Georgia Tsao
Dave Grohl
Publisher Title Transcript
M.E.A.T. #45 Metal On The Rise: Nirvana Yes

It was in 1998 that a threesome from Seattle, Washington - Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar), Chris Novoselic (bass) and David Grohl (drums) - released their first album to Sub Pop; the debut was titled Bleach, the hand was named Nirvana.

In the unsuspecting summer of 1990, Geffen released their sophomore attempt, Nevermind a 12 song (plus one hidden track) LP. Who could have predicted that a noisy, unorthodox, lineally distorted 'grunge' album would bust a dent in the music industry so wide that it would dawn a new era in the history of rock n' roll?

Looking back, the whole notion of Nevermind as a 'mainstream hit did take a little while, but after the pre-judgmental period passed the crushing success of the album came worldwide, and along with it the changed fate of music charts, rock and alternative radio, music television, fashion, and the city of Seattle.

In order to satiate the new grunge frenzied appetite of millions, Nirvana released Incesticide in late 1992 - a collection of b-sides, covers and stuff - to tie over the anticipation period. As not to make the collectors items idea too difficult, Incesticide included most of the prominent 'hard to find' material of the bands fledgling days.

Now, in the summer of 1993, the follow-up to the epic success of Nevermind is slated to be born on September 15. The band has named this one In Utero, or in the womb, or frankly, in my ears for that matter, in-fucking-sane.

The call came in from San Francisco from a place called The Edgewater Inn. On the other end was David Grohl, who informed me that this was the place where Led Zeppelin had their infamous fish fiasco, and that he could actually drop a line and fish out of the window. "I don't know what kind of fish you'll catch," Grohl began with a drawl, but you can fish out your balcony. I think Frank Zappa wrote a record about this place, you know." As not to stray helplessly off track, somehow between Grohl's comments about the ferryboats passing his window I managed to conduct an interview of sorts. At times, however, I did wonder if I were clearly just taking to myself.

"Do you know what I think is really strange?" Grohl inquired. "Why do people in Canada always say Nir'vana when it's Nir'von'a?" It occurred to me that his comment may be of genuine concern, but I chose not to address the pronunciation topic as not to side track even more. So I asked him about ever so overrated concept of popularity and skipped the explanation. He didn't bother to notice, and ever so eagerly addressed question. "We were on tour in Europe for a couple of months when it really started going nuts," he began. "Our venues began change, and we started hitting bigger venues after a month. When we got home the record was gold, and I remember thinking, 'I can't believe we have a gold record!' It was so fucking weird - totally insane.

"You know, I guess I realized all this fame a couple of weeks ago," laughed Grohl. "I knew we were a big band and that we sold a lot of records, but I can't imagine us being some big rock phenomena. And lately people have been making it out to seem like we're really some big fucking deal. I never thought people gave a shit. I hope I never get used to it - I would never want to. I mean, it's weird enough as it is. It's weird enough when you don't realize it and, when you do realize it, you realize it's weird."

The most damaging aspect of sudden fame and recognition is obviously the extensive exposure and scrutiny that follows you around at all times, and at all costs. For too many rock legends the price was often too steep to pay.

"We're like falling apart every week," admits Grohl forwardly, "but not drastic enough to hurt the band. It's all the attention and talk. We were doing 5 to 6 interviews a day, then we'd play, pick up and leave. It was so tedious. So for a while we looked at it as therapy. It was like since it's all so weird, and we can sit and talk to people about it, and they'd listen, then maybe they could figure it all out for us? It's really no big fucking deal, because when it comes down to it, it's really just three or us playing music, and that's what we love to do. It might get so crazy one day that we'll despise the whole Nirvana phenomena, but we'll always love playing with each other."

Somehow, despite the 'new attitude' of grunge, the whole 'sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll' motif never let up. Unfortunately, in the lives of them famous folks, it is usually unfavorably overblown. "A lot of that drug stuff with Kurt really did get blown out of proportion," agreed Grohl. "Because of Seattle, and the death of Andy Wood (Mother Love Bone), people just started looking with an eyeglass into the drug scene in Seattle. Every city has it's drug scene. I'm sure all the hype surrounding grunge got people looking into the drug thing, and grunge music, and a lot of that with Kurt was blown out of proportion. I mean, I used to be a big stoner, but I quit smoking pot four years ago. When you realize a problem, and realize that it's been dealt with, the hype surrounding it all is often more damaging than the problem itself. Everybody goes through some fucked up thing. You can get over it. But when the press really dwells on it, it hurts everyone more. Long after the problem was gone, people would still throw salt in the wound. That was a lot more damaging than Kurt's drug thing."

Tapping into the psyche of Nirvana was a hopeful way of obtaining an understanding of the very plane that the band emerges from. What seemed to differentiate then mentality from those of other musicians was the outright fact that this trio really did not give a shit. What they created was a reflection of who they were, not what people expected them to be. If they made it this way, why do it any differently now? "I still wonder if people even understand what we're all about," questioned Grohl "There's probably 100,000 people who liked the band before 'Nevermind'. Then there's the other 100,000 people who saw us play when we were on tour. But that leaves seven million more people who bought the record. I'm sure they think we're just another Guns N' Roses. People don't really have a clue. I think it all got lost in the weird MTV haze. I just don't think people realize what we're all about. When people think about grunge music it's like UGH! - they think it's just flannel and beer, you know. And sure, to a lot of people it is - the people who moved to Seattle from Minnesota or whatever to rock out! There's a lot more to this band then getting fucked up and playing loud music."

Now taking a mental detour myself, I realized that the topic of Guns N' Roses and grunge were necessary items to mention - the whole ongoing hostility between two of the hugest rock bands of this generation, and the coining of the ultimate label since heavy metal. "Guns N' Roses," he laughed. "They suck - and we're cool. And as far as grunge is concerned, I don't know who came up with it, but Goddamn him to hell!"

Somehow after the GNR and grunge question, the degree of displeasure arose in Grohl's voice. So when I asked him about what happened to the music world when Nirvana became a driving force in it, he had many a heated comments to make. "When we were recording 'Nevermind', there wasn't one rock album in the Top 10. There wasn't one! It was either Garth Brooks or Whitney Houston. You start thinking like, 'What are things coming to?' People were sick of rock because there was nothing worth listening to. There wasn't anything in a four year period. Everything was the fucking same. It got to the point where we knew something had to change. We just didn't think it was going to be us. We didn't think we were ever going to make a dent in anything. We didn't ever say, 'We have to save rock 'n' roll.'"

It was comforting to learn that Nirvana wasn't another modern day messiah type band out on a musical pilgrimage to save the universe. But Grohl had mentioned that people still didn't understand what Nirvana was all about. Maybe we, as a collective of fans, never quite realized the worldly aspect of the band. Afterall, they do have a tendency to trash their instruments, trash themselves, bad mouth other bands, and fumble around foolishly on nationwide television. My question? - has anyone bothered to ask?

"Everyone's watching Alternative Nation, and they have this alternative music scene, but they're not living an alternative life," defines Grohl. "People are still sexist, racist, homophobic - they're still fucking rednecks' That's what we're trying to destroy. We're not on some insane notion of a Ulysses mission from hell. But I would feel a lot happier if homophobic people would stay away from our band, or sexist or racist people would stay away. They're elements of society that will never be completely abolished… (pauses and sighs heavily) I just want them to stay the fuck out of my face!"

Nirvana obviously feel good about themselves and what they represent. Did this emotion spill over into the birth of album number three. "Yes, and I'm happy with it." states Grohl. "I've started listening to it a lot and I really like it. There was a month and a half period after we recorded it, and I didn't have a tape of it so I didn't get sick of it straight away. After the breather, now I've really started listening to it. I've just realized that I'm totally and completely happy with it. There's nothing I would change. It's really amazing."

This 'amazing' creation consists of 13 tunes, and - without blowing Nirvana's load - I will only list the songs and leave the public to decide for themselves on September 15. "Serve The Servants", "Scentless Apprentice", "Heart-Shaped Box", "Frances Farmer", "Dumb", "Very Ape", "Milk It", "Penny Royal Tea", "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter", "Tourrets". and "All Apologies".

"A lot of these songs were written when we were on tour for 'Nevermind'," Grohl stated. "They're just pop songs really. It's not a backlash or a stab at 'Nevermind', or any self destructive thing. It's just songs we've written. The only thing that I think anyone can point a finger at to say, 'These guys don't want to be a commercial AOR band.' is the production, which is a very natural production. It's not slick; it doesn't sound like 'Nevermind' and, in a lot of ways, I really didn't think that 'Nevermind' sounded like the band. It's not necessarily more raw or anything, it's just a more accurate representation of the band. The way Steve Albini records, there are no outboard effects or computer effects. It's all microphones in the room. It's a room sound."

© Georgia Tsao, 1993