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Cobain on Cobain
Interviews and Encounters
By Nick Soulsby
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2016 Nick Soulsby
All rights reserved.
HAIR SWINGING NEANDERTHALS
Phil West | February 25, 1989 | Daily (US)
I had the great fortune to be covering music for the Daily (the University of Washington's student newspaper) when Sub Pop was beginning its campaign to put Seattle on the map. I'd met Nirvana once before the interview, one evening having gone over to the apartment of a woman named Tamera who seemed to be helping manage them. Kurt, Chris, and Chad were sitting cross-legged around a turntable in the middle of her living room, transfixed by Black Sabbath's "Into the Void." I relayed that story to a Daily writer on the tenth anniversary of Cobain's death, but the writer misheard and reported they'd been sitting on stairs, which isn't as good a story.
I did the interview at Sub Pop's offices in February 1989 — back when the label was in an eleventh-floor office in an art deco building in Belltown. Tamera had given me their early demo tape a few weeks before the interview, and it was getting heavy rotation on my Walkman. The interview was with Kurt and Jason Everman, who'd just joined the band and would be included on the live photo on the cover of Bleach — released just over three months after the interview — even though he didn't play on the record. We did the interview in a side room of the office that was being used for storage. No chairs; we just sat on the floor.
Kurt (who was spelling it Kurdt at the time) didn't say much throughout the interview, but what he did say was funny, to the point, and quotable in the context of how Sub Pop was packaging itself, and I ended up using pretty much everything he said in the article. I could tell he was sort of bemused that someone was interested enough in the band to interview them. Jason talked most of the time, but I only used a couple of his quotes at the very end of the interview; as it turns out, Jason would eventually have the distinction of being kicked out of both Nirvana and Soundgarden. — Phil West
Nirvana transcends all the pretensions that go along with being rock stars. They come across as the type of earthy psycho scums you wished you could beat up in high school. They view music as a trend, think the SubPop movement is sincere but "the ultimate rehash" and "the last wave of rock music," and singer/guitarist/group founder Kurdt Kobain, on the average, listens to three records a month. They started out in ultimate hick-town Aberdeen, and their current Olympia base hardly qualifies them for urban art hipness.
Although Nirvana looks like nothing special in this context, they could be the greatest contribution that Seattle's grunge-oriented SubPop Records makes to society. Kurdt originated the Nirvana sound during high school days in Aberdeen.
"I wasn't thriving socially, so I stayed in my room and played guitar all the time," he said. "At the time, I thought I was inventing a new sound that would change the whole outlook of music. I've discovered in the last few years that it was just the Seattle SubPop sound."
The core of their sound is based in primal Black Sabbath and Stooges punk/metal riffing, but it carries a dark, raw, earthy, grungy tone that separates them from their labelmates. Kurdt, after a long pause, decided their music has a "gloomy, vengeful element based on hatred."
A lot of this is rooted in his adolescent small-town experiences."In Aberdeen, I hated my best friends with a passion, because they were idiots. A lot of that hatred is still leaking through."
It's not all hatred though. Their debut album, Bleach, contains two straight-ahead, blow-pop tunes that attest to Kurdt's feeling that things are going his way. This newfound positivity has led to a "gay pop songs phase that will eventually die," yet they'll probably write more of them on the next album.
Most of Bleach contains the style which made SubPop seek the band out, after a demo that Kurdt and bassist Chris Novoselic did with the drummer from Aberdeen's SubPop predecessors, the Melvins. The album, like their initial demos, is a full mix of heavy dirge songs, which new guitarist Jason Everman has the most fun with, upbeat power grunge, guttural lyrics, scream-singing and to-the-point titles like "Swap Meet" and "Negative Creep."
Lyrics range from simple repetition about rural hick-jerks to detailed narratives of horror-torture. The end effect, epitomized in their live shows, channels Kurdt's subversive intellect into an aggressive release, while they purge themselves in search of the great exalted god riff. Even during shows like a recent Annex Theater show marred by failing equipment and an overzealous crowd slamming into the broken monitors, they lock into a larger-than-life sound on every song.
Although a national tour is planned and a wave of positive press is following them, they remain mostly unaffected. Chris and drummer Chad Channing still work as dishwashers, Jason is living off savings from four years of "commercial fishing hell," and Kurdt lives off his "nice, sweet, and wonderful" girlfriend.
"I'd like to live off the band," Kurdt said, "but if not, I'll just retire to Mexico or Yugoslavia with a few hundred dollars, grow potatoes, and learn the history of rock through back issues of Creem magazine."
But if Nirvana does become part of the last wave of rock, what will replace them? "I don't think we'll have to worry," Jason said.
Kurdt's a little more nihilistic. "If it was up to me, I'd get more oil tanker drivers drunk," he said. "I don't value music much. I like the Beatles, but I hate Paul McCartney. I like Led Zeppelin, but I hate Robert Plant. I like the Who, but I hate Roger Daltrey."CHAPTER 2
ON THE SUBS BENCH: NIRVANA
John Robb | March 1989 | Sounds (UK)
In early 1989, John Robb — then of Sounds — initiated the first contact between the bands of the Sub Pop scene and the UK music media, who would prove to be their most fervent supporters and boosters in those early days. The article is precisely what one would expect to find in relation to a band barely out of the starting gates — short, to-the-point, direct. Funnily enough, it was originally published on the same day that the next interview took place. Robb's latest endeavor is the Louder Than War online magazine, where some of the footage of this very early encounter between the press and Cobain can be seen. — Ed.
THE POTENTIAL trump card in Sub Pop's pack, Nirvana have created one primed to thrill single so far.
The grubby pop delights of their guitar maelstrom 7-inch, "Love Buzz," were quickly chewed up by clued-in punters.
But now, with Sub Pop achieving a higher profile, and Nirvana ready to hurl their debut LP at a fawning nation, things could move faster.
Frontman, Kurt Kobain explains: "The album is similar to the single in song material, but we've recorded it a lot rawer. It sounds better — harder. The single seems so commercial now. But it's bound to be, since it's a cover of the Shocking Blue song." And that's the Shocking Blue who gave Bananarama their "Venus" hit.
But what's this fuss about Seattle? Last year it was home town to Jimi "Six Fingers" Hendrix's remains and the Petrol's Steve Mack, but nothing else. Now there's an infatuation with the place.
"It's because we are secluded, out on a limb up here. The local scene has always had an element of rock in it, but it's been a gloomy element.
"That's why I reckon you guys in the UK like it — because your rock is on the gloomy side too. Maybe it's the weather — we have the same sort of miserable climate as you have!"
Nirvana's LP, "Bleach," is due out next month, and they play their first major US tour to promote it. Hopefully they'll reach Europe in September.
If Nirvana can maintain the standards set by "Love Buzz" the four-piece could well find themselves at the vanguard of guitar pop noise at its best.CHAPTER 3
"IT'S THE CLASSIC PUNK ROCK RAGS-TO-RICHES STORY"
Hanmi Hubbard | April 22, 1989 Current (US)
The first time I saw Nirvana was at the HUB Ballroom in February 1989. I had second-degree burns on my hand, which was all bandaged up, and I was heavily medicated. I went to the show with a group of friends and promised I'd stay in the back, away from the crowd, and most certainly out of the mosh pit. But the pull of Nirvana's performance — the perfect mix of ear-candy pop and raw angst — was too much for me to resist. I soon found myself standing right in front of Kurt Cobain, marveling at his immense stage presence while clutching my injured hand to my heart as if pledging my allegiance. I was certain he was seven feet tall. And I had a new favorite band.
I interviewed all four band members at Kurt's house in Olympia for the Current, Green River Community College's student newspaper. I was barely seventeen, had only two interviews under my belt, and truly didn't know what the hell I was doing. The band actually asked me if I'd done an interview before, then gave me a tip for recording group interviews. We sat in Kurt and Tracy's [Tracy Marander, Kurt's girlfriend] living room, and the television was playing heavy metal videos with the sound off. Occasional non sequitur comments were made about the videos throughout the interview. Despite the sometimes sardonic answers the band members gave me, they were very kind and said it was probably their best interview to date. I kept in touch with Kurt after the interview, and when he found out how young I was, he said I should write a book about my life story. Oh, the irony.
Kurt granted my request for a copy of the band's demo tape, and Nirvana played a show at my school. With the tape and the contract, he included a note that read:
Yo, this contract is a relief of details compared to the Sub Pop agreement I just signed. Three LPs and three long years. I feel as if I've signed my life away.
Thanks for being so prompt in sending the official documents.
We're looking forward to seeing you on the 26th.
Bye for now.
PS. this is how I really spell my name.
— Hanmi Hubbard
Tracy Marander: The cat was playing with it earlier ...
Hanmi Hubbard: OK, hmm ... How long ago did you guys form, as a band?
Kurt Cobain: Jesus Christ ...
Chris Novoselic: Maybe we should say our names so you recognize our voices — you ever done this before?
HH: Yeah ... But then again it was just people I knew, so —
CN: Usually when we do a recorded interview —
KC: Yeah, when we do a recorded interview it's always like one person's statement meshes with the others. And then it's just one person's —
Chad Channing: Well, you're more apt to answer that because you guys were in the band way before me and Jason.
Jason Everman: Yeah ... Let's let Chris answer.
CC: Whatever year and title you give off is gonna do it.
JE: Yeah, we'll agree.
CC: Back in 1880 —
CN: 1987 —
KC: As a band, we've been around for about a year. Chris and I, in Aberdeen, had been trying to form a band for about ... gee ... four years? Would you count "Bob"as a band, sure?
JE: Are we gonna say our names and stuff?
HH: Yeah, we could do that.
CC: You had a band called "Bob"?
JE: Jason Everman — guitar!
CC: Chad ... And I play drums.
CN: I'm Chris, the bass player.
KC: I'm Kurt, the crooner.
JE: Who does that leave?
CN: And gee-tar picker ...
HH: So who was originally in the band?
CN: Us two, but like, three drummers. Is Bob in? Should we count Bob?
KC: It doesn't ... Let's just say three drummers.
CN: Yeah, three drummers.
KC: They all had moustaches.
CN: Yeah, that was weird. Dale [Crover, of the Melvins — Ed.] didn't have a moustache.
KC: Oh! Dale counts too. We've had four drummers. And Dale was like an honorary member of Nirvana forever — he's gotten the golden plaque. He's even going to be mentioned on the record because he plays on two tracks.
HH: Where'd you form — Aberdeen?
KC: No, as Nirvana we formed in Olympia and Tacoma.
HH: When did Bruce Pavitt first become interested in the band?
CN: How's he interested?
KC: Well, actually it was Jonathan [Poneman, of Sub Pop — Ed.] that was working on us for a while. (HH: When?) Almost about a year ago; in fact, during the time when we were having troubles with our other drummer we were kind of negotiating with Sub Pop to put out a single, but we weren't quite ready. But we weren't quite ready to be a band, to be a permanent band, 'cause they weren't really sure if we were going to stick together or not so they needed some insurance. So we got Chad and played a few shows and ... [Kurt yawns — all chuckle] so we got Chad and played a few shows and —
CC: And it worked out!
KC: And that's our insurance. So then we put out a single.
HH: So, OK, like, the four of you as you are now have been in Nirvana about a year now, then?
JE: Me and Chad played in a band together, a speed metal band called Stone Crow. Like four years ago.
CC: Did you know question number five?
CC: That's what it is — what your earlier bands were.
JE: Yeah, I pretty much read it. I'm gonna screw up the whole thing.
CC: No, it'll be like, you answer it, and we'll see if the question's right.
JE: You could just, like, put that answer after that question and pretend like I answered it on time.
HH: Were the two of you in any other bands?
CN: No ...
KC: Well, we played under different names. We actually played shows with our ... second drummer. Under such names as Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew —
KC: Bliss —
CC: More names than I can count!
KC: Yeah, we were just known as the band that changed their name.
CN: Every show!
KC: Every show.
JE: It was a gimmick.
CC: I was in a band called Magnet Men, which is how I met those guys.
CN and KC: Yeah!
JE: Yeah, I don't — I did meet you guys at that show, that's right! Because —
KC: We played with you, and our drummer had such a crappy drum set that he borrowed yours.
CN: Yeah, and sho'nuff ... we were amazed when we seen the North drum set. So fuckin' far out, man.
HH: Who would you say has influenced your music?
CC: Mass ...
CN: Mass ...
KC: Too much ...
JE: Personal influences?
HH: Personal or other artists.
KC: Well, before I knew better I imagine Led Zeppelin [all chuckle] ...
CC: The Pixies ...
KC: The Melvins. The Melvins really influenced me because they lived in Aberdeen, and I watched a lot of their practices. [Hanmi shows the band that the next question on the list is about the Melvins.]
CN: This is weirrrrd, man.
KC: The Aquaman circles are coming out of the woodwork ...
CC: Yeah, Malfunkshun, they were on the island.
JE: Me and Chad have the big Malfunkshun influence ... 'Cause they're, like, older than us and a cool band, and we pretty much worshipped them.
KC: Basically I was a rocker-stoner. And then I got into punk rock, and now I'm into both.
JE: I was a rocker. Then I was a punker. Then I was an ... idiot. Well, I was always an idiot.
KC: We've just always had identity crises. We don't belong!
JE: Just don't fit.
HH: Do you listen to any bands that have a particular style that may surprise your fans or people that listen to your music?
JE: I listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop. NWA.
KC: I like a lot of clean pop like the Vaselines and Beat Happening. Chad likes the Young Marble Giants — ooh, I answered for him!
JE: Oooh ...
CC: Oh, they're great, I don't care.
HH: [Giggles.] Your turn.
CN: I like bands with big fat drummers. Just whatever tape's laying in my van, I'll play it.
Excerpted from Cobain on Cobain by Nick Soulsby. Copyright © 2016 Nick Soulsby. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
PART I. FEBRUARY TO JUNE 1989 — FLEDGLINGS,
PART II. SEPTEMBER TO NOVEMBER 1989 — OLD NEW WORLD,
PART III. JANUARY TO AUGUST 1990 — UNDERGROUND DARLINGS,
PART IV. OCTOBER TO NOVEMBER 1990 — UK RISING,
PART V. MARCH TO OCTOBER 1991 — ONE TO WATCH,
PART VI. NOVEMBER TO DECEMBER 1991 — THE DELUGE,
PART VII. JANUARY TO FEBRUARY 1992 — SULLENNESS,
PART VIII. MARCH TO SEPTEMBER 1992 — REST AND RESUSCITATION,
PART IX. OCTOBER 1992 TO JANUARY 1993 — NADIR,
PART X. MAY TO DECEMBER 1993 — DAMAGE CONTROL,
PART XI. FEBRUARY TO APRIL 1994 — THE REST IS SILENCE,
About the Contributors,