A media stink erupts over the band's new album - and who's in charge.
By Fred Goodman.
The storm over the as-yet-untitled album began in April when alternative-hardcore producer Steve Albini ó who has worked with the Pixies, Helmet, Superchunk and PJ Harvey ó told the Chicago Tribune he doubted Nirvanaís label, the Geffen-owned DGC, would release an album he had cut with the band the previous month. "Geffen and the bandís management hate the record," Albini said, adding that he had "no faith this record will be released."
Although Albiniís remarks drew no immediate response from the group or its label, a subsequent and similar story in Newsweek did. "There has been no pressure from our record label to change the tracks we did with Albini," Nirvanaís Kurt Cobain said in a prepared statement. "We have 100-percent control of our music."
Producers Scott Litt, best known for his work with R.E.M., and Andy Wallace, who remixed Nevermind, have been called in to work on the tapes. But the band, its label and its management say no attempt has been made to quash the recordings. "Itís a bunch of horseshit," says Geffen A&R executive Gary Gersh, who signed the band to DGC. "The band felt they should be doing some more work, and I agreed with them. I did think that the sound of the record needed some work. We asked Steve to do the work; he refused. The picture Steve paints ó that some big corporate conglomerate has glopped onto Nirvanaís legs ó is just not true. Kurt Cobain is like my son."
Albini now sounds conciliatory. "I enjoyed working on the record and admire the band," he says. "Iíve thought from the beginning that the band should just make their feelings known, and Iím glad that they have."
Although the members of Nirvana wouldnít speak directly with the press óan employee of their management company, Gold Mountain Entertainment, said the band wanted to concentrate on finishing the album ó they seem to be extraordinarily concerned about the coverage Albiniís remarks have generated. A copy of a letter to the editor of Newsweek signed by Cobain and band mates Dave Grohl and Chris Novoselic repudiating the magazine's story was also circulated to the press and, in an unusual move, placed as an advertisement in the music-business trade journal Billboard.
Why all the concern? In portraying the recordings he cut with the band as too uncompromising to suit the tastes of Geffen or Gold Mountain, Albini appears to have put Nirvana on the spot. Despite the huge commercial success of Nevermind, which sold more than 4 million copies, the band remains a credible alternative-music act. But Nirvanaís next album is sure to be closely scrutinized for any signs of commercial compromise, and Albini's remarks seemed to suggest that any changes the band makes in those recordings will be a result of caving in to commercial pressures from the bandís label and management.
Danny Goldberg, the founder of Gold Mountain and now a senior vice-president of Atlantic Records, was blistering in his response to Albiniís remarks. "Steve Albini takes the position that anything he thinks is good is good, that heís David Koresh," says Goldberg, who remains a management consultant for Nirvana. "He is God, and he knows whatís good. And if the artist doesnít like it, then the artist is somehow selling out because they donít agree with his personal vision."
Goldberg, however, declines to say what he thought of the recordings when he first heard them or what opinions he or anyone else at Gold Mountain may have offered to the band.
"Youíre asking [me] to go on the record about intimate private conversations," Goldberg says. "I donít convey my conversations with the artists I work with to anybody. But the band can get advice from anyone they want. Iíve never been involved with an album by any artist where the artist and their friends and the people who work with them did not discuss it openly and play devilís advocate and go back and forth on the pluses and minuses of the album. That is a healthy process. Who Nirvana chooses to talk to is up to them. What kind of conversations they want to have is up to them."
Says Albini: "Iím happy to let the band speak for themselves. What I or Danny Goldberg have to say doesnít matter."
Nirvanaís album is slated for an early fall release.