LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE October 25, 1993 - Chicago, IL, US
- David Fricke
- Kurt Cobain
|Rolling Stone||Kurt Cobain: The Rolling Stone Interview||Yes|
|HBO Documentary Films/Universal Pictures||Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck||Yes|
Our man in Nirvana rages on (and on) about stardom, fatherhood, his feud with Pearl Jam, the death of grunge and why he's never been happier in his life.
Shirtless, disheveled Kurt Cobain pauses on the backstage stairway leading to Nirvana's dressing room at the Aragon Ballroom, in Chicago, offers a visitor a sip of his après-gig tea and says in a drop-deadpan voice, "I'm really glad you could make it for the shittiest show on the tour."
He's right. Tonight's concert—Nirvana's second of two nights at the Aragon, only a week into the band's first U.S. tour in two years—is a real stinker. The venue's cavernous sound turns even corrosive torpedoes like "Breed" and "Territorial Pissings" into riff pudding, and Cobain is bedeviled all night by guitar- and vocal- monitor problems. There are moments of prickly brilliance: Cobain's sandpaper howl cutting through the Aragon's canyon-like echo in the tense explosive chorus of "Heart-Shaped Box"; a short stunning "Sliver" with torrid power strumming by guest touring guitarist Pat Smear (ex-Germs). But there is no "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and when the house lights go up, so does a loud chorus of boos.
According to the Cobain press myth—"pissy, complaining, freaked-out schizophrenic," as he quite accurately puts it—the 26-year-old singer and guitarist should have fired the soundman, canceled this interview and gone back to his hotel room to sulk. Instead, he spends his wind-down time backstage, doting on his daughter, 1-year-old Frances Bean Cobain, a petite blond beauty who barrels around the room with a smile for everyone in her path. Later, back at the hotel, armed with nothing stronger than a pack of cigarettes and two minibar bottles of Evian water, Cobain is in a thoughtful, discursive mood, taking great pains to explain that success doesn't really suck—not as much as it used to, anyway—and that his life is pretty good. And getting better.
"It was so fast and explosive," he says in a sleepy, gravelly voice of his first crisis of confidence following the ballistic success of Nevermind. "I didn't know how to deal with it. If there was a Rock Star 101 course, I would have liked to take it. It might have helped me.
"I still see stuff, descriptions of rock stars in some magazine—'Sting, the environmental guy' and Kurt Cobain, the whiny, complaining, neurotic, bitchy guy who hates everything, hates rock stardom, hates his life.' And I've never been happier in my life. Especially within the last week, because the shows have been going so well—except for tonight. I'm a much happier guy than a lot of people think I am."
Cobain took some long, hard detours to get there over the past year. The making of In Utero, Nirvana's long-awaited studio follow-up to Nevermind, was fraught with last-minute title and track changes as well as a public scrap between the band, its record label, DGC, and producer Steve Albini over the album's commercial potential—or lack thereof. Cobain's marriage to punk-noir singer Courtney Love of the band Hole—dream fodder for rock gossips since the couple exchanged vows in February 1992—made headlines again last June when Cobain was arrested by Seattle police for allegedly assaulting Love during a domestic fracas. Police found three guns in the house, but no charges were filed, and the case was dismissed.
Last year, Cobain also made a clean breast of his long-rumored heroin addiction, claiming he'd used the drug—at least in part—to opiate severe, chronic stomach pain. Or as he puts it in this interview, "to medicate myself." He's now off the junk, and thanks to new medication and a better diet, his digestive tract, he says, is on the road to recovery.
But the roots of his angst, public and personal, go much deeper. Born in the logging town of Aberdeen, Wash., Cobain is—like Nirvana's bassist, Krist Novoselic, drummer Dave Grohl and a high percentage of the band's young fans—the product of a broken home, the son of an auto mechanic and a secretary who divorced when he was 8. Cobain had early aspirations as a commercial artist and won a number of high-school art contests; he now designs much of Nirvana's artwork. (He made the plastic-fetus collage on the back cover of In Utero, which got the record banned by Wal-Mart.) But after graduation, Cobain passed on an art-school scholarship and took up the teen-age-bum life, working as a roadie for the local punk band the Melvins (when he was working at all) and applying himself to songwriting.
"I never wanted to sing," Cobain insists now. "I just wanted to play rhythm guitar—hide in the back and just play. But during those high-school years when I was playing guitar in my bedroom, I at least had the intuition that I had to write my own songs."
For a long time, after Nirvana catapulted from junior Sub Pop-label signees to grunge supergods—they won the Best Band and Best Album trophies in our 1994 Critics Poll—Cobain could not decide whether his talent was a blessing or a curse. He has finally come to realize it's a bit of both. He is bugged that people think of him more as an icon than a songwriter yet fears that In Utero marks the finish line of the Nirvana sound crystallized in "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Cobain remains deeply mistrustful of the music business but says he has done a complete U-turn on his attitude toward Nirvana's mass punk-wanna-be flock.
"I don't have as many judgments about them as I used to," Cobain says, almost apologetically. I've come to terms about why they're there and why we're here. It doesn't bother me anymore to see this Neanderthal with a mustache, out of his mind, drunk, singing along to 'Sliver.' That blows my mind now.
"I've been relieved of so much pressure in the last year and a half," Cobain says with discernible relief in his voice. I'm still kind of mesmerized by it." He ticks off the reasons for his content: "Pulling this record off. My family. My child. Meeting William Burroughs and doing a record with him.
"Just little things that no one would recognize or care about," he continues. "And it has a lot to do with this band. If it wasn't for this band, those things never would have happened. I'm really thankful, and every month I come to more optimistic conclusions."
"I just hope," Cobain adds, grinning "I don't become so blissful I become boring. I think I'll always be neurotic enough to do something weird."
Along with everything else that went wrong onstage tonight, you left without playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Why?
That would have been the icing on the cake [smiles grimly]. That would have made everything twice as worse.
I don't even remember the guitar solo on "Teen Spirit" It would take me five minutes to sit in the catering room and learn the solo. But I'm not interested in that kind of stuff. I don't know if that's so lazy that I don't care anymore or what. I still like playing "Teen Spirit," but it's almost an embarrassment to play it.
In what way? Does the enormity of its success still bug you?
Yeah. Everyone has focused on that song so much. The reason it gets a big reaction is people have seen it on MTV a million times. It's been pounded into their brains. But I think there are so many other songs that I've written that are as good, if not better, than that song, like "Drain You." That's definitely as good as "Teen Spirit." I love the lyrics, and I never get tired of playing it. Maybe if it was as big as "Teen Spirit," I wouldn't like it as much.
But I can barely, especially on a bad night like tonight, get through "Teen Spirit." I literally want to throw my guitar down and walk away. I can't pretend to have a good time playing it.
But you must have had a good time writing it.
We'd been practicing for about three months. We were waiting to sign to DGC, and Dave [Grohl] and I were living in Olympia [Wash.], and Krist [Novoselic] was living in Tacoma [Wash.]. We were driving up to Tacoma every night for practice, trying to write songs. I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it [smiles]. When I heard the Pixies for the first rime, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band—or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.
'Teen Spirit" was such a clichéd riff. It was so close to a Boston riff or "Louie, Louie." When I came up with the guitar part, Krist looked at me and said, "That is so ridiculous." I made the band play it for an hour and a half.
Where did the line "Here we are now, entertain us come from?
That came from something I used to say every time I used to walk into a party to break the ice. A lot of times, when you're standing around with people in a room, it's really boring and uncomfortable. So it was "Well, here we are, entertain us. You invited us here."
How did it feel to watch something you'd written in fun, in homage to one of your favorite bands, become the grunge national anthem, not to mention a defining moment in youth marketing?
Actually, we did have our own thing for a while. For a few years in Seattle, it was the Summer of Love, and it was so great. To be able to just jump out on top of the crowd with my guitar and be held up and pushed to the back of the room, and then brought back with no harm done to me—it was a celebration of something that no one could put their finger on.
But once it got into the mainstream, it was over. I'm just tired of being embarrassed by it. I'm beyond that.
This is the first US tour you've done since the fall of '91, just before "Nevermind" exploded. Why did you stay off the road for so long?
I needed time to collect my thoughts and readjust. It hit me so hard, and I was under the impression that I didn't really need to go on tour, because I was making a whole bunch of money. Millions of dollars. Eight million to 10 million records sold—that sounded like a lot of money to me. So I thought I would sit back and enjoy it.
I don't want to use this as an excuse, and it's come up so many times, but my stomach ailment has been one of the biggest barriers that stopped us from touring. I was dealing with it for a long time. But after a person experiences chronic pain for five years, by the time that fifth year ends, you're literally insane. I couldn't cope with anything. I was as schizophrenic as a wet cat that's been beaten.
How much of that physical pain do you think you channeled into your songwriting?
That's a scary question, because obviously if a person is having some kind of turmoil in their lives, it's usually reflected in the music, and sometimes it's pretty beneficial. I think it probably helped. But I would give up everything to have good health. I wanted to do this interview after we'd been on tour for a while, and so far, this has been the most enjoyable tour I've ever had. Honestly.
It has nothing to do with the larger venues or people kissing our asses more. It's just that my stomach isn't bothering me anymore. I'm eating. I ate a huge pizza last night. It was so nice to be able to do that. And it just raises my spirits. But then again, I was always afraid that if I lost the stomach problem, I wouldn't be as creative. Who knows? [Pauses] I don't have any new songs right now.
Every album we've done so far, we've always had one to three songs left over from the sessions. And they usually have been pretty good, ones that we really liked, so we always had something to rely on—a hit or something that was above average. So this next record is going to be really interesting, because I have absolutely nothing left. I'm starting from scratch for the first time. I don't know what we're going to do.
One of the songs that you cut from "In Utero" at the last minute was "I Hate Myself and I Want to Die." How literally did you mean it?
As literal as a joke can be. Nothing more than a joke.
And that had a bit to do with why we decided to take it off. We knew people wouldn't get it; they'd take it too seriously. It was totally satirical, making fun of ourselves. I'm thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked-out schizophrenic who wants to kill himself all the time. "He isn't satisfied with anything." And I thought it was a funny title. I wanted it to be the title of the album for a long time. But I knew the majority of the people wouldn't understand it.
Have you ever been that consumed with distress or pain or rage that you actually wanted to kill yourself?
For five years during the time I had my stomach problem, yeah. I wanted to kill myself every day. I came very close many times. I'm sorry to be so blunt about it. It was to the point where I was on tour, lying on the floor, vomiting air because I couldn't hold down water. And then I had to play a show in 20 minutes. I would sing and cough up blood.
This is no way to live a life. I love to play music, but something was not right. So I decided to medicate myself.
Even as satire, though, a song like that can bit a nerve. There are plenty of kids out there who, for whatever reasons, really do feel suicidal.
That pretty much defines our band. It's both those contradictions. It's satirical, and it's serious at the same time.
What kind of mail do you get from your fans these days?
[Long pause] I used to read the mail a lot, and I used to be really involved with it. But I've been so busy with this record, the video, the tour, that I haven't even bothered to look at a single letter, and I feel really bad about it. I haven't even been able to come up with enough energy to put out our fanzine, which was one of the things we were going to do to combat all the bad press, just to be able to show a more realistic side of the band.
But it's really hard. I have to admit I've found myself doing the same things that a lot of other rock stars do or are forced to do. Which is not being able to respond to mail, not being able to keep up on current music, and I'm pretty much locked away a lot. The outside world is pretty foreign to me.
I feel very, very lucky to be able to go out to a club. Just the other night, we had a night off in Kansas City, deal Mo., and Pat [Smear] and I had no idea where we were or where to go. So we called up the local college radio station and asked them what was going on. And they didn't know! So we happened to call this bar, and the Treepeople from Seattle were playing.
And it turns out I met three really, really nice people there, totally cool kids that were in bands. I really had a good time with them, all night. I invited them back to the hotel. They stayed there. I ordered room service for them. I probably went overboard, trying to be accommodating. But it was really great to know that I can still do that, that I can still find friends.
And I didn't think that would be possible. A few years ago, we were in Detroit, playing at this club, and about 10 people showed up. And next door, there was this bar, and Axl Rose came in with 10 or 15 bodyguards. It was this huge extravaganza; all these people were fawning over him. If he'd just walked in by himself, it would have been no big deal. But he wanted that. You create attention to attract attention.
Where do you stand on Pearl Jam now? There were rumors that you and Eddie Vedder were supposed to be on that "Time" magazine cover together.
I don't want to get into that. One of the things I've learned is that slagging off people just doesn't do me any good. It's too bad, because the whole problem with the feud between Pearl Jam and Nirvana had been going on for so long and has come so close to being fixed.
It's never been entirely clear what this feud with Vedder was about.
There never was one. I slagged them off because I didn't like their band. I hadn't met Eddie at the time. It was my fault; I should have been slagging off the record company instead of them. They were marketed—not probably against their will—but without them realizing they were being pushed into the grunge bandwagon.
Don't you feel any empathy with them? They've been under the same intense follow-up-album pressure as you have.
Yeah, I do. Except I'm pretty sure that they didn't go out of their way to challenge their audience as much as we did with this record. They're a safe rock band. They're a pleasant rock band that everyone likes. [Laughs] God, I've had much better quotes in my head about this.
It just kind of pisses me off to know that we work really hard to make an entire album's worth of songs that are as good as we can make them. I'm gonna stroke my ego by saying that we're better than a lot of bands our there. What I've realized is that you only need a couple of catchy songs on an album, and the rest can be bull shit Bad Company rip-offs, and it doesn't matter. If I was smart, I would have saved most of the songs off Nevermind and spread them out over a 15-year period. But I can't do that. All the albums I ever liked were albums that delivered a great song, one after another: Aerosmith's Rocks, the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks…, Led Zeppelin II, Back in Black, by AC/DC.
You've also gone on record as being a big Beatles fan.
Oh, yeah. John Lennon was definitely my favorite Beatle, hands down. I don't know who wrote what parts of what Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney embarrasses me. Lennon was obviously disturbed [laughs]. So I could relate to that.
And from the books I've read—and I'm so skeptical of anything I read, especially in rock book—I just felt really sorry for him. To be locked up in that apartment. Although he was totally in love with Yoko and his child, his life was a prison He was imprisoned. It's not fair. That's the crux of the problem that I've had with becoming a celebrity—the way people with celebrities. It needs to be changed; it really does.
No matter how hard you try, it only comes our like you're bitching about it. I can understand how a per- son can feel that way and almost become obsessed with it. But it's so hard to convince people to mellow out. Just take it easy, have a little bit of respect. We all shit [laughs].
"In Utero" may be the most anticipated, talked-about and argued-over album of 1993. Didn't you feel at any point during all the title changes and the press hoopla stirred up by Steve Albini that the whole thing was just getting stupid? After all, it is just an album.
Yeah. But I'm used to it [laughs]. While making the record, that wasn't happening. It was made really fast. All the basic tracks were done within a week. And I did 80 percent of the vocals in one day, in about seven hours. I just happened to be on a roll. It was a good day for me, and I just kept going.
So what was the problem?
It wasn't the songs. It was the production. It took a very, very long time for us to realize what the problem was. We couldn't figure it out. We had no idea why we didn't feel the same energy that we did from Nevermind. We finally came to the conclusion that the vocals weren't loud enough, and the bass was totally inaudible. We couldn't hear any notes that Krist was playing at all.
I think there are a few songs on In Utero that could have been cleaned up a little bit more. Definitely "Penny Royal Tea." That was not recorded right. There is something wrong with that. That should have been recorded like Nevermind, because I know that's a strong song, a hit single. We're toying with the idea of re-recording it or remixing it.
You hit and miss. It's a really weird thing about this record. I've never been more confused in my life, but at the same time I've never been more satisfied with what we've done.
Let's talk about your songwriting. Your best songs—"Teen Spirit," "Come As You Are," "Rape Me," "Penny Royal Tea"—all open with the verse in a low, moody style. Then the chorus comes in at full volume and nails you. So which comes first, the verse or the killer chorus?
[Long pause, then he smiles] I don't know. I really don't know. I guess I start with the verse and then go into the chorus. But I'm getting so tired of that formula. And it is formula. And there's not much you can do with it. We've mastered that—for our band. We're all growing pretty tired of it.
It is a dynamic style. But I'm only using two of the dynamics. There are a lot more I could be using. Krist, Dave and I have been working on this formula—this thing of going from quiet to loud—for so long that it's literally becoming boring for us. It's like "OK, I have this riff. I'll play it quiet, without a distortion box, while I'm singing the verse. And now let's turn on the distortion box and hit the drums harder." I want to learn to go in between those things, go back and forth, almost become psychedelic in a way but with a lot more structure. It's a really hard thing to do, and I don't know if we're capable of it—as musicians.
Songs like "Dumb" and "All Apologies" do suggest that you're looking for a way to get to people without resorting to the big-bang guitar effect.
Absolutely. I wish we could have written a few more songs like those on all the other albums. Even to put "About a Girl" on Bleach was a risk. I was heavily into pop, I really liked R.E.M., and I was into all kinds of old '60s stuff. But there was a lot of pressure within that social scene, the underground—like the kind of thing you get in high school. And to put a jangly R.E.M. type of pop song on a grunge record, in that scene, was risky.
We have failed in showing the lighter, more dynamic side of our band. The big guitar sound is what the kids want to hear. We like playing that stuff, but I don't know how much longer I can scream at the top of my lungs every night, for an entire year on tour. Sometimes I wish I had taken the Bob Dylan route and sang songs where my voice would not go out on me every night, so I could have a career if I wanted.
So what does this mean for the future of Nirvana?
It's impossible for me to look into the future and say I'm going to be able to play Nirvana songs in 10 years. There's no way. I don't want to have to resort to doing the Eric Clapton thing. Not to put him down whatsoever; I have immense respect for him. But I don't want to have to change the songs to fit my age [laughs].
The song on "In Utero" that has whipped up the most controversy is "Rape Me." It's got a brilliant hook, but there have been objections to the title and lyric—not just from skittish DJs but from some women who feel it's rather cavalier for a man to be using such a potent, inflammatory word so freely.
I understand that point of view, and I've heard it a lot. I've gone back and forth between regretting it and trying to defend myself. Basically, I was trying to write a song that supported women and dealt with the issue of rape. Over the last few years, people have had such a hard time understanding what our message is, what we're trying to convey, that I just decided to be as bold as possible. How hard should I stamp this point? How big should I make the letters?
It's not a pretty image. But a woman who is being raped, who is infuriated with the situation ... it's like "Go ahead, rape me, just go for it, because you're gonna get it." I'm a firm believer in karma, and that motherfucker is going to get what he deserves, eventually. That man will be caught, he'll go to jail, and he'll be raped. "So rape me, do it, get it over with. Because you're gonna get it worse."
What did your wife, Courtney, think of the song when she heard it?
I think she understood. I probably explained it better to her than I've explained it to you. I also want to make a point, that I was really, honestly not trying to be controversial with it. That was the last thing I wanted to do. We didn't want to put it out so it would piss off the parents and get some feminists on our asses, stuff like that. I just have so much contempt for someone who would do something like that [to a woman]. This is my way of saying "Do it once, and you may get away with it. Do it a hundred times. But you're gonna get it in the end."
When you were arrested on the domestic-violence charge his summer, Courtney admitted to the police that you kept guns in your home. Why do you feel you need to be armed?
I like guns. I just enjoy shooting them.
Where? At what?
[Laughs] When we go out to the woods, at a shooting range. It's not an official shooting range, but it's allowed to be one in this county. There's a really big cliff, so there's no chance of shooting over the cliff and hurting anyone. And there's no one within miles around.
Without getting too PC about it, don't you feel it's dangerous to keep them in the house, especially with your daughter, Frances, around?
No. It's protection. I don't have bodyguards. There are people way less famous than I am or Courtney who have been stalked and murdered. It could be someone by chance looking for a house to break into. We have a security system. I actually have one gun that is loaded, but I keep it safe, in a cabinet high up on a shelf where Frances can never get to it.
And I have an M16, which is fun to shoot. It's the only sport I have ever liked. It's not something I'm obsessed with or even condone. I don't really think much of it.
How does Courtney feel about keeping guns at home?
She was there when I bought them. Look, I'm not a very physical person. I wouldn't be able to stop an intruder who had a gun or a knife. But I'm nor going to stand by and watch my family stabbed to death or raped in front of me. I wouldn't think twice of blowing someone's head off if they did that. It's for protection reasons. And sometimes it's fun to go out and shoot. [Pauses] At targets. I want to make that clear [laughs].
People usually assume that someone who has sold a few million records is really livin 'large. How rich are you? How rich do you feel? According to one story, you wanted to buy a new house and put a home studio in it, but your accountant said you couldn't afford it.
Yeah, I can't. I just got a check a while ago for some royalties for Nevermind, which is pretty good size. It's weird, though, really weird. When we were selling a lot of records during Nevermind, I thought, "God, I'm gonna have like $10 million, $15 million." That's not the case. We do nor live large. I still eat Kraft macaroni and cheese—because I like it, I'm used to it. We're not extravagant people.
I don't blame any kid for thinking that a person who sells 10 million records is a millionaire and set for the rest of his life. But it's not the case. I spent a million dollars last year, and I have no idea how I did it. Really. I bought a house for $400,000. Taxes were another $300,000-something. What else? I lent my mom some money. I bought a car. That was about it.
You don't have much to show for that million.
It's surprising. One of the biggest reasons we didn't go on tour when Nevermind was really big in the States was because I thought: "Fuck this, why should I go on tour? I have this chronic stomach pain, I may die on this tour, I'm selling a lot of records, I can live the rest of my life off a million dollars." But there's no point in even trying to explain that to a 15-year-old kid. I never would have believed it.
Do you worry about the impact that your work, lifestyle and ongoing war with supercelebrity are having on Frances? She seemed perfectly content to toddle around in the dressing room tonight, but it's got to be a strange world for her.
I'm pretty concerned about it. She seems to be attracted to almost anyone. She loves anyone. And it saddens me to know that she's moved around so much. We do have two nannies, one full-time and another older woman who takes care of her on weekends. But when we take her on the road, she's around people all the time, and she doesn't get to go to the park very often. We try as hard as we can, we take her to preschool things. But this is a totally different world.
In "Serve the Servants," you sing, "I tried hard to have a father/But instead I had a dad" Are you concerned about making the same mistakes as a father that might have been made when you were growing up?
No. I'm nor worried about that at all. My father and I are completely different people. I know that I'm capable of showing a lot more affection than my dad was. Even if Courtney and I were to get divorced, I would never allow us to be in a situation where there are bad vibes between us in front of her. That kind of stuff can screw up a kid, but the reason those things happen is because the parents are nor very bright.
I don't think Courtney and I are that fucked up. We have lacked love all our lives, and we need it so much that if there's any goal that we have, it's to give Frances as much love as we can, as much support as we can. That's the one thing that I know is not going to turn out bad.
What has been the state of relations within Nirvana over the past year?
When I was doing drugs, it was pretty bad. There was no communication. Krist and Dave, they didn't understand the drug problem. They'd never been around drugs. They thought of heroin in the same way that I thought of heroin before I started doing it. It was just really sad. We didn't speak very often. They were thinking the worst, like most people would, and I don't blame them for that. But nothing is ever as bad as it seems. Since I've been clean, it's gone back to pretty much normal.
Except for Dave. I'm still kind of concerned about him, because he still feels like he can be replaced at any time. He still feels like he...
Hasn't passed the audition?
Yeah. I don't understand it. I try to give him as many compliments as I can. I'm nor a person who gives compliments very often, especially at practice. "Let's do this song, let's do that song, let's do it over." That's it. I guess Dave is a person who needs reassurance sometimes. I notice that, so I try and do that more often.
So you call all the shots?
Yeah. I ask their opinions about things. But ultimately, it's my decision. I always feel weird saying that; it feels egotistical But we've never argued. Dave, Krist and I have never screamed at each other. Ever.
It's nor like they're afraid to bring up anything. I always ask their opinion, and we talk about it. And eventually, we all come to the same conclusions.
Haven't there been any issues where there was at least heated discussion?
Yeah, the songwriting royalties. I get all the lyrics. The music, I get 75 percent, and they get the rest. I think that's fair. But at the time, I was on drugs when that came up. And so they thought that I might start asking for more things. They were afraid that I was going to go our of my mind and start putting them on salary, stuff like that. But even then we didn't yell at each other. And we split everything else evenly.
With all of your reservations about playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and writing the same kind of song over and over, do you envision a time when there is no Nirvana? That you'll try to make it alone?
I don't think I could ever do a solo thing, the Kurt Cobain Project.
Doesn't have a very good ring to it, either.
No [laughs]. But yes, I would like to work with people who are totally, completely the opposite of what I'm doing now. Something way out there, man.
That doesn't bode well for the future of Nirvana and the kind of music you make together.
That's what I've been kind of hinting at in this whole interview. That we're almost exhausted. We've gone to the point where things are becoming repetitious. There's not something you can move up toward, there's nor something you can look forward to.
The best times that we ever had were right when Nevermind was coming out and we went on that American tour where we were playing clubs. They were totally sold out, and the record was breaking big, and there was this massive feeling in the air, this vibe of energy. Something really special was happening.
I hate to actually even say it, but I can't see this band lasting more than a couple more albums, unless we really work hard on experimenting. I mean, let's face it. When the same people are together doing the same job, they're limited. I'm really interested in studying different things, and I know Krist and Dave are as well. But I don't know if we are capable of doing it together. I don't want to put our another record that sounds like the last three records.
I know we're gonna put our one more record, at least, and I have a pretty good idea what it's going to sound like: pretty ethereal, acoustic, like R.E.M.'s last album. If I could write just a couple of songs as good as what they've written … I don't know how that band does what they do. God, they're the greatest. They've dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music.
That's what I'd really like to see this band do. Because we are stuck in such a rut. We have been labeled. R.E.M. is what? College rock? That doesn't really stick. Grunge is as potent a term as New Wave. You can't get out of it. It's going to be passé. You have to take a chance and hope that either a totally different audience accepts you or the same audience grows with you.
And what if the kids just say, "We don't dig it, get lost"?
Oh, well. [Laughs] Fuck 'em.
© David Fricke/Rolling Stone, 1994
Fricke: How much of that pain would you say actually fuels what you're writing and playing?
Cobain: See, that's a scary question, because I think it probably helps, you know. But I would give up everything to have good health. But then again, I'm always afraid that if I lost the stomach problem, I might not be as creative.
Fricke: Well, you're certainly this interesting mix of, as you say, you're one of the laziest people you know, but you're also ambitious for a lazy person.
Cobain: You think so?
Fricke: For someone like yourself, when you're, sort of, let's say your dreams come true, all the worst aspects of them come true as well. It's, like, be careful what you wish for, you're gonna get it.
Fricke: How are you, sort of, dealing with the pull-apart, you know, being pulled apart by stuff like that? I don't know if I expressed that the right way or not.
Cobain: Well… Uh…
Fricke: There are probably a lot of kids who hear your songs and actually feel, like, kinship, whether you're having trouble with parents or with school or, you know, the usual dysfunctional stuff that happens. But when you're up there, do you have any sense of who you're playing to?
Cobain: I'm playing to kids in general. I mean, it doesn't matter where they come from. We have the same problems and we all basically have the same thoughts, you know?
Fricke: Are you worried about the kind of mistakes that might have been made when you were growing up that sort of impacts on how you deal with her situation?
Cobain: No. My father and I are completely different people. I know that I'm capable of showing a lot more affection than my dad was. I mean, even if Courtney and I were to get a divorce, I would never allow us to be in a situation where there are bad vibes between us in front of her. If there's anything we're determined to do, it is to give Frances as much love as we can. I mean, if anything is going to stop me from pursuing this rock n' roll thing, it's going to be her, because I don't want her to be screwed up because of it. I don't know what's going to happen in the next few years. It's kind of scary.
Fricke: One of the songs that, actually, l really liked on In Utero, but which you took off, was I Hate Myself And Want To Die. How literal was that song in terms of the title?
Cobain: As literal as a joke can be. I mean, nothing more than a joke.
Fricke: What kind of… who were you playing the joke on? 'Cause I have to admit, my first reaction was, you know, either this is really intensely satirical or there's some really dark shit happening here.
© David Fricke/Rolling Stone, 2015