Kurt Cobain interview
By Mike Gitter.
Chris Novoselic, Nirvana bassman and moody malcontent is upset by the Hollywood Palladium's choice of backstage beverages.
The venue hasn't taken into account Nirvana's objection to a well-known US brewery owner's alleged history of right wing, anti-gay and anti-Communist activity. Last night's entertainment, Latin American 'sensation' Gerardo, didn't seem to mind.
Nirvana do. They've been driving for the past seven hours from last night's gig in San Francisco and they're thirsty. But adamant, politically correct and unassuaged.
Mind you, Nirvana probably wouldn't mind a corporate beer sponsorship.
The bottom line with this trio from the trailer-park of Aberdeen, Washington is that they care. A lot. Not as a matter of convenience like REM, whom they hold in high regard, but as a day-to-day underlying ethos.
Goateed manager John Silva (who also handles the career of concerned buffalo owner Neil Young) knows this all too well and immediately heads off to rectify the situation at hand.
A roadie is handed some cash and heads out in search of a case of apolitical Budweiser instead.
Apathy is a stance that just doesn't register for Nirvana. Anyone familiar with their Sub-Pop 'Bleach' album can instantly recognize the feeling of outrage with which they alchemize pure pop into pure sound, pure noise.
Nor is the trio's grungaloid promise sweetened or abated on 'Never Mind', their Andy (Slayer) Wallace-mixed Geffen major label debut. Nirvana are still Nirvana: dealing in catchy pop songs set to furiously heavy riffs.
Tempers and instruments fly. Frontman Kurdt Kobain wrestles with his guitar, shucking off glorious feedback, howling his belief in the sanctity of relationships and his contempt for the average American jerk. Chris pogos like a man on a live wire whilst gangly drum-god Cave Grohl (ex-Scream) is a blur of rhythmic zest.
Nirvana are it. The shit. The beef. The most likely to succeed. The Seattle band destined to go where no current or ex-Sub-Popper has gone before.
Songs like 'In Bloom', 'Drain You', or 'Teen Spirit' are that good.
Are Nirvana really just reluctant pop gods?
"We're a very, very heavy pop band," Kurdt shoots back. "Like if Cheap Trick were to have a lot of distortion in their guitars. That's about the closest you can get to it - if anything, we still consider ourselves a punk rock band."
"Yeah, punk rock just like Foghat, Pure Prairie League, Poco, Toto, Yoko Ono!" Chris guffaws. "Definitely punkier than Al-do No-va!"
"The Beatles and Black Sabbath are probably my two biggest influences," Kurdt confesses. "I listened to both of them at the same time when I was a little kid in fourth grade, hanging around with a lot of older kids in the trailer park where my dad lived. In the Summer, they would come over to our trailer when Dad wasn't home to smoke pot, screw their girlfriends and listen to records. They turned me onto a lot of really cool hard rock at a really young age."
"Not to mention, about a week before we recorded 'Bleach' we were listening to this tape that had Celtic Frost on one side and the Smithereens on the other," Chris adds. "How could we deny the influence?"
All in their early 20s, Nirvana's three members are prime examples of disenfranchised American youth. Before forming Nirvana in 1987, Kurdt was the only punk in the US logging town of Aberdeen, a brain-dead and uglier-than-'Twin Peaks' setting he describes as "totally secluded from any culture at wall with nothing but recknecks and guns and booze.
"I never had a friend my whole time living in Aberdeen," Kobain recalls. "I don't know why. I knew I was different. I thought that I might be gay or something because I couldn't identify with any of the guys at all. None of them liked art or music, they just wanted to fight and get laid. It was many years ago but it gave me this real hatred for the average American macho male."
"I still have those feelings towards those people," Kobain maintains. "I always will. I don't feel sorry for them or feel that they're particularly misguided. I just think they're uneducated dickheads. There's a lot of them and they aren't just in Aberdeen. They're everywhere. I was really surprised to find them in New York City, which is supposed to be a really cultured place. I thought that it was only in logging communities that these people existed. They're all over and I enjoy hating them."
Son is Nirvana intrinsically a 'Revenge of the Nerds' proposition?
"That'd be an easy thing to say," he smiles. "I'd rather be an adult, saying that I just want to ignore it and go on. I have to admit that there's a lot of hatred still there. It's revenge for me, yeah. I'm also not going to stop talkin' about it. There are a lot of people in the entertainment industry who really, really offend me, like Andrew Dice Clay. I find him really offensive. The guy's an asshole. A stupid fuck."
So what's wrong out there? Why's the Dice-man struck a chord out there with so many like-minded folks?
"They don't pay teachers enough," believes Dave Grohl, the latest in a long line of Nirvana drummers. "My mom's an English teacher and she doesn't get paid shit. She's an excellent teacher. High schools in America are just breeding morons."
"There's no way that just because we're on a major label now, surrounded by people who know him and like him, I'm going to stop talkin' about how much I hate people like that," Kurdt continues, still worked up. "They should be shot."
Unwilling to compromise for a major label, Nirvana claim they didn't need one all that bad, either.
"It was just something to do. For a while we were thinking about putting out the record ourselves," Kurdt says. "Punk was mainstream when it first hit - the Sex Pistols were on a major label right away. They sold hundreds of thousands of records. That's what they started out as - a commodity."
Besides, with Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone (now Pearl Jam) signed off to the land of corporate big-time, and Tad and Fluid both seeking similar pricey deals, the dream that was SubPop Seattle is dead. Gloomatopia is (sadly) no more.
"They all came sniffing," Chris snickers. "MCA, Capitol, Charisma, Columbia, Slash, Polydor, PolyGram... all the Polys."
And the victor? DGC.
"Geffen had a good track record (particularly with Nirvana's pals Sonic Youth); they understand our boundaries. They gave us total artistic control and don't seem to want us to do anything that'll damage our credibility," says Kurdt. "Plus, it's nice to get our records distributed better - like in K-Mart!"
The budget was a meagre $250,000; enough to re-record an intended sophomore Sub-Pop release (currently a hip item on the tape trading circuit) with US noise production guru Butch (Laughing Hyenas, Smashing Pumpkins) Vig and Slayer engineer Andy Wallace.
"Andy used the magic dust, man!" Novoselic beams. "He stole Slayer's soul and now they're soulless! We have their souls now."
They paid off Sub-Pop, hired a few lawyers and accountants and "now we have $20,000 to live off of for the next two years!" Dave howls.
"It'd be nice for a 15-year-old kid in Aberdeen to have the choice of buying a record from a band like us," Kurdt adds. "That wasn't an opportunity I had when I was growing up. I remember reading about the Sex Pistols and the Clash in old Creem magazines, and when I was finally able to find a Clash record at the library, it was 'Sandanista'! They'd already become a lame reggae band! It really turned me off punk until Black Flag came along and rescued me from my Iron Maiden records!"
Post-gig Kurdt, Chris and Dave are backstage, bathed in sweat from their biggest and most memorable LA gig to date. Echoes of headliners Dinosaur Jr's cenozoic plod compete with the voices of friends and fans scoffing up the politically kosher Budweiser. It's the usual Nirvana after-gig, save the presence of one moustachioed Metallican and fervent Nirvana-fan, Kirk Hammett, who's slobbering to Kurdt: "You guys are my favorite band!"
Cool. So about that opening slot, Kirkie-babe?
Now there's a thought - and with the monumental buzzdom surrounding these trailer-park revolutionaries, not exactly an unimaginable scenario.
"Yeah, that'd be cool," Kobain trails off, not really giving a shit either way. You get the feelings that Nirvana's motivations run a whole lot deeper than that.
"We're entertainers, that's all we are," Kurdt insists. "That's what music is - entertainment. The more you put yourself into it, the more of you comes out of it. You can't help but hear a little of your own personality screaming out sometimes."