LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE September ??, 1993 - Seattle, WA, US
- Craig Rosen
- Krist Novoselic
|Billboard||Nirvana Set Has Smell Of Success DGC Plans Low-Key Approach For 'In Utero'||Yes|
"Teenaged angst has paid off well/Now I'm bored and old," sings Kurt Cobain on "Serve The Servants," the opening track of Nirvana's new album, "In Utero." With 1991's "Nevermind" having sold more than 4.6 million copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan, DGC is cautiously optimistic that "In Utero," due Tuesday (21), also will pay off. Yet the label is taking a low-key approach to marketing the album, in an effort to avoid hype. Robert Smith, head of marketing for Geffen/DGC, says, "We want this record to be discovered in the same way that 'Nevermind' was - through the music and how powerful the band is." In order to do that, Smith says the label "will set things up, duck, and get out of the way," as it did for "Nevermind." Geffen/DGC set up "In Utero" with a street campaign that included prerelease snipes with the album's title posted in major cities such as New York, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles. In addition, the label distributed stickers of the cover art - a rendering of the transparent "Visible Woman" model, with angel's wings - at the New Music Seminar in July, and at various alternative retail outlets across the country. In keeping with the alternative market, Geffen/DGC will also issue the album on vinyl. The label has been advertising "In Utero" with an eye toward the alternative audience. "We're going with Alternative Press, as opposed to Entertainment Weekly," Smith says.
On the television front, the band is set to perform on the Saturday (25) season premiere of "Saturday Night Live," and also is planning an appearance on MTV's "Unplugged" later this fall. While Nirvana undoubtedly will be supported whole-heartedly by alternative accounts, even the chains are gearing up for the release. "We're buying it like any other superstar product," says Mark Michel, director of purchasing for the 21-store, Miramar, Fla.-based Peaches Entertainment chain. The track "Heart-Shaped Box" was serviced to college, alternative, and album rock radio in early September, although there currently are no plans for a commercial single release. The track entered at the Modem Rock Tracks chart at No. 7 and the U.K. singles chart at No. 5 last week, and already is generating a significant buzz. "We're playing it all the time," says Steve Masters, MD at modern rock KITS (Live 105) San Francisco. "It's performing really well. It's our most requested song." Masters characterizes the whole album as "brilliant." At this point, Geffen isn't actively courting top 40, which jumped on the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" bandwagon following MTV's support of the video. "Inevitably, top 40 will be involved," Smith says. "[But] Nirvana didn't sell nearly 5 million because of a hit single. They sold that many albums because of who they are." Nirvana is, of course, one of the more controversial acts to top The Billboard 200 in recent years, and, in keeping with the band's past, controversy erupted over "In Utero" months before its release. Newsweek reported that Geffen/DGC was unhappy with the album, which Nirvana recorded with former Big Black member and noted underground producer Steve Albini. Scott Litt, known for his work with R.E.M., eventually was called in to remix "Heart- Shaped Box" and "All Apologies." Geffen/DGC took out a full-page ad in Billboard on the band's behalf, slamming the Newsweek piece (Billboard, May 22).
With hindsight, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic (who recently changed the spelling of his first name from Chris to reflect his Croatian heritage) and Albini both say the whole controversy was blown out of proportion. According to Novoselic, he, Cobain, and drummer Dave Grohl jammed frequently over the last two years before settling on the material for "In Utero." Since the majority of the songs were in an aggressive vein, Cobain suggested Albini. "After I heard the way the songs turned out, it was like, 'Yeah, Albini would be cool. He would be the man for the job,'" Novoselic says. "And he was easy to deal with. He didn't have to negotiate points and an advance, because he totally operates autonomously from the music industry. That was a relief ... We didn't trust anyone else." "In Utero" was recorded and mixed in about 12 days, in a studio in the woods 40 miles from Minneapolis. Albini has yet to hear the final master of the album, so he declines to comment on the finished album. "The band and I both were trying to make a record that was a very straightforward, very accurate, powerful, hi-fi recording of the band, without doing the contemporary studio tricks," Albini says. "The band recorded essentially live in the studio." Although Albini says he wasn't a fan of "Nevermind," he says that he now has "way more respect for the band, after having met them and dealt with them, than I did after hearing that record." After finishing the sessions, Nirvana wasn't completely happy with the album. "I was really happy with the record, but ‘Heart-Shaped Box' irked me," Novoselic says. "It just wasn't right. There was a horrible effect on the guitar. Then Kurt wanted to add some background vocals." Novoselic says that both Albini and Andy Wallace were booked up when the band contacted them to help make the changes. "We wanted to do it right away, so I called up Scott Litt," he says. "I really like the way that [R.E.M.'s] ‘Automatic For The People’ and ‘Document’ sound." The remix was done in Seattle at Bad Animals studio. When "Heart - Shaped Box" was completed, the band also elected to remix the album - closer "All Apologies," Novoselic adds. While some of "In Utero" is closer in spirit to the band's 1988 debut on Sub Pop, "Bleach," the album isn't a drastic departure from "Nevermind." A few songs even feature cello. "It's not too left-wing," Novoselic says. "It's pretty straightforward. It's not like some experimental grunge record. It's not prog-grunge." Lyrically, "In Utero" sees Nirvana grappling with the pains that accompanied its sudden success, including Cobain's stomach problems. Those struggles occasionally are couched in childbirth imagery. (Cobain and his wife Courtney Love, lead singer of Hole, had a baby girl last year.) Novoselic says success has its ups and downs. "Right now it's on an upswing. The downs are when your private life is invaded." The band also has split with some of its closest business associates. Although Danny Goldberg left his Gold Mountain management firm to become senior VP of Atlantic Records, Novoselic says, jokingly, that Goldberg is still the band's "spiritual guru." He adds that the recent move by Gary Gersh, who was the band's A&R man at Geffen, to become president/CEO of Capitol Records was "kind of screwy. It was terrible when it happened, but life goes on, people part ways." Nirvana was in Los Angeles recently to shoot the "Heart-Shaped Box" video with Anton Corbijn, and to collect a trophy for best alternative video at MTV's Video Music Awards. But Novoselic is tired of it all. "This whole thing sucks," he says. "The MTV Awards and all the schmoozing, and all the people who are just in this to be popular and make money, they don't want to express themselves, they are just out for some kind of ulterior motive." In mid-October, the band will em- bark on its first tour in two years. "We're chomping at the bit," Novoselic says. Joining the band on tour will be guitarist Pat Smear, best known as a member of legendary L.A. punk band the Germs. "He's got a lot of spirit and spunk, and that rubs off on the band," Novoselic says. A cellist also will join the band on a few numbers. "We will probably do a quiet part of the show," he adds, "where we dim the lights, break out the candelabras and have special appearances by James Taylor, Art Garfunkel, and Burl Ives - who lives in Washington, by the way."
© Craig Rosen, 1993