- Erica Ehm
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
Ehm: So, I do a book show on Much where…
Cobain: You do what?
Ehm: A book show…
Ehm: I talk to different people about fav books that you've read - how it's inspired you, or what you've learned from it, or something like that - so do you have a book that comes back to you every once in a while?
Cobain: Yeah, well, I've read Perfume by Patrick Süskind about 10 times in my life, and I can't stop reading it. It's like something that's just stationary in my pocket all the time. It just doesn't leave me, and every time I'm bored, like I'm on an airplane or something, I read it over and over again, 'cause I'm a hypochondriac and it just affects me – it makes me want to cut my nose off.
Ehm: What's the book about?
Cobain: It's about this perfume apprentice in France at the turn of the century and he's just disgusted, basically, with all humans and he just can't get away from humans, so he goes on this trek, this walk of death… he goes into the rural areas where there's woods all over the place and small villages… and he only travels by night… and every time he smells a human, like a fire from a far off way, he'll just get really disgusted and hide; he just tries to stay away from people… I can relate to that! [laughs]
Ehm: Do you ever use what you read in any of your songs?
Cobain: As a matter of fact, I used that very story in Scentless Apprentice! Yeah, so ummm, that's really one of the first times that I've ever used an actual story as… a book as an example for a song. I've always tried to stay away from that, but now that I'm running out of ideas more and more, I intend to do that.
Ehm: Is it hard when… you spend your whole life doing the first few albums and suddenly everybody needs your attention, you have to do interviews, you have to travel around, and suddenly… is it hard to come up with ideas?
Cobain: Ummm, I dunno, I've just noticed that people expect… expect more of a thematic angle with our music, y'know? They always want to read into it and before I was just using pieces of poetry and just garbled… just garbage, y'know, stuff that would just spew out of me at the time. And a lot of times when I write lyrics it's just at the last second, 'cause I'm really lazy, and then I find myself having to come up with explanations for it! So, I thought I'd prevent that this time and actually have an explanation, for some of the songs at least!
Ehm: There's a lot of baby references in all the songs! I didn't think there would be, but you have, like, wombs, babies, baby's breath, baby throw up...
Cobain: Baby throw up? [laughs] That's just lying!
Ehm: There's baby everywhere! This has obviously become a huge part of your life…
Cobain: It's been a part of my life before Courtney was even pregnant, though. I've always been just fascinated with medical texts and charts… I guess I secretly want to be a doctor or something, I don't know… [laughs] or a person that works in a cremation factory! I don't know, I've always liked anatomy, ever since I was a little kid, when I first got that little model of the invisible man, or the visible man, it's just something that I really like… and since I've become a big rockstar and made a bunch of money, I found this place in the Mall of America in Minneapolis that sells nothing but medical stuff, it's a medical supply store that's turned… that they've offered to the public, y'know? It's really great! I bought all these foetuses and anatomy men and charts and stuff… it was like a dream come true! 'Cause I've always been really poor and if I could find something like that in a second-hand store I'd barely have enough money to buy it, and a lot of times I couldn't buy it, so I just went on this rampage, buying all this stuff, and I think I've over-used it, for like pictures for the album and, I dunno, I just went overboard on it.
Ehm: You know the old saying, "You can't buy happiness" - do you think that's true?
Cobain: [laughs] Well… yeah, you can't buy happiness. I mean, that made me happy for a little while [laughs], but I was probably almost just as happy with… I dunno, I look back on going to second-hand stores and stuff like that, and finding a little treasure like that, and that actually meant more to me because it was more of a stab-in-the-dark in a way, y'know? 'Cause you don't know if you're gonna be able to afford it, and you don't know what you're really looking for, and when you find it it's more special to you. Rather than having a thousand dollars and going into a store like that and just buying the whole store, it's not as special…
Ehm: Because you've achieved so much success, so quickly, so surprisingly… you've had a baby, you're married… what excites you now?
Cobain: [laughs] My baby, my marriage… I dunno, I still like playing too. I mean, Krist, Dave and I haven't changed at all. I mean, believe it or not, we get along just as well as we ever did. We're just the same passive-aggressive people we used to be. We never fight, when we're pissed off at each other we just hold it under our breath and have respect for one another in that way, it's easier to work that way, 'cause we have a mission [laughs], I guess…
Ehm: How do you personally cope with having relationships, private relationships, that are always being scrutinised publicly? It must be really difficult…
Cobain: Well, it is, but… I mean, I still have a lot of the same friends that I used to have, so… they don't seem to mind. That isn't ever really exposed too much - no-one writes about how me and my friend Dylan walked down the street and did whatever…
Ehm: Yeah, but they rip apart you and Courtney, they love to do that...
Cobain: Yeah, I don't know why but, ummm… we're just, ummm… I dunno, I guess you could be talking right now and I could say "Well, we're interesting people"… but I think we're just easy scapegoats. It started with something and people just pick up on it and carry it along and we turn into cartoon characters… [laughs] there's nothing I can do about it, really, y'know? I can threaten to sue and try to bring up libel laws and stuff like that to people that write shit like that about us but, y'know, if you've ever looked into that it's pretty much a lost cause - you have to have a lot of money to do that - y'know, I could spend the money that I earned last year all on fighting the Vanity Fair piece and they'd end up winning 'cause they have more money, so…
Ehm: There's a magazine in Canada that incorporates itself for each issue and then it goes bankrupt after each issue, so that it can write whatever it wants and no-one can ever sue them…
Cobain: Wow! That's a pretty smart thing to do! [laughs]
Ehm: Yeah, it is.
Cobain: That kinda reminds me of how a lot of stations in the States got ahold of our new album, but it was like someone had anonymously sent them like 5th generation cassette copies of our new album, and in order for them to play it they started on the weekend at 5 o'clock, like on Friday nights, that way they could play it throughout the weekend without having counsel sue them and, I dunno… that's kind of smart! [laughs]
Ehm: It's great publicity for you, anyway. Ultimately the album's gonna come out…
Cobain: Well, that's true, but the thing is that there's so much controversy about how bad the record sounds, y'know, and how lo-fi it is… and to hear it like that, compared to all of the other songs that were on the radio that night, it really disgusted me and it pissed me off because it sounded terrible! It sounded really really bad, and everyone that heard it that weekend is gonna say, "Yeah, you're right, OK, the stories are true, the Nirvana album really sucks and I'm not going to buy it." So, it just kinda bothered me, but we took care of it…
Ehm: What did you do?
Cobain: Well, I thought maybe we should hire a lawyer to stop them doing it, then instead I just decided to hire a hit-man.
Ehm: Pardon me?!
Cobain: [laughs] Nothing! Erase that! No, we just called them up on Monday and told them to stop.
Ehm: And they went, "Oh, OK"?
Cobain: Well, our lawyer did that.
Ehm: Isn't a weird world, for you to suddenly have lawyers and people who do stuff like that for you?
Cobain: Yeah! [laughs] It's totally unnecessary too. If we weren't in this position, we wouldn't need lawyers, y'know? But it's totally unnecessary and we have to spend a lot of money just to protect ourselves all the time, and it's just stupid!
Ehm: When did that first hit you? When did you realise that you're gonna need some people on your team to protect you from the vultures?
Cobain: Too late! [laughs] Y'know, much after the fact. After we'd already been damaged to the point where it almost didn't do any good, y'know? But, ummm, I dunno, it was just a weird realisation one day, y'know? "Wow, I have to…" And I can see how rock 'n'roll stars will all of a sudden… will almost compromise their music to make sure they sell the same amount of records next year, because they spent all their money on lawyers and protecting themselves last year, y'know? But, I mean, we obviously haven't done that. I dunno, maybe you might not have noticed, but the record isn't as commercial as the last one, so… We could never bring ourselves to do that, I'd rather just laugh about it…
Ehm: I was talking to Aimee Mann, the girl from Till Tuesday, she was at our office just a couple of days ago - she was on tour with Ray Davis, The Kinks - and Ray Davis was in the office also, he came in before her, and I had mentioned to her that he was very nice but really eccentric when I was talking to him, kinda nutty, and she said, "Well, y'know, there's a lot of people who have been around the record business for those many years, and most of them are kinda nutty!"
Ehm: Y'know? It just makes people nutty!
Cobain: Yeah. [laughs]
Ehm: I mean, can you… you have to… you're facing that! That's your future!
Cobain: Yeah, that's my future! Ummm, hopefully we'll put out Metal Machine Music next year, y'know? I dunno! Either I've accepted it, or I've gone beyond insane to where I can deal with it emotionally… I really don't care! I know that I'm too stubborn to allow myself to ever compromise our music, y'know? Or get so wrapped up in it, or involved to where it's going to turn us into big rockstars. I mean, I just don't feel like that! Everyone else accuses us of it, but we're not as popular as everyone thinks and we're not as rich as everyone thinks! We've always had a good sense of humor, I don't think that's been translated very well, but we'd rather laugh about it… "ha ha ha."
Ehm: You know what really surprises me, though? You're pretty bright and your lyrics are… and just your whole stage persona is pretty angry, angst-ridden, frustrated… I mean, you see the world for what it is - did you ever have second thoughts about bringing a child into the world, the way it is?
Cobain: Oh, yeah! absolutely! I really can't describe what changed our attitude so fast, I think I was… I really was a lot more negative and angry and everything else a few years ago, but that had a lot to do with not having a mate, not having a steady girlfriend, and stuff like that… that was one of the main things that was bothering me, that I wouldn't admit at the time… so now that I've found that, the world seems a lot better for some reason! It really does change your attitude about things. I mean, 4 years ago I would have said the classic thing, like, "How dare someone bring a child into this life, y'know? It's a completely terrible way to go, the world's gonna explode any day…" and stuff like that, but once you fall in love it's a bit different… [laughs]
Ehm: I don't want to know about it! Stop! [laughs] George and I aren't in the best love situations right now, so we're gonna stop talking about that, we'll change the subject! I wanna talk to you about, ummm…
Cobain: I'm not boasting about it, it's just something that's really weird...
Ehm: It's nice! It's really nice that you wanna talk about it… that you have something like that to talk about… [laughs] it's nice!
Cameraman George: Can you hold this for a while? I'm feeling a little weak… [laughs]
Ehm: Y'know this whole grunge thing, this in quotations "grunge" - all I wanna know is, where did the term come from?
Cobain: I have no idea. I think some of rumors are that Jonathan Poneman said it one time sarcastically and it just caught on...
Ehm: Who's that?
Cobain: He's one of the head honchos at Sub Pop Records. But no-one set out to market this music as that… that's just what happens when the media catches on, they have to call it something. I like it as much as New Wave, I would have been proud to be a New Waver 15 years ago!
Ehm: Yeah, we're about the same age, I was into New Wave! Absolutely!
Cobain: Me too.
Ehm: Do you think you have some of the same… is there anything the same between your music and New Wave?
Cobain: I think so!
Ehm: Like what?
Cobain: Well, New Wave was just a progression from Punk-Rock… a mutation of Punk-Rock… it was more commercial and more palatable, y'know? It had Punk-Rock roots, but it was easier to swallow for the media and middle America and the middle of the world, and that's kinda what I think about our music…
Ehm: Are you worried about a Nirvana backlash?
Cobain: Hasn't that already been over with? Hasn't that already happened? I dunno… Sure! No! I don't know! [laughs]
Ehm: [laughs] OK, what else did I wanna talk to you about…
Cobain: We're getting more New Wave as the days go by. I think we're gonna reinvent New Wave and bring back break-dancing. I'd really like to bring back New Wave and break-dancing! Meld it to something, I dunno… That's what our new music is sounding like, we're using a lot more fx boxes… we haven't resorted to skinny ties, but I think our music is… Y'know, this album is like the closing of the chapter of the formula we've been using… y'know, grunge is really kinda boring for us - it's something we can't deny and we're not gonna stop playing the old songs live - but our tastes are just changing so rapidly that we're really experimenting with a lot of stuff, and it might get a bit too indulgent and be really embarrassing for the next album, but we can't put out another album… this is the last chapter of 3 chord grunge music for us… It was an easy thing to do and a safe thing to do because we knew it was still popular, y'know? But we had to get it out of our systems!
Ehm: How come you are so nice?! You seem real comfortable with yourself. Something must have really happened in the last couple of years, is it just falling in love?
Ehm: What happened?
Cobain: I've always been a nice guy!
Ehm: Maybe you were afraid to show it before? How's that?
Cobain: [laughs] Well, ummm… I dunno, you've never met me before, so…
Ehm: I've never met you before but I know other people who have had the opportunity to interview you and they went, "Oh, he hates doing interviews, he's not gonna want to talk about anything." And I said, "Well, y'know, whatever, who knows?!"
Ehm: And you're just exactly the opposite of…
Cobain: It just depends on what mood I'm in, really. I'm kind of a moody person. A lot of times when someone's had the chance to talk to me, I've probably been on tour, or I've probably gone through an exhaustive time where I've talked about myself for hours and hours, and this week I haven't had to talk about myself very much, so…
Ehm: Lucky me!
Cobain: … I'm probably a lot more cooperative! [laughs]
Ehm: [laughs] Ummm, I think one of the interesting things about Nirvana, that you don't really talk about that much, is that you're very concerned about sexism - I like that! That's good! So how do you make people aware of that problem?
Cobain: By writing songs as blunt as Rape Me. [laughs] Having to resort to doing something like that is almost embarrassing, because people didn't understand when we wrote a song like About A Girl or Polly, and having to explain that and having misunderstandings about it is just… I decided to write Rape Me in a way that was just so blunt and obvious that no-one could deny it, y'know? No-one could read into it any other way… Although some people have, actually! Some of the lyrics in it… some people thought that maybe it had something to do with my disgust with the media and the way they've treated us and stuff like that, but it's not true! That's not what the song is about at all… It's my way of, in a sarcastic way almost, of saying, "How obvious do we have to be?!" Y'know, I guess we don't talk about the things that a really important to us because I don't want to be thought of as nothing more than a PC band, y'know? I mean, we're entertainers! [laughs] Y'know, that's what music is, so… it's really hard to step over the lines.
Ehm: You have so much power 'cause that camera is on you…
Ehm: [laughs] …you can use it!
Cobain: Yeah, well, we try to use that power. I mean, we really have been effective in certain ways, like being associated with this organisation called FAIR… and I can't remember right now 'cause I have a mental block exactly what it stands for, but it's something like… ah, shit! I can't remember! [laughs] But they're an organisation who looks at the injustices that are… they look at the details that surround certain issues and certain stories that have been reported in magazines and newspapers, like USA Today, who tend to look over a lot of the facts. They're pretty much a leftist organisation that tries to protect people in certain areas… and they supposedly try and hard as they can to deliver the truth… So, we've done benefits like that… No on 9 benefits to try to stop Portland's anti-gay laws that they were trying to pass… and we've done a Bosnian benefit and stuff like that… and it doesn't seem like much, but we raised like $50,000 for the Bosnian rape victims, y'know? And that's a lot more than we could have done griping about it and talking about it in interviews, and maybe putting out a fanzine, y'know? And there's nothing wrong with doing stuff like that, but we're using the tools that we have, we're being as effective as we can… but we still don't want to be too political, at the same time… 'cause it's just kinda embarrassing to do that… you get ridiculed for it….
Ehm: Yeah, but you're doing what you believe in, that's the most important thing!
Cobain: It's hard no to, y'know? If you're put in this position, what are you gonna do? Become a Republican or something? [laughs] Just to protect what you've earned? Big deal!
Ehm: OK, I'll ask a couple more questions and then, let you free.
Cobain: OK. Is it alright to smoke on Canadian television?
Ehm: [laughs] Well, it's too late now, you're already at it. Sure. Do what you want!
Cobain: I've only had three.
Ehm: We were doing a special on, uhm, The Replacements…
Ehm: …and I was just wondering if they had, at all, any influence on you as a songwriter or the music you make?
Cobain: I kinda wish they did, because there's so many comparisons to us, you know, uhm, I have to be honest I really didn't like The Replacements [laughs] when I was into punk rock music, I'd listen to them and uhm, I mean I like the sound of it, but I don't know if that… I think my appreciation for REM and The Beatles and stuff like that had more to do with it, because I really wasn't aware of Soul Asylum and The Replacements and those bands. I mean I knew about 'em and I actually saw them live and stuff and I just didn't get it. I didn't like it that much.
Ehm: And, uhm, can we have a comment please on uhm, [Kurt lights cigarette] I’ll wait until you light this one because this is such a… What is your comment on "Muzak" being, uh, or uh, being here, the capital of Muzak being here in Seattle?
Cobain: Well, it's an obvious thing to happen y'know [laughs], something that you'd expect. Oh, oh! I thought you were talking about the Muzak from, that they, this Muzak record they put out of ‘Grunge Lite’
Ehm: Oh, the ‘Grunge Lite’. What do you think of that? Of that girl?
Cobain: It's great! Sure! It's an obvious thing to happen, y'know, it's the last… last chapter on the book of Grunge. But, uhm, the Muzak capital… That's where… so this is the place where most Muzak comes from? I didn't even know that! I thought there was just, y'know, one station here.
Ehm: Seattle is the capital of Muzak.
Cobain: Thanks for letting me know about that! [laughs]
Ehm: And you thought it was grunge? No! [laughs] No, we were there. But they don't, they're not doing your songs.
Cobain: Oh, bummer! [laughs]
Ehm: They said it was too (what is it?) too aggressive and would make people too excited.
Cobain: Oh! Well… [laughs] We have some pretty songs, too! God, that's really a bummer! That upsets me! But uhm, I don't know. Muzak, that's pretty neat, that's…
Ehm: But, they don't like, they didn't like the Grunge Lite album 'cause the woman sent a copy to them…
Ehm: …they didn't like it 'cause it was too electronic, and they wanted to use real musicians.
Cobain: Oh yeah, I like that idea better, too. I was, yeah… I liked it when Devo did their Muzak version of their songs, that was really neat. Did you ever hear that? That was nice! And I think they used real musicians for that.
Ehm: Did you get to hang out with them, Devo?
Ehm: I know that you're a bit a fan of theirs.
Cobain: No, never met 'em.
Ehm: Did you ever get to meet anyone who would be like your hero? Anyone that you're real pleased you got to meet?
Cobain: Yeah! Yeah. Thats kind of a positive side of, of being a rock'n'roll star. But, uhm, no actually I met Iggy Pop before we were rock'n'roll stars. And Iggy Pop is pretty much the only person that I've met that I really, really admire and like. And, uhm…
Ehm: And when you met him, were you pleased?
Cobain: Yeah, it was a big excitement, it was great, uhm, I didn't ask him for an autograph [laughs] I tried not to bother him the way that I thought that I might be bothered. But, uhm, I don't know. And then the other person is William S. Burroughs, I met him and uh, and I actually got to put out a record with him, so.
Ehm: Tell me about the record that you're doing with William Burroughs!
Cobain: Well, it's already out, it’s just a 10-inch and it's just one story of his, called ‘The Priest They Called Him’ and I just… it was a long distance recording, he had recorded his version and then I just played a bunch of guitar noises in the background and they mixed it somewhere else and it came out. Now we're talking about putting out a whole album.
Ehm: Of him reading his work and you playing guitar underneath?
Cobain: Yeah. I think I’ll play a bunch of instruments this time. And so I just, you know, fucking off like I did before, y'know, it was just a last minute thing where I just made a bunch of noise, but this time I'd like to kinda work on it. Maybe I'll do a Muzak version.
Ehm: [laughs] Sure the fans would love that! Little bit of Muzak. Let me just make sure I have all my questions asked and uhm, this one that I… Oh, Tori Amos, did you like it, the cover of ‘Smells Like Teen…’?
Cobain: [laughs] Well, it served the purpose 'cause we use that as the opening, before we came out, we’d play that song…
Ehm: Oh really?
Cobain: …and then we'd come out and dance to it, do a little bit of interpretive dancing to it.
Ehm: [laughs] That's nice!
Cobain: Yeah, it was nice, yeah. [laughs]
Ehm: The last thing I wanna ask you about is, uhm, I'm not sure who in your band said it, it could've been you, could’ve been someone else, but, someone being a little perturbed by the- your mainstream audience and wanting to just make music for your real fans.
Cobain: Well, y'know a couple of years ago when we were making these bold negative statements about things like that, y'know we were really confused and... we were scared, we were afraid that we would lose a lot of our audience that meant a lot to us because they're people that, you know, we supposedly… hopefully feel that we have a connection with, you know, the college students and the people in the underground, and I don't think we've lost them. I think they're still fans, so, we're not worried about it anymore. And I was at the time.
© Erica Ehm/Much Music, 1993