LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE August 10, 1993 - Seattle, WA, US
- Laurence Romance
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
|Uncut Legends||"I Want To Go Solo - Like Johnny Cash"||Yes|
Kurt Cobain: So many people would be expecting me to talk about- to be writing about the last two years, our past experiences with drugs, having a new child and all the press coming down on us and stuff like that, I decided to just use experiences from books and other stories instead of even dealing with my life. I mean, there's a little bit of my life - personal things - in it, but for the most part, it's very un-personal- impersonal and I think that'll be a surprise to a lot of people.
KC: I think the general consensus was that the album may not sell as much, so they were concerned with that, you know? But they never ever once put any pressure on us. They basically told us their feelings and their thoughts, what they thought of the record. Most people don't like the record, you know? A lot of my friends don't even like the record.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah?
KC: Yeah, but, um…
Interviewer: Do you like the record?
KC: I love it! I think it's great! Krist, Dave and I, all three of us are totally excited about it. We've achieved exactly what we've been wanting to achieve for the last two records. This is the sound that we've had in our heads that has never been able to transfer.
KC: I really don't care what anyone thinks about my past drug use. I could put the blame on that kind of influence, but it's a mixture of rock 'n' roll in general, the Keith Richards thing, Iggy Pop and all those other people that did drugs. I just thought it was just one of those things that you do, you know, to relieve the pain. But, as I expected, before I started doing heroin, I realised that… I knew at the beginning that it would become just as boring as marijuana does. Like all drugs, after a few months, it's just as boring as breathing air, so… I just don't wanna turn… I've always lied about it, because I never wanted- I didn't want to influence anybody, you know? I didn't want anyone to even consider the thought of doing drugs, because it's really stupid.
Krist Novoselic: There was a time when there was, I'd say, a breakdown in communication. But, right now, I think, for the most part, since about last- for a good part of the last year, there's been good relations between everybody. I mean, Kurt and Courtney come over for dinner, you know what I mean? They bring the kid over. Everything's great.
Dave Grohl: People are always telling you, “You're so great! You're so good! Your band is so great! You changed rock 'n' roll!” And you just sorta think, “No, I didn't!” You know, nothing's changed, really. [laughs] And I don't see- I'm not great, I don't understand why everybody's so enamoured by the band.
KC: There's nothing more embarrassing than a group of people walking up to you, shaking and clamouring and… praising you like you some fucking god or something, it's embarrassing!
DG: There's so many bands in Seattle now. Seattle is the new Los Angeles, you know? And that's kind of upsetting, because Seattle was a city that, um… it was a clean city and it was a small city and there was no traffic and there was no air pollution. It was something really great, that a lot of people we attracted to. So they move there and, you know, the more people that move to the city, the bigger and worse the city gets.
KC: It might be nice to eventually start playing acoustic guitar and be thought of as a singer-songwriter, rather than a “grunge-rocker,” you know? Because then I might be able to take advantage of that when I'm older and sit down on a chair and play acoustic guitar like Johnny Cash or something and it won't be a big joke, but who knows?
On 10 August, 1993 - just eight short months before his death - I met and interviewed Kurt Cobain for the second and last time. The first time had hardly been an auspicious occasion. I'd interviewed Nirvana in November 1991 in Paris, just as Nevermind had taken over the Number 1 position in most of the world's album charts, only to find the trio struggling to stay awake under the weight of their endless promotional and gigging duties. Cobain was stoned and somewhat uncommunicative throughout the interview. Dave Grohl literally fell asleep halfway through, leaving a slightly inebriated Chris Novoselic to field most of the questions in his inimitable rambling style. Still, at least they'd done the interview as a group.
Twenty months later, Nirvana weren't pretending to be an all-for-one and one-for-all kind of band any more. Cobain insisted that they each be interviewed separately. "Things are pretty good right now between us," Novoselic would claim later. "Kurt and Courtney come over for dinner sometimes." Only he didn't sound too convincing. Grohl side-stepped any discussion of group turmoil and focussed instead on hyping Nirvana's crusade to rid rock of all homophobia and sexism. Ironically, the interviews all took place in Seattle's Edgewater Inn, a waterfront hotel best known for being the site where various members of Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge had reportedly forced a groupie to have sexual congress with one or more large fish in the late '60s. Nirvana had chosen the location themselves.
Cobain seemed in reasonably good spirits that day. Frail and vulnerable-looking with beautiful, piercing blue eyes, blond hair parted in the centre and a small moustache and goatee, he looked like a diminutive Jesus Christ draped in flannel and denim fresh from a thrift-store. He didn't look particularly healthy, but he was quick-witted and focussed. Was he strung out on heroin? It was hard to tell, but his answers were candid and well-considered enough to convince me that he wasn't as wasted as media reports had recently suggested.
He was also a nice guy - sweet-natured, though slightly petulant on occasion. He was there principally to promote In Utero and did so with much vigour. He sincerely loved the record. But he didn't see himself continuing with Nirvana for much longer. He wanted to form a duo with Courtney Love. He wanted to lock himself away with William Burroughs. He wanted to be a solo act like Johnny Cash. For one brief moment, it felt like Kurt Cobain might really have a future.
What do you feel to be the main themes of the songs on the new album, In Utero?
"Generally speaking, it's really not as personal as a lot of people would probably think. I've actually taken the time to be a bit more thematic. Many people would be expecting me to be writing about the last two years and my past experiences-drugs, having a child, the press coming down on us and stuff like that. But I decided to just use experiences from books and other stories, instead of even dealing with my life. There's a little bit of my life on it, but for the most part it's very impersonal. And it's gonna be a surprise to a lot of people."
The sound of the record is uncompromisingly raw and abrasive. Yet one of the main producers, Steve Albini, has claimed that the whole thing has been cleaned up a bit. How did the original mixes sound?
"He's wrong. We didn't do anything to any of the songs - except for two. We remixed 'Heart-Shaped Box' and All Apologies' with Scott Litt, who has done R.E.M."
There are reports that your label is uncomfortable with the new album. Was that part of your original aim?
"No. Why would I want to do that? I mean, there's no point in pissing off your record company for no reason. They've never done anything bad to us. I think the general consensus was that the album may not sell as much and they were concerned about that, but they never once put any pressure on us. They simply told us their feelings and thoughts of the record. Most people don't like the record [laughs]. A lot of my friends don't even like the record."
Do you like the record?
"I love it! It's great. Chris and Dave and I are totally excited about it. This is the sound we've had in our heads, that we've never been able to transfer. This is the sound that we always thought Nirvana should have, so we finally found a producer who would do that. "I would hate to repeat it - I wouldn't use Steve Albini again because I like to change with every record. That's probably why we're not recognised as having a specific sound. I mean, everyone identifies us with the 'grunge' sound, but I'm not recognised as an original guitar player or anything like that. We like to change with every song. Every song I'll turn the knob to get a different sound. I don't like to repeat things - it bothers me. I really don't like to tell the same jokes more than twice, because it's just boring after that."
Your friends who don't like the record -what do they say about it?
"They say that the production bothers them, that they expected it to sound more like Nevermind. I don't know, I guess they're afraid of change. There's a lot of mixed feelings about Steve Albini's production, even in the underground. You would expect people who have supposedly well-developed ears-who've listened to punk rock for a long time-to be able to handle such a drastic step, but... a lot of people can't stand the sound of The Pixies' first record. I don't understand it, I think that's one of the best-sounding records I ever heard. It's just a matter of opinion."
You've always been portrayed as the ultimate reluctant rock star, someone who has never wanted to have anything to do with mainstream taste. Has the worldwide success of Nevermind made you feel good?
"Sure! The pleasure I got from it is that so many people liked the music. But I was validated beyond any expectations when we were playing in clubs, you know... just to have that many people-50 or 100 people-telling you they like your music, it's fine enough with me. I've never been afraid of any kind of failure. If this record sells even a quarter as much as the last, I won't consider it a failure. A lot of people will, but I won't, because it will still sell more than we ever could have done on an independent label, y'know?"
Can you honestly say that you would prefer to have stayed a simple cult act, selling no more than 50,000 records at a time?
"I think so, yeah. Cult bands seem to have a very steady lifestyle. They don't have the hassles of being a celebrity and they're almost guaranteed to sell the same amount of records to the same people every time. Those people are really devoted to them, you know. And I feel we do have that percentage of people who consider us a cult band in a way, because they're really into our music and they buy everything we put out and follow us to whatever we want to do and appreciate it if it's good.
"I kinda envy bands like The Pixies or Iggy Pop, people who have had pretty much the same fans or people who can appreciate the music on that level, because they don't have to deal with all the other bullshit that gets in the way."
Isn't this record mainly a giant "fuck you" to the entire music industry?
In the wake of the success of Nevermind, have relationships between the band members undergone any radical changes for better or worse?
"I can't say it's for the better or the worse. It has stayed exactly the same. We're still great friends -I can't recall ever getting into any arguments with Chris or Dave. We know our limits, we know what little things bother us about each other, y'know, so we just stay away from it. We're just passive-aggressive in a way, we don't confront one another. If we're pissed off at each other, we just let the person know that we're bothered by something that they said and then forget about it, y'know. None of us really have that aggressive personality. We're all pretty much the same kind of people. We started as friends and I can't see anything getting in the way to stop us from being friends."
You sound incredibly angry on much of your new record. Where do you think this anger stems from, and has marriage and fatherhood mellowed you at all as a human being?
"Personally I've always enjoyed angry music, so I can't see that changing. But we have a lot of really laid-back, nice pretty songs too, so I don't see it as a radical change from anything that we've done before. I can't find a song that's anymore aggressive or angry than on any of the other albums. But I don't really have any idea where this anger stems from. I guess it just has to do with all kind of things, y'know. I guess if I could break it down and explain it then I wouldn't have anything to write about any more-if I really analysed it too much. I mean, obviously I'm disgusted with a lot of things in everyday life, with the way that people can co-operate with one another and get along right now. I would say that's probably the basis of my anger with the music."
You've co-written a song on the new album with your wife, Courtney Love. Do you foresee further collaborations?
"It's a nice thought. I'd like to, but... to tell you the truth, I would rather just quit my band and join Hole, you know-only because when I have played music with them, there's a level of connection that's a little bit higher than with anyone else I ever played with. It's amazing. It's totally satisfying for Courtney and I, but completely unrealistic because we're already so intertwined with each other. Most people don't even think of the band Nirvana, they think of Kurt and Courtney, and it's just too much, it gets in the way. People would overlook the music and look into other things. It just wouldn't be taken seriously, so... I'd like to someday, but now I can't see anything for the next five years or so. We still jam together once in a while. It's such a sad situation. I really wish we could just join bands."
Any music is taken seriously if it's good...
"I think so, but I couldn't expect anyone to focus on, or consider us just a band. They would always take Kurt from Nirvana or Courtney from Hole and because they're married it would be just like 'collaboration' or 'project' or something, y'know. It wouldn't be considered a real band. If I was to put out something on a record with Courtney, I would have already had to quit my band. We would both have had to quit our bands and get other members or something. We'd have done it that way- I couldn't see just doing a one-off project with her."
Do you get pissed off at the way you are portrayed as a confused "John Lennon of the '90s" figure, with Courtney portrayed as your Yoko Ono?
"Well, of course. It's easier for someone who isn't dealing with it to sit back and read about us and just laugh about it, but when it's actually happening to you it's a bit more affecting, y'know. I don't care what they say about me, but Courtney's been portrayed so wrongly, especially because of Vanity Fair and all the other copy-pieces after that. It's just not fair to a person to have to deal with that, because before she was associated with me or my band she was taken seriously as a real musician and a songwriter, and she didn't have any problems with too much analysation and lies written about her. She had really good interviews and there was no negative perspective at all about her personality. And all of a sudden one horrendous article written by this vindictive bitch just ruined everything.
"It's amazing how just one article like that in a prominent magazine can do that - it's something that we had never experienced before. We never paid close attention to other supposed big rock'n'roll bands before, but I read old interviews with Led Zeppelin and realised that they'd probably put up with the same shit. It was a lot of stuff written about them, y'know. I'm sure if they threw the TV out this window it didn't have a girl attached to it, y'know, or whatever the story... all kinds of stories have been from this very building, y'know, obvious myths about Led Zeppelin and what they've done. I'm sure it's all exaggerated. I never questioned stuff like that before, but now... The only thing that I really learnt from this is that you always have to question."
Were you at all prepared for the intense media scrutiny that followed the sudden success of Nevermind?
"I wasn't prepared for it because I never paid attention to it. The only thing I've learnt from it is that I really don't have the right to make an opinion about something that I've read. I have to go to the source, I have to actually know the person before I make any judgment. I always questioned things in high school and junior high. When I was going to school, I had this different attitude about things that were in history books and stuff. I knew they were altered for certain areas of the country and stuff like that, but I didn't know on what scale things have been altered, y'know. And now I know better than to trust anything I read."
There are three books on Nirvana being published this autumn. Do you think the group has done enough to warrant this kind of exposure?
"[Laughs] No. Well, I know for a fact that one of the books is just from two opportunistic groupies who decided to get revenge on Courtney
especially - and me - by doing something supposedly legal, by writing a book. It's obvious once you've finished the book that these women had a personal problem with us as people and that's the reason why they wrote this book. It's very funny, but it just blows my mind that people can get away with stuff like that.
"We've seen a transcript of it and it's so badly written, because these women are not journalists, they never have been. They have so many problems with the writing and the spelling and the context. The way they got most of their interviews was through lying to people - mostly my friends in Seattle - by saying stuff like, 'We have had a very good relationship with Nirvana, they're friends of ours, we slept with some of the members of the band,' and stuff like that. Basically, they just lied their way into interviews with people all around the country. But they're having so many problems right now with trying to get a publisher. I don't expect it to come out for a long time. And because I'm giving it publicity right now, they'll probably sell a lot of books... like a fool!"
You've added a fourth member to the group to help fill out your guitar sound. As there was a second guitarist in the original line-up of Nirvana, do you see this band as essentially a two-guitar experience?
"No, I never have, really. I decided... Well, I guess I should say we decided to... When we play live, we lack a lot of things because I have to concentrate on so many different areas at once. I've always lacked any kind of participation - or feelings - from the audience, because I'm concentrating on my guitar. I have to remember the lyrics, and I have to remember to push these little buttons down on my fuzz pedals, and I have to sing and all this stuff and it really limits me. I'm just not given a chance to do exactly what 1 want to do as a frontperson - I want to be able to have eye contact with people in the audience every once in a while and get a reaction from them. But I can't chew gum and walk at the same time. So having another guitar player is a total relief.
"We got this guy, Pat Smear - he was the guitar player for The Germs, from LA. We just practiced with him last night for the first time and it worked out great. It's just that there's a very different feeling between a live situation and recording. I mean, if I need an extra guitar player for recording, I'll just dub my guitar, I'll just put my guitar on another track. But for live, there are some obvious things lacking."
As you are portrayed as a committed feminist, do you feel more of a kinship with today's female bands than the male rock acts coming out at the moment?
"Well, I'm probably more supportive of female rock bands, but I don't base my appreciation of bands on gender at all, l really don't care about that. I mean, I like the idea of giving girls an idea or the realisation that they can actually pick up a guitar and play. And I think we're beyond that now- it's accepted all over the place, it's not considered a novelty any more. But it's only been happening for the last couple of years. It's always been a struggle for women, so I'm really excited about what may happen in rock'n'roll, because women haven't been given a chance to really express themselves fully, y'know. So there's a lot of evolution to go on. Hi Dave! See, we still like each other... fucker!"
How did you get on with William Burroughs when you recorded together recently?
"That was a long distance recording session. [Laughs] We didn't actually meet."
Did he show a genuine awareness of your music?
"No, we've written to one another and we were supposed to talk the other day on the phone, but I fell asleep - they couldn't wake me up. I don't know if he respects my music or anything; maybe he's been through my lyrics and seen some kind of influence from him or something, I don't know. I hope he likes my lyrics, but I can't expect someone from a completely different generation to like rock'n'roll - I don't think he's ever claimed to be a rock'n'roll lover, y'know. But he's taught me a lot of things through his books and interviews that I'm really grateful for. I remember him saying in an interview, 'These new rock'n'roll kids should just throw away their guitars and listen to something with real soul, like Leadbelly.' I'd never heard about Leadbelly before so I bought a couple of records, and now he turns out to be my absolute favourite of all time in music. I absolutely love it more than any rock'n'roll I ever heard."
The song you've recorded together makes references to shooting up, and Burroughs' own history of drug-taking is no secret. Were you worried that this collaboration might throw the spotlight on press rumours that you've had considerable experience with hard drugs yourself?
"I don't think it's any secret any more, it's been reported so much for so long. I really don't care what anyone thinks about my past drug use - I mean, I'm definitely not trying to glorify it in anyway. Maybe when I was a kid, when I was reading some of his books, I may have got the wrong impression. I might have thought at that time that it might be kind of cool to do drugs. I can't put the blame on that influence but it's a mixture of rock'n'roll in general-you know, the Keith Richards thing and Iggy Pop and all these other people who did drugs. I just thought it was one of those things that you do to relieve the pain, but... As I expected before I started doing heroin, I knew at the beginning that it would become just as boring as marijuana does. All drugs, after a few months, it's just as boring as breathing air. I've always lied about it because I never wanted to influence anybody, I didn't want anyone to consider the thought of doing drugs because it's really stupid."
Is being famous a total pain in the ass for you?
"The biggest pain in the ass I ever had, yeah. There's nothing more embarrassing than a group of people walking up to you and shaking and clamouring and praising you like you're some kind of fucking god or something. It's embarrassing, it makes you feel sorry for people. Every time I've ever seen a famous person I've gone out of my way to look the other way so I didn't make them feel bad or uncomfortable. And there's so many people that are disrespectful-maybe they're just so blown away by actually seeing someone that they recognise from television that when they see them in real life their behaviour just gets fucked up. It's something that everyone tells me: 'Oh, it goes with the territory.' But it was just such a surprise to me because everything happened so fast and I had no choice but to react that way. What I've said in the past about it isn't necessarily the same. I'm not as upset about it as I used to be. It still bothers me when I can't walk down the street without people asking me for autographs and stuff, but I'm growing accustomed to it, because it's been two years since I've been famous."
You seem to be concerned about attracting heavy metal fans, but surely it's preferable that they listen to your music than the more reactionary and phoney-sounding stuff that they've been brought up with?
"I have no idea where this anti-heavy metal thing came from. I was a big heavy metal fan for years in junior high school and I don't recall having ever said anything negative about heavy metal. I think Chris might have said something in Rolling Stone one time, like 'most heavy metal kids are dumb' or something. But I have nothing against heavy metal fans at all, except... for the most part heavy metal's always been pretty sexist. There are a lot of areas I don't agree with but that's no reason to exclude a person from having the opportunity to listen to your music."
What groups do you find particularly exciting at the moment?
"The Breeders. Hole have amazing songs, wait 'till their record comes out. I like Sebadoh. I wish The Pixies were still a band though. I'm really not into new music as much as I used to be. Actually, I don't have much of a chance to, really-to find new music. It's not as easy for me as it used to be. Because I'm constantly working, I'm always just on the road or in a studio or doing something else and I don't have a lot of free time."
Do you have a particular fantasy of how your future might workout?
"No, I've no idea. I can't think like that. It might be nice to start playing acoustic guitar and be thought of as a singer and a songwriter, rather than a 'grunge rocker', because then I might be able to take advantage of that when I'm older. I could sit down on a chair and play acoustic guitar like Johnny Cash or something, and it won't be a big joke."
© Laurence Romance, 2004