LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE December 3, 1993 - New Orleans, LA, US

G. Brown
Krist Novoselic
Publisher Title Transcript
The Denver Post Nirvana spars with demon fame Yes

After a recent show in New Orleans, Nirvana's Chris Novoselic decided he hadn't had enough for the night. So at 2 a.m., the amiable bassist lounged in his hotel room and volunteered his take on returning to the music scene.

“The rock 'n' roll industry has this whole machinery. You make records, you do video, this and that,” Novoselic, 28, said.

“When it comes to the touring part, it's really easy now. We're traveling on buses and staying in hotels. But a few years ago, we toured in a Ford van — you couldn't sleep. We were pretty burned out on it, you can't imagine. But we did it for 24 months, easy. Before that.”

“That” was the surprise success of “Nevermind,” Nirvana's 1991 major label debut — and the first punk album to make it to No. 1. It left the trio coping with the demons of fame. Novoselic admitted that, while stardom is sometimes tough for him, it's pure hell on singer-songwriter-guitarist Kurt Cobain.

Cobain and Novoselic come from the rural logging town of Aberdeen, 100 miles south of Seattle. They met soon after leaving high school, sharing an affection for early-'80s punk. They started up a cover band to make a few bucks.

“We were broke, but we couldn't bear to play country music,” Novoselic laughed. “So we thought we'd play Creedence Clearwater Revival songs. I don't remember if we actually got a gig.”

In 1987, they formed Nirvana and were signed by Sub Pop Records, an independent label that released “Bleach.” Recorded for a reported $600, the album eventually sold 35,000 copies and elevated the band's status among alternative rockers. After a procession of drummers, Cobain and Novoselic recruited Dave Grohl and hit the road.

When the punky, metallic threesome signed with Geffen Records and put out “Nevermind,” the members hoped it would put them on the level of indie kingpins Sonic Youth.

Instead, the album stormed to the top of the charts and sold 9 million copies worldwide.

MTV ran the sensational “Smells Like Teen Spirit” single day and night — Cobain screamed, “Here we are now, entertain us,” and the sardonic hook line was construed as a youthful call to arms, the '90s equivalent of “I can't get no satisfaction,”

Nirvana's career explosion resulted in a “feeding frenzy.” Major labels scurried to sign any band that identified itself as ‘alternative” or “grunge,” words that suddenly became valuable marketing tools. Every move that Nirvana made came under the media's scrutiny.

Friends worried about how the band was dealing with it all. Novoselic had a drinking problem but went on the wagon so he could stay on top of his good fortune.

But rumors flew about Cobain, who was plagued by self-doubt, the pressures of fame and money — and heroin addiction. He was acclaimed as rock's latest savior, but he was reluctant to be a spokesman for his generation, and he considered breaking up Nirvana. He refused to tour America and disappeared. Fans made do with “Incesticide,” a rarities collection.

“God, that whole period was nothing but ups and downs,” Novoselic mused. “Kurt lived in Los Angeles for a year while everyone else was in Seattle.”

Nirvana carried a lot of emotional baggage to the recording of the new “In Utero” album, but the followup to “Nevermind” isn’t a compromise — it's loud, nasty, grinding noise. Cobain's abrasive growl is complemented with melody and texture. The first words out of his mouth on the opening “Serve the Servants” are ‘Teenage angst has paid off well/Now I'm bored and old.”

“It's a raw record,” Novoselic enthused. “We rehearsed a couple of weeks, then popped the tracks out. (Producer) Steve Albini has a lot of ethics. A band should sound on record like it sounds live. If you can't play the songs, you shouldn't record them. We had our chops down, then went in there and blasted off.

“I think we could have taken more time mixing. The guitar sound on the original ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ was like looking at a bloody abortion on the floor.”

Novoselic expressed dissatisfaction with the media's portrayal of Nirvana as ill-mannered, annoying rockers simply reflecting the nihilism they rant against. The band makes sincere efforts to support feminist causes like Rock for Choice. In April, Novoselic organized a benefit concert for Balkan rape victims, and he's supported decriminalization of marijuana.

“We've always been interested, had a lot of discussions about sexism and other issues,” Novoselic said. “Now they've bubbled to the surface in the songs.”

The next challenge for the guys in Nirvana is to chase down a close connection with their audience. As Novoselic put it, many of the band's fans are the same “dumb heavy metal kids” who hassled Cobain in high school.

“For the most part, they look like they're pretty together on this tour. You see a few a------- grabbing girls by their breasts. But most kids look activist-type active. It might be a different climate coming around, where people seem to be a lot more open-minded.”

Nirvana has also gained the opportunity to subvert from within and plug underground musicians.

“I don't have much use for the mainstream,” Novoselic noted.

“Before we came along, the people in power wanted to play it safe, didn't want to push — or maybe they had plain bad taste. Poison and Winger were making money, and it was like a chemical waste dump. They wanted to keep it going.

“Quality bands are out there, but they're suppressed somehow. You say the Fluid broke up in Denver? Aw, that's horrible news. But that's the music industry. It chews 'em up and spits 'em out.”

He shrugged. “It almost happened to us.”

© G. Brown, 1993