LiveNIRVANA.com > Sessions History > Studio Sessions > January 28–30, 1994 - Robert Lang Studios, North Seattle, WA, US

LIVE NIRVANA SESSIONS HISTORY:
January 28–30, 1994 - Robert Lang Studios, North Seattle, WA, US View in Google Maps

Artist

  • NIRVANA
    • Cobain, Kurt (vocals, guitar)
    • Grohl, Dave (drums, vocals, guitar)
    • Novoselic, Krist (bass, guitar, harmonium, mandolin)
  • Bailey, Earnie (theremin)

Crew

  • Bailey, Earnie (guitar technician)
  • Kasper, Adam (producer)
  • Lang, Bob (studio owner)

Set

    January 28–29, Grohl and Novoselic only:
  • [X] Dave w/Echoplex (instrumental)
  • [X] New Wave Groove (instrumental)
  • [X] New Wave Groove (instrumental)
  • [X] New Wave Groove (instrumental)
  • [X] New Beat/In Cars (instrumental)
  • [X] New Beat/In Cars (instrumental)
  • [X] Chris w/Acoustic (instrumental)
  • [X] February Stars
  • [X] others?
    January 30, NIRVANA:
  • [O] Jam (instrumental)
  • [X] You Know You're Right (instrumental)
  • [X] You Know You're Right (instrumental)
  • [X] You Know You're Right (instrumental)
  • [X] You Know You're Right (instrumental)
  • [X] You Know You're Right (instrumental)
  • [X] You Know You're Right (instrumental)
  • [O] You Know You're Right
  • [X] Jam After Dinner (instrumental)
    January 30, Grohl and Novoselic only:
  • [X] Exhausted
  • [X] Big Me
  • [X] Butterflies
  • [X] French Abortion (instrumental)
  • [X] French Abortion (instrumental)
  • [X] Skid Mark
  • [X] Thrash Tune (instrumental)

Format

  • Audio: 2-inch 24-track analog magnetic tape (session tape)

Best available sources

Source Quality Complete Runtime Lowest Gen Tracks Featured Notes
SBD #1a 10.0 No 0:03:42 Official DVD (You Know You're Right Promo DVD) • You Know You're Right (take 7) Mixed by Adam Kasper, 2001. This source is slightly more complete than SBD#1b, but is considered to be of inferior sound quality.
SBD #1b 10.0 No 0:03:35 REEL(M)>CDR(X)>FLAC • You Know You're Right (take 7) Mixed by Adam Kasper, 2001.
SBD #2 TBC No TBC Official Video Game DLC (Guitar Hero: World Tour) • You Know You're Right (take 7) Stem mix by Jack Endino, 2008.
SBD #3 TBC No TBC Official Video Game DLC (Rock Band 3) • You Know You're Right (take 7) Stem mix by Julian Chan, 2011.
SBD #4 CLIP 10.0 No 0:02:34 Official DVD (With The Lights Out) • Jam Mixed by Adam Kasper, 2004. Portions of the Jam are looped on Menu 2 (0:01:43) and Menu 4 (0:00:51).

Notes

NIRVANA's final studio recording, recorded just prior to their European tour.

Krist Novoselic has suggested that the purpose of this session was to just do something, following the precedent that other impromptu/quick studio sessions had been fruitful before: That's how we got all those other weird little songs that came out on split singles and compilations or whatever. It was just, Let's do something. Dave Grohl confirms this: That session was kind of fly-by-night. However, Grohl also recalls that a studio session had been on Cobain's mind for some time: I remember being on tour and Kurt talking about wanting to go into a studio and record some stuff. (1)

Grohl recalls that Cobain had originally wanted to record at Seattle's Studio X. Grohl, however, had heard good things about a studio in his neighborhood and suggested that they give it a try: … I had just found out there was a studio two blocks away from my house. One of our crew actually told me about it. You know, there's this guy, Bob Lang, who's built a studio that's entirely underground. What? And it's the size of a gymnasium. Holy shit! So I said, Hey what about this place that's so close to my house? I wanted to suggest something a little more localized. Grohl and Novoselic called by the studio in December 1993 and were suitably impressed by the space. (1)

NIRVANA guitar technician, Earnie Bailey, describes the studio as … an amazing place, as it was built into the ground below a house in a residential neighborhood. Much more than a basement studio, this place went down very deep below the ground, and Bob Lang's stories of how it came to be were equally, if not more bizarre. (2) The studio's main room, with its 24-foot-high ceiling, had essentially been carved out of a hillside. Novoselic jokingly dubbed the place Bob's Bunker. (1)

Prior to the band loading-in, Lang and producer Adam Kasper dragged in tree branches and set up candles around the studio to enhance the mood. Novoselic and Grohl duly arrived at the studio on the Friday afternoon, two days ahead of Cobain (Pat Smear was not present for the sessions). (3) According to Lang, Cobain was not expected until the following day: There was some word that hopefully Kurt would show up on Friday. But I don't think they were really stressed about it. And they believed if he wasn't coming Saturday, he'd definitely be there Sunday. I thought it was a little odd that Kurt wasn't there, but Krist and Dave just went about their business and kept focused on what they were doing. (1) According to Charles Cross, Cobain's whereabouts on the Friday were unknown to Novoselic and Grohl. Calls had been made to his residence, but no-one answered. (4) Cross suggests that Grohl and Novoselic had become accustomed to such antics by this point (4), which tallies with Lang's assertion that they were not fazed by Cobain's no show.

Grohl and Novoselic made full use of the studio in Cobain's absence, recording a mixture of jams and demos. According to Grohl: It was just Krist and I screwing around with funny things like Skid Mark. And I recorded a couple of my songs. We just tried to make do with the time we had. (1)

Most of the recordings laid down by Grohl and Novoselic were done without vocals and given impromptu titles. (1)

Gillian Gaar's definitive May 2004 MOJO article lifts the lid on exactly what was recorded:

Dave w/Echoplex: This song features Grohl and Bailey. (2) The song resulted from an idea sparked when Bailey plugged a Theremin into an Echoplex tape machine to show the spluttering sounds it produced. (2) Bailey recalls: Dave really liked it and jumped behind the drums to play along. Part of playing the Echoplex involved abruptly changing the timing of the echo which was difficult to jam to. We didn't spend time to work out a concept and the best stuff may have happened before Adam hit the record button! (1)

New Wave Groove: Three takes were recorded of this song, which features guitar, bass and drums. The first two takes run for about seven minutes and a shorter version was also recorded. Lang recalls: We took a direct line off Krist's bass and probably miked a cabinet to get that funky bass sound. (1) The melody to New Wave Groove can be heard in Bill Hill Theme and Final Miracle on the Touch Soundtrack. (5)

New Beat/In Cars: This song has a similar new wave feel to it as New Wave Groove. It uses the same riff throughout. Two versions were recorded: one with the bass playing the melody, the other the guitar. (1)

Chris w/Acoustic: This song features Novoselic on guitar and has been described by Bailey as having somewhat of a Bo Diddley signature riff. Grohl accompanies on the drums. Lang recalls: I remember thinking, What kind of vocals are they going to put to this? (1)

February Stars: This early version of February Stars appears under the working title Dave/Acoustic + Voc. It features alternate lyrics and the sounds of a kitten mewing at the very start (the cat was a stray that had wandered into the studio whilst recording!). Novoselic features on a harmonium. According to Bailey Novoselic's harmonium playing really made the song… and was my favorites of the entire session. (1)

Exhausted: The song is complete and virtually identical to the version that appears on the first Foo Fighters album. (1)

Big Me: The song is complete and virtually identical to the version that appears on the first Foo Fighters album. (1)

Butterflies: Gaar gives no details about the song. Cross refers to it as Butterfly and asserts that it is a Cobain composition. He adds it was laid down without vocals and not completely formed. (4) However, according to Gaar this is not the case; Cobain had left the studio by the time this was recorded. (1)

French Abortion: This was one of Novoselic's songs. Two takes were recorded, neither of which features vocals. One take is almost nine minutes long whilst the shorter one features a harmonium and mandolin. (1)

Skid Mark: According to Gaar this one-and-a-half minute song is just a pop joke. It features Grohl shouting skid mark for its short duration. (1) According to Charles Cross, who refers to the song as Skid Marks, and Jim DeRogatis, this is a Cobain composition. (4) (6) According to Gaar this is not the case, as Cobain had left the studio by this point. (1) DeRogatis has described the song as oddly funereal, mostly instrumental lounge-music tribute to stained underwear. (6)

Thrash Tune: According to Gaar this is just a brief burst of noise. (1)

Gaar recalls that more interesting sketches were also recorded, but little… was finished or particularly useable. (1)

On Sunday afternoon Cobain finally arrived at the studio. By this point, in Lang's view, Novoselic and Grohl were weary: By Sunday, I think it was starting to wear on Krist and Dave a little bit. The vibe was like, God, is Kurt even going to show up? Their studio time is ticking away by the minute. And I was like, I've got two of 'em here, come on. I was keeping my fingers crossed and I know Adam was too. (1)

Upon entering the studio Cobain immediately sat down at the console. Grohl asked Kasper to play some of what he and Novoselic had recorded. According to Lang, Cobain responded This sounds good. This is a cool vibe here. Cobain then got ready to play. (1)

However, an immediate problem arose when it became apparent that Cobain hadn't brought his own equipment. Krist and Dave had brought their own gear and we assumed Kurt would do the same, says Bailey. It looked like we were going to call [the session] off, but I had a Univox guitar I'd reworked for Kurt out in the car and he'd brought a similar one for me to set up for him. He used the studio's Marshall 50 watt combo, which he hated, and my pedal board which luckily had a Boss distortion pedal on it. The pedal wasn't the same one he favored, but we got close to to something he was OK with. (1)

The NIRVANA session got underway with a lengthy 20-minute jam. (6) Gaar reports that part of the jam sees Cobain playing the riff from Verse Chorus Verse. (1) The band then immediately set to work on the song You Know You're Right. At the time of the recording it was simply referred to as Kurt's Tune #1. (1) Novoselic confirmed that this song was played at soundchecks, at which they were kind of putting it together. (1) Novoselic described the writing process for the song as followed: We bombed it together fast. Kurt had the riff, and brought it in, and we put it down. We Nirvana-ized it. (4) The song is only known to have been performed live once, at NIRVANA's performance at the Aragon Ballroom on 23rd October 1993.

The band laid the music track down first. Gaar describes three of the takes as follows:

Take #1: … even on the first take the basics have been pretty well hashed out; subsequent takes only refined the material. (1)

Take #2: Just prior to this take the band discussed the track. Grohl suggests that they start it differently: Let's start it with something quieter, like cymbals. Cobain agrees: Yeah, let's just do some kind of rhythm on the hi-hat or something, and the cymbals, so that's really quiet and then just comes in. Grohl then hammers out a loud drum roll, to which Cobain exclaims Yeah and I'll try to cue when I will be singing, which he demonstrates by playing guitar whilst singing the vocal melody. The band then play the track again, after which Cobain asserts I think that's perfect. Exactly like that. (1)

Take #3: This is the first take to feature the chiming at the beginning of the song. Gaar explains that Cobain did this by playing the strings on his guitar neck right above the nut [the author suggests that this effect was most likely achieved by playing the strings behind the bridge, however]. (1)

Gaar's 2004 account of the recording of this song conflicts with DeRogatis's earlier article on this final studio session. DeRogatis asserts in his March 2002 article that the song was captured in just one take. (6) However, given the detail Gaar has gone into, it seems certain that she has in fact listened to the complete session tapes or at the very least has spoken directly to those who have. In our opinion, she is more likely to be correct. DeRogatis may just be referring to the vocal track, which as Gaar confirms was done in one take. The music track, however, took longer.

The band were in high spirits after leaving the studio to eat. Lang remembers Cobain laughing while recalling the band's encounter with Eddie Van Halen on 30th December. (4)

Upon returning to the studio the band's high spirits manifested itself in a jam. Gaar explains: … their renewed energy was evident in the playful and playfully titled Jam After Dinner, a punchy three-and-a-half-minute rocker that has Cobain turning on his distortion pedal halfway through. (1)

At one point, Cobain laid down on the studio's cool marble floor to alleviate a backache. I could tell his back was hurting him, says Lang. He had some pain. And then he got up and went right into singing the vocal for You Know You're Right. (7) The vocals were done in just one take, with two vocal overdubs added. Lang explains how the vocal was recorded: Adam and I hooked up some speakers and put them out of phase, 'cos Kurt didn't like to wear headphones. (1)

According to Novoselic, very few changes were made to the original mix of You Know You're Right for its release in 2002, barring a little bit of compression and maybe a little bit of reverb. (8)

At the end of the session Novoselic took the 2-inch masters home with him. They sat in his basement until 1998. (1)

Lang reports that the band were very happy with the fruits of their efforts: They told me it was the quickest and fastest recording they'd ever done. And they wanted to come back and finish up after the European tour. Lang indeed got a call from Gold Mountain, booking the band in for a week in April: They were on my books to work on more material, on demos and what was leading to be their next new record. (1) Cross's account contradicts this, saying that is was merely Cobain's intention to return to the studio, but that nothing was actually booked. (4) Lang also recalls that the band had worked well with Kasper: He [Kasper] was very aware of everything that was going on but never was jumpy or quick to say something was wrong. There was a real chemistry involved there; they worked really well together. (1)

References

  1. Gaar, Gillian G., 2004. NIRVANA: The Lost Tapes, MOJO, [online] Available at: https://www.livenirvana.com/sessions/reading/mojo126.php.
  2. Holmen, Rasmus, 2002. Nirvanaclub.com Interview with Earnie Bailey, [online] Available at: http://www.nirvanaclub.com/articles/nfcinterviews/eg_bailey.htm.
  3. Gaar, Gillian G., 1997. Verse Chorus Verse: The Recording History of Nirvana, Goldmine, [online] Available at: http://www.nirvanaclub.com/articles/02.14.97.html.
  4. Cross, Charles R., 2001. Heavier Than Heaven. Hodder & Stoughton, London.
  5. Gaar, Gillian G., 2009. The Rough Guide To Nirvana. Rough Guides.
  6. DeRogatis, Jim, 2002. A Piece of Kurt Cobain, [online] Available at: http://www.jimdero.com/News2002/CobainMar10.htm.
  7. Gaar, Gillian G., 2005. If There Walls Could Rock, Seattle Times, [online] Available at: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/entertainment/2002197058_lang06.html.
  8. Heath, Chris, 2002. Who owns the music of Kurt Cobain? The Nirvana Wars, Rolling Stone, 897, June 6, 2002.
© Alex Roberts. August 28, 2011