- Michael X
- Dave Grohl
People just want to hear a good pop song: from Eddie Cochrane to Big Star to the Buzzcocks to Nirvana. I mean, sure, grunge was pretty cool. For a while, Soundgarden, Tad and Mudhoney were rockin', and pretty cool for Pacific Northwest bands, but because rock music fans are just kids at heart they can't resist a little bit of bubblegum. Nirvana isn't exactly K-tel material but Nevermind is one of the catchiest records I've heard this year and runs right up there with Heart's Dreamboat Annie as a Northwest classic. There's another side to the record as well. For every sing along pop hit like "On a Plain" or "Breed," there's the pure insanity of "Territorial Pissings" or the CD bonus track. And as a counterpoint to those there are the brooding 'Something in the Way" and the controversial "Polly."
Nevermind is quite simply a great record. Fortunately, it is being recognized as such and it has sold over 1,200,000 copies already. Talking to Dave Grohl, the drummer, at the Commodore prior to Nirvana's sold out show was interesting because it captured the band poised on the brink of stardom. Nevermind had just gone platinum in the States and had debuted at number 17 on the Billboard sales charts. First of all, I was kind of scared. I mean, every article I had ever read portrayed Nirvana as the Guns & Roses of American rock. Stories about them pissing in Ride's champagne bucket at the Reading Festival and trashing Sonic Youth's dressing room were only a couple that I had heard. Secondly, I didn't know how to talk to one of the most exciting bands on the planet without showing that I REALLY thought that they were one of the most exciting... Well, anyway, with mixed feelings of fear and awe, I sat down to talk with David Grohl, dummerextraordinare....
So you're the newest member of the band. Where In the Nirvana discography do you fit in?
Dave Grohl: I joined right as the "Sliver" single was coming out in September of 1990.
Before the Velvet Underground song or after?
After. I recorded nothing with them other than Nevermind.
Were you In other bands before Nirvana?
I was in a band called Scream from Washington DC. We were halfway through our tour when our bass player quit and we were stuck in LA for a month. My friend, who was in the Melvins, told me that Nirvana was looking for a drummer. They had seen Scream play in San Francisco and thought we were pretty good so I just gave them a call. They said yeah and I moved up to Seattle.
I heard today that Nirvana is number 17 on the Billboard sales charts. [ Ed.- Currently it sits as #5 and Peaked the month before as #4. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" also enters the Billboard Dance charts wedged between PM Dawn and Hammer and beat out Michael Jackson as #1 video on Good Rockin' Tonite.] Is this amazing to you... Is it a surprise?
Well, I guess it's a surprise. I mean people can throw statistics at us, or whatever, but it really has no direct impact on the band we don't see that much of a difference. The shows have been really big and everything but we're not really that different. I mean we're not really any richer. We're not any more assholes than we were six months ago.
I guess you've been doing a lot of interviews across the country and most of them have been with the same questions asked.
It's strange. There's a lot of people who know the history of Nirvana, and they focus more on…
… the Seattle scene?
No… well, yeah. More on the jump from SUBPOP to a major. Since they know what the band was all about before DGC they want to know the difference. Then there's the people who don't know Nirvana and those interviews usually consist of, "How does it feel to be a really brand new band breaking out in the mainstream?"
What were some of the records that changed your life?
The Melvins. Gluey Porch Treatments changed my life more than anything else in the world.
As a drummer or as an entire musician?
As a musician it sort of changed my whole outlook on how music is made. It taught me a lot about groove and a lot about how to really feel from a song.
Nirvana is probably one of the most bootlegged bands around these days. Are you guys for or against that? How do you feel about it?
It's hard to say. Live bootlegs are okay. I mean, on just about any bootleg the quality is shit and you see it in a record store for 15 or 20 dollars. It's just not worth it. I guess it is if you're the anal collector-type that wants the test pressing, or blue vinyl, or whatever single. Bootlegs just sort of suck! I mean they're neat to have, sort of, as a novelty but they don't sound good. As far as us getting pissed off about it... live ones don't really piss us off that much but it does when people start releasing demos and tapes of stuff Kurt has recorded in his living room; just stuff not intended for release.
But how do people get around that kind of stuff?
I don't know. If we knew we wouldn't let them. I know somebody took a tape from Kurt's house, got it copied and eventually got it bootlegged. Most bootlegs are 3rd generation copies of cassette tapes.
You mentioned something about collectors; It seemed the whole SUB POP thing was geared towards them, what with the limited edition colored vinyl and Singles Club?
That was their whole marketing ploy. I mean none of us are collectors. I don't even own a record player.
Do you have any opinion on that sort of a scheme or on record collecting in general?
I think it sucks to make so few of something that people are going to up the price to make a buck off. A lot of bands make 5000 7"ers because that's all they can afford but when a bigger label makes so few of something, for the sole intention of making it a pricey collector's item, I think that's sort of lame. I mean, I can see how it's kind of neat to have something like that but to hand it off to someone for 50 bucks is kind of stupid.
Who did the cover for the album?
A person at Geffen did it. Kurt and I were sitting around in Los Angeles watching TV and we saw this documentary about babies being born underwater and teaching infants to swim and stuff. There were some really cool images where the baby would float past the camera. It was hilarious. We thought it would be a really cool idea for a video. We had a meeting for the cover of the record and none of us had an idea for what we wanted so someone just said, "Well, we saw these babies underwater on TV…" and it stemmed from that.
Is it supposed to be representative of you guys as a band entering the large rock arena?
We're the last ones to analyse anything we do. If we did anything like that it wasn't conscious. It's just a baby, a dollar, and a fishhook underwater.
What about the photo on the back cover?
Kurt took that photo about three and a half years ago.
It reminds me of the Pixies "Monkey Gone to Heaven" 12" cover.
The funny thing is that he took the picture before the Pixies thing, and when he saw the cover it was like, "Fuck man," because he wanted to use something like that for a record one day.
Do the members of the band generally have an art background?
Kurt has done a lot of art. I know he's been painting & sculpting for years but he doesn't really have much time to do it anymore. I was really into photography when I was in high school and stuff.
I was talking to someone the other day about music and art and he said that being a musician is a lot more difficult than being an artist because you have to deal with so many more people to get your work out. Do you find that?
I don't think it's difficult being a musician. I don't think it's difficult being an artist. I think it's just in you. If you love to play music then it's not difficult. I think that maybe being a musician is a lot more time consuming, at least for us it is.
Do you find that, as you go along, you are having to cut through more and more crap and deal with more people?
Yeah, I can see that but, also, an artist is usually just an individual working with himself and spewing out whatever is inside their own head. When you're in a band you're with two other people and if you want to put out a record you have to deal with a label. And if you want to go on tour you have to deal with a booking agent and rent a van and cut through a lot more shit.
So if you could be in another band, any band, who would it be?
I would want to be a drummer for the Breeders.
Nirvana played at the Reading Festival in England last year. Do you enjoy playing huge places like that or do you prefer smaller venues?
I prefer playing small places myself. Because playing huge places like Reading… [Dan & Matt from Mudhoney walk in beside us] You guys were at Reading, talk about when you played there.
Matt Lukin: Oh, it was a great day.
Dan Peters: Incredible!
So how many bands were there... like, eight bands per day?
Matt: Something like that.
Do you feel that there was any concern people were there to see you or there more for the event, like Lollapalooza?
Dan: They're there to see the rock bands. They take it a lot more seriously than here.
So did Mudhoney play in 1990?
Dan: Yeah, this year we went and watched.
Dave: That must have been a lot better?
Matt: It was wild, man!
Dave: Playing a festival like Reading, that was the first time we played a place that huge. Like 35,000 people… that's a lot of people. And getting up in front of that many people, it's almost like playing before a crowd rather than an audience. It was cool because we played a great show and people were really getting off on it; people loved it. I don't really like playing to that big a crowd. I was cool to play there because it was outdoors and a really nice day but I wouldn't want to make it a habit.
You're eventually going to be playing bigger places. Are you ready as a band for that transition to a big act?
Dave: We're not even thinking about it. We have this tour and then we go over and tour Europe for a month and a half. We're really just concentrating on the immediate future, like hoping we don't get sick and stay sane.
How hard is it for an American band to tour? I've heard touring in America sucks but touring in Europe is really great.
Dave: Touring America sucks because it's just so big and a lot of the drives are so huge. You just get really burnt out; you sit in a van for eight hours then you out and get something to eat. You get on stage and expend all the energy that's been saved all day and then you go to sleep. You don't eat well, you get drunk every night and it can be a nightmare. But for the most part it's pretty much the funnest time you'll ever have in your life so you might as well do it while you can. Europe is different for American bands because they're really hospitable. They really take care of you. It's just totally different. The crowds are generally the same but the vibe is totally different. The culture of each little country is unique and you're in there for a week absorbing it and then you split.
What was the idea behind the final untitled song on the CD and the twelve minute gap?
Dave: See, I was going to talk about this when we were talking about collectors because the first 15,000 copies didn't have it because they fucked up with the mastering. They were saying, "Now everyone is scrambling for those 15,000 and it's going to be such a collector's item," and it's so stupid. It's just a CD. They look exactly the same except for that one song.
I had a guy come in wanting to return a CD. He said, "Why is there a 10 minute gap between the last two songs?" So I said, "Well, I think it's just kind of the band's way of doing something funny?" So, he said, "But it's just noise," and I said, "Well, it's just part of the joke," and he said, 'Well, it's not very funny."
Dave: No way!! You should have taken it back and given it to someone who appreciates it.
Well, all kinds of people are buying your album and as you become more popular you'll find that most people aren't that cool.
Dave: Well, I've noticed there has been a change in the crowds we've been getting. Now there seem to be a lot more college types and more metal people as well.
Are you prepared for that?
Dave: We're only taking one thing at a time right now.
© Michael X, 1992