LIVE NIRVANA SESSIONS HISTORY April 2–6, 1990 - Studio A, Smart Studios, Madison, WI, US View in Google Maps

    • Channing, Chad (drums)
    • Cobain, Kurt (vocals, guitar)
    • Novoselic, Krist (bass)
  • Olsen, Doug (engineer)
  • Vig, Butch (producer, engineer)
  • [O] Breed
  • [O] Dive
  • [O] In Bloom
  • [O] Stay Away
  • [O] Sappy
  • [O] Lithium
  • [O] Here She Comes Now
  • [O] Polly
  • Audio: 1-inch 16-track analog magnetic tape (session tape)
Source ID Quality Complete Runtime Lowest Gen Tracks Featured Notes
SBD #1 10.0 0:05:00 Official CD (Various Artists - Heaven And Hell: A Tribute To The Velvet Underground, Communion No. 20CD) • Here She Comes Now Mixed by Butch Vig, June 1990
SBD #2a 10.0 0:03:53 Official CD (Incesticide) • Dive Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. Dive is less complete here than on SBD#2e, but is considered to be of superior sound quality.
SBD #2b 10.0 0:03:27 Official CD (Various Artists - DGC Rarities Vol. 1) • Stay Away Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. Stay Away appears under the title Pay To Play. Stay Away is less complete here than on SBD#2e, but is considered to be of superior sound quality.
SBD #2c 10.0 0:04:31 Official VHS (Various Artists - Sub Pop Video Network, Program 1) • In Bloom Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990.
SBD #2d 10.0 0:03:13 TBC>FLAC • Breed Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990.
SBD #2e 10.0 0:18:23 Official CD (Nevermind, Deluxe Edition, catalog#: 2777903) • Lithium (mix 6)
• Polly
• Stay Away
• Dive
• Sappy (mix 1)
Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. The intro to Dive is longer here than on other sources. Stay Away appears under the title Pay To Play.
SBD #2f 9.0 0:17:46 ANA(2)>FLAC • Breed
• Stay Away
• Sappy (mix 1)
• Polly
• Lithium (mix 6)
Mixed by Butch Vig, April 1990. This source is sometimes referred to as the Top Secret tape. Breed is slightly more complete here than on SBD#2d, but is considered to be of inferior sound quality. Lithium (mix 6) cuts out slightly.
SBD #3a 8.5 0:18:06 ANA(1)>FLAC • In Bloom
• Dive
• Lithium (mix 7)
• Here She Comes Now
Alternative mixes by Butch Vig, April 1990. Copied from Chad Channing's tape. Lithium is slightly more complete here than on SBD#3b, but is considered to be of inferior sound quality.
SBD #3b 10.0 0:04:27 TBC>FLAC • Lithium (mix 7) Alternative mix by Butch Vig, April 1990.
SBD #3c 10.0 0:07:42 Official CD (Nevermind, Deluxe Edition, catalog#: 2777903) • In Bloom
• Breed
Alternative mixes by Butch Vig, April 1990. Breed appears under the title Immodium.
SBD #3d 9.0 0:04:07 ANA(3)>CDR(1)>FLAC • Dive Alternative mixes by Butch Vig, April 1990. This source is sometimes referred to as Kurdt's Tape Side A.
SBD #4a 10.0 0:08:12 Unofficial CD (Outcesticide 2022) • Sappy (mix 2)
• Lithium (mix 3)
Alternative mixes by Butch Vig, April 1990.
SBD #4b 9.0 0:03:53 ANA(2)>FLAC • Dive Alternative mix by Butch Vig, April 1990. This source is sometimes referred to as the Top Secret tape.
SBD #5 10.0 0:02:56 Official CD (Nevermind, MFSL Gold CD, catalog#: UDCD 666) • Polly Mixed by Andy Wallace, 1991. Mastered by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs.
SBD #6 10.0 0:02:11 Official DVD (Classic Albums: Nevermind) • Polly Deconstructed mix by Butch Vig, 2004. Vig isolates tracks, highlighting various elements within the song. Polly features a false start not found on other sources. The song is incomplete and has voice-over commentary throughout. Audio is lossy at 192 kbps.
SBD #7 10.0 0:03:00 Official Video Game DLC (Rock Band) • Polly Stem mix by Universal Mastering, 2007. Polly cuts in slightly.
SBD #8 10.0 0:08:01 CDR(X)>FLAC • Here She Comes Now
• Polly
Mixed by an unidentified engineer, unknown date. This source features pre and post-song noises not found on other sources. Here She Comes Now appears as She Comes Down.
SBD #9 TBC TBC Official Blu-ray (Cobain: Montage Of Heck) • Polly
• Polly
Mixed by Steve Pederson, 2015. All tracks are cut or abridged, all feature voice-over and/or other extraneous sounds.

This session was booked with the intention of recording a second album for Sub Pop. (1) After hearing Butch Vig's production on Killdozer's 12 Point Buck, Sub Pop's Jonathan Poneman called Vig to propose that he record an album with NIRVANA. Poneman had apparently hyped the band to Vig by saying, These guys are going to be bigger than the Beatles! (1)

From the start of the session, Kurt Cobain remained fairly quiet, letting Krist Novoselic do much of the talking. [Krist] asked me about a lot of punk records, asked if I could get this or that kind of sound, remembers Vig. They didn't want too clean or trebly; they wanted to sound real heavy. (2)

For the most part, the band used their own equipment, with the exception of a Fender Bassman that Vig got Cobain to use on In Bloom and Lithium. We [also] used my Yamaha snare drum on several songs, the same one that was used on Smashing Pumpkins' Gish, Vig remembers. (2) Vig had also laid sheets of plywood across the studio floor to enhance the live sound of the room. (2)

While most of the basic song arrangements were complete by the time the band entered Smart Studios, Chad Channing recalls that one or two of them still needed work, I think, at this particular session, it was slower trying to get the sounds together. Some of the songs weren't even finished. Some of them were ideas we'd run through a couple of times and then we had to go on tour. There was a feeling of hesitancy, recording some of the songs, because of the not readiness about them that Kurt had. And there was some apprehension about what songs to record. They were so different than Bleach—it was a drastic change. (2)

Vig admits finding Cobain's demeanor disconcerting at times, Kurt was charming and witty, but he would go through these mood swings. He would be totally engaged, then all of a sudden a light switch would go off and he'd go sit in the corner and completely disappear into himself. I didn't really know how to deal with that. (3)

Chad seemed a nice guy, but he seemed ill at ease, remembers engineer, Doug Olsen. There was definitely something going on between him and Kurt, where Kurt was not psyched about something… that did come to a head at one point. (2) Several times Kurt actually got over on the drums and tried to show Chad what to do, recalls Vig. There was some definite tension. (4)

Songs were recorded in a straight-forward manner, with little done in the way of overdubs, I got Kurt to double-track some of the guitars, though he wasn't into it, and he dropped in a couple little lead things. And he would sing so hard, I was lucky to get him to do another take; he was hoarse the whole time he was there, remembers Vig. The other guys did some overdubs, but the band was pretty much tracked live. (4)

Novoselic recalls that In Bloom originally had an additional bridge, When we were listening to it, after we'd recorded it, we said, Ah, this bridge isn't that hot. So Butch just took out a razor blade and cut the bridge out of the 16-track master, and then threw it in the garbage. (2)

Olsen recalls the Lithium session as being a very down day for Cobain, Kurt was in a very sour mood. He just made everyone miserable. (2)

Channing remembers Here She Comes Now as being one of the few takes that went smoothly at Smart, I was shocked we did that one, he says, that was a fun song. (2) Gary from Tupelo Records called up and said he was putting out a Velvet Underground tribute record, and he wanted us to play on it, Novoselic explains. We had never played that song before [the Smart sessions] and we hardly ever played it after. We just kind of hashed it out. We did that song in one take. (2)

The rendition of Polly captured at this session ended up being used on Nevermind. Vig recalls it as being the final track recorded at Smart, done late at night and really raw. (5) Polly was recorded with Kurt and Krist playing live, he explains. Then we went back after the guitars were finished and overdubbed vocals. Kurt sang harmonies with himself. Chad overdubbed the cymbal crashes last. (2)

Many of the other songs from this session were re-recorded at Sound City Studios for Nevermind and given different titles. At the time of the Smart sessions, Breed was known as Imodium; Stay Away featured slightly different lyrics and was known as Pay To Play. (1)

Vig doubts that there were any other songs or outtakes saved: If a take wasn't a keeper, we'd just erase it and do another one. (6)

The Smart log notes that Vig mixed all but one song on April 11, 12 and 13. For some reason, Vig says, I didn't mix Here She Comes Now until June 8, 1990. (2)

The Smart/Sub Pop recordings were initially planned for release in September 1990 as either an EP or a full-length album. Vig had thought that he might record a few more songs with the band to round out the record, but once Channing left the band, Cobain and Novoselic decided not to move forward with it. We knew [the Smart session] wasn't going to be our next record at that point, says Novoselic. (2)

Meanwhile, cassette copies of the session were finding their way into the hands of local scenesters and music industry insiders. They had actually made up these demo tapes, recalls Jack Endino. They gave me the tape and it said NIRVANA on it with this little hand-made cover. There were six or seven songs, plus they had put Love Buzz on the end of it. And they were calling it a demo. In other words, they were shopping it. And Krist said, Don't tell Sub Pop I gave this to you, but this is what we're sending out to try to get a deal. They were giving it out, trying to get some interest. (2)

  1. Azerrad, Michael, 1993. Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana. Doubleday.
  2. Berkenstadt, Jim & Cross, Charles R., 1998. Classic Rock Albums: Nevermind. Schirmer Books.
  3. Vozick-Levinson, Simon, 2011. Inside the 20th-Anniversary Reissue of 'Nevermind', Rolling Stone, [online] Available at:
  4. Gaar, Gillian G., 2004. Mondo Nirvana, MOJO, [online] Available at:
  5. Henderson, Peter, 1998. Titanic! The Nevermind Recording Sessions, MOJO, [online] Available at:
  6. Gaar, Gillian G., 1997. Verse Chorus Verse: The Recording History Of Nirvana, Goldmine, [online] Available at:

© Alex Roberts. August 28, 2011