LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE October ??, 1990 - London, UK
- Rupert Brankin-Frisby
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
|Lime Lizard||NIRVANA: Apathy In The UK||Yes|
One of the few bands you can be vaccinated against, Nirvana are thinking of opening a children's zoo. Want to find out more? Then let Rupert Frisby be your guide.
Kurdt is unshaven, gerbil-eyed and says hello left-handed. There is barely enough space to breathe in here, yet here I sit, confronted by three eager faces and a tape recorder which has just turned itself off for the second time in ten seconds. I mumble some half-convincing reassurances, battling hard against a drastic increase in body temperature and waiting in fear for the inevitable laughter. But no, help is at hand from a friendly bassist; the tension dissolves and we all wait patiently. Maybe the band are too tired to mess around, maybe they're just used to technical hitches.
Kurdt begins by describing the thinking behind their last British tour: “Perhaps it was low-key because we simply didn't feel like playing the acrobat. I did a little bit of jumping around the stage, but I remember, as I was walking through the crowd after the Nottingham show, there was this person saying it was like watching Nirvana in practice - they didn't move around enough. I just thought: ‘Well, maybe this is good, because we shouldn't be known as playing wildly all the time because we'd eventually die, if we kept doing it every night. So when many more people get used to not expecting us to do this, they accept it’.”
Chris, the bassist who mended the tape, has a laconic wit, pulls funny faces on stage and is physically very long: “Plus we didn't have the clothes for it, like gym shorts, nylons, pink tops, helmets, you know.” Chris' own dress sense is pretty spot-on-bright red trousers and a t-shirt speckled in luminous green shine.
Dave, the drummer and new recruit has been in a band called Dain Bramage, likes Tackhead and is from the East Coast. “Sometimes when I'm playing drums, I have to sing backups, and I feel kinda guilty, 'cos I'm not going nuts.”
Conforming to audience expectations is obviously hard. “Yeah, we went to see the Pixies and they didn't move around at all, yet the response was just insane, but it seems that when people come to our shows, it depends on how we move. We have to spark up this rapport with the audience just to get them to have a good time. Kurdt's gotta throw his guitar up Chris' butt and stuff's gotta break, then they can go ‘Yearrgh!’.”
Chris: “It just depends on what you feel like that night. You know, a lot of times I go up there and have a ball. Jumping around just like all the other goofballs. Other nights I feel like sitting in a chair.”
Kurdt refuses to be distracted by anything other than his own impulses: “Sometimes I just get sleepy, which is kinda mad in a way, 'cos there's all those people who've come to watch it. Sometimes the PA doesn't work and there's no energy there; you can't hear your guitar. You can't fake it; people who fake it shouldn't be in a band.”
What's the most important thing about being in a band, then?
Kurdt: “For me it's a really selfish thing. I'd rather please myself and I do, usually. And if people appreciate that, then it makes me feel really good, but pleasing the band as a whole comes first. If we don't have a good show together, we feel like we've ripped everyone off, but most importantly, we've ripped ourselves off.”
Chris: “I just lose all my self-esteem, and get really drunk.”
One of the band’s most popular songs seems to be ‘Negative Creep’: what's this about?
Kurdt: “It's about love.”
Dave: “It's about the environment.”
Chris: (Delving deep into his subconscious): “It's about three minutes long.”
Kurdt: “It's the last song in that vein we'll ever write.”
Chris: “I don't know, the reason we play it is that it's a fine song. Sometimes we hold it against itself ‘cos you get these guys shouting ‘Negative Creep’, and it's like ‘Fuck you, man’.”
Whether they deserve it, or not, Nirvana have predictably drawn a mindless element into their audience, from which they clearly want to disassociate themselves. How has the Sub Pop label affected the band?
Kurdt is the first to admit that it helped the band early on. “But then people would come up to you with compliments like: ‘You're my second favourite Sub Pop band’. Just to be categorised in this world of five or six bands is kind of frustrating, ‘cos you wonder what they think of you compared to bands on other labels.”
Not surprisingly they react with disbelief at the mention of other convenient definitions like ‘Foxcore’.
Kurdt: “What the fuck is that? It's a stupid label, sexist. What are we, then? Zit core, complexion core? That could almost be flattering, ‘cos that's how New Wave started: there were these bands playing synthesizers and someone had to give them a name, ‘cos it was so different.”
Chris: “Foxcore seems to have a lot more to do with girls and not so much with music. That is a sexist thing… which is really great! This is something we must latch onto.”
People have been saying that the ‘Sliver’ EP has a poppier feel to it.
Kurdt: “Yeah, on some songs we're experimenting more. It's definitely a more diverse album, but we're not changing completely; it's hardly conventional.” I'm looking for something more specific. Half in jest, I suggest that the opening verse of ‘Sliver’ sounds like Bruce Springsteen and get the required reaction, as Kurdt's face lurches forward from his shoulders.
“C’mon, Bruce Springsteen? I'm offended! I mean it has got three pop notes in it, but that song was inspired by ‘cutie’ bands like the Vaselines, Beat Happening and Half Japanese.”
The conversation is quickly turned to life back home: how are they treated?
Chris: “Red carpet.”
Kurdt: “Yeah, but it's not important. I'm not angry about it, but I wouldn't bother finding out what other people's opinion are.”
Chris: “When the band started you know, we realised we wanted to do something completely different. Not what all the dumb ramrods in our town are into, like Bruce Springsteen. Freak them out, know what I mean? Fly our freak flag, rather than being a band, where ‘ooh… he's pretty good’.”
Wasn't that hard?
“Not really, ‘cos we just had to go to the city, find acceptance there. We tried to believe in the scene where we were growing up, but there was nothing there.”
What do they think when they think of Britain?
“Kebabs! Haggis.” (Typical American obsession with the delights of British cuisine!)
Dave: “When I think of Britain, I think of hype. People on the whole are more concerned with social things, whereas in America, there's a widespread chronic attitude. In England, you walk out of the tube and see people with t-shirts on, you see Marxist, Leninist fliers all over, you know, and I really appreciate it.”
Chris: “Everyone has a stake in society, I really respect that.”
Kurdt: “I think England is civilised: I feel no threat when I walk down the streets or into a bar or restaurant. I realise there are child molesters and all that, but it's nothing compared to the States. When I walked in here, I saw a couple of hookers, and I thought, ‘Now what a great place,’ I mean, they weren't even rude when they asked me if I wanted to use the withdrawl method.”
Chris: “You can have ‘em for pets or meat.”
Dave: “I'm not into snakes or birds smuggled out of Central America - give me cats with personality.”
There's a temporary interruption from a member of L7.
“We normally get asked about vixens.”
Chris: “Ask us about Nixon. Dirty Dick!”
Kurdt: “I've had lizards, turtles, rabbits… I want to open a ‘Petting Zoo’, I've said this all along. ‘Nirvana Petting Zoo’, just for all those children.” Nirvana are no less caring in the policies they advocate for adults.
Kurdt: “The thing that interests me about censorship is that there hasn't been one person who is so obsessed with trying to get rid of it, that we haven't started something like the Black Panthers, some sort of violence to scare those people into leaving us alone. You know, someone should be assassinated. Kill Jesse Holmes. If someone doesn't have anything to live for, get a gun and blow the motherfucker's head off. Don't go to playschool and blow a bunch of schoolkids to pieces, go and blow Tipper Gore's asshole open.”
Chris: “It's like prohibition on drugs. I mean how can someone say: ‘Say No. Drugs are bad.’ What if you like taking drugs? I mean I've done cocaine before, I just didn't like it you know.”
Kurdt: “People who abuse drugs are normally born that way; people who are supposed to be substance abusers are supposed to.”
Words of wisdom.
Chris: “You know why we have so many problems with drugs tho! ‘Cos there are all these mainstream dumbasses, who can't handle drugs and they totally fuck up. It used to be that drugs was a counterculture kind of thing, where beatniks used to go around and smoke a few herbs, then it leaps into mainstream and they can't handle it.” Via ‘Floyd The Barber’, a favourite live track, we get in onto TV shows. The song is apparently based on the Andy Griffiths show, a 50s/60s American sitcom set in a small town in North Carolina.
Kurdt: “Everything's very confused, you know Apple Pie America, you've got characters like Andy, the Sheriff, Bonny the Deputy and Floyd the Barber. So we just made up this scenario where the whole town become child-molesters and Satan-worshipping freaks, who take people coming into town and put them in Floyd's chair and do really nasty things to them. It's really funny if you seen the show, or there again, maybe it's not funny at all.”
Kurdt: “David Lynch's early stuff is great. It's fantastic that directors like him and John Waters are finally getting the financial backing to make good commercial movies. ‘Wild At Heart’ is fantastic. It's about time that something cool hit the mainstream. You know, middle America, blue-collar workers.”
Chris: “Yeah, ‘Twin Peaks’ will pick up. When I first watched it, it sparked my curiosity. Then the series ended and I waited around, because I wanted to find out who killed Laura Palmer and that was something which affected my life really deeply - I can't really explain it. You should see my apartment; it's like a ‘Twin Peaks’ shrine. I laser copied that ‘Time’ cover. All that stuff, ‘The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’, ‘Dale Cooper's Cassettes.’”
Dave: “You can get them?”
Kurdt: “Yeah really, imagine reading a good book, instead of just trash!”
Any plans to go back to college, like Mudhoney?
Kurdt: “What, now? Why go to college when you can be in a band? Life is much easier in a band.”
Nirvana - final release from the cycle of reincarnation. Heaven - what could be better?
© Rupert Brankin-Frisby, 1991