing I was stoned. That makes me mellow, otherwise I woulda killed him"]

Phil Sutcliffe: It takes a lot of stamina to play a show like that then go out and watch another band…

Krist Novoselic: I know! I was glad to have the show behind us though. I'd been kinda anxious about it. But we really flowed. I feel good about it. We pulled off that acoustic set. When we were rehearsing I knew we could. But I was kinda disturbed though, I watched Yo La Tengo doing that quiet stuff and everybody's standing there watching it - we do it and they're writhing around, like "God guys, gym class is Monday morning." Aaah. These people do that at the drop of a hat.

PS: But it was different, they were responding don't you think? [I'm thinking of the ballet moves]

KN: Yeah, they were responding but it was awkward. Immature. Trendy. To jump around, you know what I mean? Teen Spirit, okay, look at the video, sure, but that's just a little pet peeve of mine, no big issue. I'm just cranky, hung over, uh.

PS: Was that a big decision to do the acoustic set?

KN: I don't think it was a big decision. It was just we were thinking of getting a cellist in and there was this performance artist in Seattle who organised this show related to the Bosnian crisis which she wanted to perform in Washington DC at the inauguration and she hit me up for some money so we were talking about a cellist - there's a couple of songs on the new album which have cello - and she goes, "Oh, I know a lady who's got a line on a bunch of cellists." So we came across Lori Goldston, we rehearsed with her and it worked out.

PS: It seemed a risk to do it, particularly finishing the set with it.

KN: Yeah. Well. Like I thought we were maybe gonna leave and do that for an encore, but Lori was already up there and… things were so casual and that's what I want. I don't want to be in a band where roadies are fussing over everything and it all has to be so fast. I was just playing that one guitar and, although my roadie had another one which was tuned down different for different songs, the one I had was feeling good and I thought, "Stay with this one, tune it myself." It's my instrument, I should tune it. I don't want to make a big fuss.

PS: So those long gaps were deliberate?

KN: Not deliberate so much as just necessary. All that, like, professionalism, fuss. Relax, you know. [decaf gets delivered - Krist calling waiter Sir in US polite way]

PS: What about the reaction at the end of the set? Normally there's bedlam and you'd created something different hadn't you?

KN: Yeah, We wanted to show our soft side [with easy irony this]. I dunno. I had that old Gibson and on the flight over here the headstock got busted off. The night before last, a guy glued it back on at four in the morning so… I dunno you just need to do something different, sit on a stool.

PS: Have you ever done that before, sat down on stage?

KN: No, never, that was the first time. Hope I don't get used to it. I could go for that, sit out the whole set. I think I'll move on to a recliner. Well, maybe in 20 years, the three of us on recliners - The Grateful Dead would all have died off by that point and it'd be us instead travellin' around. "Remember the early '90s? Remember grunge rock? Remember Smells Like Teen Spirit? It's 2007, Nirvana, the 20th anniversary tour. Opening up the aluminum- millenium, I mean."

PS: Rock bands grow old, we know that now.

KN: Yeah, they do. The Stones are in the Virgin Islands now recording their first album for Virgin, Aerosmith have signed for 7 records for Columbia, Wow! [he says long and slow]

PS: An area from early days where there's vaguer references is politics - it gets implied that you were political people, heavily involved in political discussions…

KN: No, I don't think we were heavily involved or active but a good word for it would be "aware" I guess. I dunno if people in the United Kingdom would agree that we were because I think there's a lot more political awareness over there - I was pretty surprised when I saw that when I first came over there, I thought, "This place is pretty right on!" Vegetarianism is actually quite popular. You see political flyers on the walls, maybe even for some socialist party. Really cool! Not that I'm a socialist. I'm just glad there's dialogue there. Oh maybe I am a socialist in ethic anyway. Coming from where I come from, this isolated logging town, there's nothing like that at all. It's just programmed consumers bouncing off the walls. But we were never heavy politicals and still aren't though we're active on some issues.

PS: I read that you were even called communists back there?

KN: Communists? Well, I got threatened a couple of times because I would talk about it and say, "Why is it so bad? Why do we have to have this big enemy? Why's everybody hung up about it? Because all these rich people stand to lose a bunch of money!" But I never bought into it. I know communism was a scam too. Not the philosophy but the way it was implemented Soviet Union-style.

PS: But just asking questions was enough to get the finger pointed at you?

KN: Right. They didn't understand, They just reacted to the word as if it was the same as "motherfucker" or "baby raper." Propaganda has made it such a dirty word, Terrible.

PS: Does Nirvana have politics in any sense of the word?

KN: Haaaa [which is a long outward breath]. I always react to injustice, unfairness, people oppressing other people. All the -isms, Like homophobia, racism, sexism, It kind of gets me down to see people stomping on other people for such silly reasons. I always react to that because that's a… it hits pretty close, it's something that's around me every day, people's poor attitudes. Bad attitudes and ignorance. It's pretty easy to respond to that.

PS: And you think Nirvana addresses those issues?

KN: People say we do. I just blurt things outta my mouth, they come right out. Kurt and I and Dave are kissing at the end of Saturday Night Live and it was nothin', I didn't do that with any kind of attitude at all. I just saw those guys and started chompin' them, it was funny.

PS: Was that spontaneous or did you work it out before the show to say, We'll really screw them?

KN: No, it was spontaneous, it wasn't any kind of statement. But it took on a life of its own as if it was a statement. And now when they show the re-runs of that show they don't show that part, they show the rehearsal, They cut the kissing out. You can watch guys killing each other and beating the hell out of each other all day long but you show a couple of guys kissing and they won't show it.

PS: But originally it was live?

KN: Yeah.

PS: And you're glad you did it?

KN: Of course, I'll do anything spontaneously, Open the car door and I'll hop in. I'll go.

PS: Is there a general attitude about the band of provocation, that you talk about amongst yourselves?

KN: No, no [slowly]. I try to be a pretty cohesive person. Congenial. Nice. Those things just happen. I don't dwell on it. I don't read into it.

PS: Turn this to a lyric that I thought was provocative, what about "God is gay" and "Burn the flag" - which I can't hear on the record even though it's on the lyric sheet.

KN: I remember Buzz Osborne and I were on a graffiti campaign in Aberdeen and we wrote "God Is Gay" on a couple of walls really big. They were painted over immediately. What else did I think up? Oh, there were these flyers all over Seattle saying "Kissinger killed Moro" so I was going round Aberdeen when I was 17 writing "Nixon killed Hendrix," I dunno if anybody got that.

PS: So in the song it comes straight down from the graffiti?

KN: Yeah.

PS: A pretty fierce thing to say in any christian country, God is gay.

KN: It had a nice ring to it. I guess it is provocative: A good slogan. Slogans are good. It pisses me off that now there are a lot of graffiti in Seattle and they're all gangs scribbling crap. If I caught one of those guys, I'd spray their faces. They could at least spray a good slogan, you know what I mean. But just scribbles, like, this is my tag. One guy called Core, he's all over the place. "Okay Core [he says the syllable very long], you're so hard core." I'd like to rap him upside the head with a rattle can.

PS: On attitude and what Nirvana's expressing, which is interesting but enigmatic from my point of view, you have very powerful statements, perhaps even more very powerful sounds, then these acoustic bits, terrific extremes, grinding of gears in the audience's heads as they face that… and at the same time you're talking to them in a very mild-mannered way yourself…

KN: I don't get where you're coming from. I'm kinda dull this morning, dull-witted.

PS: I mean do you use extreme contrasts deliberately?

KN: You could look at it that way. We just thought we'd use the cello. It's a nice instrument to accentuate things. We used it on some other songs too. During rehearsals we did Heart-Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea acoustically. The cello embellishments were just neat. Like, I played that hollow-bodied bass with flat-wound strings - I don't know if you know about guitars but those are the strings they used to have in the old days, thumpy and stuff, and not many people use them now and if you use them with this hollow-bodied bass it's really warm, sounds like a stand-up bass, it's neat.

PS: I played Smells Like Teen Spirit to a friend of mine the other night, a woman, 50 years old. The reaction she gave me was, "They're quite gentle aren't they."

KN: Huh, gentle [a small laugh] She wasn't sarcastic about it was she?

PS: Not at all. Do you think she was totally wrong?

KN: Oh, there's that part on there I guess which stuck out in her mind and appealed to her and she didn't hear the aggressive part.

PS: I wanted to ask you about the way things are/the way things were. I've read a bit about your tour in '89…

KN: Yeah, we did a couple of tours then. We had this van that never broke down.

PS: That sounds like real bottom-rung type touring, willingness to do anything just to be out there.

KN: Oh yeah. Well, you know, that was always a dream of mine instead of playing… we'd already played Seattle ten times, we'd played Olympia, we'd played Tacoma and then it was like, wow, we're going to play in Los Angeles, we're going to play in San Francisco, we're gonna play in San Antonio, Texas, we're gonna play in Iowa, we're gonna play in Chicago. I'd never been to any of these places before. To drive around and no managers no nothing. There was four of us back then, Just drive around, get free beer every night, meet people, and know you're not working some nine to five job, you're just screwin' around and you're makin' money - even if it was just a hundred bucks or fifty bucks, you know, that's enough to buy food and gasoline. We never stayed in hotels the first couple of tours, I remember the first time we stayed in a hotel, Woah! All right! There was four of us and we'd brought along a roadie that time. So we got a room with two double beds, two per bed, it's be like… what do they call 'am, Motel 6, Motel 8, that's 35 bucks in Motel 6 and 45 bucks in Motel 8 so we went to the cheaper one and then we got a little extravagant and Motel 8 was better than Motel 6 so we moved up a couple times, spent that extra ten bucks - I was so cheap!

PS: Who slept with who?

KN: Oh, we always switched around. I was bad to sleep with because I was a sleepwalker. Smacked Kurt in the face a couple of times while he was asleep. How old was I? 23. Driving around, it was a blast! There was nothing else better you could do, Sometimes I look back at it nostalgically… no responsibilities, no one to answer to, you just had to show up and play, no accountants, managers; lawyers, label people. No interviews. We never did interviews for years. I didn't know how to do interviews when we started doing Nevermind.

PS: And you camped out?

KN: We did that to save money, yeah, I remember one time we brought along an old Coleman stove and we cooked a bunch of meat and chicken in a rest area near the battle of Little Big Horn, the place where Custer's scouts shit their pants when they saw, was it?, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and all their friends. And it got really dark and the meat was half burnt and half raw, we couldn't even see what we were eating. We'd keep driving or sleep at the side of the road in the middle of Montana. We'd be supposed to leave Seattle early in the morning to get a good start, but we wouldn't get going till four in the afternoon, just fuckin' around, so we'd head east, I think we'd always start off in Minneapolis or Chicago and try to drive straight there and about the middle of Montana nobody would want to drive any more and we'd pull over on the side of the road... and I sleepwalked that night too, I remember. There was a cooler between the seats and I threw this blanket over it and across the two seats and I guess I got up in the middle of the night and got out of the van and there'd be these semis every now and then would whomp past, whoooom!, go by there and Kurt was all, "Chris get back in the van!" Seeing me walking naked beside the road in the middle of the night... and there's that famous incident where we... I know we had a hatchet and I split up a baseball bat to make a fire and it wouldn't burn so I put motor oil on it and there was this black smoke comin' up, we were cookin' beans and this whole aluminum pan was black and it was so fuckin' humid, this was Texas?, and there was that sign, "Beware Of Alligators," and I remember sleeping on the ground with a blanket over me...

PS: Is it just a fond memory which was horrible at the time?

KN: That was kind of a bitch. Well, it was okay, I mean, you could take it.

PS: It's one of the great American dreams isn't it, being on the road?

KN: Oh yeah, I'd read Kerouac by then so I appreciated that.

PS: What did you make of the country, seeing it like that for the first time?

KN: Lotta open spaces, My God there is a lotta land here still. But a lot of it's the same and insane, the suburban culture, the plazas, the parking lots. Really wasteful, ugly architecture, nothing progressive or really functional, it's just pavement [American usage, ie. roads], really car-oriented. God's People are spreading out like amoebas, spreading out flat. Should be more like New York. Seems like those insects which are really regimented they build up, they've got their society down, but we're so scattered, we just move out. I noticed that the only good part would be in the old downtown parts where you could catch the vibe of what once was. Oh yeah, I can see what this place was like in its heyday in the '30s. Every town has its own flavor, though on the outskirts it's all the same shit, the big boulevards and the signs for the motel and fast-food chains.

PS: I went through Montana last year and I loved it.

KN: Yeah? We were always kinda scared in Montana, "A lotta rednecks here. Let's keep goin'!" We never really stopped there.

PS: There are rednecks everywhere.

KN: Yeah. Rednecks in every country.

PS: So that's the past, the traditional apprenticeship, like the Beatles in Hamburg.

KN: Yeah, we were in that independent network. Every town you knew somebody after a while, there'd be nice people who'd take you in, let you stay at their house, cook for you, you could have parties, you know. Just really cool. Everybody listening to the same albums, the punk rock people, the same interests pretty much, people in their 20s - and now the whole thing's exploded. There's Lollapalooza, we're a Number 1 band.

PS: Do you like the idea of Lollapalooza?

KN: Well, I haven't thought about it too much, you can look at it idealistically and think, This is great, But I haven't been paying attention to know about the exploitation of it, though I should, I just don't care. I always react to popular things anyway. There's a lot of TV shows I should watch because they're supposed to be good, but I'm goin', "No man, that's a prime time TV Show." I don't watch it because of that, whereas I should be open-minded and check it out.

PS: But here you are, just a bit popular, so you're reacting against Nirvana?

KN: Exactly. What would I think of Nirvana if I wasn't in the band? I'd like the songs. I listen to REM and they're popular. I guess I'd listen to Nirvana, sure. I dunno, there's mainstream culture I do like. I don't watch MTV much, I basically watch CNN and C-SPAN (news channels) and then I flick around. Oh, I watch Star Trek, The Next Generation - I watch and I get cynical. Every time I flick past cops I bore people saying, "Oh look at this they're busting this white trash, why don't they go downtown where the lawyers are, the guys driving around in the Mercedes Benz and bust them?" And people say to me, "Shut up, Chris. We're sick of that." There's nothin' on TV. I try it because I want to be entertained, I don't feel like playing my guitar, and I don't wanna be asleep, so chk-chk-chk [mimes button pushing]. Now in Tacoma there's this Channel 12 which comes out of a community college and they have ITN news on, it's really good news, so I watch that. Then there's a show called Rights And Wrongs which is about human rights, China, South Africa and so on. That's on at 5:30 after the ITN news on Fridays, so I make a point to watch that. That's when I appreciate television. My thing is that it was originally developed as an educational tool - it was - and then it just got exploited.

PS: What about the avalanche of fame, was there a moment you knew it had hit you?

KN: I wasn't dealing with it because I, like, have a problem, something's happening, I don't want to deal with it so I withdraw, I'm learning how to deal with things, confront things now. But that's like a personal thing, maybe even in relationships too.

PS: How do you pull that off? How do you hide yourself from selling a million records.

KN: Oh, just staying at home and doing other things beside what I should have been doing with the band. Tinkering on a motorcycle. Just withdrawing. Zen And the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. There you go, And I have a saying, Will wonders ever cease? It's been a pretty wild life and always something pretty amazing round the corner and this is another one of them. Always something there. I'm so lucky, you know. I just laugh, ha-ha: will wonders ever cease?

PS: You still feel lucky?

KN: Pretty much. What else is it?

PS: You feel damaged or enhanced by it?

KN: Enhanced by it. I feel a better person, more mature, I dunno if it's through getting older or the experiences I've had. Still learning.

PS: Have you gone through the self-destructive phase that often goes with this?

KN: Well I like to have a good time and I like to drink alcohol and I don't do that out of self-destructiveness, I just do it for kicks. Have a great time, get wild. Like we've been here in New York for three days and I've been drunk every night. I woke up this morning and - God! - I kinda got embarrassed because I'd got drunk and been making some completely asinine comments, But… it's a blast.

PS: But that's not a change because of fame is it?

KN: No, I've always been that way. There are times you have to be serious. It's not like I'm gonna go to some meeting drunk or some function or some interview drunk. That's when you're an alcoholic. You have to drink every day, which I don't. A lot of this comes from habits I picked up as a teenager. I had a friend with a big junky car and we'd screw around with it. And it would be, "We're gonna work on the car? Oh, we need a case of beer." Or, "We're going up there? Right, we'll stop by the liquor store." Now it's like…

PS: So it's just the same, is that right? It's supposed to change people, all this stuff, isn't it?

KN: It is, I dunno. I'm in New York now havin' a good time. If I was at home right now I'd be a lot more ????. I just like to have a good time. That's all it is. It's nothin' else.

[Mark Kates comes over]

KN: You read any reviews of the show?

MK: I don't think there'll be any today, but the word of mouth reviews were excellent.

KN: I feel good about it even though I say so myself.

MK: It was really strong, really powerful.

KN: Satisfying, Like the San Francisco show was good but…

MK: I think something's lost in those bigger places.

KN: Yeah, Like in those Brazilian shows with 100,000 people. You walk out there, it's just a fuckin' joke, is this what it's come to?

MK: I think it needs to be big enough to be…

KN: Realistic?

MK: Enough people get to go. I think you need to build back up to those big ones. Do this tour in ballrooms, 3-5,000s, and then if it makes sense you can make that step if you need to and if you want to - but I think you play better in that atmosphere.

KN: yeah and you know at the Cow Palace where the capacity is 15,000 about 11,000 people showed up and that was with L7, The Breeders and Disposable Heroes so we're not that big of a draw.

MK: That's not bad for no record out for some time… I mean when you did those shows with the Chili Peppers I don't think they even needed to be on the bill because their record wasn't that hot.

KN: Yeah, Huh!

MK: But one thing at a time.

KN: [sings] One day at a time sweet Jesus.

MK: You guys didn't play On A Plain.

KN: Yeah, why didn't we do that? Kurt took it off the list. There was a reason.

MK: I think you've got to watch the acoustic part at that spot in the show.

KN: You don't think it worked?

MK: I don't think it was a good time in the show to do it, I understand the concept of it [end of tape]…

KN: You see last night was just so casual. There was no fuss or commotion. We're sitting there tuning our guitars on stage. You gotta tune the things, you don't have to hide it.

MK: Kurt's acoustic guitar didn't sound too good. I think he could get a much better guitar.

KN: It didn't sound good? It didn't sound good on stage but people said it sounded good out in the audience. He stuffed a shirt in it because it was feeding back at the soundcheck.

MK: Well that's another thing, I think it makes it hard mix-wise to go from rock to the acoustic. Maybe it would be just as hard to go the other way but it definitely needed to be louder.

KN: We finished with, what was it?

MK: All Apologies.

KN: Yeah, and then we were going to walk off and do that as an encore.

MK: That would have made a difference.

KN: But things were so loose we just grabbed our chairs and sat down.

MK: You don't wanna walk off twice, I can understand that, though you could try it that way. I dunno you gotta draw people in a little more, play louder. Listen, I think you guys tried to do a hell of a lot of things in one show. I don't blame you for not wanting to do another rock show, that must have gotten kind of dull in a way and to achieve something it was important to do something a little different. But, listen, it was awesome. I'm tellin' you I was really happy and I think most people who were there were too.

KN: I was happy, we were all pretty satisfied.

MK: It looked like you were having fun.

KN: That was one of our best shows in a long time.

MK: You see, I thought that about the Cow Palace, but this was definitely a lot better than that, a lot more intense.

KN: And then at the Cow Palace I was walking off thinking, "MM, what a mediocre show again!" And everyone else was saying how great it was so I got to believe it myself. [April 9] Oh, I've got a sore neck muscle.

PS: There's an interesting thing with trios, the dynamics between you, who's pushing which way?

KN: We pretty much play off Kurt. Dave and I watch him because he'll go off so we...

PS: Remind him?

KN: No, play along. It's good to have a leader because if everyone's going off in a different direction… and Kurt doesn't really follow that well, you know what I mean, so I just follow him. Like when we do that noisy song that's where you can do pretty much what you want. It is structured a bit, there's that mellow part. And the bass job is keeping that riff, the melody consistent, maybe just embellishing it a bit, augmenting it, that's what the bass is supposed to do, the left hand on the piano, counter-melody or keep the thing straight, I have a really conventional approach to bass-playing. I just don't like getting into some kind of jazzy thing or going off into outer space. You know the noise song, we've had hundreds of songs like that with totally different feels, just jamming, we go off and click together. I wish we'd recorded them, it would be pretty interesting, but we never get ‘round to it.

PS: I guess it wouldn't be very commercial.

KN: No, but now I've got this four-track recorder, I think I'm going to hook it up to the desk at the rehearsal space and record some of that stuff. We're not doing it as much as we used to, but now we're rehearsing again I think we will. It was always the really satisfying part. Those songs are usually 20 minutes long, dub dub duh dub, some kind of weird, riff and broken up, pretty wild, pretty abrasive, scratchy.

PS: Are they the best moments of the band's music for you?

KN: Can be, I remember we played this gig in Buenos Aires and it was a total turkey, a total bomb, but that was redeeming for me, I got into a trance-like state I was into it so much, I know we've got it on tape, wanna hear it. I know it was good. The whole time I was up there on stage I was thinking this sucks, it's not flowing, but try to make it look good, try to make out you're pulling it off. Try, consciously try, which is not like what it's about. But on that song I got into it, the flow, unconsciously, you know what I mean? I had a blast, that redeemed the show for me because I thought for an hour and fifteen minutes we gave them shit but then for five or six minutes we gave them what it's all about, they got a moment there. So I feel good for the people that they got to see us being right on. Music is such a weird thing how human beings have an inclination towards certain tones and melodies, you know, now weird it is that they get this emotional response and that night... we hit it, playing that weird abstract... the song doesn't even have a name, we call it The Noise Song or Endless Nameless… I dunno you're like a receiver, you receive something and it comes out of you… six minutes compared to 90 minutes but…

PS: Did the audience react well to it?

KN: I don't know, I think what they reacted to was some drums and guitars got smashed. A lot of time people react to that, they like to see the sensational stuff, so I don't know how much it was to the song or the theatrics.

PS: I wondered last night whether it was policy that you didn't do that last night?

KN: Oh I never do it. I used to all the time but I just got bored with it. But those guys Kurt and Dave are into it and that's OK. That was one of our spiels, you know, when we were poor we would do that, we would go in different hock shops and buy 50 dollar guitars, Kurt would string them up left-handed. Guator! I remember that one time in North Carolina we bought an Aria Pro 2 from a pawn shop and the guy who wrote the receipt couldn't spell guitar - guator, It was cool that one because of the way it was cut. Kurt couldn't play a Les Paul because he's left-handed.

PS: So that's going to happen again, you haven't decided that you're not going to smash things any more?

KN: No, we don't have any policies. Well, except an insurance policy no doubt in case some slam dancer busts his head and sues us.

PS: What about the relationship side of what's being out in from the three corners?

KN: I dunno, Everyone gets along pretty good. Things are goin' really well. We're all in this strange thing together and we've just gotta deal with it. That's about it. Joke around.

PS: You and Kurt have known each other for years haven't you?

KN: Since '85 or 6.

PS: So it's a real worked-in friendship.

KN: Yeah. Kinda stuck with each other.

PS: Do you look after him, does he look after you?

KN: Hm. No, Kurt can take care of himself. I dunno. Look after? Never thought of things that way. You defend your friend. That's the way human beings are, you have these extended families of friends, it's natural. And Dave. It's like… somebody does anything to any of us and it's fuck him.

PS: Is Dave now the complete solid member?

KN: He was right off the bat. He and Kurt were living together from when he joined.

PS: Because drummer's been a precarious position in Nirvana, hasn't it?

KN: Yeah, it just goes back to not communicating and not dealing with things. But we're social creatures and sometimes relationships are strained but it's nothing that can't be worked out. Why are we here?

PS: Being a dear old friend, has Kurt been changed by fame or by becoming a husband and father?

KN: I dunno if I should even speculate on Kurt in a magazine.

PS: I've heard references to your involvement in Yugo issues. You've changed your name back to the original.

KN: Yeah, but that's not even a real Croatian name. It's like when I was born my parents were new in the country and their English wasn't very good and I'm sure that's just a misspelling: Well, my name is Krist and it's kinda nice and in Mexico it means Christ: Well, we all have Biblical names. But I was playing last night and a guy was yelling at me, "Chris! Chris! Free Bosnia!" I thought, "Free Bosnia, what does that mean? Nobody's doing shit about it. Sarajevo looks like falling by the end of the week. Who cares?" I don't wanna be this rock 'n' roll pundit. I was going to go to Croatia this week but then these interviews came up and it was like I'm a bass player, this is what I do, sorry you guys. Activism comes naturally to me but I don't want to get overbearing about it. I did this interview on the radio yesterday and they asked me about it and the lady goes, "Oh Chris, I think it's so cool what you're doing!" Well, I think it's a shame that in 1993 people should be behaving like this. I've got this deal going called the Balkan Women's Aid Fund which we did the concert for, it was born out of that, and I started working with this woman, Rebecca Casanova, she's in Croatia right now, I was going to go with her - they're visiting women's centres, refugee camps, establishing relationships with people on the ground, not going through the UNHCR or whatever. I talked to Rebecca and she found out that the women need shoes so I think one of our plans is to solicit some shoe companies to send stuff over there. I'm kind of having this crisis because I don't want to be this guy who's like an activist, high-profile humanitarian, I'd like to do these things behind the scenes. It's stupid for me to get on some high horse, I don't need an identity as a humanitarian. But the situation disgusts me.

PS: The concert I read was about women who have been raped.

KN: Yea, that's what we're working on, I think the implications of rape are far more far-reaching than nationalism or tribal violence. It's about women's position in society. Bosnians and Serbians lived underneath the Ottomans and the Slovenian Croatians lived under the Austrians or the Italians: there is a cultural difference there. Go into Bosnia and there is a difference, more dominant macho males and the women more submissive. It occurred to me that the best way to approach the issue is from a feminist perspective, empowerment. Society broke down and women were second class. A lot of intellectual women… the communist system gave a lot of women power, working in offices and on newspapers, but you go in the hills and villages and women are kept down. Society breaks down and the guys go crazy: those women have to be empowered so they know they don't have to put up with that shit. I guess it's men have to be taught they can't fuck around any more and empowering women… maybe you give them guns. That goes of at a tangent and spills over into this country.

PS: In that concert for the women you began with Rape Me.

KN: Yeah, that was like we should do it first, why not? I remember We are The World, all those people up there and it was basically a celebration. What are they celebrating? Starvation in Africa? And getting all heartened alleviating their western world guilt: it was sickening. Our show we had no speakers though anybody in any band could say whatever they had to say. But it was just a rock show. No backdrop… It's so weird. Forced rape. How can you expect somebody to come to a rock show and have a good time and then think about this deal? We had a couple of information booths out front but we didn't want to get heavy-handed about it.

PS: What do you make of that song?

KN: I don't want to comment on it, Kurt wrote it, It's a good song.

PS: The new album, Steve Albini experience…

KN: It was good working with him. He's a good guy. Good ideas in the studio about microphones and things. We came in there and we were poppin' off songs left and right, first take. Play the song straight through, look at each other, "Hey that's cool. Fine, let's do another one. One two three four…" But a couple of songs we had to do three takes maybe.


Dave Grohl: Basically with British magazines I just look at the pictures. I've always found… not every publication… but there's a weird syndrome in a lot of the British press that brings us down. We've had bad experiences… I hate saying that to people we're doing interviews with, but it's the truth.

Phil Sutcliffe: That's in the last couple of years, I guess.

DG: Well, I'd never paid attention to the English press of course until I joined Nirvana but then what I found reading reviews and so on was it's a kind of flavour of the week deal with a band on the cover one week - here's Daisy Chainsaw, the rave of England, pick up a paper they're on the cover, the biggest band in England and for me it's, "Oh my God, who are they?" And fall in love with them, but then two months later in the papers it's, "Whatever happened to Daisy Chainsaw?" They were two months ago is what happened to them. I hear the guitar player's singing now - he's a great writer. Oh I don't know, rock 'n' roll blablabla.

PS: About the new album, Steve Albini and so on…

DG: I happen to love Steve Albini. I'm not sure that Kurt gets along with him, I'm not sure. I really liked the guy. He's about the biggest geek you've ever seen in your life. He's very cynical, very bratty, very stubborn and he's a total asshole but he's completely entertaining.

PS: I was going to say, how can you like a person like this?

DG: You have to take people for what they are and he really prides himself on being the biggest dick you ever net in your life and he does a good job of it. But I think he's an incredibly intelligent producer - though he thinks of himself as someone who records bands, not a person who tells you how to arrange your songs, [snaps fingers] telling you "Throw in a harmony here" - Steve sets up the mikes and then says, "Tell me when to press the button."

PS: Sounds like what I've read of Jack Endino…

DG: Yeah, wouldn't really be called a producer. I mean Steve's done some excellent work and I know that for some records like The Pixies' Surfer Rosa the band came in and they didn't have proper beginnings or proper endings to their songs. It was always 1 2 3 4 play the riff, sing over it. So Steve did a lot of… he would like mute everything out and the drums would begin and… he did a lot to that record… but I think with everyone else it's been "Just let it go" and when we recorded with him it was just like… when we talked to him before recording he made it a point about, "Are your songs prepared? Are you going to come into the studio and fuck around for two weeks? Are you going to write in the studio?" We said, "No, no." We set up and recorded.

PS: You'd already rehearsed?

DG: A little bit!

PS: You had the songs written at least?

DG: Well, we kind of knew what these songs were supposed to sound like. That's one of the great things about the record, there are so many glitches and flaws. It's about as spontaneous as a record can be because it's basically live apart from the vocals and some guitars which are overdubbed. I heard Chris saying that most of the songs were first take, they really were. We’d`walk in and do it. Steve would say, "Sounds great." I'd maybe say, "But doesn't the tempo dip a bit there?" And he'd say, "Yeah, but the energy's there. Okay, Want to try it again?" We'd do it again. Fuck the second take, the first take was great.

PS: Nevermind was a great record.

DG: It would have been the same album if it had been produced by Steve Albini. But Nevermind is the glossy record. I don't think we really sound like Nevermind. I don't think we ever really did. That was studio trickery. This album sounds like Nirvana. That's the stupidest thing to say, but I swear to God it's true. For Nevermind someone said the only flaw was that it had no flaws. When it first came out we weren't reading any bad reviews and we weren't very flattered by that. We wanted someone to come out and say "This sucks" because… We were expecting the inevitable "sellout" accusations, "These guys leave Sub-Pop and make this slick record." But people were a little taken aback by the songwriting I think. It was stronger than it had been before, Kurt had really paid attention to songwriting rather than just making a bunch of noise, I think. It was like the perfect pop recipe. Chris, me and Kurt making this seriously heavy background noise to these pop melodies that could have been written in 1967, the perfect recipe and people were really, "Wow!" This time we weren't paying so much attention to that, we were bashing it out as if we were sat in that corner of the room. Because Steve Albini doesn't use any outboard effects. Or, if he does, they're very few and very subtle. But for the drums all the effects you have are the room sound. He knows where to place the mikes.

PS: There was some special stuff or Nevermind you mean?

DG: Oh yeah, tons of shit.

PS: You're not saying that was against your wishes are you?

DG: Well, no. No. But after a while we'd play a show and we'd think, "What the fuck are we doing?" Because we're not the most technically proficient of bands, I mean none of us are very accomplished players, we fuck up all over the place, make mistakes everywhere. I'll sing back-ups out of tune… we're not perfect. When we were on tour with Nevermind I'd listen to these live tapes and where the album sounds like this sharp, thin thing the live tape and it's this big like boom, this rumble, it's the songs but krrrr [a sound like severe static]. This record is a lot more of the boom and rumble.

PS: This is about what the fans are all wondering about - with the Steve Albini choice it seemed that you were trying to destroy something that you'd created, is it like that?

DG: Okay, this is my theory that I have - When this record comes out there'll be three responses: a) this is Nirvana's pretentious noise record, their self-destructive we hate being a big band we want to destroy our career record. b) will be this is brilliant, this is Nirvana, now we can see that Nevermind was obviously not a true representation of this band and they're not afraid to come out and play as Nirvana, and then c) it just sucks, we don't like Nirvana anyway and this one sucks twice as bad! But it was never intended… we wanted to use Steve Albini for Nevermind, we've always wanted to use him because Surfer Rosa was one of Kurt's, Chris and I's favourite records ever. They were a huge influence on our band. They know it, I'm sure they can find little rip-offs here and there. They were a really big part of us. And the production on Surfer Rosa… Kurt would always say, "That's the snare sound I want." And when we went in to record Nevermind, when we'd decided Butch was gonna do it, I brought in a copy of a Jesus Lizard record, a copy of The Breeders’ Pod and told him that was the drum sound I wanted. He said, "Sure." We always had Steve Albini in mind and we knew when we were writing these songs who we wanted to produce and we knew there wasn't any question we'd get him because we had enough power at the label, we weren't shy any more and we told them, "We're gonna record with Steve Albini." We didn't say "We Wanna." Nobody really said anything and our A&R person - who quit later - at the time he said, I thought he was freaking out, he was getting really scared, and he called me and I said, "Gary, man, don't be so afraid, the songs are really good, Steve's a really great producer and the record will turn out great!" And he said, "Oh, I'm not afraid, just go and record with Steve, bring me back the best you can do," it was like saying, "Go and have your fun and when you come back we'll find you another producer you can make the real album with." So we went and recorded with Steve and told them this is it, it's exactly what we want. I mean it's exactly what I wanted in the record. Nevermind was, "Wow, look what we've done!" It was something I hadn't expected, but this one is what I was looking forward to. These songs and this production.

PS: So what's the truth about what happened afterwards?

DG: Okay, all legal shit aside - I stayed out of all of that - there were contracts which were supposed to have been signed between us and Albini, blablabla, which we didn't sign honestly not because we objected to it but because we forgot. I mean for me, I saw it when we went in and when we'd finished someone asked me if I'd signed it and I'd forgotten. So… after recording, Steve has- Steve is very set in his ways, it's the truth, if you ask him, "Steve could you pull up the vocals in that chorus?" He'll give you a 20 minute explanation why you shouldn't, because, "Hey, it's your record, but…" for 20 minutes until you've forgotten what you've asked about and he's saying, "Whatever you guys want to do." You're sitting there like (slumps, glazed expression), "Oh, yeah, I guess it's okay." So we left with a tape that there were a few songs on it that we wanted to change, which could use more dynamics. All we had was mikes set in a room and us playing, there was no mixing, no automated board mixing, just set it up and let it roll. So if you needed any extra dynamics in it the only way to get an exaggerated dynamic would be in the mixing and Steve really didn't want to do that - maybe it happened in some places but not enough - and so after we were done we were, "Okay, there's a few things need fixing." Steve said "I'm not remixing, that's the best you guys are gonna do." So then we went to master it and see if we could fix it in mastering. There it sounds fucking great. We pull the kick drum out this place, we pull the snare out this place and it's like we're playing with the original tracks. I'd never seen that before - well, I'd seen mastering before but with this guy who was a big coke head so he just sat there and let it run and said, "Oo that sounds great!" But after mastering we did think, "This is it, this is great!" Until we decided there was one song we still needed to fix and we asked for Scott Litt to fix it. That was on Heart-Shaped Box. Steve is very much against that kind of establishment producer being brought in, so we didn't expect him to get involved and he didn't.

PS: So basically there's one song on the record that isn't credited to Steve's production because he didn't do it. And all the stuff about taking it back to the label and them not liking it?

DG: It's like… well, I know that some people at Geffen didn't like it, I know our A&R person who has quit Geffen and gone to be president of Capitol - Gary Gersh - I know he isn't too fond of it for obvious reasons, because it isn't an AOR radio record at all. Sure he didn't like it, but he couldn't do anything about it because it's our record. When we would tell people that we have "100 percent control over everything that we do" it's basically true, we can actually give them the recording and say, "This is our fuckin' record, put it out." But as with anything in the music industry, whether it's pop stars, with CEOs[?], with chairmen of this and that, there's always a need for drama, for controversy and there's always got to be something fuelling this band, there's got to be some kind of problem, some insane dilemma that everyone's about to slit their wrists over, when actually it's no big fuckin' deal at all. It's, "Okay, we have a problem, our A&R person doesn't like our record. Well, we have 100 percent control over what we're doing, so it doesn't really matter, does it? And Steve's not happy with us remixing a song, but it doesn't really matter because it's our record."

PS: When you say you have 100 percent control, you mean you have it in a contract?

DG: Well in the music business even if you don't have it written down once you've established a trillion million dollars of sales you can kinda say, "I paid for the heating bill for this building last month, so we'll do what we say." But I don't really understand that. I'm not into power-playing and stuff like that. I don't understand industry back-patting and string-pulling and power-dealing.

PS: Who does that for Nirvana? Does Kurt or Chris get in there?

DG: I don't really know. Like Gary Gersh who was our A&R is president of Capitol now, because Capitol need to find some acts and they need to find them quick - their label is just a piece of shit when it comes to rock, so they went out and got the man who signed Nirvana - or that's the way it seemed to me. And Danny Goldberg, the man who is head of our management, is now president of Atlantic records. So all of the people who deal with our band, it's now as if they can turn water into wine all of a sudden. It seems like there are so many people pulling themselves out of the pits of label hell and pulling each other up the ladder and… I just don't get it, I hate to flatter myself as much as to say it's because of us - but I think when it comes to major label ass-kissing and schmoozing, I think that's the way it works. Before these people had anything to do with us becoming big… well, they didn't do any big promotion but a lot of people liked the record. We talked to a lot of major labels before we signed with DGC and DGC seemed like they had a good thing going because there were people who seemed to know where we were coming from, whereas the other labels it was just like, "We're gonna make you fuckin' famous. You're gonna be the biggest fuckin' band in the world. Take this [a mimed bag of drugs]." I hate even to say that because it sounds arrogant and bogus - but the industry is just so full of arrogant people, people who have no shame, people without a shred of decency, people who are just out for fuckin' money, money, money… and that's why I stay out of that whole thing. It's too much of a headache.

PS: Your management protects you from it?

DG: I just refuse to deal with it. As long as I can get up on stage and play the drums and play music with Chris and Kurt, I'm fine. I can go home, eat, sleep and rest, drive around with my fiancee, eat, sleep and rest, whatever, I can relax. And I don't get recognised that much. Drummer's always have the best of the whole deal. People think, "You must be jealous of Kurt, he's getting all this attention." No way. I'm gonna have a relatively normal life in five years.

PS: In five years, you couldn't describe it as normal now?

DG: Well. It's pretty… there's not too many people who share the position I'm in now, though I would say it's about as normal as it could be in my position.

PS: Where are you living now?

DG: I live in Seattle, ever since I've been with Nirvana.

PS: And you set up home with your girlfriend there, so you've all settled down, you wild boys.

DG: Yeah. Yeah [more dubious]. As far as getting married and stuff goes, yeah, but there's always gonna be an itinerary waiting for us. When I was in bands before Nirvana I'd feel lost if there wasn't something in front of my face saying this is where you have to be at this certain time, but it's gotten to the point where I'd like to see some time to spend doing nothing. Though we've taken a huge break.

PS: In which you did nothing?

DG: So to speak. I actually hate to feel stagnant, feel nothing's getting done so the whole time the band was off I was going back to Washington to see my mother [his fave], going to the beach in North Carolina and surfing, going to Los Angeles and surfing, going to Italy and driving around for a couple of weeks, and driving my motorcycle from DC to Detroit and driving a truck from Detroit to the Grand Canyon and from there to Seattle and going on tour with this…

PS: A truck? A camper?

DG: No, a Ryder[?] truck, a moving truck. Then I went on tour with Scream, the band I was in before Nirvana and we did a two-week tour of the States which ended just three days ago.

PS: Did this start rumours you were quitting Nirvana?

DG: No, everyone knows I was in Scream, and the other guys are all in other bands as well, but the last thing we recorded was being re-released [no coincidence possibly] and so it was supposed to be just one reunion show…

PS: How far is Scream back down the ladder then?

DG: It's exactly where I'd love to be right now. It was playing CBGB's and putting everything in the van ourselves, driving everywhere, just as it was in 1987.

PS: Motels?

DG: Not even that. Sleeping on people's floors.

PS: You've been doing that in the last couple of weeks?

DG: Yeah. You see, people find that so amazing. One of the things that's so funny is… this isn't normal to me, staying in this nice hotel, because before I joined Nirvana with Scream I'd toured Europe three or four times and we played in every squat in Italy and Germany and Holland, that's what we did, we toured squats. We would rarely play a nightclub, rarely. They're buildings that people have occupied illegally and rigged the electricity and the water. I fell in love with that. Man, that was like the best time I ever had, I'd look at these people who are like modern day pirates, people who can get along by saying fuck you to pretty near everything. And some of these places were really nice. Some of them were shitholes but a lot of them you couldn't believe. They'd occupy a building and turn it into something really amazing, like how come we can't do this in America? Well, the police I guess. So… but that was always the most fun to me cos I started doing that when I was 17 - in Amsterdam smokin' my head off, wooo, all right! With the Nirvana thing I think I'd gotten very jaded and I wasn't sure what it was all about. Because it's not just about being in a band. It was but it's not any more, much as we'd like to think that it is just about the music, but it's not when you've become this phenomenon, you're a product being offered to people, you know, this is Nirvana, those three scruffy guys, make a lot of noise and piss people off, this is their new CD, hey, I'll buy Nirvana. It's not just get in the van and go down CBGB's, there's so much bureaucracy that surrounds it, you sort of lose focus, So doing the Scream tour for two weeks got me into focus. Oh yeah, I forgot, I like to play drums, this is great, on a stage, playing, people enjoying it and no autographs and no girls screaming, no cameras in your face, playing drums and that's what I like to do. So the show last night I felt a big fuckin' difference from the last shows we played like… we played a football stadium in Brazil, on stage in front of 60,000 people and I feel this big [the thumb and finger an inch apart], you just sort of think what the fuck are we doing, what is this about, the Scream tour knocked that back into perspective so I thank God, no I don't, I thank Scream for that. Last night's show 90 percent of the reason I had such a great time was because I'd restored my faith.

PS: Maybe you should mark your diary for the same next year?

DG: I'd love to. The last show that we did when Scream broke up we didn't know it was going to be the last show - so this time when the tour ended and it really was supposed to be over we were saying to one another, Man, no way this is going to be the last show!

[Anton intervenes - Dave burps - told they're going off for pix]

PS: Do you remember a crucial moment when Nevermind hit you?

DG: When we played on Saturday Night Live because that show had been a lot of people's first exposure to punk rock - when Fear played on it, or The B-52's played on it - so this show that millions and millions watch every weekend. "Hey, wow this is punk rock, this is new wave. Who's this Devo?" Suddenly you're totally into this new subculture and then finding yourself on the show 2 years later you feel like you're gonna faint. It was such a big deal back then.

PS: That's the dream come true moment, or maybe you never even dreamed it?

DG: No, never even dreamed it and that's why it was so bizarre, "Hey, what's goin' on?" Crazy. And we were Number 1 on the charts that week too.

PS: And you ended up getting your kiss cut out on the repeats according to Chris.

DG: Did they really do that? I wouldn't be surprised. This is America. [goes into drumming on his knees with flats of his hands] I'm gonna steal a smoke.

PS: Thanks for the interview.

© Phil Sutcliffe, 1993