- [?] Mr. Moustache
- [?] Scoff
- [?] Sifting
- [O] Scoff
- [O] Mr. Moustache
- [O] Sifting
- [X] Hairspray Queen
- [O] About A Girl
- [O] Blew
- [O] Swap Meet
- [O] Negative Creep
- [O] School
- [O] Big Long Now
- [O] Paper Cuts backing vocal track
- Audio: ½-inch 8-track analog magnetic tape (session tape)
NIRVANA entered Reciprocal Recording on Christmas Eve 1988 to begin recording their debut album, Bleach.
Sub Pop wanted them to do an EP, says session producer, Jack Endino,
but the band wanted to do a full album. (1)
The album cost a total of $606.17 to record and was financed by Jason Everman, an old high-school friend of Chad Channing (Everman would later join NIRVANA on the Bleach tour). Though he didn't play on the record itself, Everman would receive an honorary credit as second guitarist on the liner. (2)
The band clocked up a total of 30 hours studio time over the course of six days: December 24 (five hours of basic tracks), December 29 (five hours), December 30 (five hours), December 31 (four and a half hours), January 14 (five hours), and January 24 (five and a half hours). (3)
All songs were recorded on an Otari MX-5050 Mk III ½" 8-track at 15 IPS, with no noise reduction. (4) Tracks 1–4 were devoted to drums (tracks 1 and 2 to the stereo overheads with toms blended in and panned, track 3 to the kick, track 4 to the snare), track 5 to bass, track 6 to guitar, and track 8 to vocals, with track 7 reserved for an extra vocal or guitar overdub. (5)
The drums were miked with a Shure SM57, an AKG D112, Sennheiser MD 421s, and AKG 414s as X/Y overheads. The bass cabinet was miked with a Sennheiser MD 421, and the guitar cabinet with a SM58. Kurt Cobain's vocal mic was a SM58 with a foam windscreen. (5)
In contrast to the Love Buzz sessions recorded earlier that year, Endino remembers these sessions as being easy and straightforward:
They just banged it out—they had it all figured out; they were rehearsed. They would do the songs in one or two takes; [Kurt would] get the vocals as one overdub, that would be it, and then on to the next song. (1)
The band had been listening to a lot of Celtic Frost and, aiming to achieve a similar heaviness, began by attempting to re-record Mr. Moustache from the Love Buzz sessions and two new songs, Scoff and Sifting, in what they thought was the key of D, but was actually C (6) (
I don't know if you know how low that is but it's very low indeed. Well, we know that we can't be that heavy! Cobain admitted). (7) These initial attempts were later recorded over by the same songs in a slightly different order (Scoff, Mr. Moustache, and Sifting). (8)
The band then attempted to re-record Hairspray Queen from the
Dale demo, but found that they couldn't improve upon the original.
Basically, whenever they tried to do something that used to be a Dale song, it just didn't sound that good, says Endino. (6)
About A Girl, Swap Meet and Negative Creep were tracked next. (6)
I think Kurt felt nervous about putting About a Girl on there, but he was very insistent on it, says Endino.
He said, (3)
I've got a song that's totally different from the others, Jack, you've gotta just humor me here, 'cause we're gonna do this real pop tune. I was like,
Great, fine, whatever. I think the question was raised at some point, gee, I wonder if Sub Pop's going to like this, and we decided,
Who cared? It's your album; put it on. And Sub Pop said nothing. In fact, I think they liked it a lot.
Then, reusing old tape from the Love Buzz sessions, the band recorded School over the first take of Big Cheese, and Big Long Now over Mr. Moustache. (8) Though Endino was fond of the vocal on Big Long Now, the song would fail to make the album,
At the last minute Kurt decided that there was already enough slow, heavy stuff on Bleach, and he didn't want that song to go out, explains the producer. (3)
At the final session, Love Buzz and the
Dale demo versions of Floyd The Barber and Paper Cuts were remixed for the album (and a harmony vocal added to Paper Cuts). (8)
While the music had been honed through weeks of rehearsals, the lyrics were still pretty sketchy; many of them having been left till the night before recording. (2) Fortunately, Cobain was able to offset these repetitive and perfunctory lyrics with a powerful and expressive vocal delivery.
Kurt always nailed his vocals, says Krist Novoselic.
He didn't ever have to do any trickery. He just did it straight-ahead. He was also a very unconventional guitar player; dissonant, yet melodic too. Some guitar solos would just be crazy. But the vocal melodies were the clincher. It just seemed to work. (8)
Endino remembers watching Cobain dash off lyrics in-between vocal takes:
I'd say, (9)
So OK, are we ready to cut vocals on this song? and he'd say,
Wait a minute, let me finish the lyrics and he'd be furiously scribbling and he'd go,
OK, I've got the lyrics. It was that easy for him. He could come up with lyrics pretty instantly. It was fun recording these guys. The lyrics gave me a good laugh more than once. They were very good natured about it.
The lyrics were pretty cryptic and he wasn't particularly into explaining them at the time, Endino continues.
I know he was definitely interested in keeping the lyrics as simple as possible so he could perform them [live]. But, again, it was the delivery that made the difference. (9)
Channing remembers Cobain writing the lyrics to Swap Meet against the dashboard of the van, on the way to the studio.
And Swap Meet was originally spelled adds Endino,
which would've been much funnier. (8)
Cobain himself admitted that very little thought had been put into the lyrics:
It's pretty obvious. I didn't care about lyrics at all at that point. I didn't have any appreciation for them. I'd never thought of a song because of its lyrics at that point. (2)
Despite the apparent haste in which the songs were written and recorded, Endino says that the band were very particular about how the record should sound:
They told me exactly what they wanted. We were using some old rock records as a reference, in terms of not wanting to get a big, reverb-y sound—they wanted a dry, crunchy, Seventies rock sound for that record, á la Thin Lizzy or AC/DC. I happened to have a copy of AC/DC's For Those About to Rock on vinyl in the studio, and there was a turntable, and we would play that and go, (1)
OK, we've got some good guitar sounds here. Which is why that record, Bleach, is a crunchy, in-your-face, dry record.
Later in his career, Cobain would express some dissatisfaction with Bleach's conventional grunge-rock sound:
We purposefully made that record one-dimensional, more he told biographer, Michael Azerrad.
rock than it should have been,
There was this pressure from Sub Pop and the scene to play (2)
rock music. Strip it down and make it sound like Aerosmith. We knew that was the thing to do.
The band had originally intended for the album to be sequenced with Floyd The Barber, Mr Moustache, School, Scoff, and Sifting on side one (Endino:
We weren't thinking in terms of CDs then), Love Buzz, Swap Meet, Paper Cuts, Negative Creep, About A Girl, and Blew on side two, (8) but this was changed at the behest of Sub Pop co-owner, Bruce Pavitt. (2)
Bleach was released on June 13, 1989.
- Nash, Rob, 2004. No Less Dangerous, The Independent, [online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/no-less-dangerous-533711.html. ↑
- Azerrad, Michael, 1993. Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana. Doubleday. ↑
- Gaar, Gillian G., 1997. Verse Chorus Verse: The Recording History Of Nirvana, Goldmine, [online] Available at: http://www.nirvanaclub.com/articles/02.14.97.html. ↑
- Endino, Jack, 1998. Jack Endino's Nirvana FAQ, [online] Available at: http://www.endino.com/nirvfaq.html. ↑
- Endino, Jack, 2001 & 2004. Personal communication with Alex Roberts. ↑
- Gaar, Gillian G., 2009. The Rough Guide To Nirvana. Rough Guides.↑
- Williams, Carl, 1990. Good Clean Fun, Metal Forces, [online] Available at: https://www.livenirvana.com/interviews/8910cw/index.php↑
- Gaar, Gillian G., 2004. Mondo Nirvana, Tablet Siffblog, [online] Available at: http://siff.tabletmag.com/other/mondo_nirvana_002003.html. ↑
- Entertain Us: The Nirvana Story, 1999. [Radio] BBC Radio One, April 5, 1999. ↑