LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE December 13, 1993 - Seattle, WA, US
- Rick Hankey
- Jennifer Carr
- Kurt Cobain
- Krist Novoselic
- Dave Grohl
|MTV||Past, Present & Future||TBC|
|MTV||MTV News Presents: Nirvana - The Nevermind You Never Knew||TBC|
|MTV.com||Kurt Cobain: "These Kids Really Like Our Band."||Yes|
|MTV.com||Kurt Cobain Talks Music Videos, His Stomach & Frances Bean||Yes|
© MTV Networks, 1993
Interviewer: Can I borrow those matches off you?
Grohl: No! [passes matchbox]
Interviewer: Thank you.
Grohl: you're welcome.
Interviewer: I guess the one criticism that Steve Albini gets for the records he produces… and it’s strange because all the Big Black records and the Rapeman records have the vocals way way up there…
Grohl: With his vocals… [laughs] Right…
Interviewer: …and, I mean especially with… not so much your record, I don't think I’ve heard much like this, but the PJ Harvey record and some other things that he’s done, he gets criticised because they're so down low and everything…
Interviewer: Is that…?
Grohl: Well, I think the thing with Steve and vocals is, he doesn't like the sound of… When you listen to a recording of a band and you have two speakers and there's this great rock music going on, and then there's this voice like right in the middle and right in your face, I think that that's what he doesn't like; he’d rather make it sound like a real band and someone singing into microphone and playing… but I dunno.
Interviewer: I think he’s… I mean, there's never any effects on any vocals, or anything he does either…
Grohl: There’s never really any effects on much that he… I mean, when we recorded with him… There’s no effects on the drums. The only effect is a room mic, you know? Most of the stuff he does is… the effects that he gets on any like instrument or vocal, it's usually just ambient room sound, which is, like, you know… that's his forte!
Interviewer: So, there were never any big discussions on how to record Kurt’s vocals, or what to do with them, or anything?
Grohl: Not with me! [laughs]
Interviewer: Fair enough! Um, so why was… what was the deal with Scott Litt coming in then? It was just, what, one or two songs that he did…?
Grohl: Well, those were songs that had more of a dynamic range to them… and those were songs… Usually, when we mixed all the other songs, we didn't actually “mix” them, we just put a mix on the board and hit record for the final mixes. So, with a song like All Apologies or Heart-Shaped Box, those were songs that needed a little more mixing, they needed a little more dynamics, or they needed the harmony to be heard a little more, or whatever.
Interviewer: Totally switching gears here - what kind of effect do you think Frances has had on Nirvana?
Grohl: Frances Bean?
Interviewer: Yeah, in as far as how it's changed Kurt's life now and how, because of that, it's changed the band…
Grohl: Um, I think we all want to have kids now. So, basically that's it! [laughs] I mean, it's great, you know? When you're sitting there and you're holding a baby, and you're being fun and cute with the baby. And then, like, “Oh, you have to play”, so you put the baby down and you play and you're relaxed and thinking about life and birth and pretty babies. And then you come back and there's this smiling little baby… yeah, it’s nice, it’s cute.
Interviewer: And has it affected the way you can go about things, or… I don't necessarily mean in a bad way, but are your procedures for doing things or working different…
Grohl: No. I mean, it hasn’t affected me at all. I mean, I'm sure it's tough for the nanny, or Kurt, or whatever, you know? But it’s really great to have her around, she’s really a lot of fun. Plus, I think it’s good if… you know, a lot of people have never been exposed to infants before… you get married and you have children and you've never dealt with the child before and you don't realise that if a child coughs, that doesn't mean that it's going to die, you know? Or, if a baby falls down, usually everybody is like, “Whoa!” and you just wait for it to burst out in tears, but then it gets back up like, “Huh?” like, “No big deal”
Interviewer: Unless you're concerned, then it’ll definitely cry…
Grohl: Right, sure…
Interviewer: I want to kind of - painful as this may be - go through video by video and get your memories of the shoots, if we could…
Interviewer: The only one that I've heard that you guys have any sort of bad memories of, or not like, is ironically enough, Smells Like Teen Spirit, just because it didn't come out exactly the way you wanted it to, or the ideas that you had for it…
Grohl: That was kind of our first big production work with a director, like, “trying-to get-everything together-through-a-label” video, you know? So, we sort of had one meeting, I think, the day before or two days before were supposed to shoot it and sort of went over some ideas. And we showed up at the shoot it was kind of a lot different, but we were reassured that it would look great on camera.
Interviewer: Did it, do you think? Or…?
Grohl: Some of it, there are some things about it that I like.
Interviewer: Was it… the janitor… Were the cheerleaders not supposed to be so typically pretty cheerleaders? Or the janitor was supposed to be a little nasty? Or…?
Grohl: Most likely [laughs]. I think that the whole cheerleaders thing… the director wanted to get these sexy cheerleaders… to get these kind of like dark, mysterious, sensual cheerleaders in the middle of this riot, you know? Like, with fire! And you know how stupid you feel when it's, like… coming from where we're coming from… and we're sitting there and there's some pyrotechnician setting-up fire and we're playing and just thinking, like, “Oh my god!” Especially in front of 400 people who were at the show the night before, you know? It's just like, “Eugh!”
Interviewer: You feel like you should be spitting blood or something?
Grohl: You feel like you should be in Spinal Tap.
Voice in the background: I'm not sure if you know this, but the set time for Nirvana has been moved up.
Interviewer: Oh, I didn't know that.
Voice in the background: So we have to have Krist back by 5:15…
Interviewer: Was the crowd supposed to be a little more involved…?
Grohl: Well, no… I mean, we just wanted everyone to go insane and fuck everything up. And, so, the first take we did of the song, everyone went insane and fucked everything up. And the director was, like, “Wait a minute! We have to do this more than once! Save yourselves!” So, it was kind of a mess. Plus, the director had never worked with people like us, or worked with people like our fans, you know? So, it was out of control… ‘Cause these are the kind of people that would probably riot in their own High School gymnasium and we just gave them the excuse to do so without getting busted! Thank you!
Interviewer: And Come As You Are, I heard… it was your first time working with Kevin Kerslake… and the only stipulation that you guys had was that you wanted your faces obscured?
Grohl: Well, that was like the first sort of big production video - like, big production - where we came in and they had actually built this elaborate set. It was very grand and it was really beautiful. There was thousands of gallons of running water all over the place and huge Chandelier. I remember Kurt swinging from the Chandelier - he had on this harness or something - and I just remember him saying, “Let me down, I'm going to puke!” [laughs] And I guess Kevin saying, “Just one more minute!” or something… swinging from the Chandelier.
Interviewer: He wasn't feeling well going into that, was he?
Grohl: No, I think it was OK when we all went in there. I mean, we were kind of amped to do this thing. Plus, when we walked in and saw how great it was… Plus, I think it was the first time, well no… Well, we weren't used to having makeup put on us at that time, too. Now we're, like, seasoned professionals.
Interviewer: And Lithium was originally going to be pretty a elaborate… I wouldn’t say a concept video… but more than you guys just playing live and what it ended up being…
Grohl: Well, we had actually… We had always wanted to do a video with The Brothers Quay… And the footage from the Lithium video all came from a show that we played in Seattle on Halloween, 1991. We showed up to the show and we thought it was just going to be a normal show and there's like 15 cameramen there… and they were all over the stage, man… it was like swatting flies! And you couldn't… There was always one next to me, or in my face, or in front of the drums… I'd look out, and I'm used to just seeing Krist and Kurt, and there's like 5 other people on the stage with cameras. “What are we doing? What’s this for?” “Oh, it's for a live long-form video” or something like that… I don't even know what it was for… And then I guess it all got shot to shit and we ended up just using it for Lithium, with some stuff spliced-in from Dave Markey’s footage of the Sonic Youth tour.
Grohl: That actually kind of cursed us because now when people come and see us play, they think that after every show we're just going to destroy our equipment… “Break something!” You know, “Please!”
Interviewer: So, they did the whole show then? It wasn't just for Lithium?
Grohl: What do you mean?
Interviewer: The cameras.
Grohl: Yeah, they were there for the whole thing.
Interviewer: For In Bloom, whose idea was the Ed Sullivan gag and can you tell us who it was that played the host?
Grohl: That's Doug Llewelyn from The People's Court… how cool is that?! We tried to get that Encyclopaedia kid, “Remember me?” but he was sick [laughs]… That would been pretty much the greatest, but I'm sure people would have gotten twice as sick of it, if he was on it. I think that it was Kurt’s idea to do the Ed Sullivan thing, I don't remember.
Interviewer: “Report due on Space”
Grohl: Exactly [laughs]
Interviewer: Back to Frances Bean, whose idea was it to get her for the Sliver video?
Grohl: Oh, we just did that in Kurt’s garage… we did a bunch of stuff, just playing to a boombox… and, I dunno… and then I left! And then, when I saw the final cut, you see Frances kinda dancing around… it was funny!
Interviewer: Is that kind of weird for you, to drum-sync to something that you didn't play? Did that feel kinda weird?
Grohl: A little bit, yeah. Plus, we couldn't play at any volume in the garage because the neighbours would complain… so I put a T-shirt inside of the snare drum… and I'm not even hitting the drums, really, I'm just faking it… it was just stupid, silly and fun. It was like playing with a broomstick in front of a mirror, or something.
Interviewer: Actually, I guess this is for all of the videos… How much do you and Krist have to do with… I guess the most elaborate one you've made is Heart-Shaped Box… How much do you have to do with what goes into that? Or is it pretty much Kurt and the director?
Grohl: A lot of it is Kurt and the director… and we talk about it. You know, if Kurt comes up with an idea, he’ll tell us about it… and he comes up with some really great ideas, so… Most of his ideas are just great, they're fitting, they're perfect, and they're really moving images, so… you show up on set… And it is true, when you look at something, when you go to a video-shoot and you see this elaborate set they’ve built, you think “Wow, that's really great!” But it never seems to look same on camera. The Heart-Shaped Box thing was just amazing and Anton Corbijn - the guy that the video - he’s great, he's really something else… he’s an incredible photographer, he just captures a really striking image, he’s really great.
Interviewer: What did you think when you came in and saw the hanging foetuses, the organ woman and everything?
Grohl: I said, “Right on, man.” You know… maybe we'll get shot next time we go to Florida!
Interviewer: He must be a really easy guy to get along with… I met him once for about two minutes and he was the nicest guy…
Grohl: Anton? Yeah. He's just, you know… he's got an incredible talent and he knows it, but he's not too conceited… You know, he's just a normal person who does something really great.
Interviewer: And this is… well, it's not complete speculation, I guess, because it's a documented story that I've heard… and I'm not expecting you to explain the song… but is it true that a long time ago, before Kurt and Courtney were together, I guess she had a crush on him or something, and she gave you some sort of heart-shaped box to give to him as a gift, or something?
Grohl: Oh, that's true! Shit, I forgot about that! Yeah, it was filled with little trinkets and baubles.
Interviewer: Can you sorta… because no-one's going to hear me… can you sorta tell the story?
Grohl: I don't really remember, but I think that I knew Courtney and I’d talk to Courtney on the phone a lot before she and Kurt got together… And she’d say, “You know, I'm in love with the singer of your band!” And I’d say, “Really?” So, she gave me this little heart-shaped box to give to him… and I did… and they got married… and they had a child… and they lived happily ever after.
Interviewer: You guys must be pretty psyched - and I know Kurt’s happy about it - that you're starting to contribute to the songwriting? I mean, I know that you guys build up the songs together for everything that Kurt writes ahead of time, but Scentless Apprentice was actually your riff and your idea from the beginning…
Grohl: Mmm hmm. That was just something we… I mean, we fool around a lot, you know? We come up with dumb jams all the time. We do a lot of noise things… just dynamic, noisy deals. You know, each of us… Krist can write some really great stuff. He plays guitar, he plays accordion, he plays… what else do you play, Krist? Do you play mandolin?
Novoselic: …a little bit. Not as good as Peter Buck, though…
Grohl: [laughs] We all just kind of fool around and when it comes to practicing sometimes will say, “Hey, play this!” I dunno… song-writing in the band is just kinda… Most of the time, Kurt will start playing something, sometimes I guess he'll figure something out at home and bring it in, sometimes he'll figure something out while we're playing it… it all kinda stems from there… It's kinda unconscious, too, just because we never really talk too much about it when we're doing it. We never have, like, “OK, let's do the chorus for 8 bars and do the verse for 4 bars.” Sometimes we do, but for the most part it’s just pop music, it’s not like a Rush song or anything, so there's no sheet music or… it’s just pretty simple.
Interviewer: Um, that's actually it!
Interviewer: ‘Cause we skipped over a bunch of stuff earlier but…
Interviewer: Thank you.
Grohl: you're welcome.
© MTV Networks, 1993
© MTV Networks, 1993
MTV: So starting at the beginning, can you talk about Aberdeen?
Cobain: What kind of town is Aberdeen … It's a coastal logging town in Washington State and it's really secluded. It's about 200 miles away from Seattle, which is the only really large city in Washington State. Olympia's about halfway in between those two towns. Olympia has a little bit of culture. I went to that place more than I went to almost any other place during my youth, to seek out punk rock and a lot of other types of music.
MTV: What was it like growing up there?
Cobain: Well, we invented our own amusement. We vandalized, skipped school, smoked pot, smoked cigarettes. And that's about it [laughs]. Listened to music. The local record store only had Top 40 music. The local radio station only played Top 40 music. So, we were pretty much just stuck with whatever was there in Aberdeen, you know.
MTV: Do you think that's where Nirvana's pop sensibility came from?
Cobain: Well, my parents were never music lovers. I don't recall my mom ever really owning any albums besides John Denver's Greatest Hits. But that's about it. That and Top 40 radio. You know, "Seasons In The Sun," really white bread, white pop music.
MTV: Did that seep through?
Cobain: Well, it must have seeped through. I mean, it must have had an effect on us. Yeah.
MTV: If you had lived in the utopian suburban neighborhood would you still have picked up a guitar?
Cobain: The utopian neighborhood? You mean if I lived with Dr. Huxtable?
Cobain: Yeah, probably. I think so. [A few years ago ] my father wrote me a letter and he said, "You know, if it wasn't for living in an oppressed town, you wouldn't have had the incentive to really go out and prove something to anyone." He likes to take credit for that, for bringing me up in a small town. But I'm sure I would have looked for punk rock and it just would have been easier for me. I would have gotten into it at an earlier age. I just think there's a breed of people who honestly like music. And there aren't very many of 'em, really. Those are the people who usually become musicians. It doesn't really matter what environment you grow up in. It's just some environments are more restrictive than others.
MTV: So it was your friend, the Melvins' Buzz Osborne, who introduced you to punk rock?
Cobain: Yeah, he made a compilation tape for me. I was commuting back and forth between Aberdeen and Montesano. I was living in Aberdeen, and I was going to school in Montesano, which is about 30 miles away. I had Buzz in a couple of classes. I had him in an art class and electronics class and I remember just hanging out with him. He had a few punk rock magazines, and I would look at them and just like … "Oh." I was just mesmerized. It was just like, "Oh God, what would that sound like?" And, finally one day I convinced him to make me a tape.
MTV: So you were a long time wondering what it would be like before you heard it?
Cobain: Oh, for years. Ever since I was 12. You know that issue of Creem magazine when they were following the Sex Pistols tour in '78? I remember seeing that picture of Sid Vicious and just going, "Oh wow. That's real rock 'n' roll. It has to be, look at the blood on his face, you know." [laughs]
MTV: What were your favorite bands?
Cobain: Well, typical stuff. Probably the first band that I was really into was the Beatles. And then all that Top 40 radio. When I was in fourth grade I was living with my father in Montesano, and he had a record club. One of those Columbia House record clubs, you know? He'd just recently gotten divorced. So one of his bachelor friends told him to get one of those subscriptions. He didn't even open up half the records that came, and they were just sitting there in the plastic. One day I opened them all up, and there was some great music. Finally I got to hear Black Sabbath, the harder stuff that they wouldn't have played on the radio in Montesano or Aberdeen. I was just like instantly a rock 'n' roll fan, you know, a harder rock 'n' roll fan.
MTV: Do you remember what you wanted to do before you got your first guitar?
Cobain: Yeah. I wanted to be a stunt person. I wanted to be Evel Knievel first. One time I took a piece of metal and taped it to my chest and I taped a bunch of firecrackers on that piece of metal and put my shirt over it. I lit myself on fire and jumped off the roof. Stuff like that. I would take all the bedding out and put it on the deck and jump off the roof. I hurt myself too much. Then at a really early age I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star. I wanted to play drums. You know, ever since I got my first Beatles record, I wanted to play drums in a band. I wanted to have the adoration of John Lennon, but the anonymity of Ringo Starr. I didn't want to be a front man. I just wanted to be back there, but be a rock 'n' roll star at the same time.
MTV: Eventually that happened, though. Are you comfortable with that now?
Cobain: I'd still rather be a rhythm guitar player. Or a drummer. But I just don't have a good rhythm. I'm terrible. I am a really bad drummer, but I love to play drums. I was in a grade school band and I played snare drum for years, and it went up until high school. I never learned how to read music, either. I always faked my way through it. I would watch the kid in first chair, you know, I would watch him figure out the piece and then I would copy him [laughs].
MTV: Being a songwriter, wouldn't you feel weird if someone else were singing your songs?
Cobain: I don't know. I don't know. I mean, as long as I got the credit for it. If I wrote a song, I'd like to get the credit for it but then … 'cause all you have to do is look on the insert of an album and it says your name on it, you know. But at an early age, for a long time, I really did wanna be someone in the background, a rhythm guitar player or a drummer. I didn't want all the limelight because even if you're not a songwriter, the lead singer always the attention and everything. I'd still to this day would much prefer that, really.
MTV: When you and Chris Novoselic first met, is it true that it took a while to get him involved in doing something?
Cobain: Yeah, for a long time. I knew him for at least three years before we started playing seriously in a band together. But we had like side bands with Buzz [Osborne], then the Melvins, other members of the Melvins, and friends of ours. We got together and played in a few bands like the Stiff Woodies. We'd play at local jock kegs. We'd put Knox gel in our hair like [English new wavers] GBH and play live music at these parties. It was great. We freaked everybody out. But everyone was so drunk that they didn't care about our appearance. They just wanted live music.
MTV: So you were trying as hard as you could to piss the local rednecks off?
Cobain: Yeah, and get free beer. I'm condoning drugs, aren't I? I remember seeing that in my high school locker [room], "Alcohol Is a Drug, Too."
MTV: Chris didn't wanna be in the band, right?
Cobain: I don't think he ever really had aspirations to be in a band. He just liked playing guitar. I knew he had a guitar for years. But Dale Crover, the drummer for the Melvins, and I made a demo in late '85 at my aunt's house on a 4-track. I'd had the tape for about a year or so. I was always trying to push it on my friends, to try to get them into starting a band with me. One day Chris, after probably hearing it a few times, just decided, "Hey, this is pretty good!" So, finally, the hint worked.
MTV: Did you play bass on that as well?
Cobain: I played a little bit of bass on it. And Dale played bass on the other parts, on some of the other songs.
MTV: That was Fecal Matter, right?
Cobain: Yeah. That was my band. My imaginary band.
MTV: Do you remember the first time you played together?
Cobain: It clicked in a way where [it was] just the fact that we were actually playing music. I heard these songs with a full band for the first time. It was just so amazing. I'd heard these songs because they were recorded, but there all the instruments were dubbed. To play them live in a room was amazing. It was like the most incredible thing I've ever done, and I'd been wanting to do it for years. I was like six years overdue … already having a guitar and wanting to play with other people, but I could never get anything past like some guy that plays drums and he'd bring his drum set over to my house and I'd start playing this raunchy music and they'd leave, you know? I could never get anyone to stay more than a day or a few hours. [Laughs]
MTV: Was Chris playing [the songs] the way you pictured them being played? What was your first reaction to him playing?
Cobain: He basically played the same notes that were on the tape already. We basically just played the songs that were on the Fecal Matter tape. I mean, he's added stuff, he's added his own style to the band now, since we've started writing songs together. But initially we were just playing those songs off that tape.
MTV: What was the first thing you did together?
Cobain: Oh, the first song that we wrote together?
Cobain: Oh God, I don't know. Um…
MTV: I think he thought it was "Hairspray Queen."
Cobain: It could have been, yeah. But even at that time when we first started writing songs I would come up with the basslines and everything. I would show everyone what to play. 'Cause I was still writing songs on my own time. So that was probably one of the first songs that I had written at that time and we started to practice with as a band.
MTV: Do you have any memories of the first couple of gigs you did?
Cobain: Let's see … the very first one was a party, I think. If we played together in the house for a couple of hours and two people stopped by, we considered that a gig. So, I mean, that was good enough. We had an audience of two people. Locals who hated our guts and thought it was terrible music. But the first official show we actually played was at a party. It was way out in the woods. I can't even remember what town it was. It was somewhere in between Montesano and Aberdeen and, it was, you know, a typical kegger type of thing. It was pretty amazing. That was a fun night. I think it was Halloween night. We were really drunk, and we had some fake Halloween blood and we smeared it all over ourselves and played our seven songs off the tape. And we alienated the entire crowd. The entire party moved into the kitchen and left the band, just left us there in the front room playing our songs.
MTV: The first single you did after you went to Sub Pop was a cover of Shocking Blue's "Love Buzz." Why did that end up being [used], instead of one of your songs?
Cobain: I really don't have a very good answer for that other than that it was a pop song. It was one of the only palatable songs that we had. At the time we were writing stuff like "Hairspray Queen." Even though there was a little bit of pop element in some of the songs, we thought we'd get instant attention by that. It was such a catchy song and it was so repetitive that we thought that people would listen to it right away and remember it. Also I think Bruce [Pavitt] or John [Poneman, the founders of Sub Pop] - I think it was John - suggested we record that, too. It was one of their favorite songs that we did.
MTV: So you'd been doing it regularly at gigs.
MTV: I guess you thought that if people hear that, then they'll listen to the other stuff.
Cobain: Yeah, yeah, I guess that was the idea. I don't know.
MTV: Was it Sub Pop's idea to only do a thousand [copies of the single]?
Cobain: Yeah, it was their idea. It was almost a surprise to us. They might have warned us, they might have told us that this is what they were going to do, but it was kind of a surprise at the time. We were just so thrilled to actually put out a single that it wasn't until after only a thousand were printed that we started to complain about it. It was like, but there's more people who wanna buy this thing! Why not sell more? It just didn't make any sense to us at the time. I understand it now but still, if you're gonna put something out, you should… That's why we were signed to a major label. Everyone should listen to it if they want to.
MTV: How long after your first single, "Love Buzz," was it until Bleach came out?
Cobain: I don't know, honestly. [Laughs] It seemed like two years. It just seemed like forever. I think it was a bit longer than eight months. I think there're dates on the single, and there's a date on the album.
MTV: Did you feel you had to make a record for your label Sub Pop that fit their established type of sound?
Cobain: Not really. I've always felt that there should have been an album before Bleach. Because, by the time that we recorded the songs off of Bleach, we were really into that kind of music. We don't regret it now. But at the time we should have put out the Fecal Matter tape or at least a lot of the songs that were on the Fecal Matter tape. We should have re-recorded them. Because that was a period of our band. That was part of our progression. We were really into experimental, noisy … like the whole surfers' kind of music. That's always been the case with us. We should have put out something a little bit before the last record, you know.
MTV: So a lot of the stuff on Incesticide you wished could have come out before Bleach?
Cobain: Yeah, yeah. Most of the stuff on Incesticide should have come out before Bleach actually. But we did feel a little bit of pressure, a little bit of intimidation, by the whole Seattle scene because everyone was so heavily into this retro '70s thing. Because we were on that label there was an element of that there. Jonathan [Poneman, Sub Pop boss] had quite a few suggestions from what I can remember. It wasn't like they demanded it. It wasn't like what a major label … I mean I've heard of some really scary major-label stories. But there was a little bit of major-label attitude going on with Sub Pop at the time. I remember one time, Jonathan suggested I change some lyrics in one of the songs and stuff like that. That was just kind of weird because it's supposed to be an independent label, you know what I mean? You should be able to do exactly what you want. But if we weren't so spineless we would have done it, we would have done exactly what we wanted to do, you know.
MTV: Had you wanted to put some of the older songs on Bleach and ended up just doing the new stuff on your own?
Cobain: I think at that time.
MTV: Did you write new songs for Bleach?
Cobain: Yeah, we did write new songs for Bleach. There were a lot of songs that were just written within the two weeks or even the last week prior to recording. At the time we had a time scheduled for the recording of the album, and we only had maybe six songs. During the week prior to that [we] wrote a whole bunch of songs. And we just … uh, I don't know, I don't know what I'm trying to say.
MTV: I guess my question is why the songs that you wrote in those two weeks made it on and not the older ones. Was that your decision?
Cobain: We wrote so many songs in that week right before we recorded that we were excited about the new songs. We wanted to record them. But initially we wanted to just record the few new songs that we had and rerecord most of the stuff that was on the Fecal Matter tape. And that would have been the album. It would have been a lot more like Incesticide, but we just happened to write so many new songs, that we just put it on Bleach. They just happened to have been more in the '70s vein.
MTV: Do you have any memories of that first tour?
Cobain: Yeah. We chose to tour in the middle of the summer. [Laughs] In the South. Imagine being in Texas in July, packed up to the rim of the van with T-shirts and equipment with four members, with no air conditioning, tooling around, living off of $30 a day if you're lucky 'cause … It was fun but we should have been a little bit more smart about it. We should have toured in September or something. But we were so excited about getting the record out and going on tour that we just went for it. Yeah.
MTV: Touring with Tad in Europe in 1989, was that any better? You had a lot of equipment problems. Chris [Novoselic] was telling me, you were always duct-taping stuff together.
Cobain: Yeah. Being in Europe for the first time was more romantic. It wasn't any more comfortable. We were living off of deli trays and cigarettes. And bad beer, or strong beer, I should say. I guess you would call that good beer, wouldn't you? I don't like beer. There were 11 people in a small Euro van. The seats were at this angle, so you would try to sleep and we'd be on like 15- to 18-hour drives just crammed up against one another. In the dead of winter. It was fun, but after seven weeks it took its toll on everyone.
MTV: Did you not want to talk to those guys for a couple weeks after that?
Cobain: Well, I don't think we spoke for months. [Laughs] I actually don't remember. I think we may have played a few shows after that, within that year, together. We were always playing shows together.
MTV: Is that when Sub Pop started talking to majors about a distribution deal?
Cobain: It was part of the reason, yeah. I mean, I can't say that we weren't into the idea of being on a major label. We just didn't like the idea of someone else taking a larger percentage out of our payments. Why be on a major label through another when you can be on one yourself?
MTV: Then you started pursuing stuff yourself and you met a manager and got a lawyer and stuff? Is that why you and Chris started rethinking the band?
Cobain: No, not at all. We weren't very happy with Chad [Channing]'s drumming, basically. He has his own unique style and it's appropriate for a lot of the songs that we wrote, but not for what we really wanted to do at the time. We just wanted to move into more of a pop world at the time. His style just didn't fit.
MTV: Was it hard to let him go?
Cobain: Oh yeah. That was one of the worst days I've ever had. [Laughs] It was terrible. I hate firing people. It's the worst thing you can do, you know.
MTV: It doesn't seem like he was all that surprised.
Cobain: I think he sensed for quite a few months that we weren't totally happy with his drumming, yeah.
MTV: Well, he's been in a couple of bands.
Cobain: Yeah, he's in the Red Ants … something Ants. It's embarrassing not knowing this other name. So the band named something Ants, Fire Ants, yeah. Chad is in another band called the Fire Ants. [Laughs]
MTV: What happened when Dave Grohl joined the band?
Cobain: [We felt like] This is it.
MTV: We can be around and make five or six records.
Cobain: Right, right. Dave added so much more diversity. Not only did he have perfect metronome timing, he hit really hard. He was able to go in between all the dynamics that we wanted to experiment with. It was just perfect. Plus he sang backup vocals and I'd wanted that forever. Ever since the beginning of the band.
MTV: He's always talking about all his band influences.
Cobain: Yeah, he's really good at copying other drummers' styles. He's got his own original style, too, but he also can play a Led Zeppelin solo note for note perfectly. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference. He's a great drummer.
MTV: Did any of the other drummers feel like permanent members?
Cobain: Well, if we could have we would have wanted [original Nirvana drummer] Dale [Crover] to be a permanent member. But [with] everyone else we always knew it wasn't quite right.
MTV: Did you feel with Nevermind that you could make the record you wanted to make?
Cobain: Yeah. Nevermind was definitely an album we wanted to make. We have no regrets. Other than maybe the production was too slick. Now that I look back on it I don't think it's as raw as it could have been. And that's our fault. I can't blame it on anyone else. I can't blame it on [Nevermind producer] Butch Vig. He recorded the record perfectly. But it's just that studios are a really, really deceiving environment. You don't know what it's going to really sound like until you take it home and it's on a tape and you listen to it over and over again. At that point, after we attempted to mix Nevermind for like two weeks, we were so burnt out on it that we just didn't even care anymore. By the time we got Andy Wallace in, it was just like "Oh, yeah, this is fine!" [Laughs]
MTV: Why was Andy Wallace brought in?
Cobain: We recorded the album, then we immediately started mixing and we were just burnt out. We just couldn't get it together. I don't have any explanation for it really. It just didn't sound good. We just couldn't get it right.
MTV: I talked to you guys at the Reading Festival in 1991 before Nevermind came out, when you were on tour with Sonic Youth. What was that like?
Cobain: It was incredible. I mean, to be asked to go on tour by a band like Sonic Youth was like a dream come true. I still can't describe what I felt. It was like wow, what an honor. It was great and the momentum and excitement at the time was so great, because everyone sensed that the album was going to do pretty well. There was just a feeling in the air, there was just like this new thing happening. No one could quite pinpoint it, but we knew that we were a part of it. One of the first shows we played with them was at the Reading Festival. There had been alternative bands playing the Reading Festival for the last three or four years. We didn't know anything about it. We never knew that that thing existed. To walk out onstage in front of that many people, and to realize that that many people like this kind of music, it was just like, "Wow, where have we been? Under a rock all these years?" But then again, Europe is a bit different than America, too. I mean, America's quite a few years behind.
MTV: It seems like Sonic Youth took you under their wing when you showed up.
Cobain: Oh absolutely, yeah. Sonic Youth has helped more bands than any band I can think of. They always know what's hot and new. They're just really great. They're really good about things like that.
MTV: Did you feel better going to the major label Geffen knowing they had done it?
Cobain: Oh yeah. We just basically do everything that Sonic Youth does. We just steal all their ideas. That's what we're turning into now. If you saw the show tonight, if you saw that last thing we did, whatever you wanna call it, we're turning into a noise guitar prog rock band. Hey, that's the next step for any band! But they've been doing it for years before anyone else. Honestly, I feel kind of burnt out with the formula that we've been doing. We've been in this band for like six years and playing pop music can get a bit redundant, so I think we all wanna start experimenting and really the only alternative you have is to turn into Sonic Youth. [Laughs]
MTV: Not such a bad thing.
Cobain: No. Except for that it's been done. But…
MTV: You gonna start getting the 15 guitars with alternate tunings on all of them?
Cobain: No, I don't think I could ever have the patience to do that. But…
MTV: Looking back, does the two weeks before Nevermind came out seem like a calm before the storm?
Cobain: It must have been. We were unaware of it. I mean, we had an idea that something was gonna happen, but it was a nice storm.
MTV: Do you remember where you were when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" started getting airplay?
Cobain: No. We were somewhere in Europe. The nicest thing about that tour was that we weren't aware of our stardom. We just got reports every once in a while, Hey, you guys are on the top 40. Like, really? We didn't even believe people for a long time. We thought everyone was pulling our legs. But it wasn't until we got back to the States, I turned on MTV and there we were. Because they don't have MTV in Europe very much, in very many places, so we really had no idea.
MTV: So you didn't get it gradually, just all of a sudden.
Cobain: No it was just [when we] came home it was like the Beatles. It was like Nirvanamania, stepping off the plane, there weren't a bunch of kids waiting with banners but… [Laughs]
MTV: Those record company people.
MTV: So it hit at once, hey guess what, you're a star?
Cobain: Yeah. Yeah.
MTV: Were you surprised?
Cobain: Shocked is a good word. Yeah. How long did it take me to get used to it? Three years! [Laughs]
MTV: What did you think of the Tori Amos cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit"?
MTV: Is it true that you and Courtney Love used to wake up and dance around to it?
Cobain: Yeah. We used to put it on every morning and have breakfast and dance around. We'd turn it up really loud and do interpretive dancing to it. It's good breakfast music.
MTV: It's funny to listen to. The mulatto and albino part.
Cobain: [Singing] "I'm mulatto." I know. [Laughs] For a while we were using it as an opener before we came out onstage, too. We would play that song and then we would come out doing dances to the song.
MTV: What about Weird Al's "Smells Like Nirvana"?
Cobain: Oh, I laughed my ass off. I thought it was one of the funniest things I ever saw. He has some good people working for him. Those people really know how to … I mean, I'm sure he has a lot to do with it, but they really know how to reproduce things to the T. He had the exact same setup. It's the same video with him in it. It's great.
MTV: Do you go along with the idea that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?
Cobain: Sure. Yeah.
MTV: What's your reaction to when Nevermind and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit big and it was all over radio?
Cobain: I don't see much of a change, personally. I've said this a million times, and I'm kind of tired of saying it, but we're a new wave band and that's what happened with new wave. Punk rock was the revolution. It was the groundbreaking thing and then all these punk rock bands started making really tame palatable music with punk rock fashion. It entered the mainstream and became popular for a while. It was a fad, and that's the way I look at alternative music. Every once in a while I'll look at the Billboard charts and I just go, "crap, crap, crap," just like I always have. Except for R.E.M., and I mean they totally deserve to be on top 40, but I really can't think of any bands that are on top 40 right now that I like, personally.
MTV: But the punk bands or new wave bands didn't sell 9 million records worldwide.
Cobain: No, they didn't. I'm not saying we're a punk rock band; I'm saying we're a new wave band. But there were new wave bands that sold 9 million copies. Like the Knack. All kinds of stuff like that. Kajagoogoo, whatever.
MTV: That's stretching it a little bit. [Laughs]
MTV: Do you have any theory on why it happened? Or do you think it was just you guys making a really good record when things were stale and it was kinda ripe for the picking?
Cobain: You couldn't have said it better. It was just the right album at the right time. I mean, I'm sure there was a collective consciousness. People were tired of Warrant. It just got old. Just like grunge music will be in a couple of years, if it hasn't already. If we don't progress, if we don't change, we don't take chances and do different things, if we put out Nevermind III next year or In Utero II, it's just gonna get boring with people. Pop music loses audiences all the time. It doesn't happen very often, for a pop star to become famous and stay famous for years. Madonna and Michael Jackson and that's about it.
MTV: But in the wake of you doing well, and the other bands, Michael and Madonna and Springsteen were still selling millions, but selling a lot less than before. It's not unfair to say a consciousness was raised.
Cobain: Yeah. I mean, something did happen, but I think it's just a general attitude amongst people. I don't know if it really has that much to do with music. I think music has just been used as a tool. A good example is the shows that we've been playing on this tour. Just like when we went to Reading for the first time, to realize that there are that many people, that many kids our age, that basically have the same views as we do and like the same kind of music, that's a really amazing thing. That's a really positive thing. Things just change all the time, and 1990 was the year for change. It was about time. It was the beginning of a new decade.
MTV: If five years ago someone asked you what your goals were, what would you have said?
Cobain: Put out another record. Or to put out a record. Even just five years ago, to put out a record on an independent label was really, really hard for bands. It wasn't as common as it is now. Like anybody can put out a record. Most people use their records as demos now just to get a deal. That's one of the positive things about alternative music getting big: that really obscure and noisy bands are being signed to major labels. The positive thing about that is that they aren't being ripped off. At least they're getting a good advance and they can live for a couple of years. They deserve to live comfortably. All bands do. If they're a good band and they put out good music, they deserve to get paid the money that they should be paid. I mean, it's just started happening in the late '80s. I remember going to punk rock shows, and bands from out of town were getting paid $30. Some band from San Francisco comes up to Seattle and plays at the Gorilla Gardens; here's your $30 and kiss my feet, the promoter would say. Maybe that band sold out the Gorilla Gardens and there were 400 people there. They should have been paid what they deserve, what they drew. But in the late '80s, all of a sudden these independent bands just started demanding more money. It was almost a revolution, in a way. It was really cool. I remember the first time we sold out the Vogue. That holds like a couple hundred people here in Seattle. It's a bar. And we got paid $600. Three years before that, we'd have been lucky if we'd have got $30.
MTV: Now that you've gained that sort of success, what would you hope happens now?
Cobain: That we are able to sustain ourselves, to put out another really good record, and hopefully to progress. I really want to change our style of music. I don't wanna turn into a prog rock band, literally, but I wanna do something different, really different. I wanna have enough guts to do that, and if it alienates people that's too bad. But the Beatles went from - not to compare us to the Beatles - but the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and bands like that went from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to Sgt. Pepper's. That was a massive progression. I just wanna experiment.
MTV: Is the trouble with the public caused by the Vanity Fair article claiming you and Courtney were using drugs during her pregnancy a closed chapter now?
Cobain: I don't really care. If people can't forget about that and just move on … I mean, if they wanna remember us as the parents who supposedly gave their baby drugs, fine. F*ck them. If that's all they want to think about us, they aren't music fans anyhow. The people who gossip and are concerned about things like that don't like our band. I'm proving that every night. Every time that we play a show, I'm so grateful that there're that many kids that still like us, that have overlooked all that stuff, overlooked all the rumors, and all the stupid things that were printed about us in the last two years. I can look out at an audience and say, "These kids really like our band." I know they genuinely like us, they like our music. They don't care about what we are as people or whatever we supposedly did. That's why I'm so happy about being in this band still. I wasn't happy a couple of years ago, I mean, obviously. But just being on tour every night it's just been great.
MTV: Looking back on that, do you think maybe you should have tried to cover up your drug use?
Cobain: I did lie forever. No matter how badly I don't wanna be a role model or influence anyone, I still do. I knew that I was taking drugs at the time, and there were rumors and people wanted me to talk about it, but I tried for months and months not to talk about it. I tried as hard as I could to deny it. But after a while, there was just no point in it any more. I was just thought of as a big liar all the time. It's not my fault. I hardly ever went out in public when I was on drugs, and I never made a spectacle out of it. I never promoted it. Now I'm going to be associated with heroin for the rest of my life. That's not my fault. I honestly don't think it's my fault. I think it's the journalists' fault who brought it up and exploited it. They're the ones that have influenced the kids, as far as I'm concerned, because they're the ones that brought it up.
© MTV Networks, 1993
MTV: How’s your stomach? Have you found anything to…?
Kurt Cobain: (Satisfied happy sigh) Ah…It's gone. I have finally been prescribed the right stomach medicine after six years of being in constant pain, finally. I haven't had a stomach problem in over a year now.
MTV: Did they finally figure out what it was?
Cobain: No, they never figured out what it was. I mean, most gastrointestinal doctors don't know anything about stomach diseases, they just have a PhD, y’know? They get paid a lot of money for pretending and prescribing you different drugs and…It's a total scam as far as I'm concerned. Because I’ve been going to doctors for six years and I’ve tried every drug available, except for this one last one, it’s brand new, and it finally worked. It can’t be – what d’you call that? It isn’t…
Cobain: (Laughs) No. No, it can’t be, it isn’t a specific stomach ailment – it doesn't have a name or anything. It wasn’t a matter of finding out what disease I had. It's psychosomatic, it’s part of my nervous system, it’s part of…There are millions of people all over the world who have irritable bowel syndrome and that's the common term that all doctors call a stomach problem. They just say “oh yeah, you have irritable bowel syndrome, but I can’t fix it.” Y’know? “I don't have anything to fix it.” Y’know? There’s just a variety of ulcer medicines that can slow down ulcers, y’know, and eventually heal them. But I didn't have an ulcer, I just had a red irritation in my stomach, y’know. But I was in pain, I mean, I was in pain for so long that I didn't care if I was in a band, I didn't care if I was alive y’know. And it just so happened that I came to that conclusion at a time when my band became really popular y’know. It had been going on and building up for so many years that I was suicidal. I mean I just didn't want to live. So I just thought if I'm gonna die, if I'm gonna kill myself, I should take some drugs y’know. May as well become a junky because I felt like a junky every day y’know? Waking up starving, forcing myself to eat, y’know, barfing it back up. Just imagine trying to eat your three meals a day and just concentrating and just crying at times, just… (Makes groaning sound) I'm in pain all the time y’know. And being on tour was a lot worse too – it made it even worse.
MTV: When did they…How long have you got over the pain…I know you just said it’s been a year, but when did they find that? The medicine that you're taking?
Cobain: About a year ago.
MTV: That's good. I wanted to go through some memories from the videos that you’ve made, from shooting them. And actually the only thing that I’ve heard in interview, the only sort of disappointment about any of them, was ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that it’d not turned out to be exactly what you thought about?
Cobain: Yeah…I mean, although it worked, I mean, I like the video overall, but it wasn’t what I pictured in my mind. When I come up with an idea for a video I want it to be translated exactly how I see it in my mind and it just wasn’t that way. I mean, we didn't…We didn't take enough time, we didn't prepare ourselves enough to have as much control as we wanted to y’know? And I just remember walking in the day of the shoot and looking at the set - because I had had meetings with Sam Bayer and I told him what I wanted, I drew pictures of it, and I walked in and it wasn’t what I wanted. It just looked like a Time-Life commercial to me. With that backdrop. It just looked like such a contemporary – you know those commercials where people are sitting there y’know, trying to sell aspirin or something or an AT&T commercial? That's what it looked like to me, it looked too contemporary and…Still. The kids made the video y’know? And I had to, like, even after Sam had edited it – he edited it and sent it to me and I didn't like it and I flew down at the last minute to LA and edited it myself. I threw in a few extra things that pretty well saved it because, I don't want to toot my own horn, but I mean there was a lot of really good footage that wasn’t used. And if a lot of that wasn’t used it would have been a really bad video. (Laughs.)
MTV: More crowd stuff you mean, kids going crazy?
Cobain: Yeah. (Nods) Yeah, there wasn’t really a lot of that and most of the stuff that was used looked really contrived. It didn't…There was no spontaneity in it. So I just threw all these spontaneous parts in.
MTV: Well I guess, after that, you did a couple with Kevin Kerslake. Now, the only…I guess the blues and the purples and your faces being distorted, was the only thing you really wanted for ‘Come as You Are’ is that true or is it…? The biggest things that you were concerned about?
Cobain: Yeah, those were the biggest things. And I wanted a baby underwater and I just wanted a water effect and overall I’d say, y’know, a real large percentage of that was exactly how I thought of it in my mind. But he came up with the idea of the actual set, y’know, with the stairs and the chandelier and stuff. And it just worked out perfectly. I mean, it’s really good, it’s great to work with somebody that can come up with their own ideas too and just surprise you y’know? And not only come up with the same exact vision that you have but translate that and throw in their own ideas – and that works even better because then you have more things to work with.
MTV: What was yours and what was his? Do you remember? What you suggested and some of the things he surprised you with?
Cobain: Well he basically just came up with the set. The stairs and the chandelier. The set itself, yeah.
MTV: How long did you have to swing from the chandelier?
Cobain: Mmmm…Quite a few hours. Yeah.
MTV: And ‘Lithium’ was originally going to be a pretty elaborate…I guess concept video, some pretty elaborate ideas you had for it right?
Cobain: Yeah, it’s just that we failed to hire some puppet people – I guess that's what you call the people who do animation and use puppets – in time to be able to finish it, to get it out in time of the release date. So we just scrapped the idea, actually we just put it on hold. We're still working on it, we still want to do something with puppets. At the time I wanted pretty much a rip-off of the Brothers Quay y’know, not a rip-off but using the same imagery but because I make dolls, I’ve been making dolls for years, it just turns out that those – the dolls that I make – are a lot like Brothers Quay dolls that they use. And when I first saw their short films I was just amazed, like “God, this is the neatest thing I’ve ever seen. That's my mind, y’know?!” And it was just, it was put on the back-burner, but we're still working on it.
MTV: That’d be cool. Have you seen that Tool video?
Cobain: Y’know… (Shakes head while lighting cigarette) Oh God I hope they get sued.
MTV: They did a great job ripping them off but it is so…
Cobain: It is such a rip-off. It's a shameless rip-off. I mean, I wanted a Brothers Quay style, but I didn't want anything like that y’know? That was terrible. I mean, it’s a neat video, it’s really nice to look at but I mean, I’d rather watch a Brothers Quay video y’know?
MTV: Even down to stuff coming through windows on walls…
Cobain: Yeah…Meat going through tubes, pipes – oh, shameless. They need to be slapped on the wrist for that.
MTV: And can you…Erm, no one’s ever going to hear what I'm saying actually, so if you can just explain how the idea for ‘In Bloom’ came up and who that is doing the Ed Sullivan bit.
Cobain: Oh, who is the guy that…? That's Doug Llewelyn – the guy in the ‘In Bloom’ video is Doug Llewelyn from The People’s Court. He’s the MC or whatever you would call him, he’s the guy that talks to the people after they win or lose y’know? He interviews them. Yeah. It was my idea, to come up with that. I thought, “I wanna do a video that's either from…” I wanted something that looked like it was off of live television from the late Fifties or early Sixties and I thought the best way to do it, instead of trying to reproduce that effect with new film, I thought, I asked Kevin “are those Kinescope cameras still available?” He said, “Yeah, we can get ‘em in Hollywood, you can get anything in Hollywood.” So it just worked out perfectly. I didn't think we’d ever be able to actually find those kind of cameras but we did. And that's another video that just came out exactly how I wanted it, just perfectly.
MTV: (Discussion in background) The other thing that – the thing that struck me the most about it the first time I saw it was some film I’ve seen of when Elvis was in a lot of trouble for his pelvic thrusts and they only shot him just from the waist up and he went on Ed Sullivan and he pulled him aside and said “this is a perfectly nice fella,” and all that, and Elvis, all of a sudden his problems were over and he was all OK – was that what was in your mind with you guys? With the three ‘perfectly nice clean cut young men’?
Cobain: No, I don't remember ever seeing that Elvis thing but I think – God, what was the story about…? I think it was just that…I was talking to Kevin about it and I said that I would like him to say something about how nice and clean-cut we are y’know? How perfect we are. Because, y’know, the ‘In Bloom’ video came out at the height of us being thought of as degenerates y’know? So, we needed a light-hearted video y’know?
MTV: That's why I asked, it seemed like a parallel which I remember seeing from the Elvis stuff. How did you end up doing three versions of it? You had planned on doing two – right?
Cobain: Was there a third one?
MTV: Well, I mean, maybe that's just something I heard…But there's one that's all dresses, there's one that's all in the suits and stuff, and then there's the one that's the mix that's played the most.
Cobain: I don't know anything about the one that's just all suits. I think Kevin wanted to do one with just suits but I’ve never seen that one. I don't know if he actually made one or not. All I know about is the one with the dresses and the one with both of them.
MTV: Now ‘Sliver’, I know that was done in your garage or something? Basement?
MTV: Was that, em, I didn't, maybe I was high thinking this, but I heard someone say it was supposed to replicate an old rehearsal space of yours or something or…?
Cobain: No, it just turned out that it looks a lot like my old apartment in Olympia because I used…I had moved all my stuff – I had my entire apartment, all the stuff from my apartment in Olympia stored in a storage space for the last two years and I brought it up to the house when we moved into Seattle last year and I had all this stuff in the basement. So I set everything up exactly how I had it in my apartment in Olympia. It's just weird déjà vu to see that.
MTV: How did Frances Bean survive that? Was she kinda…
Cobain: That's just, that's just trickery. She wasn’t right in the middle of us all dancing around and throwing things – we shot us dancing around, then we put her down and just dropped paper around her, then edited it together to make it look like she was at our feet.
MTV: It just seemed like an obvious thing to do because she was there in the house and stuff or…?
Cobain: (Shrugs) Yeah. She was there, I was babysitting.
MTV: So, when you went to do ‘Heart Shaped Box’ did you plan on doing that with Kevin or did you decide you wanted to go with someone else on that from the beginning?
Cobain: I’d rather not answer that.
MTV: Right. Did you collaborate a lot with Anton on a lot of the ideas and actually how did you – why him, Anton?
Cobain: Well we met him a few months before we did the video, or before we decided to do the video, he did a photo shoot for us. And he was just such a nice guy and then I saw, I think it was a New Order video and I wanted to work with somebody that was a photographer or an artist this time. I just wanted to make sure that the visuals were going to be really stark and vivid y’know? (Nods) So that's why we chose him. Yeah, he’s great, he’s a really great guy.
MTV: Who’s idea were the hanging foetuses in the yard and the woman and santa on the cross and all that stuff?
Cobain: All of it was my idea except for the large woman. Yeah, that was Anton’s idea. And that was just another thing that he just threw in, he didn't even – we didn't even talk about that. He just happened to film her one day when we weren’t there and it was incredible. It turned out so great. Like I was saying before, it’s really great to work with somebody who has their own ideas y’know? And not only can he translate exactly, I mean, that video has come closer to what I’ve seen in my mind, what I’ve envisioned y’know, than any other video. I didn't think it would ever be possible to come that close y’know? It was just perfect. I think I’ve drained myself on video ideas. I don't even want to try to reproduce something like that again.
MTV: Is it a lot of work? For you?
Cobain: (Nods) A lot of work, yeah, oh definitely. It's mind-boggling. It's just, I dunno, it’s just a really detailed medium, there's so much to it. And it’s so fragile – you could really screw it up.
MTV: you're not going to make a video for ‘All Apologies’ you're just gonna go with the Unplugged?
Cobain: I just haven't bothered to come up with any ideas lately. I’ve been on tour and I just haven't been thinking of anything other than just concentrating on touring. I just don't want to bother with it right now. I don't really see the need to put out more than one or two videos for each record anymore. It's basically a waste of money because everyone knows we have a record out y’know? And if we're going to sell some more records based on the next video then those aren't people who want to listen to our album anyhow. They bought it because of that video or that song y’know? And um, y’know, I just want to sell albums to people who really like us and who already know about us, already like us, y’know? So, I don't see any reason for it. I actually don't want to do any more videos but I’ve a few ideas for ‘Rape Me’ and we want to release it as a single so…We might do something with that.
MTV: Do you want to talk about that at all or do you want to save that?
Cobain: Ahhhh…We’ll save it. (Smiles)
MTV: Was ‘All Apologies’ going to be the next single anyway because that, of the Unplugged stuff that I’ve seen, that's one of the ones that I think fits the Unplugged format the best. Was that the reason for it or were you planning on putting it out as a single anyway?
Cobain: No, it was going to be the next single. I don't think it was the best performance off the Unplugged thing. That's just my opinion. I don't think it was that good really. We played that song a lot better before but I see what you mean, it does fit, it could work really well acoustically.
MTV: I don't mean that particular performance itself, I just mean if you listen to the four discs worth of stuff that you’ve got that's one of the ones that seems like – if you hadn’t seen you guys do it yet, listening to all of it, that seems like one of the ones that seems like one of the biggest, most likely, candidates.
Cobain: Alright. Yeah.
MTV: So we talked about, before, how you weren’t particularly crazy about the way that a lot of the production for ‘Nevermind’ and stuff – did that effect the way that you went at ‘In Utero’ at all?
Cobain: I think it had a little bit to do with that. Yeah. We just wanted to make sure that it wasn’t as commercial or slick sounding. And the main reason is not…It had nothing to do with wanting to alienate people or – it had nothing to do with that. We just wanted to make sure that we put out a record exactly how we wanted. We wanted to put out a record that we would listen to at home y’know? And we don't listen to very many bands that are produced the way ‘Nevermind’ was produced, although it is raw by comparison to most other commercial rock records y’know? It's still – we don't listen to that kinda music so, I mean, I really can’t think of any other band besides R.E.M. that has that kind of production that I like, y’know? (Shrugs) So.
MTV: Does that mean, actually, something that surprised me that I didn't know, that Krist said earlier, is that you actually originally were thinking of Steve Albini for ‘Nevermind’.
Cobain: We've been thinking about Steve Albini forever. We've been wanting to have him produce us for…Since around ‘Bleach’ actually. If we could have got him for ‘Bleach’ we would have done on that. But we couldn’t afford it at the time I don't think. No, I guess that isn’t the right answer! I mean, I'm sure Steve has done bands for nothing but we just didn't think he would like us at the time or something, I dunno.
MTV: The first thing that I thought of when I heard he was producing it was just trying to think of the way you guys would sound with ‘Surfer Rosa’ – and I just thought “wow, this is gonna be great.”
Cobain: Yeah. I mean, that's what I thought too, I just thought it was the perfect sound for us cus when I heard ‘Surfer Rosa’ I thought “that's exactly how I want my band to sound.” That's how I’ve always wanted our band to sound but we've never been able to capture that sound y’know? It was just a coincidence that he produces records like that and, y’know, that's what I’ve heard in my head for years. That kinda snare drum sound, y’know.
MTV: I think the big, and maybe the only criticism he gets from the records he produces - and it’s odd because the Big Black records and the Rapeman records, the vocals are right up there and they're really really loud and they're one of the most prominent things on the records - so the criticism he’s gotten is that the vocals are always too low.
Cobain: I agree. I think almost every album I’ve heard him produce, that he’s produced, it always has the vocals too quiet. He’s not much of a vocal man, I don't think. And we're a very vocal orientated band so it was kind of a struggle to get the vocals loud enough for him.
MTV: So there were discussions about that then?
Cobain: Yeah, we were always asking him to turn the vocals up more. It was kind of a fight.
MTV: So why was Scott Litt brought in for it – it was just the two songs right? ‘All Apologies’ and…
Cobain: Yeah. Well…
MTV: He just did some finishing?
Cobain: It's just, I dunno, I mean we listened to ‘In Utero’ for about two months after it was finished, after we finished it with Albini. And listening to the album over and over again it got a bit redundant. That drum sound is a bit overbearing after a while and so we didn't want the entire album to just sound like that y’know? We wanted something different. And Scott was available and we love the production of R.E.M.’s stuff so we just thought “let's try Scott,” and it turned out great, I mean, he’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with. He’s so easy to work with. I want to, I think we all want to do our next record with him. Yeah.
MTV: Also for the first time on this record you guys are officially credited and officially writing things – I know you guys have always, you came with the guts of the song and you always built it up and put it together as a band – but Dave is actually credited. Did Dave come up with the riff for ‘Scentless Apprentice’?
Cobain: Yeah. Yeah he did. He came up with the ‘do-do-dodo, de-do-dododo-dodo’ – that part. And then the drum part. He came up with the drum part first and then he came up with the guitar part. But I came up with all of the other guitar things over the top of it. Everything else, the lyrics and singing and everything.
MTV: You looking at, you hoping that happens a little more in future or…?
Cobain: Yeah, sure, I'm all open for, I'm open for relieving myself of any kind of song-writing y’know? That’d be great if Krist and Dave could write more songs. (Interruption – Courtney inquiring how much longer they’ll be. Kurt swinging tinsel in front of himself)
MTV: This is something I asked the other two guys too, what kind of – I guess since it has an effect on you, it has an effect on the band – but what kind of effect do you think Frances Bean has had on Nirvana?
Cobain: On the band?
MTV: I mean, and it’s obvious for me to say this, but she’s had an effect on you obviously. Has it changed the way you work at all and I don't necessarily mean in a bad way but does it alter the way you go about things…?
Cobain: No. I don't know how Frances has affected the band other than she amuses everybody back stage when she’s on tour with us. Everyone loves to have her around. I don't know. Since I haven't had a stomach problem and I’ve had a child and I'm married now, y’know what I mean, I'm sure that I’ve become a lot easier to deal with. Y’know? I'm not as grumpy as I used to be. So, I dunno, I think that our morale is at its best right now y’know? Just everyone just gets along. I mean we've always gotten along, we've never really fought – I don't think we've ever gotten into a shouting argument with one another. We're pretty passive-aggressive but now it’s, now there are no bad thoughts about one another behind each other’s backs at all. Y’know, it’s like I couldn’t be happier right now.
MTV: Dave was saying he was happy that you had one first and everyone else wants to have one now, so you can kind of be their guinea pig.
Cobain: (Smiling) Yeah, well good, then they can start baby-sitting.
MTV: So, last time, there were no lyrics with ‘Bleach’, the last time you put them in the ‘Lithium’ single – have you had a change of heart about putting lyrics on the record?
Cobain: Yeah. I think I’ve just become more comfortable with them. I'm just a bit more proud of them than I always, ever have been before.
MTV: I know you don't like talking about what the songs are about but is it important for you so people can see the lyrics and figure out their own interpretation of the songs are?
Cobain: Well, it was important for me to have everyone read the lyrics for this album because, although no one wants to believe it, I went out of my way to not put very much of my personal life into it. Especially, I especially focused on not writing about all the crap that's been written about us. I didn't want to be thought of as bitching and complaining in any of these songs. And it turns out that there may be one or two lines in a song here and there that could be, y’know, that could be thought of as something that relates to my past life but…I swear to God brother (raises hand palm up) it’s really not that, it’s really not as much as it seems y’know. I’ve read a few reviews and it’s just, people went completely overboard y’know? “My favourite inside source,” y’know, so that's, y’know…The song is about rape but that one line doesn't mean that the song is about me. It isn’t because it isn’t about me being raped by the media or anything, it certainly isn’t. But because that one line is in there a lot of people have thought that that's what the song is about.
MTV: Well that probably wouldn’t be completely unfair for you to say that when the opening line of the album is, I mean…Not necessarily about that particular subject, but it seems like you're looking back a little bit on Nevermindmania and…
Cobain: On ‘Scentless Apprentice’ yeah, just those few lines. Just the first few lines. But then the rest of the lyrics don't have anything to do with the band or my ideas about the band at all.
MTV: Do you sometimes take from a couple of different situations or a couple of different people that have nothing to do with each other in the same song or…
Cobain: Wait a minute, did I say ‘Serve the Servants’ or ‘Scentless Apprentice’? I meant to say ‘Serve the Servants’.
MTV: Want to do that again?
Cobain: Yeah, what was the question again? (Laughs) What did I say?
MTV: It totally went by me too. But people I guess interpreting things as being from your experiences, so looking at the opening line of the album…
Cobain: Yeah. Well ‘Serve the Servants’ is not about – I mean the first opening lines that say “Teenage angst has paid off well, now I'm bored and old,” that is certainly about my ideas about grunge rock and what I’ve experienced in the last few years but the rest of the song isn’t about that at all. It completely changes the subject y’know?
MTV: (While also speaking to someone else) Paul Westerberg. Oh OK. Paul Westerberg was saying once…
MTV: So tell us about this book? How did you get to know Michael Azerrad and the whole ‘Come as You Are’ book?
Cobain: Oh he did the Rolling Stone cover story. And we just thought…He said “d’you want me to write a book?” We said “sure.”
MTV: You just wanted to clear the air?
Cobain: Yeah, we wanted to clear the air, basically, I mean, I guess that's what I could say. Also there's just so many misconceptions and so many stupid rumours that I, we all just got tired of reading about it all the time. So we thought that we’d tell the truth about things.
MTV: There’s a lot of stuff in there in quotes so it should be. John Lydon’s apparently writing his own book.
MTV: About the Sex Pistols.
Cobain: That should be interesting.
MTV: Michael was very, I talked to him a couple of months ago, and he was very keen to make sure that it was understood that it was with the cooperation of Nirvana – not the authorised biography.
Cobain: Oh yeah, I mean, we had absolutely no control over editing anything. He let me read it right before it went to print. He stood behind me looking over my shoulder as I read it, like at four in the morning, y’know? Til like seven in the morning, just…And by that time I was just so delirious that I don't even remember what I read and, I mean, if there were inaccuracies I wouldn’t have been able to tell him at the time anyhow. Y’know? But that's about as much control as we had over it.
MTV: When you did the cover story with him, this is nothing to do with the actual interview, but the whole t-shirt thing that went on, did you actually ever think that they'd use that photo?
Cobain: T-shirt thing?
MTV: That you wore for the cover of Rolling Stone? (Second voice joins in) ‘Corporate Magazines Still Suck’.
Cobain: Oh did I think that they would use that photo on the cover? They hadn’t a choice because I refused to take my shirt off.
MTV: Well there was one design that was worse for them right?
Cobain: Yeah but I just didn't put it on, I didn't bother to put it on.
MTV: There were some photos taken though, I think in Michael’s book, the punk rock duck with the…Grateful Dead writing on it?
Cobain: Really? Maybe I did put it on, yeah. But I just wanted to make sure not to button up my sweater, to either wear one or the other shirts, and never to take my sunglasses off. Because I knew that if I took my sunglasses off just once that's the photo they would’ve used y’know? That's just one of the tricks I’ve learned.
MTV: In a Paul Westerberg story they had – when the Replacements broke up n’all – they made a point to do a photo session with them together and one of them, as a joke, I forget which one of them it was, got a squirt gun and pointed it at the other one’s head and they used that one and they – they shot that one, took about ten others, actually took about ten photos of that, took one without it and used the one without it. Probably a good move. Are you finding it easier to play guitar and sing at the same time now that you’ve got a second guitarist on stage?
Cobain: Yeah. I do. Although I still…I'm still concentrating on playing guitar a lot more than I thought I would, I thought it would relieve me so much that I wouldn’t even have to try anymore and I could screw up notes and it wouldn’t matter. But I still hear myself screw up so I still have to concentrate almost as much as I ever did before. But it still is a relief. I mean, it also just rounds out the sound. I think that's the most important thing.
MTV: The thing that surprised me about it - when I knew you’d added the second guitar player, the first time was, I guess, the Roseland show in New York, the first time I saw you when Big John was playing, I hadn’t seen it before that. I thought, “well, now he can concentrate more on singing,” I was thinking you’d be playing the rhythm parts and they'd be playing the leads that you play – but you're still playing the leads. (Frances audibly mumbling in the background and Kim Deal speaking to her – Kurt glances over)
Cobain: (In mock mumble) Hey! Shut up! Who is that?
MTV: Kim Deal.
Cobain: What was the question then?
MTV: I thought, when I heard about having the second guitar player, I assumed you’d stick to just simple rhythm stuff so you could just sing easier but you're still playing the leads?
Cobain: Yeah, well that's because I know the leads and – well, actually, I don't! A lot of times, I mean even to this day, I still haven't bothered to learn the solo that I recorded on the album. I just play whatever I want. But I still like playing lead guitar sometimes. Y’know?
MTV: Can you talk about the two guys – it was Big John at first, now Pat Smear…
Cobain: Well that wasn’t, that was never anything even close to official, we just decided to try him out one day. He’d been our guitar tech for quite a few months and we thought, “since we like him,” and that's one of the most important things when you get a new band member, you have to like the person first and then if they play good music then that's second, y’know? But it’s just, um, something we've been wanting for a while y’know. And it just didn't work out with John really, he tunes guitar too good, so, then we found ourselves without a guitar tech so…
MTV: So is Pat going to be an official member of Nirvana or is he just going to tour with you?
Cobain: I don't know. We haven't tried to write any songs together yet. I’d like him to be. Actually. He’s so much fun to be around and it’s just been so great being on tour with him y’know? I’d like it to be a reality but…Who knows?
MTV: How annoying is it after all this time to still be – I know writing for 120 Minutes and putting that show together every week, if we get a new video from a new band that's from Seattle or a band that's been around for a while, I almost don't want to say they're from Seattle, at this point. Because at that point someone’s just going to…
Cobain: There’s not a reason to…
MTV: Well, y’know, if a band’s from Boston or a band’s from somewhere down in the south, then we want to say “this is where they're from and whatever,” but I…Does it feel like, not that we're going to pre-judge them or condemn them at this point, how annoying has that gotten, the whole, that you're a grunge band from Seattle – how long do you think it’ll be before bands can come out of here and not be pre-judged?
Cobain: Probably never. I don't know. I haven't thought about that for a long time. It doesn't affect us anymore so I don't really think about it. I mean I'm sure it’s a curse to a lot of other bands y’know? New bands starting out who are from Seattle y’know? It's probably an embarrassment for some people. But…Hum.
MTV: This is something that I actually know very little about, but I wanted to ask you about the record that you did with William S. Burroughs. What was that like? How’d that come about?
Cobain: It was a long-distance recording. He had recorded his vocals and then a few weeks later at the last minute I decided to record my guitar part. What I did, I basically went into Dave’s friend’s studio and he pushed the play button on the DAT machine and I just masturbated for twenty minutes and then I just sent it to them and let them edit it and put it together. So it wasn’t an album that we did together y’know? Technically. Y’know? So…But then I did get to meet him on this tour, just about a month ago, when we were in Kansas. That was a great thrill. Incredible.
MTV: Did he say anything about what you’d played?
Cobain: Yeah, he said “good job. I liked it.” (Smiles)
MTV: So it’s like a William S. Burroughs’ record with music by Kurt Cobain? That sort of a thing?
Cobain: I like to think of it as that. But that's really not how it’s titled. I mean, I think the record company that put it out likes to use both of our names equally just to sell as many as they can probably. I think of it, because it’s based on his story and I'm just doing an accompaniment, y’know?
MTV: I think that's it. That's it. Thank you.
(Kurt gasps as if relieved, shades eyes from the spotlight with his hand, sips water as the light goes out.
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