LiveNIRVANA.com > Interview Archive > 1993 > July 22, 1993 - New York, NY, US

LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE:
July 22, 1993 - New York, NY, US

Interviewer(s)

  • Jon Savage

Interviewee(s)

  • Kurt Cobain

Sources:

Medium Publisher Date of Issue Title Transcript
Print The Observer 08/15/1993 Sounds Dirty: The Truth About Nirvana Yes
Print Guitar World 10/01/1996 Kurt Cobain: The Lost Interview Yes
Audio BBC2 18/02/2007 The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain TBC
Audio iTunes 05/04/2012 Kurt Cobain Interviewed By Jon Savage Yes
Print Mojo 09/XX/2013 Live Through This TBC

Transcript:

Situated on 51st Street and Broadway, in the heart of the old entertainment area, Roseland is a New York institution. In the 1920s it was the city's largest dance hall - 'The downtown headquarters for such urban dance steps as the Lindy and the Shag,' according to a contemporary guide - but the formerly plush decor has been stripped and painted black for tonight's more brutal conditions of entertainment. The dance floor is a war zone: a simulated war zone to be sure, but still not for the faint-hearted. Hundreds of young men ricochet off each other at high speed in the 'moshpit', creating flows and eddies that take on a life of their own. And then, by a combination of individual effort and group will, one of them will crest on the surf of this human tide, splaying his body out in pure abandonment before disappearing again. It's a communal, physical release.

This is Nirvana's first New York show for almost two years. Expectation is high: this group arouse curiosity and passion like few others. Since their second album, Nevermind, went to the top of the US charts in January 1992, they have found themselves in a situation similar to that which the Sex Pistols experienced in 1977: to some, they are rock prophets, standard bearers for a generation; to others they are, as their drummer Dave Grohl dryly summarises: 'Cynical slacker little fuckin' punk jerks.'

Although they are exceptionally successful, Nirvana are not quite as successful as some other artists on the Billboard chart. As Nevermind faded out of the Top 200 in July this year, thirteen acts had sold more records, including Garth Brooks, Kris Kross, Michael Jackson, Boyz II Men and Michael Bolton - the country, R&B, rap and rock that are the staples of American pop. But Nevermind and its breakthrough single, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', have come out of left field to create a cultural and aesthetic impact that goes far beyond statistics.

Nirvana stir up deep emotions. Most obviously, Nevermind has changed American rock: music media like MTV are now full of post-Nirvana groups like Pearl jam, Soul Asylum and Stone Temple Pilots, who play that mixture of rock, metal and punk now known as 'alternative'. (Two years ago it would have been grunge, but following Perry Ellis's autumn 1991 collection, grunge has entered the language of fashion: the anti-fashion of sloppy T-shirts, flannel shirts and old Levi's that poverty-stricken bohemians and students have worn for years suddenly became high style.)

Nirvana have also been seen in sociological terms: as defining a new generation, the twentysomething 'slackers' who have retreated from life; as telling unattractive home truths about a country losing its empire and hit by recession; as representing the final, delayed impact of British punk on America.

They have also shocked people by trashing male gender codes: kissing each other on the national network show Saturday Night Live, appearing in dresses in the video for their single 'In Bloom', doing pro-gay benefits. We may be more used to this in Britain, but America is a country with much more machismo in its popular culture. A sensational appearance on last year's globally broadcast MTV Awards, where they smashed their equipment and mocked rock competitors Guns N' Roses, sealed their status as America's bad boys.

Nirvana have become an issue in America: they have attracted all the hostility and scapegoating that goes with this territory. A September 1992 Vanity Fair article, which alleged that singer Kurt Cobain and his wife Courtney Love had taken heroin during Love's early pregnancy (an allegation hotly supported by the writer of the article, Lynn Hirschberg, and even more hotly denied by Love and Cobain), crystallised the couple's ascent, or rather descent, into celebrity. Suddenly, the stories were about Kurt 'n' Courtney - the twentysomething Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon - rather than Nirvana the group.

As Cobain now admits: 'It affected me to the point where I wanted to break up the band all the time.' When American groups are successful, they tour constantly to keep their records in the charts. As Nevermind went on to sell four million copies in America (double platinum in the UK; 9 million worldwide), Nirvana withdrew. In the vacuum caused by their disappearance, the rumours flew: Cobain was dead; they were splitting up; they were recording a new album so unlistenable that no one would buy it. Kurt 'n' Courtney were hardly out of the news or the gossip columns: threatening unofficial biographers on the telephone and in person; being arrested for domestic unruliness in Seattle; fulfilling the media demands of punk couplehood.

By doing nothing, Nirvana have become mythic figures, a process that will be accelerated by three Nirvana-related books this autumn. This is a lot of baggage for anyone to carry, let alone three scruffs from the hinterlands of America. As they reappear in the public eye with an album called In Utero - 'in the womb' - the group are surrounded by an atmosphere of high tension, a magnetic charge which both attracts and repels.

Nirvana take the Roseland stage with everything to prove straight into a sequence of crunching numbers: 'Serve The Servants', 'Come As You Are', 'Lithium', 'No Recess'. Most alternate quiet, almost whispered verses with wild choruses which crackle like a power surge. The audience goes mad, cheering alike old favourites and new songs - the punning 'Penny Royal Tea' (named after a concoction used to induce abortions) or the pathologically personal 'Heart Shaped Box' ('I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black...').

Nirvana are famed for leaping around on stage, even smashing their instruments, but tonight they don't do much except play hard and accurately. Bass player Chris Novoselic dominates stage left with all his 6ft 7in but, despite his lack of mobility, or in fact because of it, it is Cobain who holds your attention. He hunches into the microphone and croons, growls, and then screams from the pit of his stomach. You might think this was just a teenage tantrum, but then you watch the group's control, you hear the Beatlesesque tunes and the smart, elliptical lyrics, and you realise that Nirvana are serious.

Just when you think that they're relaxing into the home run, something extraordinary occurs. Cobain leaves the stage for a couple of minutes. He reappears with a female cellist, who sits centre stage, a dramatic contrast to all the boys moshing in front of her. The group start an acoustic song, 'Polly' - the story of a rape victim who outwitted and escaped her captor. It's a harrowing lyric, and Cobain sings it very quietly. Too quietly: the audience ignores him.

When it becomes clear that Nirvana are not going to rock, an abyss opens between the group and the audience: you can hear it as the buzz from the crowd threatens to drown out the acoustic instruments. Suddenly, Nirvana look vulnerable, but each song is more harrowing: 'Dumb', where sarcasm masks deep hurt; or 'Something In The Way', based on Cobain's experience of sleeping rough. Then they begin Leadbelly's 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?', which Cobain sings with all the keening notes of a Childe ballad, Appalachian style.

'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' has that quality of desolation which haunts the most powerful American rock, from Leadbelly to Bob Dylan to Neil Young to REM. As Cobain circles round the lyrical repetitions, his voice becomes more and more racked ('When you feel bad in America,' Cobain tells me, 'it's like losing your stomach'), and he pushes the words so hard it's as though he's trying to vomit them out. Then it's suddenly over: the group leave an audience nonplussed into an eerie silence. It takes a while before the calls for an encore become persistent.

Push me, pull you. Nirvana do encore, with 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', but follow it with several minutes of deliberate feedback by Cobain, who remains on stage long after Novoselic and Grohl have left, crouched in his own world. As an industry showcase, it's unprecedented; in America, success demands conformity and repetition of what made you great. It's a total punk rock show: a bitter, dogged stand-off between the group's insistence on doing what they want, and the audience's expectations of what they should do.

The sleeve of Nevermind shows a baby swimming underwater towards a dollar bill on a fish hook. The intended meaning is clear: the loss of innocence, the Faustian contract that usually comes with money. Take it, but if you do, you're hooked for life. It's a parable of Nirvana's current dilemma: they've taken the bait, but the contradictions of their success are threatening to tear them apart.

How can the members of Nirvana retain their integrity, which is very important to them, in a situation which demands constant compromise? How can they sing from the point of view of an outsider now that they're in a privileged position? How can they suffer relentless worldwide media exposure and still retain, in Grohl's words, 'the spontaneity and the energy of something fresh and new' that has marked their career?

Kurt Cobain materialises in the lobby of a smart midtown hotel. It's a quiet entrance, but an entrance nevertheless: for all his fragility, Cobain is very much the star when he needs to be. He is of medium height and painfully thin. His garb of baggy patched jeans, woman's acrylic cardigan and shredded red and black jumper - exactly like the one worn by the Beano's Dennis the Menace - would cause him to be thrown out in any other circumstances.

It's the day before the Roseland concert. Dave Grohl and Chris Novoselic have already passed through on their way to the appointment for which Cobain is somewhat late. This is in character: Grohl is a straight-ahead 24-year-old, the son of an Irish/American family, who wears layers of ripped casual clothes and has the physique and stamina of the sportsman he was before punk took over his life at fifteen. 'Let's do it,' he says when we go to talk: he is the youngest of the three, and his precision and fire give Nirvana much of their attack. He would not be habitually late.

Nor would Novoselic, but for a different reason. A tall, rangy man, dressed in black, who handles his size with care, he is the bottom of the group - the bridge between Grohl's energy and Cobain's spaciness. The Los Angeles-born son of Croatian immigrants, he has the air of someone who has fought his demons: his teenage conversion to punk rock has matured into thoughtful application of his political beliefs. It was Novoselic who arranged Nirvana's last major show, a multi-artist benefit for Bosnian rape survivors, after visiting what had been his mother country.

If Grohl and Novoselic are definitely in the world, Cobain tunes in and out. 'You haven't been waiting for me, have you?' he asks the assembled company. 'If you have, shout at me.' But everybody is resigned to the fact that, when you do anything with Kurt Cobain, you have to wait. This is partly due to the nocturnal time that many musicians keep, partly due to the fact that, like many parents with a one-year-old child, Cobain is sleep-trashed, and partly due to the fact that, like it or not, much of the pressure that surrounds Nirvana comes to rest on Cobain's frail shoulders.

His response, in public at least, is simultaneously to court and to flee attention. This is a quite understandable human trait and does not denote insincerity. At first, he mumbles and is vague. His straw-coloured hair is shoulder length, centre parted, and falls over his beard: together with the white fifties sunglasses - the sort which people wore in the UK during the punk days - it means that you can hardly see his face. When you finally see his eyes, you understand why. They are of a startling blue sensitivity.

When you prise him away from the mania of his situation, Cobain is courteous, intelligent, quiet. Nirvana's success has meant validation for this German/Irish 26-year-old from Aberdeen, 180 miles away from Seattle in America's Northwest. Whereas once he might not speak for days, now thousands hang on his lyrics and public pronouncements; where once he was an outcast, attacked on his home streets, he can now flaunt his difference in the eyes of the world, and be loved for it. He has also learned that if you're loved, you're hated, and that if you provoke, you get a backlash.

The three members of Nirvana were all born between 1965 and 1969, a fact reflected in their name, a sarcastic comment on hippie pieties: in some ways, they are acting out the freedoms and failures of that time. All three are the children of divorced families. 'A lot of people have this theory that we cling together because of that,' Dave Grohl says. 'We all basically grew up with our mothers, although Chris and Kurt went back and forth.'

Cobain was the youngest of the three at the time his parents divorced, and it hit him hard. 'It was when I was seven,' he says. 'I had a really good childhood and then all of a sudden my whole world changed, I remember feeling ashamed. I became anti-social and I started to understand the reality of my surroundings, which didn't have a lot to offer. It's such a small town that I couldn't find any friends who were compatible. I like to do artistic things. I like to listen to music. I could never find any friends like that.

'I felt so different and so crazy that people just left me alone. They were afraid. I always felt that they would vote me Most Likely to Kill Everyone at a High School Dance. I could definitely see how a person's mental state could deteriorate to the point where they could do that. I've got to the point where I've fantasised about it, but I'd have always opted for killing myself first.'

The three were born into an environment where pop was the way of interpreting the world. As the youngest, Dave Grohl was entranced by the first American response to English punk music: the new wave of groups like the B-52's and Devo.

Novoselic 'listened to hard rock radio like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, then I wasted good years of my life listening to Ozzy Osborne and Def Leppard.'

Cobain grew up with the Beatles, graduating to the American rock/pop of the day at high school: Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin. 'My mother always tried to keep English culture in our family,' he says: 'We drank tea all the time.' Much later, he immersed himself in the English gothic of Joy Division: 'I've always felt' that there's that element of gothic in Nirvana.' Sometime in the mid-eighties, the two Aberdeen outcasts met. 'I saw that Kurt was enlightened,' says Novoselic. 'I liked him because he was funny, he was an artist, he was always drawing stuff. He was always a bohemian, for sure, but he always had trouble with rednecks. I think that was just his bad luck. One time this redneck just held him down and tortured him.'

'For a long time I had no male friends that I felt comfortable with,' says Cobain. 'I ended up by hanging out with girls a lot. I just always felt that they weren't treated with respect. Women are totally oppressed in small towns like Aberdeen. The words bitch and cunt were totally common; I mean, you'd hear them all the time. It took me years to realise that these were the things that were bothering me.

'I thought I was gay. I thought that might be the solution to my problem at one time during my school years. Although I never experimented, I had a gay friend, and that was the time I experienced real confrontation with people. I got beaten up. Then my mother wouldn't allow me to be friends with him any more, because she's homophobic. It was devastating, because finally I'd found a male friend who I actually hugged and was affectionate to. I was putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and he played a big role.'

All three were empowered by punk, as it slowly filtered from Britain through the US. Whereas in Britain punk groups were guaranteed major label and indeed national media attention, in America they were shut out after a disastrous Sex Pistols tour and the coincidental rise of disco: just after the Sex Pistols broke up on the West Coast in January 1978, the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever went to the first of its 24 weeks at America's Number One.

Punk's commercial twin, new wave, had limited but significant success in the early eighties, but the pure stuff went underground, burrowing through America, city by city, like a termite. Each major city had its own 'scene': Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis. Few groups from this culture had any major label attention until the mid-eighties: instead, a network of independent labels and clubs developed similar to the one that had fuelled the growth of rock 'n' roll in the fifties. Cobain had read reports of the Sex Pistols' US tour: 'I'd just fantasise about how amazing it would be to hear this music and be part of it. But I was eleven; I couldn't. When I finally heard American punk groups like Flipper and Black Flag, I was completely blown away. I found my calling. There were so many things going on at once, because it expressed the way I felt socially, politically, emotionally. I cut my hair, and started trying to play my own style of punk rock and guitar: fast, with a lot of distortion.'

Cobain started Nirvana with Novoselic in 1986. He'd always written - thoughts, scraps of poetry - and they became lyrics. The group played locally in Seattle and Olympia, a college town that was home to a particularly thoughtful punk scene. This was based around the group Beat Happening, who ran their own club, set up their own label and recorded songs like 'Bad Seeds'. 'A new generation from the teenage nation,' they sang; 'this time let's get it right.' In 1987, this generational rhetoric was charming but absurd: nobody thought like that any more. In 1992, it seemed like prophecy.

In the last years of the 19th century, Seattle had been an important transit point for the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska. The city bore for many years the legacy of this boom-or-bust phenomenon. Nearly 100 years later, another gold rush occurred when the major record labels and national media descended on Seattle. What they found, and have since placed in the mainstream of American pop, was a form of music where, as Novoselic says, 'people had outgrown hardcore and were rediscovering rock - Blue Cheer, the Stooges.'

By 1987, two young college graduates, Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, had a Seattle label up and running: Sub Pop, which released records by local groups like Mudhoney, Nirvana and Soundgarden. They were good at marketing books, slogans, and wanted a word to describe, half mockingly, half seriously, the noise that these groups made. It wasn't punk exactly, although it was steeped in punk attitude and politics: with the gut-wrenching, downer pace of heavy metal and the tuneful tension of rock, it was... grunge.

Sub Pop released Nirvana's first single, 'Love Buzz', in 1988. Their first album, Bleach, was recorded a year later for just over $600. Dave Grohl joined in 1990 - the final focusing of the group. By this time, the American  music industry was beginning to take up punk groups: the signing of New Yorkers Sonic Youth to DGC, a subsidiary of Geffen, had made waves, and it was DGC A&R man Gary Gersh who finally signed Nirvana in 1991. A bidding war put the advance up to £287,000, and the group went in to record Nevermind with producer Butch Vig. By the time Nevermind was released, Nirvana were being handled by industry insiders: management by John Silva of Gold Mountain, record company by David Geffen - a highly privileged position. Nevermind made everything else the Seattle groups had recorded sound like a demo: although Cobain now disavows the record as 'too slick', Vig's production gave Nirvana a power and a clarity which enabled people to finally hear what was going on. Even with such a strong team and such a strong product, Nirvana were not expected to sell more than about 250,000 records: Nevermind sold over a million within six weeks of release.

Success brought Nirvana more problems than it solved. 'I didn't anticipate it all,' says Novoselic. 'I didn't know how to deal with it.' 'We were touring constantly,' says Cobain, 'so I didn't realise what had happened until about three months after we'd become famous in America. It lust scared me. I was frightened for about a year and a half: I wanted to quit. It's only after the birth of my child that I decided to crawl out of my shell and accept it.'

Nirvana should have been on top of the world but instead they freaked out. Part of the problem had to do with the culture from which they came, which had celebrated the outsider - 'Loser', read an early Sub Pop T-shirt slogan - and which was fiercely anti-major label, pro-independent. One of Nirvana's first acts on joining Geffen Records was to print a T-shirt which read 'Flower-sniffin' kitty-pettin' baby-kissin' corporate rock whores'.

The group's unnecessary agonising about 'selling out' and 'corporate rock' cloaks the more serious problem of how they can retain their strong ideals. Exposure to the mass market tends to iron out subtleties and ironies, as Nirvana have found to their cost. Nirvana are pro-gay, pro-feminist. Cobain's irritation at the attitudes of some of his new fans spilled over in the sleeve notes for their post-success compilation, Incesticide: 'I have a request for our fans,' he wrote. 'If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different colour, or women, please do this one favour for us - leave us the fuck alone! Don't come to our shows and don't buy our records.'

'As a defence, I'm neutered and spayed,' Cobain sings, and, indeed, he presents a view of men that runs against the macho self-image of a country where the ethic of youth, health and personal self-improvement is still strong. He presents himself, like Morrissey once did, as old, ugly, still ill.

Rock requires personal authenticity, and Cobain embodies what he sings. 'My body is damaged from music in two ways,' he says. 'I have a red irritation in my stomach. It's psychosomatic, caused by all the anger and the screaming. I have scoliosis, where the curvature of your spine is bent, and the weight of my guitar has made it worse. I'm always in pain, and that adds to the anger in our music. I'm grateful to it, in a way.

'My stomach was so bad that there were times on our last tour where I just felt like a drug addict because I was starving. I just didn't know what was wrong with me. I tried everything I could think of: change of diet, pills, stopped drinking, stopped smoking. Nothing worked, and I just decided that if I'm going to feel like a junkie every morning, vomiting every day, then I might as well take the substance that kills that pain. That's not the main reason why I took heroin, but it has more to do with it than most people think.' Self-destruction haunts youth culture aesthetics: the myth of 'Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse' that runs from Thomas Chatterton through to James Dean and Sid Vicious. The grunge generation was not immune: patterns of local drug supply meant that heroin was easily available and, cloaked in the loser ethic, many Seattle groups succumbed.

'I'd taken heroin for a year and a half,' Cobain says, 'but the addiction didn't get in the way until the band stopped touring about a year and a half ago. But now things have got better. Ever since I've been married and had a child, within the last year, my whole mental and physical state has improved almost 100 per cent. I'm really excited about touring again. I'm totally optimistic: I haven't felt this optimistic since my parents got divorced, you know.' (Saying that, Cobain is still getting into trouble: in July Seattle police detained him after seizing weapons and ammunition found in his flat.)

For the whole of the 20th century, America has thought of itself as, among other things, a young country. In this, the person of the child - from foetus to late adolescence (which, post-baby boomer, can last until the mid-forties) - has become of prime importance. Out of this has come the youth culture which has colonised the world.

Now that America is in a crisis of recession, corruption and indeed social cohesion, the child and the teenager have become sites of struggle: the intense abortion battles, star revelations of child abuse, teen suicides, teen violence. Whether consciously or not, Nirvana have slipped into this national obsession, with their album concepts and messages from within the emotional front line.

Nirvana sing as traumatised children who have been empowered by the freedoms within popular culture. Their courage and talent have made them beacons for anyone who has felt the same way but have also placed them in the eye of the storm. Their growing pains are intense and are conducted in public: In Utero is a dark record, finely poised between self-destruction and optimism, and the Roseland show makes it quite clear just how much they are struggling.

Before the racked finale, however, Cobain does a wonderful thing: 'Ye-eh-eh-eh-eh,' he shouts over five notes during 'Lithium', and, as the roaring crowd back him up all the way, the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

© Jon Savage, 1993

Transcript:

The interview you are about to read transpired late on the evening of Thursday, July 22, 1993, arranged as part of Nirvana's U.K. press campaign for the then soon-to-be released In Utero (DGC). In contrast to their almost total silence in the American media, Nirvana had five U.K. interviews and photo shoots slotted into their brief stay in New York, culminating with a showcase concert at Roseland on the evening of the 23rd. This would have been an unusually gruelling schedule for even the most unflappable of groups. But then, hardly anything associated with Nirvana was usual.

The affable, straight-ahead presence of Chris (now Krist) Novoselic and Dave Grohl notwithstanding, the atmosphere surrounding Nirvana at the time was strongly reminiscent of the feeling that accompanied the Sex Pistols in 1977. Here, too, was a group - the hottest group of the moment - who were about more than just music, and who were refusing to play the game. Judging from the hysteria that greeted their return after a year of silence, Nirvana acted as a kind of psychic lightning rod: a focus for everyone's fears, hopes, loves and hates. Few knew where they were coming from, nobody knew what they would do.

Much of this pressure rested on Kurt Cobain, who - just to keep things interesting - was at once charming, arrogant, vague and unpredictable. Getting him to sit down for the interview was hard. I managed to pin him down backstage after an extraordinary Melvins show we both attended. "Do I have to do this now?" he asked me. "Yes," I replied simply and that was that. We subsequently adjourned to my room at the New York Palace hotel, where once he relaxed, Cobain was intelligent, cogent and as candid as he could be, given his situation.

The interview seemed to provide Cobain with an oasis of calm in the middle of the madness. I warmed to him, and wanted to believe what he said. My ultimate feeling - confirmed by the Roseland show the next night - was that here was a person and a group poised on a knife-edge between considerable, positive power and self-destruction. Here is a record of that pivotal moment.

Guitar World: Tell me about your background.

Kurt Cobain: I was born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1967, and I lived between and Montesano, which was 20 miles away. I moved back and forth between relatives' houses throughout my whole childhood.

GW: Did your parents split up when you were young?

Cobain: Yeah, when I was seven.

GW: Do you remember anything about it?

Cobain: I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason. I was ashamed of my parents. I couldn't face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years because of that.

GW: Have you made up with them now?

Cobain: Well, I've always kept a relationship with my mom, because she's always been the more affectionate one. But I hadn't talked to my father for about 10 years until last year, when he sought me backstage at a show we played at Seattle. I was happy to see him because I always wanted him to know that I didn't hate him anymore. On the other hand, I didn't want to encourage our relationship because I didn't have anything to say to him. My father is incapable of showing much affection, or even of carrying on a conversation. I didn't want to have a relationship just because he was my blood relative. It would bore me.

So the last time that I saw him, I expressed that to him and made it really clear that I didn't want anything to do with him anymore. But it has a relief on both our parts, you know? Because for some years he felt that I really hated his guts.

GW: You can't duck it.

Cobain: That's what I've done all my life, though. I've always quit jobs without telling the employer that I was quitting; I just wouldn't show up one day. I was the same in high school - I quit with only two months to go. I've always copped out of things, so to face up to my father - although he chose to seek me out - was a nice relief.

GW: Have you written about this stuff at all? The lyrics on "Serve The Servants" sound autobiographical.

Cobain: Yeah, its the first time that I've ever really dealt with parental issues. I've hardly ever written anything that obviously personal.

GW: What was it like for you growing up?

Cobain: I was very isolated. I had a really good childhood, until the divorce. Then, all of  a sudden, my whole world changed. I became antisocial. I started to understand the reality of my surroundings, which didn't have a lot to offer. Aberdeen was such a small town, and of, or who were compatible with me, or liked to do the things I liked. I liked to do artistic things and listen to music.

GW: What did you listen to then?

Cobain: Whatever I could get a hold of. My aunts would give me Beatle records, so for the most part it was just the Beatles, and every once in a while, if I was lucky, I was able to buy a single.

GW: Did you like the Beatles?

Cobain: Oh, yeah. My mother always tried to keep a little bit of British culture in our family. We'd drink tea all the time! I never really knew about my ancestors until this year, when I learned that the name Cobain was Irish. My parents never bothered to find that stuff out. I found out by looking through phone books throughout America for the names that were similar to mine. I couldn't find any Cobains at all, so I started calling Coburns. I found this one lady in San Francisco who had been researching our family history for years.

GW: So it was Coburn?

Cobain: Actually it was Cobain, but the Coburns screwed it up when they came over. They came from County Cork, which is a really weird coincidence, because when we toured Ireland, we played in Cork and the entire day I walked around in a daze. I'd never felt more spiritual in my life. It was the weirdest feeling and - I have a friend who was with me who could testify to this - I was almost in tears the whole day. Since that tour, which was bout two years ago, I've had some sense that I was from Ireland.

GW: Tell me about your high school experience. Were people unpleasant to you?

Cobain: I was a scapegoat, but not in the sense that I was picked on all the time. They didn't pick on me or beat me up because I was already withdrawn by that time. I was so antisocial that I was almost insane. I felt so different and so crazy that people just left me alone. I wouldn't have been surprised if they voted me Most Likely To Kill Everyone At A High School Dance.

GW: Can you now understand how some people become so alienated that they become violent?

Cobain: yeah, I can definitely see how a person's mental state could deteriorate to the point where they fantasized about it, but I'm sure I would opt to kill myself first. But still, I've always loved revenge movies about high school dances, stuff like Carrie.

GW: When did you first hear punk rock?

Cobain: Probably '84. I keep trying to get this story right chronologically, and I just can't. My first exposure to punk rock came when Creem started covering Sex Pistols' U.S. tour. I would read about them and just fantasize about how amazing it would be to hear their music and be a part of it. But I was like 11 years old, and I couldn't possibly have followed them on the tour. The thought of just going to Seattle - which was only 200 miles away - was impossible. My parents took me to Seattle probably three times in my life, from what I can remember, and those were on family trips.

After that, I was always trying to find punk rock, but of course they didn't have it in our record shop in Aberdeen. The first punk rock I was able to buy was probably Devo and Oingo Boingo and stuff like that; that stuff finally leaked into Aberdeen many years after the fact.

Then, finally, in 1984 a friend of mine named Buzz Osborne [Melvins singer/guitarist] made me a couple of compilation tapes with Black Flag and Flipper, everything, all the most popular punk rock bands, and I was completely blown away. I'd finally found my calling. That very same day I cut my hair short. I would lip-sync to those tapes - I played them everyday - and it was the greatest thing. I'd already been playing the guitar by then for a couple of years, and I was trying to play my own style of punk rock, or what I imagined that it was. I knew it was fast and had a lot of distortion.

Punk expressed the way I felt socially and politically. There were so many things going on at once. It expressed the anger that I felt - the alienation. It also helped open my eyes to what I didn't like about metal bands like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, while I really did enjoy, and still do enjoy, some of the melodies those bands have written, I suddenly realized I didn't like their sexist attitudes - the way that they just wrote about their dicks and having sex. That stuff bores me.

GW: When do you start to think about sexism? Was it an outgrowth of your interest in punk?

Cobain: No, it was before that. I could never find any good male friends, so I ended hanging out with the girls a lot, and I just that they weren't being equally treated and they weren't treated with respect. I hated the way Aberdeen treated women in general - they were just totally oppressed. The words "bitch" and "cunt" were totally common, you'd hear them all the time. But it took me many years after the fact to realize those were the things that were bothering me. I was just starting to understand that was pissing me off so much, and in high school, I found punk rock and it came all together. I finally understood that I wasn't retarded, you know?

GW: Did you ever have problems with people thinking you were gay?

Cobain: Yeah. Even I thought I was gay. Although I never experienced it, I thought that might be the solution to my problem. I had a gay friend, and that was the only time that I ever experienced real confrontation from people. Like I said, for so many years they were basically afraid of me, but when I started hanging out with this guy, Myer Loftin, who was known to be gay, they stared giving me a lot of shit, trying to beat me up and stuff. Then my mother wouldn't allow me to be friends with him anymore because she's homophobic.

GW: So did you stop?

Cobain: Yeah. It was real devastating because I'd found a male friend who I could actually talk to and be affectionate with, and I was told I couldn't hang out with him anymore. Around that same time, I was putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. He played a big role in that.

GW: Your lyrics contain some provocative gay references, in particular the line "Everybody is gay" from "All Apologies." Is that a reflection of that time?

Cobain: I wouldn't say it was a reflection of that time. I'm just carrying on with my beliefs now. I guess it is [provocative] in a commercial sense, because of how many albums we've sold.

GW: It's very unusual to find bands talking about those kinds of things, particularly in the format that you're using which is male rock.

Cobain: Yeah, but I think it's getting better. though, now that "alternative music" is finally getting accepted, although that's a pretty sad term, as far as I'm concerned. But at least the consciousness is there, and that's really healthy for the younger generation.

GW: Have you had any problems from the industry or fans because of your gay references?

Cobain: Never. Pansy Division covered "Teen Spirit" and reworked the words to "Smells Like Queer Spirit," and thanked us in the liner notes. I think it said, "Thank you to Nirvana for taking the most pro-gay stance of any commercially successful rock band." That was a real flattering thing. it's just that it's nothing new to any of my friends, because of the music we've been listening to for the last 15 years.

I suppose things are different now. If you watch MTV, they have these "Free Your Mind" segments in the news hour, where they report on gay issues and stuff like that. Pretty much in subtle ways they remind everyone how sexist the wave of heavy metal was throughout the entire eighties, because all that stuff is almost completely dead. It's dying fast. I find it really funny to see a lot of those groups like Poison - not even Poison, but Warrant and Skid Row, bands like that - desperately clinging to their old identities, but now trying to have an alternative angle in their music. It gives me a small thrill to know that I've helped in a small way to get rid of these people - or maybe at least to make them think about what they've done in the past 10 years. Nothing has changed, really, except for bands like Soul Asylum who've been around for like 12 years, have been struggling in bars forever, and now have their pretty faces on MTV. Still they have a better attitude than the metal people. I think it's healthier. I'd much rather have that than old stuff.

GW: The track that first got me into Nirvana was "On A Plain." But what's it about?

Cobain: Classic alienation, I guess. Every time I go through those songs I have to change my story, because I'm as lost as anyone else. For the most part, I write songs from pieces of poetry thrown together. When I write poetry it's not thematic at all. I have plenty of notebooks, and when it comes to writing lyrics, I just steal from my poems.

GW: Is that how the songs on In Utero were written?

Cobain: A little less so. There are more songs on this album that are thematic, that are actually about something rather than just pieces of poetry. Like, "Scentless Apprentice" is about the book, Perfume, by Patrick Süskind. I don't think that I've ever written a song based on a book before.

GW: Did you read much when you were a kid?

Cobain: I was probably about 14. Junior high. I never took it very seriously. I've never kept personal journals, either. I've never kept a diary, and I've tried  to write stories in poetry; it's always been abstract.

The plan for my life, ever since I can remember, was to be a commercial artist. My mother gave me a lot of support in being artistic - she really complimented my drawings and paintings. So I was always building up to that. By the time I was in ninth grade I was taking three commercial art classes and planning to go to art school. My art teacher would enter my paintings and stuff in contests. But ultimately, I wasn't interested in that at all, really; it wasn't what I wanted to do. I knew my limitations. However, I really enjoyed art and still like to paint.

I've always felt the same about writing, as well. I know I'm not educated enough to really  write something that I would enjoy on the level that I would like to read.

GW: When did you first visit England?

Cobain: '89.

GW: Did you enjoy it?

Cobain: Yeah. Especially the first time. We also went through the rest of Europe, but by the seventh week I was ready to die. We were touring with Tad. It was 11 people in a really small Volvo van, with all our equipment.

GW: You mean 12, with Tad…

Cobain: Fifteen! Depending on whether his stomach was empty or not. He vomited a lot on that tour.

GW:  When did you first realize that things were starting to break for the band?

Cobain: Probably while we were on tour in Europe in '91. We'd finished the "Teen Spirit" video and they started to play it while we were on tour. I got reports every once in a while from friends of mine, telling me that I was famous. So it didn't affect me until probably three months after we'd been famous in America.

GW: Was there one moment when you walked into it and you suddenly realized?

Cobain: Yeah. When I got home. A friend of mine made a compilation of all the news stories about our band that appeared on MTV and local news programs and stuff. It was frightening. It scared me.

GW: How long did it scare you?

Cobain: For about a year and a half - up until the last eight months or so. Until my child was born, I would say. That's when I finally decided to crawl out of my shell and accept it. there were times when I wanted to break up the band because the pressure was so intense, but, because I like this band, I felt like I had a responsibility not to.

GW: Was that around the time of your summer 1992 European tour?

Cobain: Yes. That was when the band started to really fail me emotionally. A lot of it to do with the fact that we were playing these outdoor festivals in the daytime. There's nothing more boring than doing that. The audiences are massive and none of them care what band is on the stage. I was just getting over my drug addiction, or trying to battle that, and it was just too much. For the rest of the year I kept going back and forth between wanting to quit and wanting to change our name. But because I still really enjoy playing with Chris and Dave, I couldn't see us splitting up because of the pressures of success. It's just pathetic, you know? To have to do something like that.

It's weird. I don't know if, when we play live, there is much of a conscious connection between Chris and Dave and I. I don't usually even notice them; I'm in my own world. On the other hand, I'm not saying it doesn't matter whether they are there or not, that I could hire studio musicians or something.

GW: I know it wouldn't be the same. For me, the original band is you and Chris and Dave.

Cobain: I consider that the original band too, because it was the first time we had a competent drummer. And for some reason, I've needed a good, solid drummer. There are loads of bands I love that have terrible drummers, but a terrible drummer wasn't right for this music. At least, it isn't right for the music that we've written so far.

GW: You haven't really been on the road for a year, not since the Nevermind tour.

Cobain: I've been recuperating.

GW: Why did drugs happen? Were they just around?

Cobain: I had done heroin for about a year, off and on, I've had this stomach condition for like five years. There were times, especially during touring, when I just felt like a drug addict - even though I wasn't - because I was starving [an outgrowth of his condition-GW Ed.] and couldn't find out what was wrong with me. I tried everything I could think of. Change of diet, pills, everything… exercise, stopped drinking, stopped smoking and nothing worked. I just decided that if I'm going to feel like a junkie every fucking morning  and be vomiting every day then I may as well take a substance that kills the pain. I can't say that's the main reason why I did it, but it has a lot to do with it. It has a lot more to do with it than most people think.

GW: Did you find out what the stomach thing was?

Cobain: No.

GW: Do you still get it?

Cobain: Every once in a while. But for some reason it's just gone away. I think it's a psychosomatic thing. My mom had it for a few years when she was in her early twenties, and eventually it went away. She was in the hospital all the time because of it.

GW: Are you feeling a bit better now?

Cobain: Yeah. Especially in the last year, since I've been married and had a child, my mental and physical states have improved almost 100 percent. I'm really excited about touring again. I haven't felt this optimistic since right before my parents divorce.

GW: Did you find it disheartening that you'd started this band and you were playing these great songs when suddenly, all this weird stuff started happening in the media?

Cobain: Oh yeah, it affected me to the point of wanting to break up the band all the time.

GW: Was it mainly the Vanity Fair article? [the September 1992 issue of Vanity Fair insinuated that Cobain's wife Courtney Love, was on heroin during her pregnancy with their daughter Frances.-GW Ed.]

Cobain: That started it. There were probably 50 more articles based on the story. I'd never paid attention to the mainstream press or media before, so I wasn't aware of people being attacked and crucified on that level. I can't help but feel that we've  been a scapegoated, in a way. I have a lot of animosity towards journalists and the press in general. Because it's happening to me, of course, I'm probably exaggerating it, but I can't think of another example of a current band that's had more negative articles written about them.

GW: Why do you think that is?

Cobain:  A lot of it just simple sexism. Courtney is my wife, and people could not accept the fact that I'm in love, and that I could be happy. Because she's such a powerful person, and such a threatening person, very sexist within the industry just joined forces and decided to string us up.

GW: Let's talk about In Utero. It sounds claustrophobic to me.

Cobain: I think so, yeah. The main reason we recorded the new album In Utero, with [producer] Steve Albini is he is able to get a sound that sounds like the band is in a room no bigger than the one we're in now. In Utero doesn't sound like it was recorded in a hall, or that it's trying to sound larger than life. It's very in-your-face and real.

Technically, I've learned that the way to achieve that is to use a lot of microphones. I've known that for years, ever since I started recording, because microphones are so directional that if you want ambient sound you need to lose a lot of tracks. Or you need to use an omnidirectional microphone, farther away from the instruments, so you can pick up the reverberation from the walls.

GW: How many mics did you use in In Utero?

Cobain: I have no idea, but a lot. We had big old German microphones taped to the floor and the ceiling and the walls, all over the place. I've been trying to get producers to do this ever since we started recording. I don't know anything about recording, but it just seems so obvious to me that that is what you need to do. I tried to get [Nevermind producer] Butch Vig to do it, I tried to get [Sub Pop producer] Jack Endino to do it, and everyone's response was, "That isn't how you record." Steve Albini proved to to me on these songs, although I don't know exactly how he did it; I just knew that it had to be done that way. He had to have used a bunch of microphones. It's as simple as that. Which is why live recordings of punk shows sound so good. You really get a feel of what is going on.

GW: Did you re-record any of the tracks?

Cobain: No. We remixed a couple because the vocals weren't loud enough. Steve is a good recording engineer, but terrible at mixing, as far as I'm concerned. To me, mixing is like doing a crossword puzzle or something. It's like math, or something really technical. It drains you; you really have to concentrate on it. There are so many variations in the tones of each instrument that it can take days to mix a song if you really want to get anal about it. I'm all just for recording and however it comes out on a tape, that's how it should come out. But for some songs it just doesn't work.

GW: I really like the slow songs on In Utero.

Cobain: They came out really good, and Steve Albini's recording technique really served those songs well;  you can really hear the ambience in those songs. It was perfect for them. But for "All Apologies" and "Heart Shaped Box" we needed more. My main complaint was that the vocals weren't loud enough. In every Albini mix I've ever heard, the vocals are always too quiet. that's just the way he likes things, and he's a real difficult person to persuade otherwise. I mean, he was trying to mix each tune within an hour, which is just not how the songs work. It was for a few songs, but not all of them. You should be able to do a few different mixes and pick the best.
I never thought I would enjoy talking about the technical side of recording. It never made any sense to me before.  But now, I don't think it's a bad thing to talk about.

GW: You appear to be in a really good position, since even if the album doesn't do well you've made the record that you wanted to make.

Cobain: Absolutely. Oh man, that's why I'm so excited about this record. I actually want to promote this record, not for the sake of selling records, but because I'm more proud of this record than anything I've ever done. We've finally achieved the sound that I've been hearing in my head forever.

GW: You didn't on Nevermind.

Cobain: Not at all. It's too slick. I don't listen to records like that at home. I can't listen to that record. I like a lot of the songs. I really like playing some of them live. In a commercial sense I think it's a really good record, I have to admit that, but that's in a Cheap Trick kind of way. But for my personal listening pleasure, you know, it's just too slick.

GW: How do you sing? Because you use a number of voices…

Cobain: Most of the time I sing right from my stomach. Right from where my stomach pain is.

GW: That's where the pain and anger comes from?

Cobain: It's definitely there. Every time I've had an endoscope, they find a red irritation in my stomach. But it's psychosomatic, It's all from anger. And screaming. My body is damaged from music in two ways: not only has my stomach inflamed from irritation, but I have scoliosis. I had minor scoliosis in junior high, and since I've been playing the guitar ever since, the weight of the guitar has made my back grow in this curvature.  So when I stand, everything is sideways. It's weird.

GW: You could get that sorted out.

Cobain: I go to a chiropractor every once and a while. You can't really correct scoliosis, because its a growth in the spine. Your spine grows through out your adolescent years in a curvature. Most people have a small curvature in their spine anyhow, though some people have to wear metal braces. It gives me a back pain all the time. That really adds to the pain in our music. It really does. I'm kinda grateful for it.

GW: Do you feel now that there are contradictions between your ideals and your enormous success? Is that something that worries you?

Cobain: I don't really know anymore. I think I was probably feeling a lot more contradictory a year-and-a-half ago, because I was blindly fighting and not even knowing what I was fighting for. And, to a point, I still am. Like I said, I don't really know how to deal with the media. A year ago, I said there was absolutely no fucking way that I would ever speak in public again, and that I would go out of my way to never show my face again. But then I decided that I wasn't going to let a handful of evil journalists dictate my fucking life.

I'm just grateful that within the last year, I've come across a few people who happen to be journalists that I trust and I like to talk to.

GW: Maybe this would be a good time to address some of these rumors that have plagued you. When Nevermind hit, there were reports that you were a narcoleptic.

Cobain: No, no… that was just a story I made up to explain why I slept so much. I used to find myself sleeping a lot before shows. A lot of times the backstage area is such a gross scene, I don't want to talk to anybody. So I just fall asleep. There are so many people that we know now, so many friends and stuff that I can't ask them to leave. I don't want to act like Axl Rose and have my own bus or my own back room area.

GW: Speaking of Axl, what is the story behind your altercation with him backstage at the 1992 MTV Music Awards?

Cobain: Well, apparently Axl was in a really bad mood. Something set him off, probably just minutes before our encounter with him. We were in the food tent and I was holding my daughter, Frances, and he came strutting by with five of his huge bodyguards and a person with a movie camera. Courtney jokingly screamed at him, "Axl, will you be the godfather of our child?" Everyone laughed. We had a few friends around us, and he just stopped dead in his tracks and started screaming these abusive words at us. He told me I should shut my bitch up, so I looked at Courtney and said, "Shut up, bitch, heh!" Everyone started howling with laughter and Axl just kind of blushed and went away. Afterward, we heard that Duff [McKagan GNR bassist] wanted to beat Chris up.

GW: I thought it was great when Chris hit his head with the guitar at the end of your performance that evening. You're all trying to be cool and smashing your instruments, and he really fucked it up - it's really good!

Cobain: That's happened so many times.

GW: An impressive finale, and you end up looking really stupid, but that's great too.

Cobain: It was so expected, you know? Should we just walk off stage, or should we break our equipment again? We went through so many emotions that day, because up until just minutes before we played, we weren't sure we were going to go on. We wanted to play "Rape Me," and MTV wouldn't let us. They were going to replace us if we didn't play "Teen Spirit." We compromised and ended up playing "Lithium." I spat on Axl's keyboards when we were sitting on the stage. It was either that or beat him up. We're down on this platform that brought us up hydraulically, you know? I saw his piano there, and I just had to take this opportunity and spit big goobers all over his keyboards. I hope he didn't get it off in time.

GW: Tell me, I have to ask what happened with the gun thing. Was all that Bullshit? [On June 4, 1993, police arrived at the Cobain home after being summoned to break up a domestic dispute. Love told police they had been arguing over guns in the house.-Ed.]

Cobain: Oh yeah. Total bullshit. That's another thing that just made me want to give up. I never choked my wife, but every report even Rolling Stone, said that I did. Courtney was wearing a choker. I ripped it off her, and it turned out on the police report that I choked her. We weren't even fighting. We weren't even arguing, we were playing music too loud, and the neighbours complained and called the police on us. It was the first time that they had ever complained, and we've been practicing in the house for a long time.

GW: That's the way they expect you to behave, because you're a controversial rock star.

Cobain: The police were really nice about it, though. I couldn't believe it. See there's this new law, which was passed that month in Seattle, that says when there's a domestic violence call, they have to take one party or the other to jail. So the only argument Courtney and I got into was who was going to go to jail for a few hours. And they asked us out of the blue, "Are there any guns in the house?" I said no because I  didn't want them to know that there were guns in the house. I have a M-16 and two handguns. They're put away, there are no bullets in them, they're up in the closet, and they took them away. I can get them back now. I haven't bothered to get them back yet, but it was all just a ridiculous little situation. It was nothing. And it's been blown out of proportion. It's just like I feel like people don't believe me. Like I'm a pathological liar. I'm constantly defending myself. people still haven't evolved enough to question anything that's printed. I'm really bad at that, too. I still don't believe lots of things that I read.

GW: But you must behave badly sometimes.

Cobain: Sure. Courtney and I fight. We argue a lot. But I've never choked my wife. It's an awful fucking thing to be printed, to be thought of you. You know, we haven't any problems, any bad reports, any negative articles written about us in a long time. We thought we were finally over it - that our curse had worn itself out.

GW: It must also be because people have perceived you as a threat.

Cobain: I think Courtney is more of a threat than I am.

GW: What have been the worst temptations engendered by your success?

Cobain: Nothing I can think of, except Lollapalooza. They offered us a guarantee of like six million dollars, and that's way more money than… We're going to break even on this tour because we're playing theatres, and the production is so expensive at this level. But other than that, I've never thought of the Guns N' Roses, Metallica and U2 offers as any kind of legitimate offer. They just never were a reality to me.

GW: So what are the plans for In Utero? How much are you touring to promote it?

Cobain: We'll tour for about six weeks in the states, starting in October. Then I don't want to commit to anything until we see how I feel physically after that. Maybe we'll go to Europe. I'm sure we'll be over in Europe to support this record within a year, but I'm not sure when. I don't want to set a whole year's worth of touring up.

GW: There seems to be a tension, in that you defined as being influenced by punk, and part of punk was that it wasn't cool to be successful. Did you feel that tension, and has it caused you problems?

Cobain: That's not how I perceived early punk. I thought that the Sex Pistols wanted to rule the world, and I was rooting for them. But then American punk rock in the mid-Eighties became totally stagnant and elitist. It was a big turn-off for me. I didn't like that at all. But at the same time, I had been thinking that way for so long that it was really hard for me to come to terms with success. But I don't  care about it now. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm not going to put out a shitty record on purpose. That would be ridiculous. But I would probably have done that a year-and-a-half ago - I would have gone out of my way to make sure that the new album was even noisier than it is. I know we're not going to have a fringe millions who don't enjoy our music, who aren't into our band for any reason than as a tool to fuck. But we did this record the way we wanted to. I'm glad about that.

GW: It worried me a bit that you might get into the trap, because its not interesting.

Cobain: That defeats the whole reason for making music. It's been a validation beyond anything. But I would gladly go back to the point of selling out the Vogue in Seattle, which holds about three hundred people. I'll gladly go back to playing in front of 20 people - if I'm still enjoying it.

© Jon Savage, 1996

Transcript:

TBC

Transcript:

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Aberdeen, Washington, 1967, and I lived between Aberdeen and Montesano which was twenty miles away, and I moved back and forth between relatives' houses throughout my whole childhood…

Did your parents split up when you were young?

Yeah, when I was seven.

Do you remember anything about that?

I remember feeling ashamed, for some reason. I was ashamed of my parents… I couldn't face some of my friends at school anymore, because I desperately wanted to have the classic, you know, typical family. Mother, father. I wanted that security, so I resented my parents for quite a few years, cos of that.

Have you made it up with them now?

Well, I've always kept a relationship with my mom, because she's always been the more affectionate one. I haven't talked to my father in about ten years now up until this last year, where he seeked me out backstage at a show we played in Seattle. For a long time, I… I always wanted him to know that I don't hate him anymore, I just don't have anything to say to him. I don't want to have a relationship with someone just because they're my blood relative. They bore me. My father is incapable of showing much affection, or even of carrying on a conversation, so… just because of the last time that I saw him, I expressed this to him and made it really clear to him that I just didn't want anything to do with him anymore. But it was a relief on both our parts, you know? Because for some years he felt that I really hated his guts…

That's really serious stuff. It really fucks you up, but you can't duck it.

It's what I've done all my life, though. I've always quit jobs without telling the employer that I'm quitting, I just wouldn't show up one day. Same with high school, the last two months of high school, I quit, so I've always copped out of things, so to face up to my father was… although he chose to seek me out, you know? But it was a nice relief.

Do you write about this at all? There's a lyric on “Serve the Servants”…

Yeah. It's the first time I've ever really dealt with parental issues. I've hardly ever written anything obviously personal, to myself or to anyone else, on that scale. I'm obviously alerted to that whole subject anyway…

When you were growing up, were you very isolated?

Yeah, very. Well, I had a really good childhood, until the divorce, then all of a sudden my whole world changed. I became antisocial, and… I started to understand the reality of my surroundings, which didn't have a lot to offer. It was such a small town, and I couldn't find any friends that I was very fond of, or who was compatible with me, with the things that I liked to do. I liked to do artistic things, and I liked to listen to music.

What did you listen to then?

Whatever I could get a hold of. My aunts would give me Beatles records, so for the most part it was just Beatles records, and every once in a while if I was lucky I might be able to buy a single…

Did you like the Beatles?

Oh yeah. My mother always tried to keep a little bit of English culture in our family, like we'd drink tea all the time! Although I'd never really known about my ancestors, until this year, that the name Cobain was Irish. My parents had never bothered to look, to find that stuff out. I found out through looking through the phone books throughout America, for names that were similar to mine. I couldn't find any Cobains at all, I started calling Coburns, and I found this one lady in San Francisco who had been researching our family history for years…

So it was Coburn?

Actually it was Cobain, but the Coburns screwed it up when they came over. They came from County Cork, which is a really weird coincidence, because when we toured Ireland, we played in Cork and the entire day I walked around in a daze. I'd never felt more spiritual in my life. It was the weirdest feeling, and I have one friend who was with me who could testify to this, I was almost in tears the whole day. Since that tour, which was about two years ago, I've had like a sense that I was from Ireland.

What was your mother's maiden name?

Friedenberg, which is German. I think they pronounce it Frowdenberg.

Were they first generation?

I don't know. I only found out some of the information on the Cobain side, so far. I've never discussed ancestry with my mother. I still don't know a lot about the Cobains, the lady who I contacted is sending me some information. I haven't received it yet.

Were people unpleasant to you in high school? Did you kind of withdraw?

I was a scapegoat, but not in the sense that people would pick on me all the time. People wouldn't pick on me or beat me up, because I was so withdrawn by that time, and I was so antisocial that I was almost insane. I felt so different and so crazy that people just left me alone. I felt that they would vote me “Most Likely to Kill Everyone at a high school dance”…

Could you understand why people would do that? Or how people could get to that stage?

Yeah, I could definitely see how a person's mental state could deteriorate to the point where they would do that. Yeah. I've gotten to the point where I've fantasised about it, but I always would have opted for killing myself first. You know? I love movies about that. I've always loved revenge movies at high school dances and stuff like that. Like “Carrie”…!

There's an emptiness here that you don't get in England… in England you do feel connected to everyone around you, in a funny kind of way. You do feel as though, yes, you are recognisably on the same planet. Unless you are in a really alienated state. To me there is a huge hole in this country that comes from the eradication of the Indians…

Where I grew up there are about three Indian reservations. It's so depressing to go there. Right on the ocean, there would be… I think there was a time in the early 60s when the government decided to pay back the Indians in a way by up-scaling the reservations, and giving them appliances and stuff like that. They didn't want to deal with stuff like that, you'd go to the reservation and you'd see washers and dryers out in the front yard. They wanted their culture back, they didn't want washers and dryers. And they're all fucked up on alcohol, which is the main killer of the whole race. Indians were considered the same as black people in the South, when I grew up, and it was their land. There weren't many Indians that even went to the public schools in my town, and its such a small place, they were even more isolated. They were looked down upon…

When did you first hear punk rock?

Probably '84. I keep trying to get this story right chronologically, and I just can't. I remember I found {the Clash's} ‘Sandinista' at the library, and I hated it. I thought, if this is what punk rock is, then I don't want anything to do with it. It's too bad, because I'd wanted to hear punk rock forever. Ever since Creem [US rock mag, now defunct] started covering the Sex Pistols' last tour. I would read about them and just fantasise about how amazing it would be to hear this music, and to be a part of it. I was like eleven years old, and I couldn't possibly have followed them on the tour. The thought of just going to Seattle was just impossible. It was two hundred miles away. My parents took me to Seattle probably three times in my life, from what I can remember, and that was always on a family trip. I was always trying to find punk rock, but of course they didn't have it in our record shop in Aberdeen, then Buzz Osborne… [from the group Melvins] actually I probably bought Devo and Oingo Boingo and stuff like that, that finally leaked into Aberdeen many years after the fact. Then finally Buzz Osborne in 1984 who'd been a friend of mine off and on between Montesano and Aberdeen, cos I'd moved so much, he lived in Montesano the whole time, he made me a couple of compilation tapes. Black Flag and Flipper, everything, all the most popular punk rock bands, and I was completely blown away. I finally found my calling. That very same day, I cut my hair and I would lip-sync to those tapes, I'd play them every day, it was the greatest thing. I'd already been playing guitar by then for a couple of years, and I was trying to play my own style of punk rock, what I thought it would be. I knew it was fast, and had a lot of distortion…There were so many things going on at once… it expressed the way I felt socially and politically… it was the anger that I felt, the alienation. For so many years I couldn't understand why… although I listened to Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, and I really did enjoy and still do enjoy some of the melodies they'd written, they were definitely lacking something, and it took me so many years to realise that a lot of it had to do with sexism, the way that they just wrote about their dicks, having sex. That stuff bored me…

When did you start thinking about all that? It's very unusual for people in rock bands to think about that… did that come from punk?

No, it was before that. Because I couldn't ever find any good male friends, I ended up hanging out with the girls a lot, and I just felt that they weren't treated equally, weren't treated with respect, the way Aberdeen treated women in general. They were just totally oppressed, the words bitch and cunt would be totally common, you'd hear it all the time. But it took me many years after the fact to realise those were the things that were bothering me. I was just starting to understand what was pissing me off so much, and within that year, the last couple of years of high school, and punk rock. It all came together, I finally admitted to myself: I am not retarded, you know?

Did you have problems with people thinking you were gay?

Yeah. I even thought that I was gay. I thought that might be the solution to my problem. One time during my school years, although I never experimented with it, I had a gay friend, and that was the only time that I ever experienced real confrontation from people, because for so many years, like I said they were basically afraid of me, and when I started hanging out with this person who was known to be gay, I started getting a lot of shit. People trying to beat me up and stuff. Then my mother wouldn't allow me to be friends with him anymore. Cos she's homophobic.

So did you stop?

Yeah, I couldn't hang out with him anymore. It was real devastating because finally I'd found a male friend who I actually hugged and was affectionate to, and we talked about a lot of things. Around that same time, I was putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. He played a big role in that. His name was Meyer Loftin. I haven't spoken to him in years. I heard that he's still in Aberdeen, which is really surprising to me. He hung out with this exchange student, his name was Pachee, and no-one liked him because he was Spanish, and they had a friend who was a lesbian. I can't remember her name, we were friends for a few months until my mother found out that he was gay, and banned him from the house.

You put some provocative gay statements into the lyrics, is that a reflection of that time?

I wouldn't say it was a reflection of that time, I'm just carrying on with my beliefs now. I guess it is [provocative] in a commercial sense, cos of how many albums we've sold, but… in All Apologies on this album, one of the lines is, “everyone is gay”.

The track that first got me into Nirvana was On a Plain…

We do an acoustic version of that now, and I wish to god we'd recorded it that way, cos it sounds so much better.

What's it about? This is a fan's question!

Classic alienation, I guess. Every time I go through songs, a lot of times I have to change my story, because I'm as much lost as anyone else. For the most part the way I write is from pieces of poetry, thrown together, you've probably read that somewhere, I've probably repeated it a million times, but that's pretty much how I do it. When I write poetry it's not usually thematic at all, I have plenty of notebooks and when it comes time to writing lyrics I just steal from my poems…

Do you put them together very quickly?

Usually, right before I record the vocals! A lot of times the month before we go into the studio, I finish the lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics will come out in about five minutes, but for the most part, ninety percent of it is done at the last minute. There are instances in certain songs, we'd almost have to go through each song, line by line, cos I don't remember…On this album there are more songs that are more that are thematic, that are actually about something… rather than just pieces of poetry. Like, “Scentless Apprentice” is about the book, “Perfume”, by Patrick Susskind. I don't think I've ever written a song based on a book before.

I really liked that song, Very Ape. I liked the guitar sound…

That was Steve Albini's metal guitar. It's supposedly a really rare guitar, it's all made of aluminum…

Going back to the gay politics and feminist concerns, its very unusual to find bands talking about that, particularly in the format that you're using, which is basically male rock…

Yeah. I think it's getting better though, now that alternative music is finally getting accepted, although it's in a pretty sad form, as far as I'm concerned, but at least the consciousness is there, and that's really healthy for the younger generation.

Have you ever had any problems with that, from the industry or from fans?

Never. Pansy Division covered “Teen Spirit” and reworked the words to “Smells Like Queer Spirit”, and thanked us in the liner notes. I think it said thank you to Nirvana for taking the most pro-gay stance by a commercially successful rock band. That was a real flattering thing… it's just that it's nothing new to any of my friends, because the music we've been listening to for the last fifteen years… I suppose it is different. Do you watch MTV? They are responsible for some of the consciousness recently. I kind of appreciate that. They have these ‘Free Your Mind' segments in the news hour, where they report on gay issues and stuff like that. Pretty much in subtle ways they remind everyone how sexist the wave of Heavy Metal was throughout the entire 80s, because all that stuff is completely dead, almost. It's dying fast. I find it really funny to see a lot of those groups like Poison – not even Poison but Warrant and Skid Row, bands like that – desperately clinging to their old identities, but now trying to have an alternative angle in their music, it gives me a small thrill to know that I've helped in a small way to get rid of those people. Or maybe at least to make them think about what they've done in the last ten years. Nothing has changed really, except for some bands like Soul Asylum who've been around for like twelve years, have been struggling in bars forever, and now they have this opportunity to have their pretty faces on MTV, they still have a better attitude, I think it's healthier. I'd much rather have that than the old stuff.

Did you read much when you were a kid?

Yeah, just whatever I could get. I went to the library a lot, and I skipped school a lot, especially during high school, junior high, and the only place to go during the day was the library. But I didn't know what to read, it was just whatever I found. During grade school I would read S.E. Hinton books [note: the most famous is "The Outsider"], I really enjoyed those. I read a lot in class too, when I went to school. Just to stay away from people so I didn't have to talk to them. A lot of times I'd even just pretend to read, to stay away from people…

When did you start to write?

Probably about fourteen. Junior High. I never took it very seriously. I've never kept personal journals, either. I've never kept a diary, and I've never tried to write stories in the poetry, it's always been abstract. The plan for my life, ever since I can remember was to be a commercial artist. My mother gave me a lot of support in being artistic. She was really complimentary of my drawings and paintings. So I was always building up to that. By the time I was in ninth grade I was taking three commercial art classes and I was going to go to art school and my art teacher would enter my paintings and stuff for contests. I wasn't interested in that at all, really. It wasn't what I wanted to do. I knew that I wasn't as good as everyone else thought I was in that town. The ratios aren't that great. I'm a better artist than probably everyone else in that school, but that doesn't say anything if you compare it to a larger city. I knew my limitations. I really enjoy art, I like to paint still… I've always felt the same about writing as well. I know I'm not educated enough to really write something that I would enjoy on the level that I would like to read.

America is so different. When you're feeling bad in England it's like being very slowly submerged, very claustrophobic…

I've felt that way when I've been there. Here it's more like losing your stomach. Like being lost. It's so big, you know. Even though I was growing up in a small town, there was an ocean, and there was a huge city two hundred miles away, there was nothing in between.

You hear that in a lot of American music… in country music. A keening sound, which is totally un-self-conscious. Brits are very self conscious, very mannered.

That would explain why Goth was so much more popular in England… why do people feel embarrassed by that?

Because it was tacky!

It was entertainment! So is anything! So is vaudeville!

Did you ever listen to Joy Division?

I don't think so… I stayed away from Joy Division. I've heard a few of their songs and I know I would really like it, but just the mystique about it and the stories I've heard, I know that's the band to listen to, of all of them. I'm just waiting. But I can't think of anything that I ever listened to, besides Black Sabbath that would ever… I am very claustrophobic, though. Absolutely the worst thought is to be locked in somewhere, in a closet or something…

When did you first visit England?

'89…

Did you enjoy it?

Yeah. The first time especially. But we went through the rest of Europe, and by the seventh week I was ready to die. We were touring with Tad… it was eleven people in a really small Volvo van, with our equipment…

You mean twelve with Tad…

Fifteen…! Depending on whether his stomach was empty or not. He vomited a lot on that tour. But every time I go back to England I like it less and less. It seems so grey and dirty. When I go to New York or LA I don't notice the smog as much as when I go to England. But I've hardly ever been to the countryside in England. I'm sure there are plenty of good places to stay. More and more we stay over at places for a few days after a tour…

When did you first realise that things were starting to break?

I don't know, because we were on tour in Europe. I still don't really know the story. I think probably “Teen Spirit”, because we'd finished the video and they started to play it while we were on tour, and I would get reports every once in a while from friends of mine, telling me that I was famous. So it didn't affect me until probably three months after we'd already been famous in America…

Was there one moment when you walked into it and you suddenly realised?

Yeah. When I got home. A friend of mine made a compilation of all the news stories about our band that was played on MTV and the local news programmes and stuff. It was frightening, it just scared me.

How long did it scare you for?

About a year and a half. Up until the last eight months or so. I would say until my child has been born. That's when I finally decided to crawl out of my shell and accept it. I didn't want to go to such ridiculous extremes as U2 has done… I feel like I have an obligation, because I like this band, that I wanted to break it up, I wanted to quit…

Was that in the middle of last year?

That was a time when I wanted to break up the band, but that was because I was having a star fit, and I was starving and because of the Tad tour, but I'm talking about when Nevermind got really big…. No, that was when the band started to really fail me emotionally, because a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were playing a lot of these outdoor festivals in the daytime. There's nothing more boring than doing that. The audiences are massive and none of them care what band is up on stage. I was just getting over my drug addiction, or trying to battle that, and it was just too much. For the rest of the year I kept going back and forth between wanting to quit and wanting to change our name, cos I still really enjoy playing with Chris and Dave and I couldn't see us splitting up because of the pressures of success. It's just pathetic, you know? To have to do something like that. I don't know if there is much of a conscious connection between Chris and Dave and I, when we play live. I don't usually even notice Chris and Dave, I'm in my own world. I'm not saying it doesn't matter whether they're there or not, that I could hire studio musicians or something. I know it wouldn't be the same, but…

For me the original band is you and Chris and Dave…

I consider that the original band too, because it was the first time we had a drummer that was competent. And for some reason, ever since I've been in this band, I've needed a good solid drummer. There are loads of bands that I love that have terrible drummers, but it wasn't right for this music. At least, it isn't right for the music that we've written so far. I'd love to be able to switch places with Dave and try to write some songs that way. There's all kinds of things we could still do.

You haven't really toured for a year…

I've recuperated.

You could have sold more records if you'd kept on touring.

Oh yeah. Kept the record in the charts… I absolutely had to have some time off. The drug addiction didn't get in the way until we had some time off anyhow. I didn't get into the drugs until after the tour. I didn't see the band fall apart because of drugs.

When did the tour stop?

I don't remember… I think February '92.

Why did the drugs happen? Was it just around?

I had done heroin for about a year, off and on. I've had this stomach condition for like five years. There were times, especially during touring, where I just felt like a drug addict because I was starving and I couldn't find out what was wrong with me. I tried everything I could think of. Change of diet, pills, everything… exercise, stopped drinking, stopped smoking, and nothing worked. I just decided that if I'm going to feel like a junkie every fucking morning and be vomiting every day then I may as well take a substance that kills that pain. I can't say that that is the main reason why I did it, but it has a lot to do with it. It has a lot more to do with it than most people think.

Did you find out what the stomach thing was?

No.

Do you still get it?

Every once in a while. But for some reason it's just gone away. It's a psychosomatic thing, my mom had it when she was in her early twenties, for a few years, and eventually it went away. She was in a hospital all the time because of it.

Maybe you're feeling a bit better now…

Yeah. Especially since I've been married and have a child, within the last year, my mental state and my physical state have improved almost one hundred percent. I'm really excited about touring again. I haven't felt this optimistic since right before the {parents) divorce. You know?

What about the media? Did you find it incredibly disheartening that you'd started this group and you were playing these great songs and suddenly all this weird stuff started happening?

Oh yeah, it affected me to the point of wanting to break up the band all the time.

Was it mainly the Vanity Fair article? [Note: The September 1992 issue of Vanity Fair carried an article about Courtney Love by Lynn Hirschberg, which inter alia raised allegations about Love's drug use during her pregnancy: these resulted in a court hearing in August 1992 about the couple's suitability as parents.]

That started it. There was probably fifty more articles based on that story… I've never paid attention to the mainstream press or media before, so I'd never been aware of people being attacked and crucified on that level. To this day I don't know who Bono's wife is, or if he has a wife, or if he has a girlfriend… I can't help but feel that we've been scapegoated, in a way. I have a lot of animosity towards journalists and the press in general. Because it's happening to me, of course, I'm probably exaggerating it, but I can't think of another example of a current band that's had more negative articles written about them.

Why do you think that is?

A lot of it is just simple sexism. Courtney is my wife, and people could not accept the fact that I'm in love, and that I could be happy. Because she's such a powerful person, and such a threatening person, that every sexist within the industry just joined forces and decided to… just string us up.

From what I can see of Courtney, if you treat her like a threat she'll be one, and if you don't, she won't.

Exactly. That's exactly the way I've always felt.

When I first met Johnny Rotten, I was very polite to him and very matter of fact. I think people are very much how you take them. But he can be a real bastard.

It's a good defence mechanism…

During punk people were often really nasty to each other. Horrible.

I didn't get to see that. By the time that I was into punk, people were just wallowing in confusion. Should we be sarcastic? Should we be mean to each other? No-one knew how they were supposed to act at that point. Almost all my favourite bands are English. It's amazing how much they've produced…

Do you like that claustrophobic sound?

I think so, yeah. The main reason we recorded with Steve Albini is he is able to get that sound that sounds like it's in a room that's no bigger than this. It's not a hall, its not trying to be larger than life. It's very in your face and real… technically I've learned that the way to achieve that is to use a lot of microphones. I've known for years, ever since I started recording, because microphones are so directional that if you want an ambient sound you need to use a lot of tracks. Or you need to use an omnidirectional microphone, farther away from the instruments. So you can pick up the reverberation from the walls.

How many mics did you use for this one?

I have no idea, but a lot. We had big old German microphones taped to the floor and the ceiling and the walls, all over the place. I've been trying to get producers to do this ever since we've been recording. I don't know anything about recording but it just seems so obvious to me that that is what you need to do. I tried to get Butch Vig to do it, I tried to get Jack Endino to do it, and everyone's response is, ‘that isn't how you record'. Steve Albini proved it to me on these records, although I don't know exactly how he did it, I just knew that it had to be that way. He had to have used a bunch of microphones. It's as simple as that. Which is why live recording sounds so good, from punk shows. You really get a feel of what was going on.

Did you re-record a couple of tracks?

No. We remixed a couple, cos the vocals weren't loud enough. When I brought the tape home of Heart Shaped Box, I was singing this harmony over the melody of Heart Shaped Box and I just had to put it on. Steve is a good recording engineer, but terrible at mixing, as far as I'm concerned. To me, mixing is like doing a crossword puzzle or something. Things that I don't like to do, you know, like math, that's really technical. It drains you, you really have to concentrate on it. Every instrument, there are so many variations in the tones of each instrument, that it can take days to mix a song. If you really want to get anal about it. I'm all for just recording and however it comes out on tape, that's how it should come out. But for some songs it just doesn't work.

There's a really interesting book called The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions [by Mark Lewisohn], which is a record of every studio session they had, and what they did. How they made records. What they did was edit, furiously. A lot of the real classic songs which are about two minutes thirty were chopped really tight. But that was their thing.

It was such a great idea to get some classically trained person like George Martin to produce a pop band.

I really like the slow songs on this album…

They came out really good, and Steve Albini's recording technique really served those songs well. You can really hear the ambience in those songs… it was perfect for that. But for “All Apologies” and “Heart Shaped Box” we needed more… the main complaint was that the vocals weren't loud enough. In every Albini recording I've ever heard, the vocals were too quiet. That's just the way he likes things, and he's a real difficult person to persuade, you know. I mean, he was trying to mix each song within an hour. Which is just not how they work. It was fine for a few songs, but not all of them. You should be able to do what you want and pick the best. I never thought I would enjoy talking about the technical side of recording. I mean, this is as far as it goes. It never made any sense to me before.

I don't think it's a bad thing to talk about. It's just as interesting as talking about sensational press stories… I read through all of the press cuttings and I just thought a lot of this stuff is really boring. It wasn't talking about anything really intelligent a lot of the time, they're just talking about this terrible rock gossip. It's like all the stuff I remember from fifteen years ago.

Fucking hell, haven't we advanced?

I have one criticism: I think you over-reacted on those Victoria Clark letters. I think you gave her publicity… [In October 1992 Cobain and Love left threatening messages on the answerphone of journalist Victoria Clarke, co-author of a proposed unauthorised Nirvana biography]

I know. That's what I tried to tell Courtney… but we weren't in the best of mental states at that time. I totally agree. I mean, that's the first thought that came into my mind, that if we were to address this at all, it was just going to get more press. They dug through our garbage, they lied and fucked their way through so many of my friends, and deceived so many people that I really like in Seattle that I didn't know what to do. It's really hard to be in control of your own press, because my management doesn't know anything about it. How to protect anyone from things like this. Every time we've ever got into a legal battle, we've always ended up just paying people off. We've literally given away money to people like a band called Nirvana from Orange County, Los Angeles, fifty thousand dollars, just to stay away from litigation that we easily could have won. I hate that idea because I've always wanted to fight people that are fucking with me unnecessarily. But I don't know how to go about it.

That must be very isolating, cos in that way you are unusual. It's also very punk rock to get a very hostile press.

I'm really not interested in being punk rock anymore!

No, I'm not suggesting you should be, but there is a misapprehension on the part of the media, as well. I know you've joked about this yourself, that you and Courtney have fitted into that mediated Sid & Nancy slot… [The subheadline to the Vanity Fair article read: 'Are Courtney Love…and Kurt Cobain…the grunge John and Yoko? Or the next Sid and Nancy?']

Yeah. Haven't we progressed? You would think that people would want to look into something a bit deeper than something that happened fifteen years ago. And be entertained by a carbon copy of what happened fifteen years ago. It's a boring old story.

Do you feel now that there are contradictions between your ideals and your position? Is that something that worries you?

I don't really know anymore. I think I was probably a lot more contradictory a year and a half ago, because I was blindly fighting and not even knowing what I was fighting for. And to a point I still am. Like I said, I don't really know how to deal with the media. I've had the opportunity of meeting a handful of journalists that I've gotten along with personally and like them as people, and it happens that there's a good chance that they're going to write a good story. A year ago I said absolutely no fucking way will I ever speak in public again. And I'll go out of my way to never show my face again. I'm not going to let a rock band, or a handful of evil journalists dictate my fucking life. I was on the road to getting cut up… cutting myself up. But I'm just grateful that I've come across a few people that I trust and I like to talk to. Who happen to be journalists. So that's one thing that I've learned from the last year and a half. I think of some of the people I work with as like my family. Danny Goldberg, who isn't even our manager anymore, who used to own Gold Mountain, he's like my second father. We've been blessed in an enormous way with a handful of people like that, who work at DGC, that doesn't happen with bands at all. It's just a revolving door of people working for you.

In a way you're in a really good position then, because you've got your head around the fact that even if the record doesn't do well – and I think the record will do very well – you've made the record that you wanted to make.

Absolutely. Oh man, I could put out “Flowers of Romance” [Public Image Limited's 'difficult' third album] tomorrow, if that's the record I wanted to make, that's why I'm so excited about this record. I actually want to promote this record, not for the sake of selling records, but I'm more proud of this record than anything I've ever done. We've finally achieved the sound that I've been hearing in my head for ever.

You didn't on “Nevermind”?

Not at all. It's too slick. I don't listen to records like that at home. I can't listen to that record. I like a lot of the songs. I really like playing some of them live. In a commercial sense I think its a really good record, I have to admit that, but that's in a Cheap Trick way. But for my personal listening pleasure, you know, it's just too slick. I was just pretty much deceived by the studio that we mixed in. I was so burned out at that point… we attempted to mix it ourselves with Butch for a week and a half, and got Andy Wallace in there, and by that point, I wasn't really paying attention. I just didn't really care, as much as I had before.

Were you, or are you a narcoleptic?

No, no… that was just a story I made up… for why I slept so much…I used to find myself sleeping a lot, before shows. A lot of times the backstage area is such a gross scene, I don't want to talk to anybody so I just fall asleep. There's so many people that we know now, so many friends and stuff that I can't ask them to leave. I don't want to act like Axl Rose and have my own bus or my own back room area…

So what happened with the MTV awards? [In September 1992]

Well, apparently Axl was in a really bad mood. Something set him off, probably just minutes before our encounter with him. We were in the food tent and I was holding Frances, and he came strutting by with five of his huge bodyguards and a person with a movie camera. Courtney jokingly screamed out at him, ‘Axl, will you be the godfather of our child?' Everyone laughed. We had a few friends around us, and he just stopped dead in his tracks and started screaming at us, all these abusive words. He told me I should shut my bitch up, so I looked over at Courtney and said, ‘shut up, bitch, heh!' And everyone started howling with laughter and Axl just kind of blushed and went away. Afterward I'm playing our song, and Dave was screaming, hi Axl!, and Duff wanted to beat Chris up afterwards…

That's the one where Chris hit his head with the guitar. You're all trying to be cool and smash up your instruments, and you really fucked it up, it's really good.

That's happened so many times.

An impressive finale, and you end up looking really stupid, but that's great too.

It was so expected, you know? Should we just walk off the stage, or should we break our equipment again? The emotions that were going through us that whole day, because up until just minutes before we played, we weren't going to play, cos we wanted to play “Rape Me”, and MTV wouldn't let us, and they were just going to replace us if we didn't play “Teen Spirit”, and we ended up playing “Lithium”. I spit on Axl's keyboards when we were sitting on the stage. It was either that or beat him up. We're down on this platform that brought us up hydraulically, you know? And I saw his piano there and I just had to take this opportunity and spit big goobers all over his keyboards. I hope he didn't get it off in time…

That's great though. That's what should happen in pop, bands bitching at each other. That happens in England all the time.

English people are great at it. Masters at it. God. So entertaining. Somebody I know met Axl Rose and said he's just this huge closet queen.

Tell me, were you into Beat Happening? I love that song “Bad Seed”…

Oh yeah, very. It was my introduction to a lot of stuff that preceded that. Like Daniel Johnson and Half Japanese and stuff like that. I'd been into the Velvet Underground for a long time before I heard Beat Happening. I love the Velvet Underground. I moved to Olympia, from Aberdeen, it was the first place that I moved to, on my own. I was twenty. I'd just started Nirvana and K Records and that whole scene in Olympia turned me on to so much amazing music. The Pastels and the Vaselines and all that stuff. Every couple of years I feel that I've gone as far as I can with being introduced to something new, and then something like that hits me and it gives me life for a few years.

I found “Bad Seed” really moving… because it was so hopeless and yet so optimistic – ‘a new generation of a teenage nation, this time let's get it right' – yeah, right. Out of this tiny record out of Olympia, yeah, sure. And it kind of happened. It was like a prophecy. Did they knew a lot about English punk?

Yeah, they did. I was turned onto the whole 4AD thing, the Raincoats and the Young Marble Giants. It was like the first time that I heard punk rock, cos there were all these bands from the last fifteen years, and I'd try to find all these records, and it was a whole scene, these bands that had been going on for like ten years, and it had the same impact on me. It was a completely different world. Young Marble Giants, god. I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't heard that record.

I find it quite odd that you should come from where you come from and love some of this quite mannered English stuff.

It must be the tea my mother fed me all the time…! My mother was really picky and English in that way.

There's a really good interaction that goes on between some Brits and some Americans. I don't know what it is, but it really works. I like American rock because it's unselfconscious. All that Louie Louie…

Well, I can appreciate that too…

I don't see that in the Raincoats though, or maybe a little bit in Young Marble Giants…That's a very particular strain, and a very particular period…

…it's so English. I don't talk when we play, but I really enjoy the interaction with Mudhoney, Mark Arm makes these really funny, sarcastic comments to people in the audience. That kind of bond is so great, especially with Mudhoney, it's more of a love thing. It isn't violent at all… it translates better in a club, too. That's another reason why I don't give a shit if this record sells. We're guaranteed not to sell half as many records. We know that. That means that we get to go on tour this time and play venues. Three, four thousand seat venues. And we get to stay in the same town for maybe a couple of nights. It's going to be great. It'll be like the first tour that we did with Sonic Youth. Those were some of the best times I've ever had. I think that's a little bit too big, but still… it's a really good environment.

How do you sing? Cos you have a number of voices…

Most of the time I sing right from my stomach. Right from where my stomach pain is… That's where the pain and anger comes from. It's definitely there. Every time I've had an endoscope, they find a red irritation in my stomach. But it's psychosomatic, it's all from anger. And screaming. My body is damaged from music in two ways. Not only has my stomach inflamed from irritation, but I have scoliosis. I had minor scoliosis in junior high, and I've been playing guitar ever since, and the weight of the guitar has made my back grow in this curvature. So when I stand, everything is sideways. It's weird.

You could get that sorted out…

I go to a chiropractor… once in a while. You can't really correct scoliosis, because it's a growth in the spine… your spine grows through your adolescent years in a curvature. Most people have a small curvature in their spine anyhow, mine's just… some people have it really bad and have to have metal braces… so it gives me a back pain all the time. I was in pain all the time too. That really adds to the pain in our music. It really does. I'm kind of grateful for it.

Tell me, I have to ask what happened with the gun thing. Was that all bullshit? [The most recent publicised scandal about the couple at that time concerned an incident on June 4 1993 when Courtney Love called the police on Cobain at their Seattle home during a domestic dispute. The police confiscated a selection of guns and ammunition.]

Oh yeah. Total bullshit. That's another thing that has made me want to just give up. A couple of weeks ago… I never choked my wife… and every report, even in Rolling Stone… in the police report for some reason… I've seen a copy of the police report, and Courtney was wearing a choker, you know what those are? I ripped in off of her, and it turned out in the police report that I choked her. We weren't even fighting. We weren't even arguing, we were playing music too loud and the neighbours complained, called the police on us. It was the first time that they've ever complained, and we've been practising in the house for a long time…

Very Axl Rose!

That's it, you see. Old shit. That's the way they expect you to behave, because you're a controversial rock star. The police were really nice about it, though. To tell you the truth, I couldn't believe it. See, there's this new law, passed that month in Seattle, where when there's a domestic violence call, they have to take one or the other to jail. So Courtney and I, the only argument we got into was who was going to go to jail for a few hours. And they asked us, out of the blue, are there any guns in the house, and I said no. Because I didn't want them to know there were guns in the house. I have an M-16 and two hand guns. They're put away, there are no bullets in them, they're up in the closet, and they took them away. I can get them back now. I haven't bothered to get them back yet, but it was all just a ridiculous little situation. It was nothing. And it's been blown up out of proportion. It's just like I feel like people don't believe me. Like I'm a pathological liar. I'm constantly defending myself. People still haven't evolved enough to question anything that's printed. I'm really bad at that too. I still believe a lot of things that I read.

But you must behave badly sometimes?

Sure. Courtney and I fight. We argue a lot. But I've never choked my wife. It's an awful fucking thing to be printed, to be thought about you. You know. We haven't had any problems, any bad reports, any negative articles written about us in a long time. We thought we were finally over it. Our curse had worn itself out.

It must also be because people have perceived you as a threat.

I think Courtney is more of a threat than I am.

But I bet your success is a threat to some people…

It was a threat to the metal bands…

So what are the plans for the album? Tour it a little bit?

Tour for about six weeks, in the states, starting October. Then I don't want to commit to anything until we see how I feel physically after that. Maybe we'll go to Europe. I'm sure we'll be over in Europe to support this record within a year, but I'm not sure when. I don't want to set a whole year's worth of touring up…

There seems to be a tension, in that you defined yourself at a time as being influenced by punk, and part of punk was that it wasn't cool to be successful. Did you feel that, and has it caused you problems?

That's not how I perceived early punk. I thought that the Sex Pistols wanted to rule the world. And I was rooting for them. But then American punk rock in the mid 80s became totally stagnated and elitist. It was a big turn-off for me. I didn't like it at all. But at the same time, I had been thinking that way for so long, that it was really hard for me to come to terms with success. But I don't care about it now. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm not going to put out a shitty record on purpose to make sure… that would be ridiculous. But I would probably have done that a year and a half ago. I would have gone out of my way to make sure that the album was even noisier than it is, but we did this record the way we wanted to.

I'm glad about that. It worried me a bit that you might get into that trap. Cos it's not interesting.

That defeats the whole reason of making music. I've been validated beyond anything. When we could sell out the Vogue in Seattle, which holds about three hundred people… I would gladly go back to that. I'll gladly go back to playing in front of twenty people – if I'm still enjoying it. That's one of the most positive things about this new record. I know we're not going to have the fringe millions who don't enjoy music, who aren't into our band for any other reason than as a tool to fuck.

What have been the worst temptations of being successful?

Nothing I can think of, except Lollopalooza. They offered us a guarantee of like six million dollars, and that's way more money than… we're going to break even on this tour because we're playing theatres, and the production is so expensive at this level. But other than that, I've never thought of the Guns and Roses, Metallica and U2 offers as any kind of offer. It was just never a reality to me. Or Chris and Dave. So… those were the only temptations that I can think of that someone would actually consider a temptation.

Were you quite misanthropic for a long time?

Oh yeah. Absolutely. I hated everybody. I always managed to have at least one close friend at a time, through most of my life. There have been years where I would just put up with my best friend, and not really like the person. But since I've been in the band and since I've known Chris and I have a handful of friends that are great, but… I had a typical, narcissistic attitude until a year and a half ago before Courtney became pregnant. ‘How dare you bring a child into this life?', you know? That kind of attitude is really selfish. There's no way I can think that now. I have no right to say something like that.

© Jon Savage, 2012

Transcript:

TBC