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"Verse Chorus Verse: The Recording History of Nirvana"
Goldmine - 2/14/97
A comprehensive article about Nirvana's recordings, sessions and other projects
By Gillian G. Gaar
Nearly three years after Kurt Cobain’s death in April 1994, interest in his group, Nirvana, remains strong. The band’s latest album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released this past October, became their fourth #1 album, and their third to enter the charts at #1. Wishkah remained in the Top 40 for six weeks, and though its stay in the Top 40 was relatively brief, its initial high placement is an indication that future releases from the band will certainly follow.
Though Nirvana has officially issued six albums, the number of non-album B-sides, compilation tracks, and other rarities the group has released is enough to comprise at least two additional albums; only a fraction of these songs appeared on the band’s "odds and sods" collection, 1992’s Incesticide. The release of Wishkah has sparked further conjecture about tracks that may still be left in the vaults. This article will chart the band’s recording history, examining the unreleased material that is out there, in addition to looking at the market of Nirvana collectibles.
Nirvana’s story has been previously covered in Goldmine (December 10, ‘93 and May 13, ‘94). But it’s worth going back in order to take a closer look at the band’s work in the studio. Cobain was born February 20, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington, though he spent the first six months of his life living in the neighboring town of Hoquiam. The family then moved to Aberdeen, a block away from the North Aberdeen bridge, which crosses the Wishkah river—the same river that gave Nirvana’s latest album its name.
Cobain’s interest in art and music was evident from a young age. Cobain’s aunt, Mari Earl (then Fradenburg, the sister of Kurt’s mother Wendy), recalls, "He was singing from the time he was two. He would sing Beatles songs like ‘Hey Jude.’ He would do anything. You could just say, ‘Hey Kurt, sing this!’ and he would sing it. He had a lot of charisma from a very young age" (the family taped some of these impromptu performances). Earl, a musician herself, was also the first one to put a guitar in Cobain’s hand, at the age of two. "I put it in his hand, and he turned it around the other way, ‘cause he was left handed," she says. "We had kind of a bond because of music."
Until his early teens, Cobain’s artistic interests were primarily channelled into visual art, including an attempt at claymation. Not much of this early work has been seen, though a few illustrations appeared in Northwest newspapers after Cobain’s death. But he maintained his interest by playing drums in the school band, and visiting Earl in order to use her musical equipment. Earl regularly performed in area nightclubs, and explains, "In between gigs I always set up the equipment in a corner of the dining room so I could rehearse. Kurt was probably about ten years old when he first started asking if he could turn on the equipment, play my guitar and sit behind the microphone. I don’t have any vivid memory of what he sounded like, but I remember him being very careful not to damage the equipment. He respected it." As his interest in music accelerated, Cobain was given a guitar—a Lindell—for his fourteenth birthday by his uncle, Chuck Fradenburg, who also worked as a musician.
By this time, Cobain’s musical influences ranged from ‘60s pop groups like the Beatles and Monkees to classic ‘70s rock acts like Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Black Sabbath. As he learned to play guitar in the early ‘80s, his musical tastes widened again, after meeting Matt Lukin and Buzz Osborne at Montesano High School (Montesano being another neighboring town in the area). Both Lukin and Osborne played in a local band called the Melvins (Lukin would go on to play in Mudhoney), and through Osborne, Cobain learned about the burgeoning hardcore scene and such bands as Black Flag and Flipper. Back at Aberdeen High, Cobain met Chris Novoselic, born in California in 1965, who’d moved to Aberdeen with his family in 1979. The two hung out at the Melvins’ practice space, largely because of the lack of anything else to do in Aberdeen.
During this period, Cobain made what may be his first recorded effort, again at Earl’s house, who had married and moved to Seattle (two hours drive from Aberdeen). While visiting over Christmas vacation in 1982, Cobain brought along his electric guitar, and made a tape, also using Earl’s bass, and drumming on an empty suitcase with wooden spoons. "Most of what I remember about the songs was a lot of distortion on guitar, really heavy bass, and the clucky sound of the wooden spoons. And his voice, sounding like he was mumbling under a big fluffy comforter, with some passionate screams once in awhile. Musically, it was very repetitious. He called the recording Organized Confusion." Cobain would continue to make home recordings on a regular basis, both before and during the Nirvana years, up to the last weeks of his life. It’s not known how much of this material has survived, or what the quality is—or if tracks said to be "Kurt’s home recordings" on the innumerable bootlegs on the market are indeed what they claim to be.
"Kurt enjoyed coming up here," Earl adds. "He always was very very careful; whenever he ran into any problems, he would always ask me, ‘Aunt Mari, could you help me with this?"’ But though she was a musician herself, Earl says Cobain rarely discussed the specifics of his work with her. "As far as really sharing his music with me, and saying, ‘What do you think of this?’ or whatever, he really didn’t do that," she says. "Kurt was very sensitive about the stuff that he wrote and he was very careful about who he let hear it, ‘cause he didn’t really like someone just poking fun at it. And being a songwriter myself, I can understand that."
As he grew more proficient, Cobain developed a strong desire to get a band together. But he wouldn’t be in a regularly performing group for some time; he had already auditioned for the Melvins, and failed. Osborne, in Michael Azerrad’s Nirvana biography Come As You Are, remembers another tape of original songs Cobain made around this time, accompanying himself on electric guitar.
Dropping out of high school in 1985 left Cobain with even more spare time to work on music. By the end of the year, he had formed a band called Fecal Matter with Melvins drummer Dale Crover (who played bass in the band), and Greg Hokanson on drums. Hokanson only lasted a few gigs, so it was Cobain and Crover who performed on the band’s demo, recorded at Earl’s Seattle home on a four-track TEAC, with Crover on drums.
"They set up in my music room and they’d just crank it up!" Earl remembers. "It was loud. They would put down the music tracks first, then he’d put the headphones on and all you could hear was Kurt Cobain’s voice screaming through the house! It was pretty wild. My husband and I, we’d just look at each other and smile and go, ‘You think we should close the window so the neighbors don’t hear? So they don’t think we’re beating him or something!’"
Earl says the session lasted a few days. "I don’t recall any of the songs being early versions of anything he did with Nirvana," she says. "It just resembled the Nirvana sound. The drums were strong and forceful and Kurt was playing some pretty good bass by this time. The guitar riffs were fast and furious, with a powerful hook. The lyrical content was rebellious and angry. Mostly slams against society in general. Kurt didn’t like the social ladder in school. Kids thinking they were cool because they wore the ‘right’ clothes or were handsome or pretty, or had money. His songs back then reflected his opinions about these things." The final tape consisted of seven songs, including an early instrumental version of "Downer," which would appear on Nirvana’s first album.
For the next few years, Cobain played in a variety of short-lived bands. In 1986 he fronted a one-off group featuring Crover on drums and Osborne on bass, performing under the name Brown Cow—the original name, Brown Towel had been misspelled on a poster—in Olympia, the Washington state capitol, an hour’s drive from Aberdeen. It was at this performance that Cobain met Dylan Carlson, who became a longtime friend; Cobain would later record with Carlson’s band Earth. He also played in a number of bands with Novoselic: one with Cobain on guitar, Novoselic on bass, and Bob McFadden on drums; another with Novoselic on guitar, Steve Newman on bass, and Cobain on drums. Both also played in the Stiff Woodies, which featured Osborne, Crover, Lukin, and Gary Cole. Novoselic played in another band with Osborne and original Melvins drummer Mike Dillard, and a Mentors cover band.
In 1987, Cobain and Novoselic teamed up once again, determined to keep this new band together at all costs. With Cobain on guitar and Novoselic on bass, the first in a long line of drummers was Aaron Burckhard. Their first performance by the then-unnamed band was at a house party at nearby Raymond. The band was soon playing in venues as far away as Tacoma (about an hour and a half drive from Aberdeen), and had run through a number of names, including Skid Row, Bliss, Pen Cap Chew (also the name of one of the band’s songs), Ted Ed Fred, Throat Oyster, and Windowpane, before finally choosing the name that would stick, Nirvana.
The band’s first recording was a nine song performance recorded live in the studio at KAOS, the radio station at Olympia’s Evergreen State College in April ‘87. According to Steve Fisk, a producer who later worked with Nirvana, the band’s appearance came about through the efforts of another local band, Danger Mouse, when two of the band’s members, John Goodmanson and Donna Dresch, heard Nirvana and brought them up to KAOS to record. Six of the songs—"Spank Thru," "Love Buzz," "Floyd the Barber," "Downer," "Mexican Seafood," and "Hairspray Queen"—would be re-recorded nine months later, when the group recorded in a professional studio for the first time, Reciprocal Recording, in Seattle.
Reciprocal had started in 1986, in order to record the new crop of bands springing up in Seattle in the mid-’80s who were mixing punk and metal into a new style of music that would come to be called "grunge." Jack Endino, one of Reciprocal’s engineers (and who also played in the band Skin Yard), had already ready recorded such groups as Green River (who would later split into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, the latter becoming Pearl Jam) and Soundgarden when he took a call from "Kurt Kovain" (as he wrote Cobain’s name down in the studio’s session log). "Kurt called up out of the blue," Endino remembers. "And said, ‘We just want to record some songs really fast.’ And so we did."
At this point, Cobain and Novoselic were no longer working with Burckhard, with whom they were dissatisfied. In October ‘87, they had gone so far as to place an ad in The Rocket, a Seattle-based music paper:
"SERIOUS DRUMMER WANTED. Underground attitude, Black Flag, Melvins, Zeppelin, Scratch Acid, Ethel Merman. Versatile as heck. Kurdt 352-0992" (the number of Cobain’s home in Olympia, where he was now living). Finally, they brought Dale Crover as their drummer when they showed up at Reciprocal on January 23, 1988 to record what Endino calls the Dale Demo. Endino adds that the group didn’t appear to have a name yet; "The word ‘Nirvana’ was never mentioned until long after that. Months later. It was just Kurt Cobain and some friends. And they didn’t even tell me how to spell his name!
"So they just came up and whipped out these ten songs in this one afternoon. And we mixed them right then. It wasn’t a very serious mix. And they took it home with them." The ten songs were, in order, "If You Must," "Downer," "Floyd the Barber," "Paper Cuts," "Spank Thru," "Hairspray Queen," "Aero Zeppelin," "Beeswax," "Mexican Seafood," and "Pen Cap Chew," which was given a fade-out ending as the tape was running out. Of the ten songs, "If You Must," "Spank Thru," and "Pen Cap Chew" remain officially unreleased. The entire session, including mixing, lasted six hours, from noon to six, though Endino only charged them for five, for a total of $152.44.
Endino had never seen the band before, and was particularly impressed with Cobain’s voice. "His singing stood out because he was really pretty impassioned. And some of the songs were pretty good; it sounded as good as any of the Seattle bands that were getting hype at that point." Endino was so impressed he also made his own mix of the session after the band had left, so there are two mixes of the session in existence; Endino’s rough one-hour mix (which the band took with them) and his own personal "after-hours" mix. It was this latter mix that Endino would pass on to Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman. Both mixes of the session have also made their way to the collector’s circuit. And though the band didn’t have a record out yet, "Floyd the Barber" was soon in regular rotation at KCMU, the college radio station at the University of Washington in Seattle.
A bootleg that exists from a Tacoma show around this period is said to be from December 1987, but Endino speculates that it might have been recorded the same day as the demo. "When we did the Dale Demo, they told me that day they were going to play a show down at [Tacoma’s] Community World Theater. I think this is that same show, because they play the same songs from the demo, all ten, in the exact same order! Obviously fresh in their minds! I finally got to hear the actual ending of ‘Pen Cap Chew’ after all these years!" (the song was faded out on the demo, as the tape was running out). A slight reshuffling of the order became necessary during the set when a bass string breaks during "Hairspray"; the band returned to the song after going through the other demo tracks. They also performed two songs not recorded, or even played at the demo session—or at any other session that Endino worked on. It’s worth mentioning that Nirvana played around ten original songs live that were never recorded in a studio.
A few months after being given a copy of Dale Demo by Endino, Poneman contacted Nirvana about recording for Sub Pop. The band had spent the early part of the year going through a series of drummers; Crover had moved with the Melvins to San Francisco, and was replaced by Dave Foster. It was this line-up that played Nirvana’s first show in Seattle at the Vogue, on April 24, ‘88, as part of the "Sub Pop Sunday" series. Among those in the audience was photographer Charles Peterson, who was doing work for the fledgling record label. "Bruce [Pavitt, Sub Pop’s other co-founder] and Jon said, ‘There’s this band, Nirvana, they’re going to be playing tonight, from Aberdeen, we think they’re going to be the next big thing.’ And I went and saw them and I thought they were atrocious! I had my camera there and I didn’t bother to take pictures. I just thought, ‘This is a joke. This is not going to go anywhere.’" Despite Peterson’s initial impression, his photos of the group would be used on nearly every Nirvana release.
Foster’s tenure with Nirvana was short-lived when, following a fight, he lost his driver’s license. The band then worked with Burckhard again until he was arrested for drunk driving. They also placed another ad in The Rocket that ran in the magazine’s March ‘88 issue: "DRUMMER WANTED. Play hard, sometimes light, underground, versatile, fast, medium slow, versatile, serious, heavy, versatile, dorky, nirvana, hungry. Kurdt 352-0992." Finally, Chad Channing, whom Cobain and Novoselic had first met when they played a show on the same bill with Channing’s band, Tick-Dolly-Row, joined the band. Channing would remain with the group for next two years.
Shortly after Channing joined, Nirvana returned to Reciprocal to record their first single, once again working with Endino. There were a total of four sessions; June 11 (five hours), June 30 (five hours), July 16 (three hours) and September 27 (two hours). Four complete songs were recorded: a cover of Shocking Blue’s "Love Buzz," and the originals "Big Cheese," "Blandest," and a re-recording of "Spank Thru" (with Endino on backing vocals). Endino says the third and fourth sessions were probably used to re-record the vocal for "Love Buzz," and mixing.
Cobain also brought along a 30-second sound collage he’d recorded on cassette at home that he wanted to use as the intro for "Love Buzz." It was shortened to around ten seconds for the single, and eliminated entirely on Bleach. The single is also a different mix, and another sound collage was dubbed into the instrumental break. "It’s just barely audible underneath the guitar noise," says Endino. "And we had to do it live when we mixed because we had used up all eight tracks. So when we were mixing we had to have this cassette going through the mixing board along with the eight tracks from the eight track machine. And when we got to the middle part of the song, he had to reach over and press play on the cassette deck right at the right time, every time I went through the mix. So we had a sort of virtual ninth track! And when we went to remix the song for the album version, he had forgotten the cassette. So no sound collage, no nothing in the middle."
"Blandest" is the first true Nirvana outtake—a complete song recorded at an "official" recording session, as opposed to a demo session. "Blandest" has never been officially unreleased, and survived only because it made its way to the bootleg circuit. "It’s basically lost," says Endino. "The only versions that exist are on bootlegs. They recorded this song, we did a rough mix of it, and then they decided they hated it. And they told me to erase it. Because they had no money, they were paying for the tapes. They said, ‘Erase it and we’ll do a better version of it later.’ So we erased it and they never got around to recording it again.
"Chris asked me years later, ‘You remember "Blandest"?’" Endino continues. "‘Yeah, I remember "Blandest."’ ‘Do you have a tape of it anywhere?’ ‘No, I don’t have a tape of it. You guys told me to erase it!’ And then later I’m talking to some collector who informed me that he had a bootleg with ‘Blandest’ on it. I said, ‘Oh my God, it can’t be the one I’m thinking of, send me a copy.’ And he sent me a copy and it was the song. It was a terrible rough mix with the drums way too loud, and it’s been widely bootlegged now, and it’s obviously from a cassette that went to the band. Because the only place where cassettes went was the band themselves and possibly Sub Pop. And whether anyone at Sub Pop got a hold of this song I don’t remember. I don’t think so though, because it was a rough mix and the band didn’t like it, and they were pretty particular about not giving anything to Sub Pop unless they liked it. So all I can assume is that somebody stole some tapes from the band. I think that’s where a lot of these bootlegs came from."
As the date for the single’s release came closer, Sub Pop contacted photographer Alice Wheeler to take pictures for the cover sleeve. Wheeler had met Pavitt when she was living in Olympia, attending Evergreen State College, where Pavitt had also been a student. "He was always around talking about taking over the world and stuff," she says. "I’m always a person for that kind of thing!" Wheeler had also helped run the GESSCO hall in Olympia, where Cobain and an early version of Nirvana had played; she was also friends with Tracy Marander, Cobain’s girlfriend at the time.
The "Love Buzz" photo session, Wheeler’s first session for Sub Pop, was held in August or September. "We just went down to Tacoma," she says. "They wanted to go out to Never Never Land—a public park near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge—and so off we went. I was having technical difficulties; I didn’t have a very good camera at the time. The pictures are infra-red so they’re kind of fuzzy. One of them’s really under-exposed and the other one’s really over-exposed!" Wheeler thinks she was paid $25 for the session, during which she used around eight rolls of film.
"Love Buzz"/"Big Cheese" was finally released in November, launching the "Sub Pop Singles Club." The club had been conceived as a way to bring in a steady cash flow; for a one year subscription ($35 at the time), members would receive a limited-edition single through the mail. The singles were ostensibly only available through the club, but early singles in the series, including Nirvana’s, were available through mail order, for a mere $3.50 (including postage). "Love Buzz" was packaged in a hand-numbered, fold-over sleeve (the number written in red), in a run of 1000. Record Collector also claims that a few jukebox singles were manufactured, in plain sleeves. The sleeve was the first to use an alternate spelling of Cobain’s name, crediting him as "Kurdt Kobain." Cobain used this spelling of his name up to the release of Nevermind, and occasionally after—such as on November 26, 1993, when he signed a guitar after a show in Jacksonville, Florida, in this way.
As the release was near the holiday season, Cobain gave copies of his first single to members of his immediate family that Christmas. "I was really excited for him and proud of him," Mari Earl says. "As I was putting it back into the jacket, I laughed as I read ‘Why don’t you trade those guitars for shovels?’ etched in the vinyl on the ‘Love Buzz’ side." Though both songs would later be available on the Bleach CD, the original single is now one of the group’s most valuable releases. After Nirvana’s break-through in 1992, the single’s value jumped to $100; since Cobain’s death, it has continued to increase, with at least one dealer offering it at the rather excessive price of $1000. As a result, counterfeit copies have been made in the U.S. and U.K.; the U.K. counterfeits are easier to spot, as the sleeves are not numbered.
In December ‘88, the re-recorded version of "Spank Thru" appeared on the box set Sub Pop 200. The set, issued in a run of 5000, was made up of three 12-inch EPs, and a booklet, and was packaged in a plain black box; other groups on the set included Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and the late poet Jesse Bernstein. The set later appeared on a single CD; in 1989, a "condensed" version of the set, entitled Sub Pop Rock City, was released in Europe on Glitterhouse.
The photo of Nirvana that appeared in the Sub Pop 200 booklet came from Charles Peterson’s first "formal"—as opposed to live—session with the group. Peterson thinks the session took place in the late spring or early summer of ‘88, and was as casual as Wheeler’s first session of the group. They decided to take the ferry over to Bainbridge Island, where Channing lived, and, Peterson remembers, "We drove all over the countryside with Shocking Blue playing on the cassette. It was really fun. The setting kind of fit more who they were at the time, ‘cause they really weren’t much of an urban band at all. They were hicks from the sticks."
Peterson’s subsequent sessions with Nirvana proved to be equally informal. "I’d be like, ‘Well what would you guys like to do?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Okay, well, it’s a sunny day, let’s just go down to the waterfront.’ When I photograph a band posed, and Nirvana particularly, I just wanted to make it as comfortable and natural as possible. English rock photographers always try and do something really clever with the band. And I was just always more interested in composition and lighting, no matter what they’re doing."
December ‘88 also marked the beginning of the recording sessions for the band’s first album, Bleach. There were a total of six sessions; December 24 (five hours), December 29 (five hours), December 30 (five hours), December 31 (four and a half hours), January 14, 1989 (five hours), and January 24, 1989 (five and a half hours). Songs recorded included "Blew," "About a Girl," "School," "Negative Creep," "Scoff," "Swap Meet," "Mr. Moustache," and "Sifting," all of which appeared on Bleach. The song "Big Long Now" was also recorded during these sessions, but was ultimately cut from album’s line-up; "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," Endino explains.
Endino also says that at least one session, probably December 24, was used for a bit of experimentation. "The band came in and said, ‘We’re going to tune our instruments way down, really low and we’re going to try recording all these songs this way,’" he remembers. "I think Kurt was having trouble singing and wanted to make it a little easier for himself. Well, of course they were way out of tune, and didn’t sound too good. So they ended up hating it, and then came back another day and re-recorded all of it! I think the only one we kept in that tuning was ‘Blew.’ And all the rest of it was erased!" Or almost all; early versions of at least "Sifting," "Blew," and "Mr. Moustache" recorded at the time have turned up on bootlegs. But the general practice, says Endino: "If it wasn’t good, we just erased over it and did a better version."
Though the bulk of the album was rooted in the grunge vein, there was a nod to the band’s budding pop sensibility already exhibited on "Love Buzz" and "Spank Thru" with "About a Girl," which opened with the gentle strumming of a guitar instead of a thudding drumbeat or howling scream. "I think Kurt felt nervous about putting ‘About a Girl’ on there," Endino says. "But he was very insistent on it. He said, ‘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. Jonathan is a total pop head. And Bruce actually didn’t like Bleach that much anyway, because I think he thought it was a little too heavy metal."
Though Bleach provided Nirvana with a powerful base from which to grow, Endino admits he’d have liked to have worked with the group when they had more time and money to spend. "It’s nice doing a record quickly, but then, it’s nice to not be in a hurry," he says. "To be able to step back and go, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s get a different drum sound on this song. Why don’t we play with a different guitar amplifier?’ That’s the sort of thing you can’t do when you’ve got a day to do an album. You just have to set up the mikes and go. Which is why Bleach pretty much has the same guitar sound from beginning to end ‘cause we had one guitar amp, one day to record it. We recorded on 8-track, but we didn’t even use all of them— we used six or seven, usually. You basically just roll tape. And that’s what’s fun about indie rock, but that’s also what limits it sometimes."
After the recording of Bleach, Jason Everman joined the band as a second guitarist in time for a short West Coast tour. Everman was another friend of Dylan Carlson’s, had previously played in high school bands with Channing, and had also lived in Aberdeen as a child. Though he didn’t play on the record, Everman paid the recording bill ($606.17), and was credited with playing guitar; he was also pictured on the album cover shot and on the limited edition poster included with some copies of the album.
Everman ended up only playing on one session with the band that spring at Evergreen State College, when Nirvana recorded "Do You Love Me" for a Kiss covers compilation Seattle indie label C/Z was planning to put out (the session also yielded an early version of "Dive"). The idea for the album had originated with Australian-based indie label Waterfront Records, who distributed C/Z’s records in Australia (C/Z returned the favor by distributing Waterfront’s records in the U.S.). "We struck a deal where I would help to get a number of bands and make the product more of an international thing," says Daniel House, C/Z’s owner. "And in turn, if Sub Pop wasn’t interested in licensing the record domestically, he was going to give it to me. And Sub Pop passed; they thought it was too gimmicky and weren’t interested. And I was totally interested." The album was released the following year.
Bleach was finally released on June 15. Sub Pop’s one-page catalogue boasted "Hypnotic and righteous heaviness from these Olympia pop stars [though actually Cobain was the only member living in Olympia]. They’re young, they own their own van, and they’re going to make us rich!" The first 1000 copies appeared on white vinyl, the next 2000 came with a poster. In the U.K., the album was released on the Tupelo label in August, with the first 300 on white vinyl, the next 2000 on green; there have been subsequent reissues in different colors. In Australia, the album was released on Waterfront, with the first 500 on blue vinyl; the words "Nirvana" and "Bleach" on the cover were in blue and yellow. Subsequent issues were again in different colors.
Choosing a cover shot for the album was somewhat problematic. A session was done with Alice Wheeler, but the results were unsatisfactory. "Nirvana came over to my house in the afternoon," she says, "and we went up the street and took some pictures and they weren’t that great. It was kind of funny, because Jason was like Mr. Glamboy compared to Kurt; Kurt looks pretty washed in most of those pictures, I don’t like them very much. And the band didn’t like them. And I don’t want someone to have pictures they don’t like of themselves for their record. Bruce loved ‘em. But of course he liked the idea of the scary hick from Aberdeen. And I think that kind of hurt Kurt’s feelings.
"But Tracy’s picture ended up on the cover, and I thought that was really nice," she adds. Marander’s picture was a live shot of the group performing at the Reko/Muse gallery in Olympia; the poster shot, taken by Charles Peterson, is from a show at the HUB Ballroom at the University of Washington, February 25, 1989.
The U.S. and U.K. albums differed in that the U.S. version featured "Love Buzz," while the U.K. version had "Big Cheese" instead. The U.S. CD issue featured both tracks, along with another cut from the Dale Demo, "Downer." In the U.K., the Bleach CD initially mirrored its vinyl counterpart; a later issue contained both "Love Buzz" and "Downer." Remastered versions of both the CD and cassette were issued in 1992. The CD used another of Peterson’s shots from the February ‘89 show in the insert, in addition to a shot from a February 15, 1990 show at Raji’s, Los Angeles on the back inner sleeve.
The Dale Demo versions of "Floyd" and "Paper Cuts" were used on the album "because they weren’t happy with the way Chad was playing," Endino says. "Dale had pretty much written the drum part for those two songs; he played them the best. And Chad was good on the stuff that they had written with him. That’s the way it is with drummers. So Chad did all the new stuff, and then those two songs they pretty much wanted to use the Dale version." Both songs were remixed for the album, with backing vocals added to "Paper Cuts"; Endino doesn’t remember if "Downer" was remixed when it was added to the CD.
Endino also says the album’s original sequence was different. "The band phoned it to me; they said, ‘Here’s the list,’" he says. "And then Pavitt listened to it and he didn’t like it. So he said, ‘Let’s change the sequence, let’s put "Blew" first, and put this second and put this third.’ So then they called me up and said, ‘Bruce wants us to resequence it, so here’s the new order.’ So then I had to go back and resplice the whole thing again." All Endino can remember of the original line-up is that "Floyd the Barber" may have been the first track.
Back in Aberdeen, Cobain’s family was keeping up with his band’s progress. "When Bleach came out, I remember going down to visit Kurt’s mom," says Mari Earl. "She was playing the album really loud on her stereo. Having it up that loud just about drove me crazy, so I don’t remember much more about that particular visit!"
It was during this year that Nirvana also signed a contract with Sub Pop. At the time, most agreements with indie labels in the Northwest were sealed by verbal commitments or handshakes. Jesse Bernstein was the first Sub Pop artist who demanded a record contract, and Nirvana was soon to follow. The contract was for one year, January 1 to December 31, 1989, with two further one year options. The band was to turn in three album master tapes during this period, and would receive $600 from the label for the first year, $12,000 for the second, and $24,000 for the third. The contract was signed by all four members of the band.
As the band was on their first U.S. tour that summer, the first side-project involving a member of the group was released in July. Cobain joined Olympia’s Go Team on their one-sided single "Scratch It Out"/"Bikini Twilight" released on K Records (both songs on one side). The Go Team had a revolving membership, based around core member Calvin Johnson, K’s founder, and Tobi Vail (spelled "Vale" on the sleeve), later Cobain’s girlfriend, and also a founding member of Bikini Kill. Cobain (again spelled "Kurdt Kobain") is credited with guitar.
The Go Team had actually planned to release a single every month in 1989. "It was just a grand idea we had where we would release one every month," explains K’s Candice Pederson. "But we fell behind. And then the core of the Go Team broke up while they were on tour, and so it went as far as August. We also had the grand plan that we were going to package them, in a bag, with a label on top, kind of like cheap candy. But after the first month—I mean, my God, we were hand-stapling them, and stuffing them and pressing the bags and I was just like, ‘This is really a nice concept but it’s not going to work for 12 months!’ It was just a very laborious project. But ideally we would have 12 of those singles and I think it would have made a nice package. But we had nine which is really good."
After the U.S. tour, Cobain planned another side-project with Mark Lanegan, lead singer of Screaming Trees. "Mark and Kurt got together," remembers Endino. "I think they got drunk together, or really stoned, and wrote a bunch of songs, and got all excited and told Jonathan, ‘Hey we want to do an album together! And we’ve got a name for it—we’re going to call it the Jury.’ And so Jonathan said, ‘Okay, okay, get in with Jack and record.’ And then finally they show up at the studio, and they go ‘Well, we forgot all the songs, ‘cause we didn’t tape any of them! And I lost my lyric book.’"
As a result, all that came out of the the Jury sessions (August 20, six hours; August 28, three and a half hours) were two Leadbelly songs; "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" and "Ain’t It a Shame." Lanegan sang lead on "Where Did You Sleep . . .", with Cobain on guitar and Novoselic on bass; Cobain took over on lead on "Ain’t It a Shame," and Mark Pickerel of the Screaming Trees played drums. "That was going to be the Jury single," says Endino. "But nothing ever came of it. And ultimately Lanegan came in and did his solo album [The Winding Sheet] and ended up putting ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ on his album. And ‘Ain’t It a Shame,’ ended up in the vaults somewhere. That one, as far as I know, has never been bootlegged. Maybe Sub Pop will put it out someday."
In addition to "Where Did You Sleep..." (which was remixed for the album) Cobain contributed background vocals to another track on The Winding Sheet, "Down in the Dark." Though it’s not known which day Cobain recorded his vocals, dates for the Lanegan sessions were: December 10—11 (nine hours both days), December 14, 16 (seven hours both days), December 18 (ten hours), December 20 (eight hours), and January 1, 1990 (nine hours).
The U.S. tour resulted in Everman’s departure from the group; Cobain and Novoselic said he was fired, Everman claimed he quit. So when the band next entered the studio, they were back to being a three piece, much to producer Steve Fisk’s surprise. "I was excited about doing a four piece thing, but they explained Jason wasn’t going to be part of the session," he says. "Jason was in the Sub Pop office telling people he was still in the band, but he was not."
The sessions, held at Seattle’s Music Source studio, were for the purpose of recording material for an EP to promote the band’s upcoming European tour, though as it turned out, the record wasn’t released until after the tour was completed. Fisk remembers the sessions as lasting two evenings. "The Music Source didn’t do rock stuff in the daytime except on the weekends," he explains. "So the rock stuff started at 6 PM. I think it was booked for three evenings and we may have done it in two. We recorded all the basics, and then I think we got back the next week and did the vocals and the mixes and the guitar parts. The mixes may have gone on a third night, but it was a very cheap, quickie session."
Though the band had not yet toured extensively, their habit of regularly trashing their instruments during shows meant their equipment was not in the best shape. "Their gear was falling about," Fisk remembers. "The fiberglass drums were cracked and held together with tape. The bass amp and the speakers were blown up and rumbling. It was a lot like recording some dodgy band with broken-up gear where you realize, ‘Things would sound a lot better if we had this or this or this, but this is what we have.’ And so you sort of equalize around that.
"Chris was really bummed out because he’d been in Olympia all day, running around trying to get his bass tweaked," Fisk continues. "And apparently got it better but not fixed! So the big amplifier sound was shit. And the drums were kind of classless in the first place; that’s the point of fiberglass drums. They all sound the same. And Chris had been doing this trick where he’d been using the bass like a hatchet to split the kick drum, and there was tons and tons and tons of duct tape all around the drum holding it together."
The group worked on five songs; "Been a Son," "Stain," "Even in His Youth," "Polly," and "Token Eastern Song." "The songs were together," says Fisk. "They didn’t record ‘em quick; they did a lot of trying it again. There was a little sort of medium tension, talking to each other in between takes. I just tried to help; I didn’t really have any great ideas. Though if I would’ve explained that not saying ‘fuck’ so much in ‘Stain,’ that song could’ve been a hit! But I just didn’t have the forethought then as a record producer to say, ‘Kurt, you can’t say "fuck" that many times. It just won’t fly on the radio.’ It was hard to really have the scope back then.
"‘Been a Son,’ I’ve been told by several people, is the most commonly bootlegged Nirvana track," Fisk continues. "In every bootleg you get, it’s like the first thing people do, is they take this beautifully recorded CD and just make a copy of it! The signature with that one is the huge bass solo in the middle. Instead of a guitar solo, it’s a bass solo that’s like twice as loud as the song, so when it stops the band sounds kind of wimpy and stupid. That’s actually where a lot of the work was. They were just trying to figure out how big they could make things, and how small they could make things. So I did a lot of following orders and changing shit around. And that was really fun."
The session was a clear demonstration of how Nirvana was progressing toward even more of a pop sound. "I got them thinking about Top 40 radio, and their drum sound, and how that relates to Top 40 radio," says Fisk. "After I’d been working on the mix all evening, in a soft, considered voice we were talking about making the snare bigger. I was playing with early ‘80s ideas with mid-’80s toys. We were turning the three-part guitar thing all the way down; it’s three tracks, exactly the same guitar part, with exactly the same EQ, one in the middle, one on the left, one on the right! And we were turning those down and turning those up, and Kurt got all excited about it, because it was a good Top 40 drum sound."
"Been a Son" and "Stain" were finished and appeared on the Blew EP. The other three songs were unfinished. "I think the idea was to finish two and we were supposed to finish the other ones at a later date, and we just never got around to it," says Fisk. "They were talking to me about maybe working on their new record for Sub Pop. But that was a long way away. Jonathan was offering them ten, twelve-thousand to spend on their next record and they hadn’t even figured out what they were going to do."
The uncompleted songs have scratch vocals, and Fisk doubts there are any other outtakes or alternate versions. "There’s five songs on one reel," he says. "There probably is not a lot of multiples. There might be bits and pieces. There was no money. It was recorded on some used tape that we had lying around. Sub Pop was broke. And they wanted to do everything as cheap as possible, so any corner we could cut, we would cut. That was how it was back then."
Fisk also remembers Nirvana’s more playful side in the studio. "When ‘Been a Son’ was done, Kurt and Chris asked, ‘Can we dance on the tables?"’ he says. "And I said, ‘Okay.’ So they jumped up on one table and they rocked, and I jumped up on another and rocked. Me and Chris were almost up to the ceiling and Chad was in the other room watching TV or something. And as we listened to the song, we rocked. Ah! That’s cool! That’s fucking cool. Not a lot of people ever got to do that. I got to nail the mix and jump up on the furniture and rock with Nirvana."
In October. Nirvana went on their first European tour, with TAD. While on tour, they recorded a session for John Peel’s radio show in London, performing "Love Buzz," "About a Girl," "Polly" (then still unreleased), and "Spank Thru." In Hilversum, Holland, they recorded another session for radio station VPRO, performing "About a Girl," and "Dive," the latter also unreleased at that point.
In November, the first Nirvana track to not appear on Sub Pop was released, when "Mexican Seafood," a track from the Dale Demo, appeared on the compilation EP Teriyaki Asthma, Vol. 1 (the first in a series of ten EPs), released on C/Z. Daniel House had been interested in Nirvana ever since Endino had played him the Dale Demo [both Endino and House were in Skin Yard]. "Jack was in the studio going ‘Dude, you gotta hear this. You’re not going to believe this. This band’s amazing!"’ House remembers. "So within a week of their recording that first demo, I’d heard of them, had received a tape and had fallen in love with their music!"
Some of Nirvana’s early Seattle shows also saw them sharing the bill with Skin Yard. "They were very very timid, very gawky, awkward looking," says House. "This big tall lanky bass player who didn’t look comfortable in his own body, and you had this timid frail guy who seemed to be afraid of getting too close to the mike, but the music was still really powerful." House would have offered Nirvana a deal with C/Z, "but Jonathan jumped on them so fast," he says. Nonetheless, he arranged to have the group contribute a track to C/Z’s upcoming Kiss tribute album, and asked to use "Mexican Seafood" on Teriyaki Asthma. The other artists on the 7-inch EP were Coffin Break, Helios Creed, and Yeast. The EP was probably issued in a limited edition run of 1000; House thinks it may have been as many 1500 copies, and adds, "We must’ve done some on colored vinyl I’m sure!"
The Blew EP was the next Nirvana record to be released, in December in the U.K. only, as both a 12-inch and CD, on Tupelo. The songs were "Blew," "Love Buzz," "Been a Son," and "Stain," with the cover photos again shot by Tracy Marander. That same month, Novoselic married his longtime girlfriend on December 30.
As 1990 dawned, Nirvana spent January 2 and 3 working with Endino at Reciprocal, for seven hours and three hours, respectively. "This was when they came in and just did one song, ‘Sappy,"’ he says. "That was first time I knew that Kurt was fallible, because everything he’d done had been brilliant to me up to then. And then there was this song which just didn’t seem that interesting. And he was determined to get it. And I was like ‘No, write some more songs, Kurt!’"
In fact, Cobain was working on a number of new songs, which would be recorded that spring, when the band began work on what they believed would be their second album for Sub Pop. One of the new songs was previewed when the group shot four videos over spring break at Evergreen State College with a crew of three, including Alex Kostelnik, who wrote about the experience in an unpublished manuscript. "I showed Kurt how to edit the stuff he taped off TV to use for background footage in the videos. Our payment? Forty dollars and some pizza." The four songs were "School," the new song "Lithium," "Big Cheese," and "Floyd the Barber." The videos are essentially performance videos, the "background" footage consisting, among other things, of shots of Shaun Cassidy. They have never been officially released, though they have appeared on the collector’s circuit.
The band had gone on a short West Coast tour in February, and in April began another U.S. tour. Prior to the tour, the band spent the first week in April in Madison, Wisconsin, recording at Smart Studios with Butch Vig. Vig had previously worked with a number of Sub Pop bands, and though he was aware of Nirvana, he admits, "I wasn’t totally crazy about Bleach the first time I heard it. Except I really loved ‘About a Girl.’ The funny thing was, I remember Jonathan Poneman saying, ‘If you saw Nirvana here in Seattle, it’s like Beatlemania. And they’re going to be as big as the Beatles!’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, right.’ Now all I hear is, ‘This band’s going to be the next Nirvana!’"
As far as Vig and the band knew, the sessions were for the purpose of recording Nirvana’s second Sub Pop album. "When they showed up, they were actually very funny and charming, particularly Chris," Vig remembers. "Kurt was always an enigma. He was very charming when he came, and then he would get really moody and sit in the corner and not talk for 45 minutes. I didn’t really have to do too much fine tuning in terms of what they were doing. They had been playing most of the songs, the arrangements were pretty solid. I could tell that Kurt wasn’t too pleased with Chad’s drumming, because he kept going and getting behind the kit showing him how to play things."
The band ended up recording at least seven songs: "Dive," "In Bloom," "Polly," "Pay to Play," "Lithium," "Immodium," and "Sappy," most of them having been in the band’s repertoire for the last six months. As usual, the emphasis was on recording quickly. "Most of the Sub Pop records I made we’d do in a week," Vig says. "Record, track over two or three days, and then overdub a couple days, and finish the vocals or whatever, and then mix two or three days. But Kurt was having problems with his voice. Basically he’d be able to get through one or two takes, except for something like ‘Polly’ which was soft. All the other stuff he was singing, he’d get through one or two takes and wouldn’t be able to sing anymore. I remember we had to take one day off in the middle of recording."
The songs themselves were undeniably the strongest material Nirvana had come up with to date. "I thought they were totally amazing," says Vig. "The songs were much more focused in terms of melody. They still had the punk attitude, but they were really really hooky songs. ‘In Bloom’ was an amazingly hooky song when that chorus comes in. And Kurt’s lyric writing was becoming even more enigmatic. You weren’t quite sure what he was singing about, but you knew it was really intense. I thought that his songwriting was just amazing. He’d really developed. I also realized a lot of the stuff, a lot of the hooks in the songs, Chris was writing on bass. And I think that Kurt basically let him come up with his own parts. They’re great hooks."
Vig also says that the band recorded a cover of the Velvet Underground’s "Here She Comes Now" at Smart, and it’s possibly this version that turned up later that year later on Heaven and Hell Vol. 1. But he doesn’t think there were any other songs, or outtakes saved. "If a take wasn’t a keeper, we’d just erase it and do another one," he says. "I sent the tapes to Sub Pop; there may be something else on them. And I don’t know if Kurt had any other songs finished or not, ‘cause he didn’t play me anything else at the time."
The band had to go out on tour before being able to complete the album. "Initially, I think they were planning on coming back and doing some more stuff, or they had talked about me going to Seattle," says Vig. "But it was all fairly up in the air at that point. Very shortly after that is when they started talking to Geffen." In fact, the proposed album for Sub Pop now became a demo the band sent to major labels in hopes of a new deal. Other friends received copies of the tape as well; Endino remembers being given one with the request "Don’t tell Jonathan I gave you this!" He was also amused at the reappearance of "Sappy." "It’s just not a memorable tune," he contends. "There’s four versions of that song; there’s the one I did, there’s the one they did with Butch Vig, there’s the one that’s on that CD [No Alternative, with the song retitled "Verse Chorus Verse"], and there’s an acoustic version floating around on bootlegs. I mean, Kurt just could not give up on that song!"
While on tour, the band made another video, of the Smart Studios version of "In Bloom." The video later appeared on the Sub Pop Video Network Program 1, released in 1991 (and the only official release of this version of "In Bloom"), by which time Channing was no longer in the band, and the band was no longer with Sub Pop. After the spring U.S. tour, Channing was fired, though like Everman, he says he quit. In assessing the situation, Endino observes, "All I can think, is the reason they got rid of Chad was more personality-wise. I always thought Dale was a brilliant drummer, and it was pretty hard for anybody to come up and fill his shoes. And when Chad first joined the band, he had to sweat it a little bit; it took Chad a while to get into the groove of it. When I recorded the ‘Love Buzz’ single, I didn’t think he was very good. He wasn’t hitting very hard; it was hard to record him. That’s why the drum sound on ‘Love Buzz’ is really not that great, because I had to do horrible things with it to try and make it sound good at all. Because he was barely touching the drums.
"By the time they did Bleach he was playing much better," Endino continues, "and by the time they did those demos with Butch Vig, I thought he was playing very very well indeed. And then they got Dave. You’ll notice if you play the Chad demos for the Nevermind stuff, and compare them to Nevermind, they’re exactly the same drum part. The guy was getting pretty good when they got rid of him. But Dave is obviously an amazing drummer himself, so what are you going to do? He was a much harder hitter than almost anybody."
May ‘90 saw the release of Mark Lanegan’s The Winding Sheet on Sub Pop, the first 1000 copies on red vinyl. Nirvana brought Dale Crover back in as drummer for a West Coast tour in August, but used Dan Peters, Mudhoney’s drummer, in their next trip to the studio. With plans for a second album still on hold, Sub Pop at least wanted to put out another Nirvana single. "Dive" was chosen from the Vig sessions, and the A-side, "Sliver," was recorded at Reciprocal on July 11.
Endino already had a session with TAD that day. "Jonathan called up and was begging, ‘We want Nirvana to cut this one song really fast while they’re in town. And is there any way they can use Tad’s equipment?’ And Tad was like, ‘This is our time, we’re trying to record something here.’ He was kind of testy about it. And I was like, ‘Well, you guys go and eat dinner. I’m sure we can do this in an hour.’ And Nirvana just came in and used their bass and guitar and drum set and did it. There were two takes of ‘Sliver.’ Only one of them was finished. And they’re almost identical. And then we spent an entire day [July 24] re-doing the vocals and maybe some guitar and mixing it."
In August, Nirvana’s second track for C/Z, "Do You Love Me," appeared with the release of the Kiss tribute album Hard to Believe. The album has several variations. The U.S. release was a single album, initially in a gatefold sleeve, then a single sleeve. It was later released on CD and cassette. The U.S. version also has four tracks (by Skin Yard, Coffin Break, Hullabaloo, and the Melvins) not found on any other version. The U.K. release (on Southern) and European release were also single albums, while the Australian release, on Waterfront, was a double album.
There are also two different issues of the CD and cassette. "Gene Simmons was getting ready to do Kiss My Ass, and he decided it was time to eliminate the competition on the playing field, and decided to call Waterfront and say ‘Cease and Desist,"’ says Daniel House. "And what he cited as the reason for doing this was unauthorized use of the Kiss logo, and ‘You have used paintings of us and we have not given you permission to use our likenesses!’ Waterfront panicked and freaked-out. So we faced with possibility of a suit. So we repackaged it before we ‘ceased.’" The second cover has no logo, no pictures, and the "i" in the word Kiss is replaced by a pair of lips—actually the lip prints of The Rocket magazine’s receptionist at the time, C/Z then based in an office down the hall. On the inside is the request "Love you, Gene baby. Please don’t sue us." There was also a reshuffling of the lineup, with two tracks removed and a Treepeople track added. The album is now out of print.
Dan Peters was also Nirvana’s drummer on September 22, when the band played the Motor Sports International Garage in Seattle. The space was not a music club at all, but a real garage, since torn down and replaced by an open-air parking lot. The other bands on the bill were The Derelicts, The Dwarves, and The Melvins. A color shot by Charles Peterson from the show appears on the back inside cover of Incesticide. Alice Wheeler was also present. "I was out in the audience and Dylan Carlson and found me and brought me backstage," she says. "Kurt had told him to come and find me, and told me to take pictures!"
Also in attendance at the show was Dave Grohl, who had flown up to audition as Nirvana’s new drummer. Though only 21 at the time, Grohl already had an impressive musical background. Born in Warren, Ohio, in 1969, Grohl grew up in Springfield, Virginia, and began playing guitar around age 10. He soon formed a duo, the H. G. Hancock Band, with his friend Larry Hinkle and began making tapes. He received his first electric guitar at Christmas when he was 12, and in the summer of 1984, at age 15, he joined his first band, Freak Baby.
It was at this time that Grohl met Barrett Jones, when Freak Baby recorded a cassette at Jones’s Laundry Room Studios in Arlington, Virginia—so named because the studio was originally in the laundry room of Jones’s parents house. The cassette was sold locally, and Grohl and Jones established a firm friendship. "I pretty much recorded every other band that he was in!" says Jones. "We were always doing music together, when he wasn’t touring or something like that." At one point, Grohl even played drums in Jones’s band Churn.
A line-up change in Freak Baby saw Grohl moving from guitar to drums, after which the band changed their name to Mission Impossible. The band broke up in the summer of 1985, their sole recorded output a split single with Lunchmeat. Grohl then formed the band Dain Bramage, who recorded one album, I Scream Not Coming Down. "None of this stuff was ever really released in anything more than 500 or 1000 copies total, and it never really got distributed," says Jones.
By the spring of 1987, Grohl joined Washington D.C. hardcore band Scream. Grohl played on the band’s fourth album, No More Censorship, released in 1988 on RAS. In 1989, the band released Live at Van Hall in Amsterdam on Konkurrel. The band also released a self-titled live album on the Your Choice Live Series label, and the single "Mardi Gras"/"Land Torn Down" before disbanding in 1990. Throughout this period, Grohl continued recording solo material at the Laundry Room, eventually building up a huge backlog of material; "There’s an awful lot of that stuff!" says Jones.
Cobain and Novoselic had admired Grohl’s drumming in Scream, and he was readily welcomed into Nirvana. After a short stay with Novoselic in Tacoma, Grohl moved in with Cobain, who was still living in Olympia. During an appearance on KAOS a week after the Motorsports show, Cobain announced that Grohl was the band’s new drummer, even though Peters had not yet been told he was out of the band. Cobain also performed a few acoustic songs on air, including "Lithium" and "Opinion," the latter a song never released by Nirvana.
"Sliver"/"Dive" was released in September, the first 3000 on blue vinyl. "Sliver" is the only Nirvana single on Sub Pop still in print, and it’s been reissued in a number of colors; original copies are in fold-over sleeves, while reissues are in solid sleeves. In January ‘91, "Sliver" was released in the U.K. in a variety of formats. The rarest is the orignal 7-inch, packaged in a gatefold sleeve, the first 2000 on green vinyl. The 12-inch single added a live version of "About a Girl" (in a twist, it’s the orignal, black vinyl version of the single that’s more valuable; the blue vinyl is a reissue), and the CD had live versions of both "About a Girl" and "Spank Thru" (misspelled "Through"). The cover featured another of Charles Peterson’s shots from the Raji’s gig in February ‘90. The A-side also features a telephone conversation between Jonathan Poneman and an inebriated Novoselic at the end of the song, recorded on Novoselic’s answering machine.
Another Nirvana track appeared in October, when "Here She Comes Now" was officially released on the Velvet Underground tribute Heaven and Hell Vol. 1, released in the U.K. on Imaginary Records, on vinyl, cassette, and CD. The album was released in the U.S. the following year on Communion, and the Nirvana track was released by the same label as a split single with the Melvins, released in seven different colors of vinyl. Imaginary reissued the CD in the U.K. in 1994, retitled Fifteen Minutes: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground.
That fall, Nirvana toured the U.K. for the second time, their first time with Grohl. They recorded another session for John Peel, particularly of interest as the entire set consisted of covers: the Wipers’ "D-7," Devo’s "Turnaround," and the Vaselines’ "Molly’s Lips," and "Son of a Gun." The band was back at The Music Source on January 1, 1991, recording their first new material with Grohl, "Aneurysm" (which featured one of Cobain’s most bloodcurdling screams) and a re-recording of "Even in His Youth."
In November ‘90, Nirvana had signed with the management company Gold Mountain, and was preparing to sign to DGC. But since their contract with DGC wouldn’t be signed until April 30, ‘91, Nirvana was still technically signed to Sub Pop at the time of January ‘91 session. Even so, the Music Source session was a private endeavor. "This was not for Sub Pop or anything," Steve Fisk confirms. "This was something Nirvana was doing with Craig [Montgomery], their soundman, who was friends with this other guy, Brian, that worked at The Music Source. Remember how much money Sub Pop owed everybody then? So Nirvana figured their own way in."
In addition to the two completed tracks, Fisk thinks there may have been other material recorded. "There were a lot of things with scratch vocals that Kurt was just playing with," he says. "I was talking with Brian, and he said there was a lot of In Utero stuff. I was really surprised. But maybe I heard him wrong. Sorry, dear readers! I think some of the Nirvana tapes got lost in the shuffle. I helped rescue the session I did for Sub Pop, but that was way before the studio was closed down. And I think there was one quarter inch that Brian found, and there was another one that I thought I saw that was untraceable. I think it was a really quick session; it might have been a weekend or one day on a weekend."
In addition to receiving a buyout fee of $75,000 from DGC, a percentage of Nirvana’s first two albums (Incesticide was later added to the deal), and their logo on the DGC albums, Sub Pop was able to squeeze out one more Nirvana single, albeit a split single with The Fluid. Like their first single for the label, "Molly’s Lips" (b/w The Fluid’s "Candy") was another Singles Club release; it was issued in January ‘91. The first 4000 copies were on green vinyl, the rest of the run, 3500, on black, and the foldover sleeve folded horizontally, not vertically. The sleeve featured another Charles Peterson shot, from his last formal session with Chad Channing—an appropriate choice, given that "Molly’s Lips" was a live version recorded in Portland in the spring of ‘90 when Channing was still in the band. The single also has the word "Later" etched in the run-out groove.
While waiting for formal details with DGC to be completed, Nirvana prepared to record their major label debut, which would be called Nevermind. Their first choice of producer was Butch Vig, then working with the Smashing Pumpkins on Gish. Though Vig was aware of their interest, he says "I wasn’t really sure if I was going to do the record, ‘cause I was so very unknown that I think the label thought it would be smarter for them to work with a more experienced producer. It sounded like Don Dixon was going to produce, and I was just going to engineer it. But I think they felt comfortable working with me and they liked some of the sounds that I had got on the earlier recordings. And at the eleventh hour the band just decided that they wanted me to do it. Literally it was about a week before we started, I got a call that said, ‘Can you leave next week?’ And I had a couple things scheduled, but I just moved ‘em around. I was excited about doing this. It was my first major label album."
The band planned to re-record most of the songs from the Smart Studios sessions: "In Bloom," "Lithium," "Pay to Play" (now rewritten and retitled "Stay Away"), and "Immodium" (now retitled "Breed"). "Polly" would be taken straight from the Smart sessions, and remixed. The band was also working on new material, including the song that would be their break-through single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The band first played the song in public in one of their last small scale shows in Seattle, April 17 at the O.K. Hotel. To a packed house, Cobain introduced the band by proclaiming, "Hello, we’re major label corporate rock sell-outs," the crowd cheering in response. "Teen Spirit" was still obviously a work-in-progress; the melody was worked out, but the only part of the lyrics that would survive was the chorus.
A week before recording started, Vig received a demo tape from the band, "a really really raw boombox cassette recording," he says. "It distorted so badly that you could barely make out what they’re playing. I still have that cassette somewhere." Recording began in May at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. It was the first time Vig had worked with Grohl. "Kurt had called me up and said, ‘I have the best drummer in the world now. He plays louder and harder than anybody I’ve ever met.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, right.’ But they were totally right on the first day they set up in the rehearsal room. Kurt’s guitar was super loud and the bass was super loud, but the drums, there were no mics on them in this room and they were just as loud acoustically as the amps. And also Dave turned out to be so cool; really easy to work with, and full of energy, and really brought a lot of life and fun to the sessions. He kept it real light."
Rehearsals were kept short. "I didn’t want them to play too much ‘cause I didn’t want them to burn out on the songs," Vig explains. "But I remember after hearing ‘Teen Spirit,’ I was so into the song I had them play it as much as possible! The song was amazing." Recording soon began at Sound City, and continued into June. The studio was chosen, Vig says, because the band "wanted to work in a live tracking room that was cost effective. It also had a Neve board, and so that fit the bill. And they’d done a lot of classic records there in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, like Tom Petty, the Jacksons, Rick Springfield and Fleetwood Mac. A lot of big records were done there. It was a pretty simple studio. It was fairly bare bones. But they did have really good mics."
It was a learning experience for both the band and producer, each working for a major label for the first time. "I got the band to do some things I think they didn’t necessarily want to do," says Vig. "The first recording [at Smart] was very very simple and had very few overdubs. Now I got to work more on the production, and got them to do more vocal overdubs, and more guitar overdubs, and basically tried to make the record a lot more fuller sounding. They sounded so amazing live, to me, that in order to get that kind of sound on record you had to use more production work in the studio; doubling guitars, using multiple mics on things and splitting them left and right, just trying to make it sound larger than life ‘cause that’s how they sounded when they played live.
"The songs were basically in really in good shape, but I did do more arranging with them," Vig continues. "‘Teen Spirit’ was longer and the little ad-libs after the chorus were actually at the end of the song. I suggested putting those in at the end of each chorus as a bridge into the next verse. And I remember Kurt sitting down with the acoustic and he had a couple variations of the melody and the verse he was singing and we picked the one that was best. But most of the songs were fairly finished. I don’t know whether they played them live a lot, but I know that they did practice a lot. It wasn’t like, ‘What are you playing here?’ They knew. Chris had figured Out his bass lines, and the drum patterns for the most part were worked out, and Kurt had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do. But he had a couple lines in some songs that he was still working on."
Unlike the band’s previous recordings, songs for the new album were frequently compiled from a number of different takes. "Kurt would do vocal takes and I’d try to get him to do three or four," Vig explains. "I liked to go through and pick the best bits. That’s typically how I like to work with a vocalist. And on some of the songs he did sing some different lines. Sometimes he’d do a take and then come in and listen to it and go, ‘I don’t like that verse, I’m going to use this one instead.’ Kurt would sing so amazing. That’s one reason he would blow his voice out, he was singing hard. He would sing the verse a certain way and usually come to the chorus and if he was singing really hard he would totally blow his voice out every time.
"Then after we cut stuff, we would go back," Vig continues. "I had Chris re-do some of the bass tracks ‘cause I wanted them to be really locked with the drums. And every now and then work on the parts a little bit, see if we could come up with something better. And the same with Kurt. We kept the live guitar, and went back and overdubbed more guitar, and experimented with tones and different mics and amps and guitars. Kurt in particular did not really want to do that. But I somehow was able to push him farther than he wanted. I think he really wanted to kind of stay with the punk aesthetic, that everything is one take and that’s all. But also, he knew if he didn’t have a good performance, and he wanted it to be good."
But for the most part, Vig says the sessions were fairly relaxed. "The band was really loose. They were going out all night and partying. I think that they had a certain sense of ‘We can do whatever we want!’ Typically, I would go in before them, like around noon or one, and they would get in mid-afternoon, 3 or 4 o’clock and we’d work until 11 o’clock or midnight. And they’d leave and I’d usually work a little longer." The sessions lasted into June, for a total cost of around $130,000.
There has been a lot of speculation about what extra material the group may have recorded during the Nevermind sessions. "They had about 15 songs that they were working on," says Vig. "And I thought we were going to at least try and record all of them. There were a couple that we recorded that Kurt never finished the lyrics on. One was called ‘Song in D’; it was really catchy. I was hoping he would finish the lyrics ‘cause it would have been another amazing song. It had kind of an R.E.M. feel to it. And one was more of a punk thing. He had one other one he was playing on acoustic; it was kind of bluesy. I asked, ‘You want to try and put that down on tape?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s not really done.’ And one of the songs I think Kurt may have given part of the chord progression to Courtney for one of the Hole songs, or at least there’s a little bit of a nod from it. ‘Old Age,’ I think."
Vig adds that no early versions of In Utero songs were recorded. As for any additional outtakes, "I’m pretty sure that they’d be in the Geffen vaults," he says. "We kept more stuff, and obviously with a bigger budget there were more reels of tape. And also I knew at that point, whenever I could, I wanted to keep stuff. So any of those extra tracks, they’re sitting in the vaults somewhere at Geffen."
Once the record was completed, Vig planned to mix it. "I think we mixed about half the songs," he says. "And the band was mixing them with me, and they really weren’t turning out that well. It didn’t really work having the band there, ‘cause Kurt would come up and go, ‘Turn all the treble off all the channels and turn the bass up full; I want to hear it really heavy.’ It’s just not really being realistic in terms of trying to make everything balance in the track! And also, at a lot of points, he was trying to bury his vocal. And I would argue with him; ‘Your voice is the most intense thing about the songs and the band, and it deserves to be right up there in your face as well as the music!’"
Ultimately, Andy Wallace was chosen to mix the album, largely because the band liked his work with Slayer. Vig still has cassette copies of his own original mixes. "The mixes that I like best were the rough mixes that I did that were straight off the Neve board," he says. "With very little on them; no processing at all. Just real simple. I remember we finished the record, and I would just play ‘Teen Spirit’ over and over in the car. It just sounded so amazing; everything was just coming straight out of the speakers at you.
"I think Andy’s mixes sound great," Vig adds. "He didn’t add too much polish to the songs, but got really good separation between the instruments and vocals, mostly through EQ. He also kept Kurt’s vocals in the front of the mix." Though Cobain was later critical of the album’s sound (telling Azerrad, "Looking back on the production of Nevermind, I’m embarrassed by it now"), Vig says "I know for a fact that Kurt loved the album when it was finished. But over a period of time I think all artists become critical of their work. And as a punk, it’s not cool to endorse an album that sells in the millions. When Kurt talked to me about working on the first Hole record with Courtney, he told me he wasn’t happy with In Utero either."
After the band finished their album, they played a few West Coast dates, and in August headed back to Europe. Aside from the occasional few weeks off, they would stay on the road until the end of February ‘92, playing the U.S., England, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Prior to leaving for Europe, the band filmed their video for "Teen Spirit," chosen as Nevermind’s first single, on August 17 at the GMT Studios (stage 6) in Culver City, California. Filming began at 11:30 AM and lasted all day.
In this period of calm before the storm, two more compilations with Nirvana tracks were released. "Dive" appeared on the Sub Pop compilation The Grunge Years, released in June (with the jokey tag "Limited Edition of 500,000" on the cover). And another track from the Dale Demo, "Beeswax," was released on the compilation Kill Rock Stars, by the Olympia label of the same name, on August 21. The original issue of the album was limited to 1000, and came in a numbered, hand-screened cover. The record has since been issued on CD.
"Teen Spirit" was released September 10. The 7-inch and cassette were backed with "Even in His Youth"; a second cassette, 12-inch and CD added "Aneurysm," both from the January ‘91 Music Source session. The back cover featured a classic Charles Peterson shot from a show at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, B.C., on March 8, showing Cobain apparently playing the guitar on his head. A promo CD single was released, with edited and full-length versions of the song; the edited version also appeared on a 12-inch promo on yellow vinyl. Another promo had a plastic bag around the case, filled with blue liquid.
In the U.K., the single was released in August on 7-inch and cassette (b/w "Drain You"), a black vinyl 12-inch featuring "Even in His Youth," a picture disc 12-inch featuring "Aneurysm," the CD featuring all four songs; the picture disc is the rarest version. A picture disc using different artwork was issued in Germany.
Finally, on September 24, Nevermind was released. An advance cassette was released, though no advance CDs were; CD promos were available after the album’s release (the same would hold true for all of Nirvana’s subsequent album releases). One CD promo was packaged in a "blue pack" the way "Teen Spirit" had been. The record was also released on vinyl. Though the cover listed 12 songs, Nevermind also had a "hidden" track, "Endless, Nameless," that came on some 10 minutes after the last listed track, "Something in the Way." It was accidentally left off the first pressing of the CD and cassette, but restored on later pressings. The album’s back cover photo was by Cobain, credited as "Kurdt Kobain."
Mari Earl was impressed with "Teen Spirit," calling it "one of Kurt’s best songs, lyrically and musically." Nonetheless, it was still something of a shock to see her nephew on TV. "When I first saw him on MTV I cried," she says, "because it was like, ‘This is too much!’ It was just like, wow, to know somebody that makes it big like that is really a very strange feeling. It was all these mixed emotions. I felt happy for him, I felt afraid for him, just a lot of different things ‘cause I knew that he wasn’t the most stable person in the world. But it wasn’t like I consciously thought of that. I was just really excited for him and very happy for him in the beginning. But it was quite a lot for him, I really think. That was the big burst of their fame."
Earl also feels that Nirvana’s sudden fame changed what music meant to Cobain. "Music was for Kurt, as it was for me at one time, an escape, a way to express what was inside himself," she says. "It was an understanding friend, predictable and comforting. When he became famous, music was no longer an escape for him, it was a nightmare of scheduled ‘creativity’ and harried performances. It was almost as if he became a caricature of himself and the whole grunge movement. Kurt’s success only reinforced my suspicions of how the music business operates. By that, I mean the artist becomes a commodity, a can of beans, if you will, merely a saleable product. Can anything drain the human spirit more?"
Initially, neither the band or DGC had great expectations for the album; the first pressing was a modest 46,251 copies. The record release party was held September 13 at Re-bar, a hip dance club in Seattle. The club’s manager says he still gets calls from Nirvana fans who think the band performed at the party, which they did not; only recorded music was played. The party was shut down when the band started a food fight, the club’s owners not relishing a big clean-up job before admitting the evening’s clientele.
The band’s in-store appearance at Seattle record shop Beehive (now closed) on September 16, was less chaotic, if still enthusiastic. "The place was packed," remembers Charles Peterson. "It was just the rawest show I’d ever seen them do. It was so amazing. It was so raw and powerful." It was also the last time Nirvana would play to such a small crowd in Seattle. Little more than a month later, on Halloween, the group appeared Seattle’s Paramount Theater, sharing a bill with Bikini Kill and Mudhoney. The show was recorded and filmed, and with the album rising in the charts, it was apparent Nirvana was taking off. "The whole thing was just such a scene," says Peterson. "And I couldn’t figure out whether it was okay for me to photograph them or not!"
The fall tour also took the band to Chicago, where Butch Vig saw them at the Cabaret Metro. "The buzz in the air was unbelievable!" he says. "Kids were screaming and crying, and almost everyone already knew all the lyrics. I was thinking, ‘Wow, I might eventually have a gold record,’ and of course it went gold in a matter of weeks. A few months later, I talked to their manager John Silva and asked if there was any chance of Nevermind going #1. And he said, ‘No way, not a chance.’ The next week it was #1. After that, I had so many bands, labels, and managers approach me about getting the ‘Nirvana sound,’ it became a joke—there was and always will be only one Nirvana!"
Meanwhile, over in Europe, Jack Endino, on tour with Skin Yard, heard "Teen Spirit" for the first time. "That song followed us all over Europe," he says. "We started to get kind of freaked out; we couldn’t get away from this damn Nirvana song!" Calls home kept the band up-to-date on Nevermind’s sales figures, and, like Mari Earl, Endino had a sense of trepidation. "It was obvious that this phenomenon was beginning to happen," he says. "And I sort of intuitively had a hunch that they weren’t really psychologically prepared for success if it happened. Because they were just these nice guys from Aberdeen that seemed an awful long way from ‘The Biz’ and all the nasty stuff that goes on. And I didn’t think they would enjoy that part of it particularly, if they ever got to see it. Which turned out to be true."
Endino also got to witness Nirvana’s reaction to success first-hand, when Skin Yard opened for Nirvana at a November 14 show in Vienna (when the album was in the Top 40), and when Endino saw the band a few weeks later, November 25, in Amsterdam (when the album had reached the Top 10). "Kurt was okay in Vienna," he says. "They seemed to be having fun. In Amsterdam, he wasn’t doing too good. It was a really weird show. Kurt was really pissed off; there were all these people with cameras and movie cameras on the stage, and he was a little out of tune and he was very angry at these cameras—’Get the hell off my stage!’ And backstage he was really uneasy, he looked really pale. Everybody seemed to be really uneasy and very unhappy. Like suddenly the success was starting to bother them because people were starting to come at them. Suddenly people wouldn’t leave them alone."
While in Europe, Nirvana made a number of interesting radio and television appearances. None of the radio appearances featured the group’s current single, and one session didn’t even include anything from Nevermind. The band’s third session for John Peel included the as yet unrecorded "Dumb," "Drain You," and "Endless, Nameless." They also recorded a session for another British DJ, Mark Goodier, performing "Something in the Way," "Been a Son," "Aneurysm," and "New Wave Polly" (a fast, electric version of "Polly"). They also recorded a session for Holland radio station VARA, performing "Here She Comes Now," and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", the latter another song the band never officially recorded.
For their U.K. TV appearances, the band was locked into promoting "Teen Spirit," but found other ways to liven things up. After being introduced on "The Word," Cobain revealed the new love of his life, telling the audience, "I just want everyone in this room to know that Courtney Love, of the pop group Hole, is the best fuck in the world." On "Top of the Pops," Cobain adopted a booming baritone to deliver "Teen Spirit," and (along with the band) made no attempt to mime his instrument playing properly. When the host of The Jonathan Ross Show announced that the group would be performing "Lithium," they turned the tables and performed "Territorial Pissings" instead.
Back in the U.S., two more Nirvana-related recordings were being released. Earth’s CD EP, Bureaucratic Desire for Revenge, was released in October, and featured guitar and background vocals by "Kurt Kobain," though Cobain and fellow backing vocalist Kelly Canary (formerly of Dickless and Teen Angel) were credited as "specialists." A video of the same name was released, packaged in a white case, in a limited run of 100 hand-numbered copies. The band, Cobain, and Canary do not appear in the video; the visuals are grainy racy films of people spanking each other interspersed with other found footage of such things as aircraft carriers. In November, Teriyaki Asthma, Vols. 1-5 was released, compiling all five EPs in the series. The vinyl album was released in a limited run of 2000; it was also released on CD and cassette and is still in print. In Europe, the set was a double-album.
By January 1992, Nevermind had already gone platinum (it would eventually sell a total of 13.8 million copies worldwide, 7 million of that in the U.S.) and was on its way to topping the charts ("Teen Spirit" peaked at #6, while in the U.K., the album peaked at #13, "Teen Spirit" at #7). The weekend the album reached #1, Nirvana was in New York. On January 10, they taped a session for MTV, performing "Teen Spirit," "Drain You," "On a Plain," "Polly," and "Territorial Pissings." Alex Coletti, who worked on the shoot, told Guitar World that the band had performed five or six other songs that have never been aired, including "Molly’s Lips" and "Stain." The next night, the band appeared on Saturday Night Live, performing "Teen Spirit" and "Territorial Pissings." Nirvanamania had arrived.
The next Nirvana recording to be issued was the Hormoaning promo, released to promote the band’s February tour to Australia and Japan. Hormoaning contained six songs: "Aneurysm" and "Even in His Youth" from the "Teen Spirit" single, and "D-7," "Turnaround," "Son of a Gun," and "Molly’s Lips" from the 1990 John Peel session. In Australia, the EP was released as a 12-inch record (on burgundy vinyl), a cassette, and CD (5000 copies of each format). In Japan, the release was CD only, and featured a different cover.
Another interesting promo CD released around at this time was Nevermind, It’s an Interview. The CD featured interview segments inter-cut with song clips and complete tracks. Most of the complete tracks were taken from the band’s Halloween ‘91 show in Seattle, and included "About a Girl," "Aneurysm," "Drain You," "On a Plain," "Molly’s Lips," "School," along with the Nevermind versions of "Territorial Pissings" and "Teen Spirit." This promo is especially valuable as it contains material unavailable anywhere else.
"Drain You" was planned as Nevermind’s second single, and CD promos were released in late ‘91. But according to Jim Merlis, director of publicity at DGC, "It got kind of swamped by ‘Teen Spirit’ so it never really was played. ‘Teen Spirit’ had such a life of its own." As a result, there wasn’t another single released until March 3, ‘92, when "Come As You Are" was issued. The 7-inch was b/w a live version of "Drain You," the cassette, 12-inch, and CD adding a live version of "School," both from the Halloween ‘91 show. The song was the only other single to reach the U.S. Top 40, peaking at #32. A CD promo and 12-inch promo were also released.
In the U.K., "Come As You Are" was again released in four formats; the 7-inch and cassette were b/w "Endless, Nameless," the 12-inch—both black vinyl and picture disc—added the live version of "School," and the CD added the live version of "Drain You." The song performed better in the U.K., reaching #14. In Germany, the 12-inch picture disc was b/w "Endless, Nameless" and the live version of "Drain You."
Though DGC was anxious to have Nirvana go back on the road, the group—specifically Cobain—demanded a break. The previous seven months touring had left them exhausted; "We’d be on an adventure," Novoselic told Michael Azerrad. "Now it’s a circus." The unexpected success of Nevermind and the resulting media explosion added to the overall tension, leading to, among other arguments, a dispute over royalties. The band members had seemingly gone their separate ways, Grohl to Virginia, Novoselic to his new home in Seattle, and Cobain, now married to Courtney Love, to Los Angeles.
One of Nirvana’s few recording sessions of the year took place in April at Barrett Jones’s Laundry Room studio, now relocated to Seattle. The move was precipitated by Jones’s being kicked out of his home in Arlington. "I basically had two weeks to get out," he says. "And after spending some time trying to find another place to relocate my studio, I decided to move out here. And Dave had just moved out here and joined some band I’d never heard of called Nirvana. So I thought I’d move out here too!"
When Jones arrived in Seattle, in June ‘91, the Laundry Room was initially located in his house in West Seattle. "It was never really officially open there, but that is where I did the Nirvana stuff, and the King Buzzo record," he says, "King Buzzo" being Buzz Osborne (Grohl also appeared on the record). The April session, which Jones thinks took two days, was for the purpose of recording tracks for various singles and yet another tribute album: "Curmudgeon," "Oh, the Guilt," "Return of the Rat."
"All three songs had a place to go," Jones says. "I don’t think they’d ever really played them before, but they figured them out pretty quick. They’re all pretty easy. I think they were trying to be a little more punk rock about the whole thing. Trying to get away from the Nevermind glossiness. I think that was the purpose. They wanted to be as low budget as possible about it. I only had a little 8-track, and I wasn’t even properly set up to record, but it came out great anyway." Jones doesn’t think any outtakes or alternate versions were saved from the session.
During their stay in Seattle, Cobain and Love also dropped in on Seattle’s Orpheum record store and confiscated what they claimed were unauthorized recordings being sold. Asked by the clerk to leave a note for the boss explaining the disappearance of the recordings, Love and Cobain duly complied writing the following explantion on the store’s stationary: "i need for you not to make extra money off my husband so i can feed my children. Mrs. Cobain. Macaroni and cheese for all. love kurdt kobain."
In May ‘92, the first in a series of Westwood One in Concert releases featuring Nirvana was issued to radio stations; the double album also featured Led Zeppelin in concert. The following month, the first song from the April ‘92 sessions was released when "Return of the Rat" was featured as part of the box set Eight Songs for Greg Sage and the Wipers, released on the Portland indie label Tim/Kerr on June 20.
Thor Lindsay, one of T/K’s founders, says the idea to do an album "paying tribute to the biggest alternative act to come out of Portland— until Everclear!" came from Sean Crogham (then in Crackerbash, now in Junior High) and Jim Talstra (then in the Dharma Bums, now in The Maroons), who suggested it backstage during a show in 1991. Lindsay knew Cobain, and knew that he was a Wipers fan, and approached him to see if Nirvana would be interested in contributing. Cobain initially suggested Lindsay use the version of "D-7" they’d recorded for John Peel. Lindsay readily agreed; "It’s one of the most phenomenal tracks I think Kurt ever did," he says.
But when "D-7" appeared on Hormoaning, licensing the song through Geffen became complicated. "And Kurt got pissed off and said, ‘Fuck it, I’ll record another track,"’ Lindsay explains. "And basically a DAT turned up with ‘Return of the Rat’ on it. I was ecstatic. Kurt was into alternative labels and independent stuff."
The set, released in a limited edition of 10,000, contained four singles, and is now out of print. Colored vinyl was used on 4000 of the sets. "That turned out to be the biggest packaging nightmare of my life," says Lindsay, "because I didn’t want it pirated or extra copies made of anything. So I actually had the 7-inches pressed at one plant, the picture sleeves at another plant, and the box sets made here in town. And we assembled them in my kitchen. It was literally out of control." Nor were the colored versions all the same. "Every 500 the color would change," Lindsay explains, "so there’s a lot of variety there! Especially since the pressing plant screwed up on some of them; for example, there’s only 200 of Hole’s orange disc. And the aqua Nirvana is rare. Lindsay used a total of four translucent colors and four opaque colors. On March 15, 1993, the set was issued on CD with six additional tracks, necessitating a title change to Fourteen Songs for Greg Sage and the Wipers.
On July 21, Nirvana’s next single, "Lithium," was released, the cassette, 12-inch, and CD b/w "Curmudgeon," and a live version of "Been a Son," also from the Halloween ‘91 show. The packaging was especially notable, featuring cover photography by Cobain, a sonogram of Cobain and Love’s child, and all the lyrics to Nevermind. In the U.K., the 7-inch and cassette were b/w "Curmudgeon," the 12-inch picture disc added the live "Been a Son," and the CD added "D-7" from the Peel session. A promo CD single was also released; some were packaged in a special box that also featured Nevermind, It’s an Interview, issued in a limited run of 100.
Nirvana hit the road again in June, touring in Ireland and Europe. Then in August, a profile of Love in Vanity Fair’s September issue (published in August) blew the lid off a subject that had been kept under wraps: the couple’s drug use. Most damaging was the implication that Love had used heroin after she knew she was pregnant. When the story was published, Love maintained she’d stopped using drugs when she learned of her pregnancy. Cobain, however, had been using heroin regularly. He’d tried detoxing a number of times and was in the hospital detoxing again when Love gave birth to Frances Bean Cobain on August 18.
By the end of the month, rumors were flying about how Cobain’s drug use was going to split the band, and that their August 30 appearance at the Reading Festival in Reading, England, would be their last show. Instead, they rallied, turning in one of the best performances of their career. Mocking the rumors, Cobain, wearing a hospital gown, had himself pushed onstage in a wheelchair, staggered to the mic, warbled the opening line of "The Rose," and collapsed. He then leaped up, and the band went on to play for nearly 90 minutes.
Charles Peterson, in one of the few times he photographed the band outside of the Northwest, was also at the show. "I was the only photographer that got to sit on the stage the whole time," he says. "Just to sit there and have Nirvana playing in front of you on this mammoth mammoth stage, and to my left was 50,000 people all singing along..., it was unbelievable. It sent shivers up my spine the whole time. Sometimes I just had to drop the camera and just sort of take it all in."
The band’s set spanned their entire career, from songs on the Dale Demo ("Spank Thru") to three numbers soon to be recorded on In Utero, "Dumb," "tourette’s" (introduced as "The Eagle Has Landed") and "All Apologies" (dedicated to Love and Frances Bean). The band also joked about their supposed "demise." "This isn’t our last show!" Novoselic said. "Yes it is," countered Cobain. "I would like to officially and publically announce that this is our last show." "Today!" said Novoselic. "Until we play on our November tour," continued Cobain. "Or do you want to record a record in November?" Portions of the show were also aired on radio.
Nirvana returned to the U.S. in triumph, their next victory winning Best Alternative Music Video (for "Teen Spirit") and Best New Artist in the MTV Music Video Awards. Cobain was at his most charming when accepting the latter award, smiling directly into the camera and saying, "You know, it’s really hard to believe everything you read." The band had wanted to play "Rape Me," another song destined for In Utero, during their live spot, but caved in to pressure and played "Lithium"—but not before throwing in the opening measures of "Rape Me" as a tease.
Nirvana then performed in Portland, and, the following night, at the Coliseum in Seattle, their biggest show in the city to date. "It was really weird to see somebody that you know up on this huge stage," says Alice Wheeler. "I felt really bad for Kurt. It seemed like he looked really lost up there." But weeks later, the group was back in a smaller setting when they appeared as the unannounced opening act for Mudhoney in two secret shows, October 3 at Western Washington University in Bellingham, and October 4 at the Crocodile Café in Seattle. At the latter show, the band was clearly relaxed, enjoying the chance to return to their roots, however fleetingly. For its part, the audience stood in awed appreciation, barely able to mosh.
Peterson attended both shows. "I was going to go up to Bellingham with Mudhoney anyway," he says. "And they were like, ‘Oh, guess who else is playing?’ ‘Then I’m definitely coming up with you guys!’ It was really good. My memory of it is there were all these student photographers down in the pit, and there was this one guy, he’s got his camera, and he’s dancing around, but he’s right in front of where Kurt is. I’m like, ‘If you’re not going to take pictures, get out of the way.’ And he was like, ‘I’ve only got one shot left and I’m waiting for the destruction!’
"And the brilliant thing was, that night they didn’t destroy their instruments!" Peterson continues. "These two seven year old kids came on stage and Kurt draped his guitar around one of them, and Chris draped his guitar around the other kid’s neck. And everyone was like ‘Smash it! Smash it!’ And somehow this kid hauled Chris’s bass over his head and smashed it onto the stage. And Alex, their tour manager, is just back there with his head in his hands, ‘cause Chris never really smashed his basses. It was great. It was the perfect ending to it." These shows were the last live shows Peterson shot. Nirvana’s final show of the month was a concert in Buenos Aires.
October also saw the release of another Westwood One in Concert double album, also featuring Roxy Blue. On November 30, "In Bloom" was released as a single in the U.K. only (though the U.S. did release the song as a CD promo). The 7-inch and cassette were b/w a live version of "Polly" from the band’s December 28, ‘91 performance in Del Mar, California. The 12-inch picture disc and CD added a live version of "Sliver" from the same show. Portions of the show were also aired on radio. In November, Cobain also recorded a guitar track at the Laundry Room, for another side project, this one a single with William Burroughs that would be released on Tim/Kerr in 1993.
DGC had hoped to have new Nirvana album ready for the holiday season, but the band hadn't started recording demos until the fall. Instead, on December 15, they released Incesticide, a joint effort between the label and Sub Pop. Like their previous albums, Incesticide was released in CD, cassette, and vinyl formats, the record on blue vinyl. A sticker on the outside read "Rare B-Sides, BBC Sessions, Original Demo Recordings, Outtakes, Stuff Never Before Available" (a total of six tracks were previously unreleased). The press release for the album contained Cobain's descriptions of the tracks (the same descriptions were also used in some ads), which included some errors ("Dive" was not recorded with Butch Vig in 1988, for example). Cobain also wrote the album's liner notes. The album didn't reach the Top 40, but did go platinum, selling a total of 3.2 million copies worldwide. There is a German CD promo packaged in a cardboard box. A video of "Sliver," largely filmed in Cobain's home, was made to promote the album.
The album's 15 tracks were culled from a variety of sources. "Hairspray Queen," and "Aero Zeppelin" were previously unreleased tracks from the Dale Demo, "Mexican Seafood" was the Dale Demo track that had appeared on Teriyaki Asthma, "Beeswax" was the Dale Demo track that had appeared on Kill Rock Stars, "Downer" was the Dale Demo track that had appeared on the Bleach CD, "Big Long Now" was a previously unreleased Bleach outtake, "Stain" had appeared on the Blew EP, "Sliver" and "Dive" were from the band's second single for Sub Pop (though the answering machine "epilogue" was excised from "Sliver"), "Turnaround," "Molly's Lips," and "Son of a Gun" were from the band's 1990 John Peel session and had appeared on Hormoaning, and "Been a Son," (New Wave) "Polly," and "Aneurysm" were previously unreleased tracks from the band's 1991 Mark Goodier session.
Neither "Hairspray Queen" or "Aero Zeppelin" were remixed for the album. "That's griped me for a while because I wish I'd had a chance to remix them," says Jack Endino. "Literally what they did is they took the tape from the first day I ever recorded them and mixed ten songs in one hour. And that's the tape that got put on Incesticide. It's always bummed me out. In any given afternoon I could've made a better mix of all those songs. But that's just the way it went."
As for the remaining Dale Demo tracks, Endino says "If You Must" is a track that Cobain didn't want released. "He hated that one almost immediately," he says. "And he never wanted anyone to ever hear it again. Which is one of the reasons it's not on Incesticide. He was embarrassed about it; it was too heavy. He was just like that sometimes. I think it's a great song."
Daniel House admits he was annoyed at losing his exclusivity with "Mexican Seafood." "The track was supposed to stay exclusive forever with Teriyaki Asthma," he says. "Until years later I got a call from Nirvana's attorney, informing me that I had never signed a contract with the band for the song, that a handshake was not adequate, and they were going to take the song and put it on Incesticide and I couldn't do a fucking thing about it, and if I tried to raise a finger they would sue me into oblivion. I just thought, 'What a strange way to introduce yourself!' But they let me keep the song on the CD. That was the final slap in the face that gee, a handshake's just not good anymore. And I was upset that we never got credit for it on the album."
And Steve Fisk says that other material was submitted for consideration on Incesticide as well. He thinks the 1987 session the band recorded at KAOS was "probably" submitted, and says that he also turned over the tape from his session with Nirvana in January '90. "The tape was allegedly missing at The Music Source for a while," he says. "And I knew that I'd seen it flying around the studio, because it was a Nirvana tape, and so people would take it out and play with it, mix it, juice it right up. And eventually I found it, and then I got it back to Sub Pop. And at one point, I made Sub Pop and Nirvana some mixes of what the other stuff sounded like to see if they wanted to finish it or anything. I did the best I could to pull to scratch voice into focus and make some mixes around that. But Kurt sings very quietly, so it wasn't useable."
DGC also released David Markey's 1991: The Year Punk Broke on video during the year. The documentary was filmed during Sonic Youth's 1991 summer tour, when Nirvana was their opening act, and focused primarily on live footage of these two bands and others on the tour, including Babes in Toyland and Dinosaur Jr.
Another Nirvana-related release had come out with relatively little fanfare in 1992: Dave Grohl's first solo project. Pocketwatch was a 10-song cassette, released under the name Late! on the Arlington-based Simple Machines label. The material that Grohl had been regularly recording over the past years had come to the attention of Simple Machines' Jenny Toomey when she visited the Laundry Room. "I thought it was great," she says, "and I hassled him for a tape. About six months later, he gave me one when I was visiting in Olympia. My label was releasing a series of cassettes that focused on music that was either unfinished, imperfect or finished and perfect by bands that no longer played out, like Geek, My New Boyfriend, Saturnine. It made perfect sense to ask Dave to add his solo tape to the list, and he said yes."
Grohl plays all the instruments and provides all vocals on the tape, aside from backing vocals by Barrett Jones on "Petrol CB." But though the sleeve lists two recording dates for the project (December 23, '90 and July 27, '91), Jones says the tape is really the product of a number of different sessions. The songs revealed Grohl's versatility as musician, singer, and songwriter; two of the songs would later turn up in Grohl's future projects.
Simple Machines still carries the tape, which is still duplicated from the second generation copy Grohl originally gave Toomey. "But it's sort of been a thorn in our side," she says. "Each mention of the cassette in Rolling Stone or wherever translates to piles of mail, and for the most part, these kids have never bought anything through the mail from an independent record company, so when they haven't received their tape in two weeks they write us nasty notes about how we've stolen their $5 and their mothers are going to sue us. The Late! tape has broken many an intern! But the one strange redeeming quality of the tape is the tape itself. Almost every time I listen to it—even now at this point of definite saturation—I still have to think it's a great record. It has a depth and vulnerability and crunch that you don't find on the Foo Fighters' record."
Toomey says there were plans to get an upgraded copy of the master and release the tape on CD, along with bonus tracks. "He went back and forth with the idea and then it fell off the face of the earth," she says. "I think he's worried about the quality. Which I can understand and appreciate, but his modesty is killing us! I know he also thinks it's cooler to have it this way. Which it definitely is. But it's been a mixed bag as our cassette masters degenerate. It's really only a matter of time until the cassette gets removed from the catalog." Until then, the tape is available for $5 from P0 Box 10290, Arlington, VA 22210—1290—and please be patient.
The Pocketwatch material has also been bootlegged, and appears on such releases as Dave Grohl Demos, Fighting the N Factor, Pocketwatch, Pocketwatch Demos, Reading '95 & Unreleased Demos, and Up Against! Most of these releases contain additional live material from Grohl's next band, Foo Fighters.
Cobain started the new year by doing a photo session with Charles Peterson on January 1, 1993, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle. The shoot was for an upcoming cover story in the national gay magazine The Advocate. "It was nice," remembers Peterson. "There were no publicity people, I didn't have an assistant, there was no hair and make-up. It was just in his bedroom at this hotel." Though Cobain, dressed in his pajamas, looked tired in the shots, the interview, which appeared in the magazine's February 9 issue, displayed his thoughtful, contemplative side. In a letter that ran in the January 24, 1994 issue, Cobain wrote, "Of all the gut-spilling and, uh, whining I did in 1993, I never felt more relaxed than with The Advocate. What can I say? Thank you to the editors. I'll always be an advocate for fagdom."
Nirvana also performed two concerts in South America in January, where they also worked on demos for their next album. They had previously tried working on demos with Jack Endino at Seattle's Word of Mouth studio (as Reciprocal was now called), on October 26, '92. "They booked time several times and cancelled each time," he says. "Mainly because Courtney was having a baby. One of the sessions was literally supposed to be the weekend Courtney was having her baby. Finally, the band showed up one day, we set up the drums and bass, and then we waited all day for Kurt. He never showed up. But the next day he showed up, and they did six songs, exactly the same as they are on In Utero."
The only songs Endino recalls from the session are "Heart-Shaped Box" and "tourette's." "And they ended up doing vocals on 'Rape Me,"' he adds. "No one ever wanted a cassette, so there's no cassettes out there being bootlegged. No one ever called back to finish them, to do the vocals, to mix it, to do anything. It was like someone talked them into going and doing these just so they would do demos. The band just had no interest in it."
The Word of Mouth sessions were the last time Endino worked with the band, and the atmosphere was very different to what it had been on previous occasions. "It was very tense," Endino says. "There was something dark in the air. Just the idea of Kurt showing up 12 hours late—it wasn't like a band. It was dysfunctional in some way. People were not communicating with each other. Kurt was sort of in a different reality from everybody else. It made me very uneasy. Everybody seemed to be very on edge. It just wasn't the same band it had been." The session was "enlivened" by the arrival of the police, due to a noise complaint—Grohl was playing his drums too loud. "His drumming was so loud, it was going right through the walls of the building," Endino says. "It was only the second noise complaint we'd ever had! It was kind of embarrassing. But they were almost done at that point."
"And that occasion of doing those demos was sufficiently uncomfortable that I couldn't imagine doing an album with them," he adds. "I thought, you know, whoever does the follow-up for Nevermind is going to get roasted. It won't be a commercial monster like Nevermind 'cause the band doesn't want to make that record. And so whoever does this next Nirvana record is going to be stuck between the major label and the band and it's going to be a very unpleasant place to be stuck.
"While they were recording the demos with me they happened to mention, 'Yeah, we were thinking of having Steve Albini do the record.' And I was just like, wheeew! 'Steve, huh, yeah? That's a cool idea.' Just sort of thinking to myself, wow, they want to make a record with Albini! That's going to be amazing! But there's going to be some fireworks. Because all the major label people and a lot of fans were going to want to hear Nevermind Version 2. And Steve, of course, would have no interest in making Nevermind Version 2. And I thought this could be a really cool Nirvana record, but I didn't envy Steve at all. Steve is gonna get blamed, and shit is gonna fly, and that's exactly what happened. Fortunately, Steve dealt with it the way he usually does; by telling everybody to fuck off. And Nirvana pretty much stood by him, except for remixing two songs. And ultimately history will judge, but I think it's a good record."
Before the In Utero sessions began, another non-album track from the band was released, "Oh, the Guilt," on a split single with The Jesus Lizard, who contributed "Puss." The single was released on February 22, 1993, on the Touch and Go label, in a variety of formats: in the U.S. as a 7-inch, cassette single, and CD single, in the U.K. as a 7-inch (on blue vinyl, some including a poster) and CD single, and in Australia as a 7-inch picture disc and 12-inch. The worldwide run was 200,000, with the Australian picture disc limited to 1500.
The single had been in the works for a few years, inspired by the Sub Pop single that paired Mudhoney (covering Sonic Youth's "Halloween") and Sonic Youth (covering Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick"). "Then Nirvana became, like, the Beatles of the '90s," The Jesus Lizard's David Sims told The Rocket. "But they still wanted to do it, and we had to figure out, well, do we want to do this and look like we're just riding on Nirvana's coattails, or we could just do it and not worry about it, which is what we ended up doing.... I think a lot of people who never would have bought a Jesus Lizard record went out and bought the Nirvana half of the single and got the bonus half, a Jesus Lizard song, and hopefully some of them liked that."
But despite the band's feelings about the project, DGC was reluctant to let yet another indie label have a new Nirvana track. At first, they suggested handling the manufacturing and distribution in the U.S. themselves, then asked to take care of all sales worldwide. But at Cobain's insistence, the record was released on Touch and Go exclusively.
The third week of February, Nirvana went to Pachyderm Studios Minnesota, to record their new album with Steve Albini. Albini had known of Nirvana since their emergence on the recording scene; as a member of Big Black, Albini had even recorded for Sub Pop before Nirvana (appearing on the compilation Sub Pop 100). He was also friends with Cory Rusk, head of Touch and Go. "Cory actually found out after Nirvana started putting records out on Sub Pop that they had originally wanted to be on Touch and Go," he says. "They had sent him demo tapes but he'd never seen them. So some of the millionaires on the planet would have different names if Cory had gotten that demo tape!"
It had been rumored that Albini was going to work on Nirvana's new album for some time. "I had heard that rumor for about six or eight months!" he says. "But no one had ever spoken to me from the band. I'd gotten so tired of that rumor I actually approached the magazine that printed it and sent them a fax saying, 'Look, if this is true, I don't know about it."' Shortly after the item appeared, Albini was contacted by the band.
"To be honest, I really hadn't given their music that much attention," Albini admits. "It wasn't really the sort of stuff that appealed to me. But socially they were part of the same circle, so I kind of assumed, without really knowing, that they were basically like any of my other friends; music friends, guys in bands. And I talked to them pretty extensively before I agreed to do it, and we corresponded a little. They had liked all these other records I had done; Jesus Lizard records and The Pixies records and The Breeders records. And they seemed genuine in their interest and so I took them at their word."
Discussions between the two primarily revolved around how Nirvana wanted to go about making their record. "Their previous record had been a more labor intensive affair," Albini explains. "Very long strenuous recording sessions where things were done piecemeal. And I've never enjoyed working that way. I explained that I'd rather do things in a more straight-forward fashion, where things are recorded as they are, rather than trying to build things out of components. To try to record the band as a band. And they seemed ready for that, because while they enjoyed working with Butch, finishing the record off proved kind of difficult."
Before the band arrived, Albini received a cassette with demos they'd recorded in Rio; some tracks had vocals, "and I think one of those songs ended up being the 'secret track' on the album ['Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow through the Strip']." Sessions were booked for 14 days, "but I think the total amount of time we spent on the record was 12 days," Albini says. "For what it's worth, we all had a great time. I really enjoyed doing it and I enjoyed meeting them and I enjoyed dealing with them. There was virtually no fiddling around. They were as prepared as any band that I've ever worked with."
At least eight of the 17 tracks recorded (including the "secret" track and songs that ended up on B-sides) had been part of the band's repertoire for some time, including "Dumb," "Pennyroyal Tea," "Rape Me," "tourette's," "All Apologies," and "Sappy," now renamed "Verse Chorus Verse." "Marigold," from Grohl's Pocketwatch tape, was also re-recorded. An early version of the album, which leaked out that summer, had the songs in the following order, in some cases with different names: "Rape Me," "Scentless Apprentice," "Heart-Shaped Box," "Milkmade" (renamed "Milk It"), "Dumb," "Four Month Media Blackout" (renamed "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter"), "Punky, New Wave Number" (renamed "Very Ape"), "Pennyroyal Tea," "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle," "Fineprint" (renamed "tourette's"), "Serve the Servants," "All Apologies," "Moist Vagina," "Marigold," "Verse Chorus Verse" and "Two Bass Kid" (renamed "I Hate Myself and Want to Die").
As far as additional material, Albini says "I'm sure some of that stuff exists as master tapes, but I really don't know. It's normal for some stuff to be generated that doesn't get followed up on." He adds that he doesn't think there were any outtakes from the sessions.
Though the album had been recorded quickly, it would be dogged by controversy over the next seven months. Come As You Are frankly states that DGC "hated" the album. According to Albini, "Gary Gersh [the band's A&R rep] called several different journalists, including Greg Cott, a journalist in Chicago, and told him that the album wasn't going to be released in its present form, that it wasn't fit to be released, and that it was all my fault. And so Greg Cott called me and said, 'What do you have to say about this?' And I said, 'It's a load of shit.' And Kurt had called me and said that the people at the label didn't like the record, and at that point he was still being fairly defensive and still trying to defend the choices they'd made. But the record company and Nirvana's management wasn't shy about trying to make the band feel that they'd made a mistake. And I think it contributed to the general psychotic frenzy that took over the final period of that record's completion."
As other media picked up the story, DGC denied that they didn't want to release the album, running a full-page ad in Billboard, and issuing a press release on May 11, headed "Nirvana's Kurt Cobain Debunks Rumors of Geffen Interference with New Album." In the release, Cobain was quoted as saying, "There has been no pressure from our record label to change the tracks we did with Albini. We have 100% control of our music!" Geffen's president, Ed Rosenblatt, added, "The simple truth is, as I have assured the members of Nirvana and their management all along, we will release whatever record the band delivers to us. ... When the band has finished their album, to their satisfaction, they will turn it in and we'll give it a release date. It's that boring and straightforward."
Though Albini was not surprised by the label's reaction, he says, "I suspected that there would've been intervention earlier than there was. And because we got all the way through the recording and mixing process, without any intervention I thought we were in the clear. It was frustrating from my viewpoint because I felt like I was being used as a scapegoat and I felt like I was being used as a tool to try and put pressure on the band. And the people involved who were pressuring them didn't have the balls to say with a straight face, 'We want more control.' So what they said was, 'We're not happy with the results, and it's this guy's fault.'"
By this time, the band members themselves claimed they weren't happy with how the record had been mixed. "They did ask me to do remixes," Albini says. "But before I agreed to do it, I sat down and I played my copy of the master. And listening to it, I honestly felt like I couldn't do any better. If I had gone out there to remix this stuff, it would've been a compromise. Because it wouldn't have ended up sounding as good as it did already, and it would've been an indulgence. I felt like I would've been wasting their money in order to make a record that didn't sound as good. I just could not hear any room for improvement."
In the end, Nirvana decided to remix both "All Apologies" and "Heart-Shaped Box" (recording another guitar part and backing vocals for the latter song). The recording was done in Seattle's Bad Animals studio, partially owned by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. The record was then remastered at Gateway Mastering in Portland, Maine. Albini explains how remastering effects the overall sound of an album: "In the mastering process, you can make changes in the sound quality, changes in the tonal quality, the stereo width, the dynamic range. When you're mixing a record, you're mixing one song at a time. When you're mastering an album, you're trying to make the album as a collection of those individual songs sound coherent. And owing to the sequencing of the songs and the fact that they're mixed at different times and different frames of mind, they can sound different one to the next. So the mastering is intended to make minor adjustments for those sorts of changes."
Albini remains critical of the final work done on In Utero. "The mastering session that was done took several days, at a studio where the mastering engineer is famous for being very manipulative of the material," he says. "A normal album mastering session is a couple of hours. So obviously they thought that they should butcher it in some way to try to satisfy these people and try to satisfy their own expectations. The dynamic range was narrowed, the stereo width was narrowed, there was a lot of mid-range boost EQ added, and the overall sound quality was softened. And the bass response was compromised to make it sound more consistent on radio and home speakers. But the way I would describe it in non-technical terms is that they fucked it up. The end result, the record in the stores doesn't sound all that much like the record that was made. Though it's still them singing and playing their songs, and the musical quality of it still comes across.
"But they paid me to do a high quality recording of the band, and I don't feel like that's represented in the finished record," Albini concludes. "So it's impossible for me to feel proud of the end result. Although I very much enjoyed doing the record and I enjoyed the company of the band. And I have a lot of respect for them as people. I consider Dave and Chris friends. Dave approached me about working on a Foo Fighters record and changed his mind for whatever reason. But yeah, I consider them friends. I have a lot of respect for them. It's just all the pigs around them that sicken me."
Albini adds that the controversy over In Utero also had a negative impact on his career. "It was totally devasting to me from a business standpoint," he says. "The year following that Nirvana album I nearly went broke. Because it was officially regarded as inappropriate for bands to record with me on a mainstream level. Previously I'd been doing one or two big records a year. And after that Nirvana record there were two years that went by where I didn't do any. And it still rears its head. The Bush record that I just did went through a very similar record label fucking the record up after we'd finished it kind of thing."
Nirvana did three more shows prior to their fall tour. On April 9, they headlined a San Francisco benefit for the Tresnjevka Woman's Group, formed to aid rape survivors in Croatia; as a result of becoming more aware of the events in the former Yugoslavia, Novoselic went back to the original spelling of his name, Krist. On July 23, the band performed at Roseland, in New York City, as part of the New Music Seminar. Unreported at the time was the fact that Cobain suffered an overdose in his hotel hours before the show. On August 6, the group performed their last show as a trio, at Seattle's King Theater (a former movie house). The show was another benefit, raising money for the Mia Zapata Investigative Fund; Zapata, lead singer of Seattle band The Gits, had been found murdered the previous month.
Also prior to In Utero's release, three more Nirvana-related recordings were issued. June saw the release of another Westwood One radio promo, this one a double CD set in their Superstar Concert series, which also featured Soul Asylum. In July, Fumble, another Scream album, was released on Dischord to coincide with a Scream reunion tour held over the summer, Grohi rejoining his former bandmates on the club circuit. July 1 also saw the release of Cobain's side-project, with author William S. Burroughs, the one-sided single "The 'Priest' They Called Him," released on Tim/Kerr.
The recording featured Burroughs reading one of his short stories to Cobain's guitar accompaniment. The project came about as T/K's Thor Lindsay knew Cobain was interested in Burroughs. "Me and Kurt had been talking beat books for a while, and trading them," he says. "I sent him a first edition, autographed edition of Naked Lunch with a dust jacket; that literally became his bible, pretty much is what he stated. Then he wanted to talk to Burroughs, so I gave him William's number. He told me, 'If there's any kind of idea about me and Burroughs...,' and I said, 'You should do a collaboration.' He said, 'I'd do it in a second!' So that's how 'Priest' came about."
The recording Cobain turned in to Lindsay contained "Twenty-seven minutes of true Kurt. And I sent that to William's assistant, and Burroughs read a chapter out of the 'The Priest.' Then they edited it to about 12 minutes. When the final package came out, Kurt was overwhelmed. It was just the way he wanted it. I was told that it was one of the last things he ever did in the studio. Those two Kurt records are pretty much the highlight of my career so far."
The single was issued as a CD and a 10-inch vinyl one-sided single, that had Cobain's and Burroughs's signatures etched on the other side. "I stole that idea from a Columbia promo I have, a 12-inch promo of Johnny Cash and Nick Lowe's 'Without Love,"' says Lindsay. "They had them inscribe their autographs on the B-side. So I had William Burroughs autograph a 10-inch square piece of cardboard. I tried to get Kurt to autograph it, and he wouldn't do it, and he wouldn't do it, so I went down to the [San Francisco] Cow Palace where they were doing the benefit, and I had him autograph it. And then I had it etched into the vinyl." 10,000 copies were issued on black vinyl, and there were also 10,000 picture discs; 5000 regular disc, and 5000 with yellow vinyl on the B-side; the discs were all hand-numbered. In yet another variation of his name spelling, the press release for the record referred to Cobain as "Kurtis Cohbaine."
At Nirvana's July show at the New Music Seminar, they'd added two musicians to their line-up; John Duncan on guitar—replaced by the Germs' Pat Smear in September for the band's final tours—and Lori Goldston on cello. Goldston was a member of Seattle's Black Cat Orchestra, a moody, cabaret-styled ensemble. She was introduced to Nirvana through her work in a performance piece inspired by the recent events in Sarajevo. Novoselic had contacted the organizer of the piece to see if she knew of any available cellists, and Goldston was suggested. That summer, she started rehearsing with the group.
"I'd never laid eyes on anybody in Nirvana before I met them," she says. "I just went to rehearsal. It wasn't set up like an audition but it essentially was an audition. They were my favorite band, so I was flattered to be asked. And they're nice people. I thought they were great." Rehearsals were held three or four times a week, and Goldston found it easy to learn the parts. "Sometimes Kurt would just hum something," she says. "Or sometimes I would just pull the part off the record. Or sometimes I would come up with something. I'm pretty flexible that way. I can read music fine, but I'm also happy to improvise or work out a part or come up with something and have people change it a little bit."
It's been reported that during the band's show at Roseland, the audience booed during the "acoustic" part of the set. But listening to the show, it's hard to detect any booing at all. "I don't remember people booing," Goldston says. "People were kind of restless, but I don't remember anybody booing. But I was freaked out; I'd never played in front of that many people. I was pretty nervous."
Not long after, Charles Peterson did his final photo shoot with the group. "It was kind of disastrous for me," he admits. "I was really nervous because I didn't know what to do with them, and I hadn't photographed them posed in a long long time. Kurt was about an hour and a half late. It almost got to the point where Dave and Krist were like, 'Fuck this, let's leave.' And I was like, 'No, please, just wait!' And then Kurt showed up. They were all really nice; they cooperated well. But I wasn't thoroughly happy with my performance. In all these sessions, Kurt always hated having his picture taken, and he would let you know that. Then he'd go along with it. So you get the picture and go, I'm probably starting to over-reach myself—'Well, that's it.' And he'd be like, 'You sure you got enough?' In retrospect I should've done a lot more. But that's coming at it from a photographer's stand-point." Some of Peterson's photos from the session appeared on the cover of Alternative Press and Musician.
In August, the first single from In Utero was issued with the U.K. release of "Heart-Shaped Box." The 7-inch (initial copies on red vinyl) and cassette were b/w "Marigold," and the 12-inch and CD added "Milk It"; it reached #13. No singles from the album were released in the U.S.; according to Mark Kates, an A&R rep at DGC, "Generally we don't release commercial singles because we feel it cannibalizes album sales." European singles are released, says Jim Merlis, because "Overseas there's a whole singles market. Generally the singles market in the United States is rap and Top 40 songs. It's a totally different market." Merlis adds that so many U.S. singles were released to promote Nevermind because "There was such a huge demand. 'Teen Spirit' was so huge and the album was so huge it took on a life of its own. You weren't even competing with yourself, because people were so hungry for Nirvana stuff."
But a CD promo of "Heart-Shaped Box" was released in the U.S. and reached the Top 10 in Billboard's Modern Rock and Album Rock tracks. Another unique U.S. promo is a 12-inch record b/w In Utero's European bonus track, "Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip."
The same month, another track from the In Utero sessions was released when "Verse Chorus Verse" (which had been considered as an album title) appeared as an uncredited track on the AIDS benefit compilation No Alternative. An early run of CDs had a glitch in Bob Mould's track; these were recalled, but sent out as promos.
That year's MTV Music Video Awards saw the band winning another honor for the "In Bloom" video. September also saw the only public performance of Cobain and Love together at a Rock Against Rape benefit at the Club Lingerie in Hollywood. Love performed "Doll Parts" and "Miss World" (which would appear on Hole's next album, Live Through This), then introduced "my husband, Yoko." The two then played "Pennyroyal Tea" and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?"
In Utero was released September 21 and entered the Billboard charts at #1 with first week sales of 180,000 copies (in the U.K., it peaked at #8). Again, a vinyl album was issued (on September 14), in a run of 25,000 copies, on clear vinyl. The album has sold 3.1 million copies in the U.S., and a total of 6.1 million worldwide. "Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol" is the "hidden" track on the European release of the CD (referred to on the cover as the "Devalued American Dollar Purchase Incentive Track"), which appears some 20 minutes after "All Apologies." The final unreleased track from the sessions, "I Hate Myself and Want to Die," also considered as In Utero's title, appeared on the compilation The Beavis and Butt-head Experience, released in September on DGC.
September also saw the release of the Melvins' album Houdini, which featured Cobain as producer on seven tracks; he also played guitar on "Sky Pup." Cobain worked with the band in San Francisco, and called up Jack Endino for advice. "He called me up to ask me some questions about microphones," he says. "He just wanted to ask me some questions 'cause he was going to produce for the first time and he'd never done it before. And I talked to him a little bit and it was nice."
Immediately following In Utero's release, Nirvana made a second appearance on "Saturday Night Live" on September 25 (rehearsals had been held the previous day), performing "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Rape Me." The U.S. tour began in mid-October and continued until January 8, 1994. For Goldston, who had previously played smaller clubs, it took a bit of time making the adjustment to large halls. "I got used to it, but it was freaky," she says. "It broke me from stage fright pretty permanently. In those first three or four shows, I just used up my lifetime supply of stage fright or something." There was also the matter of avoiding the various articles of clothing—particularly shoes—that people would toss on stage. "I got a ducking reflex going," says Goldston. "I'm sitting and I've got this expensive instrument; I can't afford another cello, you know? So I'd just duck!"
But the music remained a highlight. "The one thing that was amazing to me is that I heard all those songs every night for months and I never got sick of them," Goldston says. "The music was always really exciting to me. I would usually hang out at the side of the stage and listen, and I would totally enjoy hearing it every night." Goldston also remembers the band kicking around ideas for new songs and their next album. "I got the sense it would maybe be noticeably different in some way," she says. "But the idea of using oboes was the only concrete recurring theme on that subject!"
In the middle of the tour, Nirvana taped a performance for MTV's "Unplugged" series on November 18 at Sony Music Studios in New York. "I think having a cello [in the band] really tied in to 'Unplugged' happening," says Goldston. "Kurt wanted to have an oboe in there too, which I thought was great. That's an instrument you hear even less in pop music than a cello! And basically 'Unplugged' was an assignment—someone tells you, 'Come up with a whole acoustic set.' And it's a nice thing 'cause it gets you thinking about stuff you wouldn't necessarily be thinking about."
Nirvana arrived in New York earlier that week to play two shows, November 14 at the Coliseum, and November 15 at Roseland. Rehearsals for "Unplugged" were held the same week at an SST rehearsal studio in New Jersey. The set was an eclectic mix of songs from every Nirvana album along with six covers. Goldston remembers a few other songs were rehearsed but cut from the final set, including "Molly's Lips." "I was sorry to see that go," she says. "It's a really fun song to play. I think 'Been a Son' was also talked about at some point."
There was a final rehearsal the day of the taping. That evening, Goldston admits to another bout of stage fright. "I was pretty nervous," she says. "I think everybody was nervous. It's always hard to tell how things are turning out when you're playing them; it's really hard to have any kind of perspective. But when I hear it now, I think it sounds really good and it does sound relaxed. But at the time I never would've guessed that. Because I thought everybody was probably too nervous to play very well and it was a little stiff. I was totally wrong. It sounds a little bit like we're just playing in somebody's living room. Which is I think ideal.
"I hated those cameras though," she adds. "'cause they were flying around; it's MTV so the camera's moving around all the time and it's right next to you. It's hard if you're playing music 'cause if you're playing music and it's going really good, you want to just be out of your body and then this camera's just right next to you pulling you back into it."
A total of 14 songs were performed: "About a Girl," "Come As You Are," "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam," "The Man Who Sold the World," "Pennyroyal Tea," "Dumb," "Polly," "On a Plain," "Something in the Way," "Plateau," "Oh Me," "Lake of Fire," "All Apologies," and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" The Meat Puppets, then touring with Nirvana, sat in on "Plateau," "Oh, Me," and "Lake of Fire." Both "Oh Me" and "Something in the Way" were cut when the show was broadcast on December 16 (the show was also simulcast on radio).
If the band was nervous, as Goldston says, it didn't show during the taping. The band discussed what numbers to play next as if just deciding the setlist; after playing "Dumb," and prior to playing "Polly," Cobain told the audience, "The reason we didn't want to play these two songs in a row is because they're exactly the same song!" In the break before playing "Where Did You Sleep ...," the crowd tossed out various requests, including "Rape Me" ("I don't think MTV would let us play that!" Cobain cracked). Finally, Cobain dismissed everyone's suggestions with a jocular, "Fuck you all, this is the last song of the evening!" Unusually for an "Unplugged," none of the songs were taped again; all were first takes. "I would've expected them to do some again," says Goldston, "but everybody liked it. I was surprised. I was glad it was over, that's all I remember! I still get nervous if I see the show."
Less than a month later, Nirvana was again in front of MTV's cameras, taping an appearance for the station's "Live and Loud" New Year's Eve broadcast. The taping was held December 13 at Seattle's Pier 48, a terminal for ferries going to Victoria, B.C. The original line-up was to be The Breeders, Cypress Hill, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, but Pearl Jam cancelled on the day of the taping, ostensibly because of Eddie Vedder's illness (the remaining members of Pearl Jam had rehearsed at the venue the day before).
Nirvana rehearsed the morning of December 13. Goldston remembers the experience as being "so strange. It was in this huge building and it was freezing cold. And we were hanging out in these little ratty trailers inside the building. The sound was actually kind of rough. It was a little bit difficult for us technically. Everybody's stuff was set up on this tiny stage and it was all kind of crammed in. But it was enough fun that nobody cared that much."
The band turned in a powerful set, and, because of Pearl Jam's cancellation, was able to play longer than originally scheduled. Starting at 7 PM, the band's set included "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," "Drain You," "Breed," "Serve the Servants," "Rape Me" (finally, MTV did let them play the song), "Sliver," "Pennyroyal Tea," "Scentless Apprentice," "All Apologies," "Heart-Shaped Box," "Blew," "The Man Who Sold the World," "School," "Come As You Are," "Lithium," "About a Girl," and a final jam, during which the band destroyed their instruments, and Cobain beckoned the moshers to join him onstage. But the MTV broadcast cut the set down to 10 songs, concentrating on tracks from Nevermind and In Utero: "Radio Friendly...," "Drain You," "Breed," "Serve the Servants," "Rape Me," "Heart-Shaped Box," "Pennyroyal Tea," "Scentless Apprentice," "Lithium," and the final jam.
Alice Wheeler made it backstage with Lori Goldston. "I was just hanging out, and then I saw Kurt," she says. "I was like, 'Hey, Kurt, what's going on?' He's like, 'Who is that?' 'Me, Alice.' 'Oh! What are you doing? Do you have your camera? Take my picture!' Every time I saw him, he always demanded I take his picture." Wheeler took a number of pictures of Cobain wearing sunglasses and colored tinfoil leis.
December also saw the release of a second single in the U.K., "All Apologies." The 7-inch and cassette were b/w "Rape Me," the 12-inch and CD adding "mv" (as "Moist Vagina" had been renamed). 1993 also saw the release of a Sonic Youth promo CD that featured Cobain's artwork. Whore's Moaning (an obvious play on Nirvana's own Hormoaning promo) is a five-track CD released to coincide with Sonic Youth's tour of Australia that year. The black cover features a photocopy of one of Cobain's dolls on the front, and a drawing by Cobain on the back. In light of subsequent events, the back cover took on disturbing overtones—the drawing showed a woman pointing a gun in her mouth.
Nirvana played their final U.S. dates January 7—8, '94, in Seattle. The venue was on the grounds of the Seattle Center, site of the 1962 World's Fair, and where Nirvana had last played at the Coliseum in 1992. The Arena is now called the "Mercer Arena" to distinguish it from the rebuilt Coliseum, now called the "Key Arena." Goldston remembers that the group was tired and ill by this point; "Everybody had just been sick— everybody'd gotten some horrible flu," she says. Goldston did not tour with the band when the tour continued in Europe in February '94; Melora Craeger was hired to play cello. Goldston returned to the Black Cat Orchestra, and the group issued their first self-titled CD in the fall of 1996.
Immediately prior to their European tour, Nirvana entered the studio for what would be the last time. The band had heard good things about Robert Lang Studios in North Seattle, and scheduled three days of recording January 28—30. "The first two days Krist and Dave did tracking on a couple songs," says Lang (Smear was not at the sessions). "And then they did some other tunes. One song was totally completed with Kurt's vocals on it; Kurt came in Sunday in the afternoon and did some vocals. Then they did some guitar tracks and then we went and had dinner. They were so happy; the way the tracks sounded, how quick it went down; the whole vibe was really good. They actually had some time scheduled in here when they were going to get back from their European tour. And of course that never came to be."
Nirvana's final leg of touring began with two television appearances; February 4 on Nulle Part A, taped in Paris, where the band performed "Rape Me," "Pennyroyal Tea," and "Drain You," and February 23 on The Tunnel, taped in Rome, where the band performed "Serve the Servants" and "Dumb."
On March 29, In Utero was reissued in the U.S. with a new back cover. The change had been made due to the Wal-Mart and K Mart chains' refusal to carry the album, ostensibly because of lack of customer demand, but really because the chains objected to the back cover artwork, which featured a Cobain-designed collage of flowers, bones, and fetuses. A "non-offensive" section of the collage was blown-up to fill the entire back cover, and the song "Rape Me" was changed to "Waif Me." A remixed version of "Pennyroyal Tea," originally planned as a single release in the U.K., was also reportedly used on this reissue.
Questions were raised in the press about Nirvana's caving in to pressure to "censor" their album cover, but the band was dealing with a far more serious issue at the time. In contrast to some of the memorable dates on the fall tour, the European tour had not gone well, with Cobain getting progressively sicker throughout the month. After a final show March 1 in Munich, the tour was cancelled. Novoselic returned to Seattle; Grohl remained in Germany to work on a video for the upcoming Backbeat film (he played on the film's soundtrack); and Cobain flew to Rome, where he checked into suite 541 at the Hotel Excelsior. Love joined Cobain on March 3.
In the early hours of March 4, Love awoke and discovered Cobain on the floor. He was rushed to the hospital in a coma. Though Gold Mountain claimed the incident was the result of an accidental overdose of rohypnol (a tranquilizer) and champagne ("He wanted to celebrate after not seeing Courtney for so long"), it later emerged that Cobain had actually taken as many as 50 pills in an attempt to kill himself; he also left a suicide note. Few outside the band's inner circle—including some of the band's friends—were aware of the true nature of the event
Cobain recovered, and within the week was sent home. By now, it was clear to those close to him was that Cobain was desperately unhappy with his situation. As Nirvana's success had accelerated, so had Cobain's drug use. Unfortunately, drugs then gave Cobain another problem—addiction—while exacerbating the situation he was trying to escape from—the pressures the band's success had generated.
As far as the general public knew, Cobain spent the month of March recovering from his "accidental overdose." In reality, his life was spinning out of control. On March 18, Love called police to the couple's new home in Seattle's exclusive Madrona neighborhood (R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Stephanie Dorgan, owner of the Crocodile Cafe, live in a house a block away). According to Love, Cobain had locked himself in a room and threatened to kill himself. [Note - Courtney admitted to the police that Kurt had NOT threatened suicide.] When the police arrived, Cobain insisted he did not want to kill himself, and had simply been trying to get away from Love. Because of the "volatile situation with the threat of suicide" (in the words of the police report), the police confiscated four guns, 25 boxes of ammunition, and a bottle of assorted pills, but no charges were filed.
In an attempt to get Cobain to deal with drug habit (which he'd resumed on returning from Rome), Love then called an intervention, which took place on March 25. Cobain initially agreed to go to a rehab clinic in California with Love, but later refused to board the plane. Hoping that he would follow her, Love went on without him. Shortly after, Cobain again agreed to go to a clinic. Strangely, it was arranged for him to check into Exodus, a clinic he'd been at two years previously and walked out of, saying of the place, "It was disgusting."
In an interview with Barbara Walters, Love later speculated that the intervention may have been a mistake. "[Cobain] was ganged-up upon," she said. "I don't think that intervention works on certain people of a certain age.... I shouldn't have called for an intervention. I just panicked." In any case, drugs were only part of Cobain's problem; the larger issue was his unhappiness with his life. On March 30, Cobain and Dylan Carlson went to Stan Baker Sports in Seattle and purchased a Remington MII shotgun. Cobain asked Carlson to purchase the gun, fearing that the recent confiscation of his other weapons by the Seattle police somehow made him ineligible to purchase new weapons. Cobain then flew to California and checked into Exodus. Two days later, on Friday, Good Friday and April Fool's Day, Cobain climbed the facility's wall and flew back to Seattle.
The next day, Cobain purchased shells for his new shotgun, and after sporadic communication with a few friends, seemingly disappeared. A missing person's report was filed, and private investigators staked out the house and other locations. But no one found Cobain until the morning of April 8, when an electrician discovered his body on the second floor of the property's detached garage. At 9:40 AM, Seattle radio station KXRX broke the news that the body of an "unidentified white male in his 20s" had been found at the Cobain residence. By noon, unofficial reports confirmed the body was Cobain's. The King County Medical Examiner's Office determined that the cause of death was a self-inflicted shotgun wound, and that the estimated date of death was April 5.
The response to Cobain's death was immediate and intense. Journalists from around the world descended upon the city, and fans made pilgrimages to Cobain's house, called radio stations to express their feelings, and headed to the record stores to buy Nirvana's albums—over the next two weeks, 185,000 Nirvana records were sold. On Sunday, April 10, a public memorial service was held at the Seattle Center Flag Plaza. The service was emceed by DJs from three local stations, and opened with a short speech from Rev. Steve Towles, who then headed over to the nearby Unity Church where a private service was being held. A poet, Michael Swails, read a poem, and Marco Collins, Program Director at KNDD, read a letter from one of Cobain's uncles.
The most emotional moments came when tape recordings with Love's and Novoselic's statements were played. Love read from Cobain's suicide note, interjecting her own comments as if in a final, desperate attempt to have an argument with him. Novoselic's statement was briefer and less emotionally fraught; both Love and Novoselic delivered essentially the same statements at the private service. The public memorial ended with comments from a counselor at the Seattle Crisis Clinic. Attendees then swarmed over a nearby fountain, singing along to tapes of Nirvana's music and venting their frustrations.
Cobain's death led to Mari Earl putting together a presentation about his life, which features a brief video and a performance of her own original song, "It's Worth It." "The day that Kurt died I cried and cried and cried," she explains. "I went through a lot of grief. And as I grieved for him I began to think about the kids that were his followers. Very young kids. And I was worried. I thought there would be more suicides because of his suicide. And so that was what the original spark was. I have a lot of faith in God, and I just cried out and I said, 'God, if there's anything I can do to help these young people that he left behind, please let me do it. I can't do anything for Kurt now. Let me help others.' So that's where it started." Earl's presentation has primarily been done in schools.
Though the members of Nirvana went into seclusion, various Nirvana-related releases were already scheduled to appear over the next few months. A remix of "Pennyroyal Tea" was planned as Nirvana's next U.K. single, but the release was cancelled after Cobain's death. But a promo CD for the single was released in the U.K. in May, featuring the remix, "I Hate Myself and Want to Die" and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" from "Unplugged."
Grohl turned up as drummer on Backbeat: Music from the Motion Picture, released in late March; there were also advance cassettes. The film focused on the early days of the Beatles, and had an alternative "supergroup" playing rock 'n' roll classics like "Long Tall Sally" and "Twist and Shout." In the U.K., the tracks "Money," "Rock 'n' Roll Music," and "Please Mr. Postman" were released as singles, with at least one promo single released of the latter track. Two different soundtracks were released, one with the alternative "supergroup," and the other, similarly titled Backbeat: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, featuring jazz instrumentals. In addition to the different titles, the soundtrack with Grohl has a collage with scenes from the movie on the cover; the other soundtrack has a painting by the film's subject, Stuart Sutcliffe.
In May, Nirvana turned up on Westwood One's On the Edge radio CD promo, which featured music and interviews; in June, the Westwood One in Concert CD promo featured one of the band's 1991 BBC sessions. On July 5, the first new Nirvana track to be released since Cobain's death appeared on the compilation DGC Rarities Vol. 1. The track "Pay to Play" was taken from the band's 1990 session at Smart Studios. Its inclusion on the compilation had been decided on before Cobain had died, meaning it was not considered a tribute release.
On July 12, Novoselic and Grohl made their first live performance after Cobain's death as part of the Stinky Puffs, a band led by Simon Timony, then 10 years old. Timony had previously released a four-song EP, which he'd sent to Cobain, who acknowledged the gift in the liner notes of Incesticide. Timony later met the band members when his then-stepfather's band, Half Japanese, opened for Nirvana during the band's fall '93 tour. Timony himself joined the band onstage during their November 15 performance at Roseland.
The July 12 performance was the opening night of the Yo Yo A Go Go Festival, held in Olympia (Yoyo being another Olympia label). Sheenah Fair, Timony's mother and the Stinky Puffs' drummer, asked Novoselic to sit in with the band. "Krist wrote the most beautiful letter back to us," she says. "And it was 'I can't believe you asked me to do this. Should I do this? I think I should do this. I'm gonna do this. Should I do this? This would be a good thing."' On the night of the show, Grohl was also on hand with DGC's Mark Kates. "I saw Dave checking out Krist just about to go on," Fair says. "And I said, 'Dude, get a drum set. Come on, come on with us. This'll be good, it'll be good for you.' He's like, 'I'm gonna fuck it up—I don't even know your music!"' Eventually, Grohl did agree to go on, and though their appearance was unannounced, the media on hand for opening night of the festival insured instant coverage of the event. "One journalist said that Simon had performed a mass healing," says Fair. "And that's really how it felt." The set, which included a song for Cobain, "I Love You Anyway," was recorded and released the following year.
On August 23, a press release from DGC announced the next full-length Nirvana recordings planned for release. Verse Chorus Verse, set for release in November, was to be a double album, including live performances from 1989 to 1994, and the band's entire "Unplugged" set. "It was going to be a sort of yin and yang of Nirvana," says Jim Merlis. Merlis adds the releases were planned due to high demand for new Nirvana recordings—and the fact that the band's "Unplugged" set was already being widely bootlegged.
But the following week, on September 1, DGC issued another press release saying the live performance part of the set was being postponed, as Novoselic and Grohl had found it too difficult to work on; "The emotional aspect of it all threw us for a loop," said Novoselic. "'Unplugged' didn't take much work, production-wise," Merlis explains. "It was done. And the live record was done, but when they went in to mix, Krist and Dave just couldn't do it. It was just too hard."
The press release gave some the impression that work on the live set had not progressed very far. In fact, the album had been completed except for mixing, which Merlis confirms. "It was a whole cohesive album. And it's different from the one that came out later [Wishkah]. They went back and started at square one with this because they gained a little perspective on it." A very small number of copies of the original album set, in its unmixed state, were made for DGC staff; Merlis thinks about four copies.
MTV Unplugged in New York was released on November 1, and despite MTV's continuous airing of the program since Cobain's death, the album easily entered the charts at #1 with first week sales of 310,500 (it reached #2 in the U.K.). "Something in the Way" and "Oh Me," cut from the original broadcast, were added to the album. Advance cassettes were released, and promo CDs were also available; for the album, for the songs "About a Girl," "The Man Who Sold the World," and one with both the Unplugged and In Utero versions of "All Apologies." In Holland and Australia the CD single "About a Girl"/"Something in the Way" was released.
The band's set had been a haunting one at the time it was first aired; now, in the wake of Cobain's death, it had taken on an additional poignancy. "That record in particular gave Nirvana a whole new audience," says Merlis. "I think it showed another side of Nirvana that a lot of people, maybe some of the older people, didn't realize. And it was really nice to see what was in their minds, what influenced them." Unplugged would go on to win a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance. Nirvana won another MTV Music Video Award in 1994, for "Heart-Shaped Box."
The same month, the band's first full-length video, Live! Tonight! Sold Out!, was released on November 15. The video primarily covered Nirvana's break-through into the mainstream, compiling live performances from their fall '91 tour, through their January 16, 1993 performance in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "Live! Tonight! was actually supposed to come out in '93," says Jim Merlis, "but it wasn't completed; they were touring and they didn't have time to work on it anymore. And it's so Kurt-like, it's incredible. It has his stamp all over it. You really get the sense of things going haywire; this local band from Seattle who just wanted to make a living playing music all of a sudden becoming this huge phenomenon, which they never anticipated. I think that's what Kurt is trying to show in that whole thing, especially that last montage of all that press stuff, 'MTV News' and whatnot, that's very Kurt."
The tape came with a cover sticker that read "Includes Never-Before Seen Live Footage, Backstage Tomfoolery and Interviews from the Days of Nevermind." There was also a paper insert listing the shows the performances were drawn from (and illustrated primarily with Charles Peterson's photographs). There are a number of mistakes on the insert: the performances of "Breed" and "Polly," said to be from a Seattle '92 performance, are actually from the band's Halloween '91 show in Seattle (footage from the '92 performance does appear in the closing "destruction jam"); the band's appearance in Japan took place in 1992, not 1991; nor did the band play in Tacoma in 1992—their last appearance in that city was in 1990. Advance tapes were also available for the press.
As a document of the band's "break-through" period Live! Tonight! was in many ways more compelling than the band's next live album. The performances were strong, the interview segments clearly illustrated the band's sense of humor, and the overall feel provided fans with a welcome reminder of why they liked the band in the first place. Live! Tonight! has sold over 100,000 copies in the U.S. to date, and has remained in Billboard's Video Sales chart for over two years.
While both Unplugged and Live! Tonight! were receiving good reviews, Novoselic and Grohl were slowly returning to live performance. In early fall, Novoselic made an appearance at the Garlic Festival in Arlington, Washington, performing in a make-shift band that included Nirvana guitar tech Earnie Bailey, with a surprise guest appearance by Eddie Vedder. On November 19, Grohl drummed for Tom Petty when Petty appeared on Saturday Night Live; he also contemplated joining Petty's band on a permanent basis.
1995 was the first year in seven years that no Nirvana songs were issued. But the former band members kept busy with a variety of projects. The first one the public heard of was Grohl's new band, Foo Fighters, Air Force slang for U.F.O's. Grohl had sifted through the material he'd recorded over the years, and entered Seattle's Robert Lang Studios in October '94 with the intention of launching a new musical endeavor. He again played all the instruments and sang all the vocals on the 15 tracks he recorded, with the exception of "X-Static," which featured the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli on guitar. And naturally, Barrett Jones was on hand.
"I was just there to make him sound good, help him out," says Jones. "He made all the decisions. I always knew that he'd put something out on his own. He'd been kicking the idea around, and his songs are too good not to. I know he's sort of made it sound like he wasn't planning on putting it out, but I always expected that it would get put out. I always knew it would be huge and great! I mean, I've known him for so long and I've always known how talented he is. He never had as much confidence in himself as I did!"
The songs were recorded October 17—24. "We've always worked really fast together," Jones says. "There weren't any different takes of things. He'd just get the songs down. I personally don't like to work with lots of choices; it's either right or it's wrong. And he pretty much does things correctly the first time. Most everything's the first take on there."
The songs had all been written over a period of several years. An earlier version of "Winnebago" had appeared on Pocketwatch. "Alone and Easy Target," "Floaty," "Good Grief," and "Exhausted" were initially recorded in '92. "Weenie Beenie," "Podunk" and "For All the Cows" were written in '93 ("as were lots of other songs I sure hope no one ever hears," Grohl said later). Other songs on the tape included "This Is a Call," "I'll Stick Around," "Big Me," "Oh, George," "X-Static," "Wattershed," and "Butterflies." "Butterflies" is the only track from the tape not yet officially released.
Copies of the tape soon leaked out. Two songs were "officially" previewed on January 8, '95, as part of Pearl Jam's Self-Pollution Radio broadcast, and KNDD and Los Angeles station KROQ later began airing songs from the tape, until they were hit with a "cease-and-desist" order. Excitement about Grohl's hooky, power pop quickly built, and soon labels were approaching him with deals. He finally signed with Capitol, where Gary Gersh, the former DGC A&R rep, was now president. Twelve songs from Grohl's tape were chosen to be issued on Grohl's own Roswell Records label, with distribution handled through Capitol.
But Grohl had no intention of keeping Foo Fighters a solo project, and had passed out copies of the tape to other musicians, including Pat Smear, who quickly agreed to be in the new band. Grohl also brought in bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, from Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate, who had recently broken up. On March 3, '95, Foo Fighters made their large-scale public debut at the Satyricon Club in Portland, Oregon, playing the next night at the all ages venue The Velvet Elvis in Seattle (the group's first performance was at a party shortly before the Portland gig).
That same month, Novoselic debuted his new band, Sweet 75, which included Bobbie Lurie on drums, and Yva Las Vegas on vocals; Las Vegas and Novoselic swapped guitar and bass. The band's first appearance was as a surprise opening act for TAD at a St. Patrick's Day show at RKCNDY in Seattle, directly across the street from where the Motor Sports International Garage had been. The band's second performance April 20 at the Seattle club Moe, was a fundraiser for Artists for a Hate Free America. By that summer, Lurie had been replaced by Bill Rieflin (formerly of Ministry). Though rooted in a crunchy pop vein, the band's music has an edge to it, largely due to Las Vegas's strong, compelling vocals.
Getting Sweet 75 off the ground proved to be a little more problematic. Endino was approached by the band to produce their debut album, but DGC, the band's label, was reluctant to use him. "Krist was like, 'They won't let us work with you because they don't want it to sound like Bleach,"' says Endino. "I wouldn't either, but it doesn't do me any good!" When the label's choice of producer, Ric Ocasek, turned the project down, Endino again expressed his interest. "I was like, 'Well, I'd love to do it, and if you want me to do it, call me. But I understand the position you're in.' And Krist was very apologetic about the whole thing."
The band had already made a complete album length demo at Robert Lang Studios, and has recorded material at at least one other Seattle studio, Soundhouse. Their album was recorded at A&M Studios in California, with Paul Fox producing. Rieflin, who recorded with the group, has since left, as he was uninterested in touring.
That spring saw the release of Mike Watt's solo album, Ball-Hog Or Tugboat?, on Columbia. Every track was embellished by guest appearances, including not only Grohl and Novoselic (Grohl on "Big Train" and Grohl and Novoselic on "Against the 70's") and Pat Smear (on "Forever—One Reporter's Opinion"), but also Eddie Vedder, Mark Lanegan, Thurston Moore, and an answer-machine message from Kathleen Hanna (the Grohl and Novoselic tracks were also recorded at Robert Lang Studios). In addition to being released on CD and cassette, the album was released as a double vinyl set, and in a limited edition CD package, a 10-inch by five-and-a-half inch folder. Watt went on a spring tour to promote the record, with Foo Fighters as one of the opening acts.
In June, Foo Fighters released their first single, in the U.K. (a U.S. single would not be released until 1996). "Exhausted" was released in three formats; as a 7-inch b/w "Winnebago," an outtake from the original Foo Fighters tape (on both black and red vinyl), and the 12-inch (a limited pressing of 1000 on glow in the dark vinyl) and CD adding "Podunk," another outtake from the tape. In the U.S., a promo 12-inch of "Exhausted"/"Winnebago" was released.
That summer also saw the release of the Stinky Puffs' A Little Tiny Smelly Bit of Something Smells Funny in Here on Elemental, on CD only. The album features both studio and live versions of the same four songs ("Buddies Aren't Butts," "Menendez' Killed Their Parents," "I'll Love You Anyway," and "I Am Gross!/No You're Not!") the live tracks being the versions recorded at the 1994 Yo Yo A Go Go Festival (the ninth track, "Pizza Break," is another studio track). Another version of "I'll Love You Anyway" appears on the Stinky Puffs' latest release, Songs and Advice for Kids Who Have Been Left Behind. Though no Nirvana members appear on the record, it does feature a picture of Cobain on the cover, and is dedicated to Frances Bean Cobain.
The self-titled Foo Fighters album was finally released on July 4; photos on the inside sleeve were all taken from the band's first public gigs, in Portland (Grohl wearing the dark t-shirt) and Seattle (Grohl wearing the wool t-shirt). Promo CDs of the album were available, along with a promo CD of "This Is a Call." The album reached #23 in the Billboard charts. The Australian version of the album has six extra tracks; the Japanese version has two.
In August, Foo Fighters' second single, "I'll Stick Around," was released in the U.K.; the bonus tracks were taken from another Laundry Room session. The 7-inch (on red vinyl) was b/w "How I Miss You," and the 12-inch and CD added "Ozone."
In October, Charles Peterson's first book, Screaming Life: A Chronicle of the Seattle Music Scene was published. Though Peterson's photos had appeared in a number of publications (as well as Come As You Are), Screaming Life was a more comprehensive look at the Northwest rock scene, with photos of a number of different acts. The book featured photos from nearly every session Peterson did with Nirvana. Initial copies of the book also included a nine-track CD, which included Nirvana's "Negative Creep."
In November, the third Foo Fighters single, "For All the Cows," was released, the bonus tracks taken from the band's performance at the 1995 Reading Festival [England]. The 7-inch was b/w "Wattershed," and the 12-inch and CD added "For All the Cows." That same month, a box set of Nirvana's U.K. singles was released, including "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Come As You Are," "Lithium," "In Bloom," "Heart-Shaped Box," and "All Apologies."
1996 would see the official release of a number of live Nirvana tracks, beginning with a version of "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" included on the benefit compilation Home Alive: The Art of Self-Defense, released in January on Epic. The album took its name from the Seattle-based group Home Alive, formed in the wake of Mia Zapata's murder. Home Alive regularly offers self-defense courses, and has attracted national attention due to the involvement of Seattle rock musicians like 7 Year Bitch. "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," was taken from a performance from February 18, 1994 in Grenoble, France.
In March, Nevermind was released as a gold CD and on high quality vinyl by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab; the fact that gold, and not aluminum is used in the CDs is supposed to make them more resistant to decomposition, and Mobile Fidelity's mastering technique also enhances the sound. Ironically, the catalog number for this disc ended up being "UDCD 666." "That's exactly where it fell!" says Karen Thomas, a publicist for Mobile Fidelity. "I went into the mastering department, the guys who give the releases the numbers, and I went, 'You guys, come on!' And they just looked at me completely straight and said, 'That's where it fell.'"
More curious was the typo that appeared on the album cover. "All of the copy came from Geffen, on a disc, and we just put it in the computer so we didn't have to retype anything,"' says Thomas. "The CD booklet came out fine. And then here comes the LP, and on one part of it says 'Produced by Butch Vig and 'Virvana.' When somebody called us saying 'Were you guys playing a joke? Did you know this mistake was on here?' we didn't have a clue! Because we didn't even retype anything. Is that bizarre! It was spooky." Though not noted on the cover, the CD does have "Endless, Nameless." In Utero was released by Mobile Fidelity in January '97; if not available in store, you can find Mobile Fidelity products at their website, http://www.mofi.com.
March saw the release of another Foo Fighters single, "Big Me," this time released in the U.S. and U.K. In the U.S., the CD featured all the bonus tracks that had appeared on the Foo Fighters previous U.K. singles: "Winnebago," "How I Miss You," "Podunk," "Ozone," and live versions of "For All the Cows" and "Wattershed" (these six tracks also appeared on their own on an Australian EP). In the U.K., the bonus tracks were drawn from a radio session recorded for the B.B.C. on November 23; "Floaty," "Gas Chamber," and "Alone and Easy Target."
The video for "Big Me," a take-off on commercials for Mentos mints, would go on to win three awards at the 18th Annual Billboard Music Video Awards: Clip of the Year, Best New Artist (alternative/modern rock), and the Maximum Vision Award, and an award at last year's MTV Music Videos Awards. Foo Fighters' cover of Gary Numan's "Down in the Park" turned up on a compilation released the same month, Songs in the Key of X: The X-Files Soundtrack, on Warner Bros. Another soundtrack, featuring instrumentals, was released at the same time: The Truth and the Light: Music for the X-Files. Only the former disc has the Foo Fighters track.
In May, an alternate version of Hole's "Live Through This" surfaced on KNDD. The take features Cobain singing during the track, and was recorded during the "Live Through This" sessions. A DGC rep confirmed that Cobain sang "on a couple of songs" during the sessions, but denies that his involvement went any further than that. KNDD obtained the tape from a source close to the band; other stations around the country taped it from KNDD and began airing it themselves.
This past summer , Yo Yo A Go Go, a compilation of live tracks from the 1994 festival, was released on Yoyo, including the Stinky Puffs' "I Love You Anyway" with Grohl and Novoselic. Finally, on October 1, 1996, came the long-awaited live Nirvana album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah. Advance cassettes were released, with CD promos available along with a promo CD single of "Aneurysm." The album became the third Nirvana release to enter the Billboard charts at #1, with first week sales of 158,000 copies. Novoselic wrote the liner notes, and the album was also released as a double vinyl set (packaged in a single sleeve), the fourth side consisting of banter with the audiences.
The majority of the 17 tracks were taken from the Nevermind tour of 1991, though there were two tracks from '89, one from '92, three from '93, and one from '94. [Lousy track selection by Krist - the In Utero tour was their best IMHO - Jen]. The latter date is incorrectly identified as being from the Seattle Center Arena, January 5, 1994; the band's shows were January 7 and 8. Though it might have served the group better to present a complete live show, Wishkah did offer a good look at Nirvana's more raucous side.
October also saw the release of Hype!, the soundtrack for the film of the same name, on Sub Pop; Nirvana's track was "Negative Creep." On November 5, the soundtrack was released as a vinyl box set, with four singles and a poster. The Nirvana track appears on a green disc, also with the Wipers' "Return of the Rat" and a live version of Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick."
Hype!, which received limited release in October, was a documentary about the evolution of the "Seattle Scene." One of the most electrifying moments in the film is Nirvana's performance of "Teen Spirit" at the O.K. Hotel in Seattle in April '90. Its inclusion was a coup for the film's director, Doug Pray, as he hadn't been able to get an interview with Nirvana. "Krist met with me about a year into the project, and he looked at footage," he says. "I think he didn't know what to do. Because I think honestly Kurt wanted nothing to do with this documentary. I can't speak for him, it's just my theory that at that point, why would he want anything? It doesn't matter if it's cool or wrong or good or bad, it's just nothing. He didn't want anything like that. But believe me, I sent plenty of letters and sneaking notes through friends and friends of friends and tapes and everything I could! I just wanted to know that they'd at least seen what I was trying to do and understood the spirit of it. And then if they said no, that's totally fine."
The "Teen Spirit" footage was finally acquired through a local filmmaker who had filmed the show. "It's really cool that there is that video footage because Kurt's so alive and that's cool," says Pray. "And without it, before we had that Nirvana footage, it was a little sad because we only had black and white shots of people talking about him and people mourning his loss, his death. It's cool, I think, to have something, even a minute or two, which is all it is, of him just playing."'
One video that did come out at the end of the year  was Teen Spirit: The Tribute to Kurt Cobain, on PolyGram Video. The hour-long documentary combines footage of Aberdeen and Seattle with interviews from journalists, associates, and fans. There is no live Nirvana footage, though there are interviews with the band. Though haphazardly edited, Teen Spirit does offer an interesting, if brief, overview of its subject. The cover features some of Charles Peterson's shots from the January '93 Advocate shoot.
December saw the release of another Grohl-related project, dating back to 1990—Harlingtox Angel Divine (a.k.a. Harlingtox A.D.). "Harlingtox A.D. basically was me and Dave and this guy Tos Nieuwenhuizen who's a friend of ours; he used to be in a band called God," says Barrett Jones. "The three of us basically in two days [in April '90] just came up with some music and recorded it at one of my studios, the last one I had in Arlington. And then a week or two later, we ran into this friend of ours, Bruce Merkle, he played in this band called 9353, downtown at a club. And sort of as an afterthought we said, 'Hey, we just recorded some music. Do you want to sing on it?' So we gave him a tape and he took a while and figured out the lyrics. Then we put it on. And that's pretty much how it came about.
"We never played all four of us at the same time, ever," Jones continues. "Never been a band, never did anything else except record this one tape. I always thought it was so great that it needed to get out somehow at some point. And I waited for the right time until I had the means and the time and the money to do it. It's an interesting little novelty item." The self-titled EP consists of five songs, and was released on Jones's new label, the appropriately named Laundry Room Records. One track from the EP, "Recycled Children Never to Be Grown," was also included on a promo CD.
"I've been involved in just about every single aspect there is in the music business," Jones explains. "Officially I'm not really running the label; Justin's [Goldberg, formerly a Sony A&R rep] doing all the business things that I don't want to deal with. I didn't expect it to expand as quickly as it is right now. The whole philosophy is to not go overboard with things and just get the bands involved as much as possible and teach them as much as possible 'cause really in this world of music that we're in, there's really no support for young bands who are learning."
As 1997 begins, there are already a number of Nirvana-related projects on the horizon. Sweet 75's album will probably be released in the spring, along with Foo Fighters' second album (recorded at Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville, one of Seattle's neighboring towns). Grohl may also appear on the soundtrack for the upcoming film First Love Last Rites. But the release of Wishkah has many speculating that the album will be the final Nirvana release. In fact, there are any number of tracks in the vaults to be considered for future release, but Jim Merlis says there are no plans for any Nirvana releases at the moment, adding, "You just want to make sure there's good quality in what you do. You don't want to scrape the barrel. You don't want to put stuff out that the band never meant for anyone to hear, like rough demos. There's a legacy of the band and you don't want to ruin that."
Of course, collectors have already been plundering the realm of demos and live releases for many years, and this interest extends to non-music items as well. This past September, the Executive Collectibles Gallery "Rock & Reel '96" auction not only featured such items as Nirvana autographs and backstage passes, but such ephemera as a "Publishers Clearinghouse" sweepstakes entry form sent to Cobain's house (the name misspelled "Covain"), a medical bill, an empty hair dye bottle, and an empty prescription bottle (for Ampicillin). All the items sold.
With a market so eager to snap up anything related to Nirvana, it's safe to assume some kind of official release will be forthcoming (a collection of the band's videos, embellished by their various television appearances, could be an obvious choice). And with both Grohl and Novoselic still active musicians, we're guaranteed a variety of releases in the years to come.
[Note that the sales numbers mentioned in these articles date from early-1996 or earlier. US RIAA certifications currently show even higher numbers.]