LIVE NIRVANA INTERVIEW ARCHIVE February 11, 1994 - Toulon, FR

Interviewer(s)
Chuck Crisafulli
Interviewee(s)
Kurt Cobain
Publisher Title Transcript
Fender Frontline Kurt Cobain: Tribute To A Reluctant Guitar Hero Yes
Fender Frontline TBC Yes

The music world suffered a tremendous and untimely loss this April when Nirvana's Kurt Cobain took his own life at the age of 27. The guitarist, singer, and songwriter was a troubled and fragile soul, but he was also an inspiring and talented artist, and his small, powerful legacy of work will no doubt continue to shape the sounds of rock for years to come.

A few weeks before his death, while the band was still on their last tour in Europe, Cobain agreed to answer some interview questions for Fender Frontline. Understandably, Kurt wasn't all that eager to submit to interviews at the time, but the idea was to get away from prodding him about any of the more sensational rumors swirling about the band and to just let him speak frankly about his music. He graciously consented. He was also beginning to experiment with special hybrid 'Jag-Stang' guitars—half Jaguar, half Mustang—that he had helped design, so he was asked about his experiences with the new instrument.

Even the most jaded chart-watchers are going to have to concede that Nirvana made some thrilling sounds in its short history. Bleach, Nevermind, and In Utero hold up as potent, original works that, at their finest moments, deliver all the exhilarating thrills that rock and roll is supposed to. It is unfortunate and deeply saddening that Cobain chose to leave us so soon. He will be missed.

Nirvana has become a Big Rock Story, but the music still seems to be the most important part of the story. How proud are you of the band's work?

It's interesting, because while there's a certain selfish gratification in having any number of people buy your records and come to see you play—none of that holds a candle to simply hearing a song that I've written played by a band. I'm not talking about radio or MTV. I just really like playing these songs with a good drummer and bass player. Next to my wife and daughter, there's nothing that brings me more pleasure.

Is it always a pleasure for you to crank up the guitar, or do you ever do battle with the instrument?

The battle is the pleasure. I'm the first to admit that I'm no virtuoso. I can't play like Segovia. The flip side of that is that Segovia could probably never have played like me.

With Pat Smear playing guitar in the touring lineup, has your approach to the instrument changed much?

Pat has worked out great from day one. In addition to being one of my closest friends, Pat has found a niche in our music that compliments what was already there without forcing any major changes. I don't see myself ever becoming Mick Jagger, but having Pat on stage has freed me to spend more time connecting with the audience. I've become more of a showman. Well maybe that's going too far. Let's just say that having Pat to hold down the rhythm allows me to concentrate on the performance as a whole. I think it's improved our live show 100%.

On In Utero and in concert, you play some of the most powerful "anti-solos" ever hacked out of a guitar. What comes to mind for you when it's time for the guitar to cut loose?

Less than you could ever imagine.

Krist [Novoselic] and Dave [Grohl] do a great job of helping to bring your songs to life. How would you describe the role of each player, including yourself, in the Nirvana sound?

While I can do a lot by switching channels on my amp, it's Dave who really brings the physicality to the dynamics in our songs. Krist is great at keeping everything going along at some kind of even keel. I'm just the folk-singer in the middle.

You're a very passionate performer. Do you have to feel the tenderness and rage in your songs in order to perform them?

That's tough because the real core of any tenderness or rage is tapped the very second that a song is written. In a sense, I'm only recreating the purity of that particular emotion every time I play that particular song. While it gets easier to summon those emotions with experience, it's a sort of dishonesty that you can never recapture the emotion of a song completely each time you play it.

It must be a very odd feeling for Nirvana to be performing in sports arenas these days. How do you get along with the crowds your attracting now?

Much better than I used to. When we first started to get successful, I was extremely judgemental of the people in the audience. I held each of them to a sort of punk rock ethos. It upset me that we were attracting and entertaining the very people that a lot of my music was a reaction against. I've since become much better at accepting people for who they are. Regardless of who they were before they came to the show, I get a few hours to try and subvert the way they view the world. It's not that I'm trying to dictate, it's just that I am afforded a certain platform on which I can express my views. At the very least, I always get the last word.

Do you see a long, productive future for the band?

I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished together. Having said that however, I don't know how long we can continue as Nirvana without a radical shift in direction. I have lots of ideas and ambitions that have nothing to do with the mass conception of "grunge" that has been force-fed to the record buying public for the last few years. Whether I will be able to do everything I want to do as a part of Nirvana remains to be seen. To be fair, I also know that both Krist and Dave have musical ideas that may not work in the context of Nirvana. We're all tired of being labeled. You can't imagine how stifling it is.

You've made it clear that you're not particularly comfortable being a "rock star", but one of the things that tracks like Heart-Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea on In Utero make clear is that you're certainly a heavyweight when it comes to songwriting. You may have job sometimes, but is the writing process pleasurable and satisfying for you?

I think it becomes less pleasurable and satisfying when I think of it in terms of my "job". Writing is the one part that is not a job, it's expression. Photo shoots, interviews…that's the real job part.

I never got to meet Kurt Cobain, but I did have the opportunity to interview him, through a series of trans-Atlantic phone calls and faxes. In the months before his death, Kurt had been designing a guitar with the Fender company (what came to be known as the 'Jag-Stang' guitar—a custom built Fender Jaguar, Fender Mustang hybrid). Kurt enjoyed his dealings with the company and had consequently agreed that he would, at some point, grant an interview for Fender's Frontline magazine. When I first contacted him to do that piece—in February 1994—Nirvana was in Europe on what would be their final tour. Kurt was, somewhat understandably, less than eager to submit to interviews at the time, but it was made clear to him that the idea of the piece was not to prod him about any of the sensational rumors that were circulating about the band but to just let him speak frankly about his music. He graciously consented.

After having heard much about Cobain's reputation as a smack-addled cipher, egocentric brat and/or prickly press hater, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that he was a warm, forthcoming, insightful and very funny interviewee. When our communications came to an end, I considered it a privilege to have made his acquaintance and wanted to make sure that the Cobain I had spoken with came through clearly in my piece. Unfortunately, before that piece had ever been written, Kurt had over-dosed on champagne and Rohypnol while the band was in Rome. This was, at first, described as an accident but eventually it was revealed that it had been a calculated suicide attempt.

A month later, Cobain, having escaped from a rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles, made his way back to Seattle. On April 5, 1994, he barricaded himself in a room above his garage, put a shotgun to his head, and ended his life. After Cobain's death, the Frontline piece was re-edited, and what ran were excerpts from the following interview, along with a short memorial. Here is the full transcript of what was almost certainly one of Cobain's final interviews.

Nirvana has become a "Big Rock Story," but the music still seems to be the most important part of that story. Your music offers the simple, powerful rock n' roll thrill that so many other bands seem to have a hard time delivering. How proud are you of Nirvana's work?

It's interesting, because while there's a certain gratification in having any number of people buy your records and come to see you play, none of that holds a candle to simply hearing a song that I've written played by a band. I'm not talking about radio or MTV. I just really like playing these songs with a good drummer and bass player. Next to my wife and daughter, there's nothing that brings me more pleasure.

I'm extremely proud of what we've accomplished together. Having said that, however, I don't know how long we can continue as Nirvana without a radical shift in direction. I have lots of ideas and musical ambitions that have nothing to do with this mass conception of "grunge" that has been force-fed to the record-buying public for the past few years. Whether I will be able to do everything I want to do as part of Nirvana remains to be seen. To be fair, I also know that both Krist and Dave have musical ideas that may not work within the context of Nirvana. We're all tired of being labeled. You can't imagine how stifling it is.

You've made it clear that you're not particularly comfortable being a "Rock Star," but one of the things that tracks like 'Heart-Shaped Box' and 'Pennyroyal Tea' on In Utero make clear is that you're certainly a gifted song writer. You may have a tough time sometimes, but has the written process continued to be pleasurable and satisfying for you?

I think that it becomes less pleasurable when I think of it in terms of being my "job." Writing is the one part that is not a job, it's expression. Photo shoots, interviews…that's the real job part.

You're a very passionate performer. Do you find yourself re-experiencing the tenderness and rage in your songs when you perform them?

That's tough because the real core of any tenderness or rage is tapped the very second that a song is written. In a sense, I'm only re-creating the purity of that particular emotion every time I play that particular song. While it gets easier to summon those emotions with experience, it's sort of dishonesty in that you can never recapture the emotion of a song completely each time you play it. Real "performing" implies a sort of acting that I've always tried to avoid.

It must be a very odd feeling for Nirvana to be performing in sports arenas these days. How do you get along with the crowds your attracting now?

Much better than I used to. When we first got successful, I was extremely judgmental of the people in the audience. I held them up to a sort of punk-rock ethos. It upset me that we were attracting and entertaining the very people that a lot of my music was a reaction against. I've since become much better for accepting people for who they are. Regardless of who they are before they came to the show, I get a few hours to try and subvert the way they view the world. It's not that I'm trying to dictate, it's just that I am afforded a certain platform on which I can express my views. At the very least, I always get the last word.

There's also a great deal of craft in your songs, but you also seem to enjoy the thrill of simply cranking up an electric guitar. Is playing guitar a pleasure for you, or do you battle with the instrument?

The battle is the pleasure. I'm the anti-guitar hero—I can barely play the thing myself. I'm the first to admit that I'm no virtuoso. I can't play like Segovia. The flip side of that is that Segovia could probably never have played like me.

With Pat Smear playing guitar in the touring line-up, has your approach to the instrument changed much? Is it easier to enjoy playing live with an extra pair of guitar-hands helping you out?

Pat has worked out great from day one. In addition to being one of the my closest friends, Pat has found a niche in our music that compliments what was already there, without forcing any major changes. While I don't see myself ever becoming Mick Jagger, having Pat on stage has freed me to spend more time concentrating on my connection with the audience. I've become more of a showman—well maybe that's going a little too far. Let's just say that having Pat to hold down the rhythm allows me to concentrate on the performance as a whole. I think it's improved our live show 100%.

On In Utero, and in concert, you play some of the most powerful "anti-solos" ever hacked out of a guitar. What comes to mind for you when it's time for the guitar to cut loose?

Less than you could ever imagine.

Krist and Dave do a great job of helping to bring your songs to life. How do you describe the role of each player, including yourself, in the Nirvana sound?

While I can do a lot by switching the channels on my amp, it's Dave who really brings the physicality to the dynamics in our songs. Krist is great at keeping everything going along at some kind of even keel. I'm just the folk singer in the middle.

Aside from interviews, what are the biggest drags for you these days?

Being apart from my family for months at a time. Having people feed me fine French meals when all I want is macaroni and cheese. Being seen as unapproachable when I used to be called shy. Did I mention interviews?

Nevermind changed your life in a big way, but having Courtney and Frances around must help you to keep things in perspective. How much do you enjoy being a family man?

It's more important than anything else in the whole world. Playing music is what I do—my family is what I am. When everyone's forgotten about Nirvana and I'm on some revival tour opening for the Temptations and the Four Tops, Frances Bean will still be my daughter and Courtney will still be my wife. That means more than anything else to me.

© Chuck Crisafulli, 1994