- [O] Scentless Apprentice
- [O] Milk It
- [O] Sappy
- [O] Very Ape
- [U] Pennyroyal Tea instrumental
- [O] Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
- [O] Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle
- [O] Moist Vagina
- [O] tourette's
- [U] Heart-Shaped Box instrumental
- [X] All Apologies instrumental
- [O] All Apologies Schaley on cello
- [O] I Hate Myself And Want To Die
- [X] Rape Me instrumental
- [O] Rape Me
- [O] Serve The Servants
- [O] Dumb Schaley on cello
- [U] Dave Solo instrumental Grohl on all instruments
- [U] Marigold instrumental Cobain on drums, Grohl on guitar, Novoselic on bass
- [U] Marigold instrumental Grohl on drums and guitar, Novoselic on bass
- [O] Marigold Grohl on vocals, drums and guitar, Novoselic on bass, Schaley on cello
- [U] Lullaby instrumental
- [O] Pennyroyal Tea
- [X] Heart-Shaped Box instrumental
- [O] Heart-Shaped Box
- Audio: 2-inch 24-track analog magnetic tape (session tape)
Booking in under the alias,
The Simon Ritchie Bluegrass Ensemble (Simon Ritchie being Sid Vicious's birth name), NIRVANA entered Pachyderm Recording Studio the second week of February 1993 to record their new album—the hotly anticipated follow-up to Nevermind—with rock maverick Steve Albini. (1)
Pachyderm—an isolated residential studio, located in the boondocks of Minnesota, 35 miles south of the Twin Cities—was founded by Eric S. Anderson, Mark Walk and Jim Nickel as a recording resort; it comprises a 2,500 square-foot recording studio and a 5,000 square-foot guest house, all set in a 50 acre private forest with trout streams and walking trails. (2) It was felt that the studio's remote rural location would help to focus minds and cut down on outside distractions.
We were isolated, remembers Krist Novoselic.
For two weeks we were in this house, cooped up in the middle of nowhere, like a gulag. There was snow outside, we couldn't go anywhere. We just worked. (3)
Long before the band had even approached Albini about doing the record, rumors were abounding that he had got the job. Albini eventually issued a disclaimer to the British music press refuting the allegations, only to get the call from NIRVANA's management a few days later. (1) Months of unfounded speculation tying Albini to the new NIRVANA album had apparently cost him work among his underground peers.
I started seeing stuff in the fanzines that I was above working with the small bands, that I had (4)
sold out, that I had done this horrible thing. And at that point, I hadn't even spoken to the band. I had never spoken to them!
Though the band sensed the record company was unhappy with their choice of producer, they had sufficient clout to record with whomever they wanted.
After Nevermind, we had the power, says Dave Grohl.
Our A&R man at the time, Gary Gersh, was freaking out. I said, (5)
Gary, man, don't be so afraid, the record will turn out great! He said,
Oh, I'm not afraid, go ahead, bring me back the best you can do.
Albini had already earned himself a reputation as one of the most highly principled, if prickly characters in the American underground music scene. While hiring him might have been construed as an attempt to buy back some punk rock credibility, Kurt Cobain insisted that was never a consideration,
I've never really paid any attention to Steve Albini's personality or anything that he supposedly is a crusader for, he told Request magazine in 1993,
For the most part, I wanted to work with him because he happened to produce two of my favorite records, which were Surfer Rosa and Pod. (6) Inspired by those records, Cobain wanted to utilize Albini's technique of capturing the natural ambience of a room through the use and placement of several microphones, something he had tried to get successive producers to do.
I suggested to Jack Endino and to Butch Vig that we should use a whole bunch of microphones to get an ambience out of the room, but they wouldn't do it. It turns out that's exactly how Albini does it, and it was an assumption that I had. He came so close with The Pixies and The Breeders, who sound the way I've always wanted to sound. (7)
We loved The Jesus Lizard's Goat, we loved the first Breeders record, we loved The Pixies' Surfer Rosa, echoes Grohl.
A lot of that had to do with the drum sound and the natural live feeling of those recordings. As we were going to make Nevermind, we had that vibe in mind. Nevermind turned out to be something completely different, but we had always wanted to record with Steve and now we were able to. After recording Nevermind, something clicked in Kurt, he felt the album didn't represent the way the band sounded. (8)
While Albini admits to caring little for NIRVANA's earlier records, branding them
R.E.M. with a fuzzbox, he says he accepted the job because he felt sorry for the band members, whom he recognized as
the same sort of people as all the small-fry bands I deal with, but at the mercy of their record company. (1)
Albini wrote to the band, setting out his terms, recording methodology and philosophy in a four-page fax.
I think the very best thing you could do at this point is exactly what you are talking about doing: bang a record out in a couple of days, with high quality but minimal he wrote, adding,
production and no interference from the front office bulletheads. If that is indeed what you want to do, I would love to be involved,
If, instead, you might find yourselves in the position of being temporarily indulged by the record company, only to have them yank the chain at some point (hassling you to rework songs/sequences/production, calling-in hired guns to (9)
sweeten your record, turning the whole thing over to some remix jockey, whatever…) then you're in for a bummer and I want no part of it.
To guard against any interference from the label, Albini suggested that the band members pay for the sessions with their own money, which they agreed to do. (4) Studio costs totaled $24,000, while Albini took a flat fee of $100,000 for his services. The band's management had suggested that Albini be paid by way of a royalty arrangement, whereby he would recoup a percentage of every record sold (which would have netted him considerably more money), but he refused the offer,
I just think that taking points on an album is an immoral position—I cannot do it, I think it's almost criminal, he says.
Anyone who takes a royalty off a band's record—other than someone who actually writes music or plays on the record—is a thief. (1)
Though Albini did not meet the band until they arrived at Pachyderm, he and Cobain had spoken over the phone about the overall tenor of the album. Cobain apparently spoke of wanting
a more atmospheric sound and slightly more ominous tone at times. (10) Albini was also sent a tape of demos that the band had recorded while on tour in Brazil. (11)
I preferred them immediately to the stuff that I had heard off Nevermind, he says.
The Nevermind album seemed very confined in its parameters. Each song had a beginning, middle, and an end, and it was all presented in a way that allowed you to hear each chunk. This new material, some of it was kind of sprawling and aimless, and I liked that, but there were still moments that were really powerful and dynamic. It just seemed like they had made a conceptual break in how they wanted to be and how they wanted to behave as a band, and what they wanted their music to sound like. (3)
Just as the band were preparing to leave for Minnesota, there was a last minute equipment crisis.
The night before they flew out I got this panicked phone call, remembers guitar tech Earnie Bailey.
They were practicing the night before and Kurt said that his Echo Flanger was broken. When those things break, they're really complex under the hood, and I don't want to say poorly made, but they weren't built to the highest standards. Kurt said, (3)
It's the entire album—it's got to work! He had been using his Echo Flanger to do all of this material, and I think he was worried that it wouldn't sound the same. So I said that I would take a look at it. We met over at Krist's house, and it was really funny, because they popped the pedal open, and all he'd really done was he'd bumped the AC switch that turns the power on with his foot! It was hilarious, because it was such a simple fix. I was able to fix it with a Phillips screwdriver and a pair of pliers, and the level of gratitude was ridiculous.
Man, you saved the album! I had to laugh because I was like,
Man, this is the easiest thing I've ever done.
Cobain and Novoselic arrived at the studio together, while Grohl turned up a day later. (12) Besides the band and Albini, the only others present for the duration of the session were Brent Sigmeth (house engineer), Bob Weston (assistant engineer), Carter Nicole Launt (chef) and her dog, Z. (4) The band had insisted that no-one from Geffen or their management visit at any point. (4)
An average day would begin at around 10AM with breakfast. Recording would then begin at noon and continue on until midnight. Lunch would be delivered to the studio mid-afternoon, with dinner around a big table in the evening (Launt recalls that Novoselic was a vegan, Grohl an all-American eater and that Cobain had an erratic eating schedule, with a particular fondness for frozen pizza). (4)
The band began recording basic tracks on February 13th. (3)
We broke the session down into a couple of different setups, remembers Albini.
For the songs that didn't need the big booming ambient sound, like the songs with the faster, more punk sort of sound, we set the drums up in the kitchen of the studio, which had closer walls and had a boxier sound. Then, for the songs that were more open and atmospheric, we had the drums in the large live room. (13)
The room sounded great and it was a comfortable place to be, remembers Grohl. (14)
I can still picture, vividly, sitting at my drums with Krist on my right and Kurt on my left. The control room was there [points straight ahead] and Albini had all these crazy microphones taped to the floor, on my drums. (15)
According to Cobain, there were 30 microphones on the drums alone. (7) Similarly, microphones had been placed everywhere in the studio.
We had big old German microphones taped to the floor and the ceiling and the walls, all over the place, Cobain raved. (16)
You can hear the chair creaking because we had so many microphones around us. (7)
Cobain is understood to have employed a Sunburst Univox Hi-Flier Custom on most of his guitar parts. (17) On Very Ape he used a rare all-aluminum guitar called a Veleno, which Albini had brought along specifically. (16) According to Albini, the album's
strained, distorted guitar sounds came from a Fender Quad Reverb amp with three of its four power tubes broken or missing. (4)
[Kurt] was talking about how he had to keep it away from the technicians that they toured with because he was afraid that they were going to fix it and then the sound would go away, Albini remembers. (8)
Aside from one risible moment when Cobain was having trouble tuning his guitar and wanted to fly-in his guitar tech, Albini was impressed with the band's attitude and work ethic. (1) He and Grohl quickly built up a rapport,
For one, he's an excellent drummer, so there's never any worry whether he's going to be able to play, says Albini.
His playing is rock solid and probably the highlight of my appreciation for the band was watching Dave play the drums. He's also a very pleasant, very goofy guy to be around. (1)
Albini remembers switching out Grohl's kick drum for Pennyroyal Tea and Dumb,
We used a small bass drum with a full-front head on it, so that it had a very sort of bouncy, jazzy sound, as opposed to the sort of more percussive, more hard-rock sound on the rest of the record, he explains. (13)
We recorded a couple of songs in the first day, Albini recalls.
We probably committed four or five masters, meaning they got four or five of the songs for the record done in that first day, and that's a huge confidence builder, when you can chop a lot of wood in a hurry and everything sounds really good. (13)
We had focused intensely on rehearsing, remembers Novoselic.
We had the songs down tight. So we showed up in Cannon Falls, set up our gear and started playing. We tracked almost all the songs in the first two days. Some of the songs, I think over half the songs, we did first take. We knew that Albini didn't wanna deal with some big-time rock band or have to coddle some half-assed musicians. (4)
We blazed through In Utero, echoes Grohl.
I was done after three days. I had another ten fucking days to sit in the snow, on my ass with nothing to do. (18)
According to Albini, the only songs that took more than a couple of takes were Heart-Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea.
I know that those two songs we recorded several times in several aerations, he says. (13)
I remember everyone was concerned about the tempo of Heart-Shaped Box, says Grohl.
But click tracks were not cool. Kurt and Steve came up with this idea—we should use a strobe light [laughs]. We had this long conversation about how it won't dictate the tempo, just imply the tempo. I'm like, (18)
Okay, guys, whatever you want me to do. I sat there for a take or two with this fucking strobe light in my face until I practically had a seizure. I said,
Can we just play? A little ebb and flow. Don't worry about it.
Grohl even found time to throw down a couple of his own songs, which Weston helped put to tape. (3)
Once the band had finished recording the basic tracks, it was time for Cobain to do his vocals and overdubs.
Kurt had some secondary guitar ideas on a lot of the songs that he hadn't tried in the demos, so he was kind of excited to get these additional parts put together, remembers Albini.
Some of them were counterpoint, some of them were contrast, and some of them were just bolstering what was already going on, but he was adamant about having the three-piece band supplemented by this phantom forth member pretty much all the time. (13)
Cobain's vocals were recorded in a single seven-hour marathon session. (19)
[Kurt] had an acoustic guitar on his lap, this broken nylon-string guitar, remembers Albini.
Where there are gaps in the music, you can hear he was strumming along as he sang. (15) A combination of close and ambient microphones were used; the close mics were an Electro-Voice RE20 and a Lomo 19a9,
Sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both in stereo, says Albini; the ambient microphone was a Neumann CMV563 with a N55k capsule. The mic preamps were Neve 1073s. The vocal compressor was an Urei LA4. The dry, loud vocal effect at the end of Rape Me and Milk It was achieved with a Lydkraft mic preamp used as an insert distortion. (20)
The vocal had to sound more crazy than it had up to that point, so I had to find a way to make the vocal leap forward at the end, Albini explains. (4)
The cello overdubs on Dumb and All Apologies came courtesy of Albini's friend Kera Schaley from the Chicago group Doubt. (6)
Mixing was then done over the course of five days.
That was also very straightforward, says Albini.
We basically just pushed the faders up and took it at a decent balance, and then put it down. So we didn't really screw around a lot on any of it. I think we got two or three songs mixed every day. (3)
When the band weren't working, eating or sleeping, they goofed around, engaging in prank phone calls
and some indoor pyrotechnics. (1)
We were young dudes in a good mood out in the middle of the woods, and we were amusing ourselves, Albini explains.
There's a cleaning solvent that you use on analog tape machines, an anhydrous alcohol, extremely flammable. As it burns away, it evaporates off the surface, it keeps your skin or your pants or your shoes cool, so you don't actually burn up but you're on fire. It's just a little novelty, and so we were doing that to each other and ourselves quite a lot… our shoes, our pants, our asses on fire. (21)
A little over a week into the session, Courtney Love flew in with baby Frances. Love's presence wasn't exactly welcomed by all; Albini has intimated that she tried to butt-in on proceedings, but won't be drawn on the details. She is believed to have gotten into an altercation with Grohl as well. (1)
It did affect things, definitely, says Launt.
I think it was stressful for Kurt. I think she put a lot of pressure on him and wasn't always as approving of the way the songs were. She was very critical of his work, and actually was kind of confrontational with people there. Yeah, it definitely was stressful. I just think it made people uncomfortable, to bring a lot of their personal things into the public arena. Because we were strangers, basically, to them. It made him uncomfortable. (4)
On playback, however, everyone was happy.
When we played [the tapes] back in the studio everyone was just giddy, Albini recalls.
I remember thinking that we had really pulled something off, like we had really made a record that was as they had imagined it in the beginning. It had a very big ominous sound, but it wasn't uncultured. It wasn't entirely ugly but it had an ugliness built into it that I thought suited the songs really well. Everyone was ecstatic when we were listening back to it on playback. (10) Cigars were handed around in celebration, Novoselic apparently lit his off of Grohl's flaming ass! (21)
With the session wrapped up, tapes were sent out to the band's label, lawyers and management. (1) The response that came back was far from positive, as Cobain later revealed to Melody Maker:
My A&R man called me up one night and said (22)
I don't like the record, it sounds like crap, there's way too much effect on the drums, you can't hear the vocals. He didn't think the song-writing was up to par. And having your A&R man say that is kind of like having your father or stepfather telling you to take out the trash. I was kind of hurt by it on a personal level, because I wanted him to like it, and it was surprising to hear so many negative things about it. And he wasn't alone in his opinion. A few other people—our management, our lawyers—didn't like the record either.
Concerned by the negative feedback, Cobain began to re-evaluate the recording,
The first time I played it at home, I knew there was something wrong, he said.
The first whole week I wasn't really interested in listening to it at all, and that usually doesn't happen. I got no emotion from it, I was just numb. So for three weeks Krist and Dave and I listened to the record every night, trying to figure out what was wrong with it, and we talked about it and decided the vocals weren't loud enough, the bass was inaudible and you couldn't hear the lyrics. (22)
Albini received calls from both Cobain and Novoselic shortly thereafter,
Kurt asked me about doing some remixes, he recalls.
I said, (3) Albini explained that he didn't feel he could improve upon the original mixes. Reluctantly, he agreed to turn over the master tapes and allow someone else to tinker with them. (1)
Alright, what songs are you talking about remixing? Kurt named a few specifics, but then he said,
But really, we'd like to redo it all. He wanted to remix everything. Krist didn't think his bass guitar was well defined enough, there were certain songs where Kurt didn't think the vocals came out enough, but it was all subtleties. That was more evidence to me that this climate of fear had developed. They had made a great record, but the record label and all the other harpies in their life had managed to convince them that they had something to doubt.
The matter might have ended there, but for the publication of an article by Greg Kot,
Record Label Finds Little Bliss in NIRVANA's Latest, which ran in the Chicago Tribune on April 19.
A source close to the band says Geffen executives are unhappy with the record's lack of commercial potential, read the article.
The article also quoted Albini as saying,
They consider it unreleasable, the source reported.
Geffen and the band's management hate the record. They considered it an indulgence when NIRVANA asked to record with me. I have no faith this record will be released. A Geffen representative denied that was the case, but admitted the record's release date had been pushed back due to a
hangup with mixing and mastering. (23)
Albini sort of got nailed as the bad guy outlaw who revealed the story, when in fact Albini was the only guy who would go on the record and actually say what was happening, says Kot.
I didn't go to Albini until I had gotten the story from three or four other people within the label's infrastructure. However, no one at the label would go on the record. To get the story, I had to have someone (24)
in the know go on the record to confirm those anonymous sources. And Albini, of course, I've always found him to be very blunt and he was perfectly willing to be quoted.
The record label responded to Kot's article by issuing a press release on May 11,
NIRVANA's Kurt Cobain Debunks Rumors of Geffen Interference with New Album. The statement quoted Cobain as saying,
There has been no pressure from our record label to change the tracks we did with Albini. We have 100% control of our music… We—the band—felt the vocals were not loud enough on a few of the tracks. We want to change that. (24)
Meanwhile, Scott Litt was drafted-in to remix All Apologies and Heart-Shaped Box at Seattle's Bad Animals studio.
I'd been listening to Automatic for the People, and I really liked what Scott did with it, recalls Novoselic.
At the same time, there were a couple of things I didn't like on our album, so when we got the chance to take it back into the studio, I called Scott along. (25)
Novoselic spells out why he felt changes to Heart-Shaped Box were necessary:
You should hear the original version of that song, the guitar solo had this effect on it, it just sabotages the whole song. Steve and Kurt were colluding! I would go to Kurt, (4)
Why are you sabotaging this beautiful song by putting this hideous abortion in the center of it? He'd be like,
Well I think it sounds cool. I don't even remember what their arguments were, some statement against commercial radio or something, the popular mainstream aesthetic… I dunno! I guess I finally got my way. Scott Litt was an opportunity to change things.
Newsweek then ran a story, following on from Kot's, about how the record label was forcing NIRVANA to remix the songs. (26) NIRVANA retaliated against Newsweek saying that they had gone on
totally erroneous information. This letter was reprinted in Billboard as a full-page advertisement. (27)
Further changes were then made when the album was mastered by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering in Portland, Maine.
We decided to take a chance on mastering, which we really didn't understand. We thought it was the last stage in the process where you just take the tapes in and run them through a machine that allows you to cut it onto a record, or whatever, Cobain explained.
So we went to the mastering plant and learned that you can actually take the vocals right out if you want to. It's amazing, it's practically like remixing. So that's what we did, we just gave the bass more high-end so you could hear the notes, turned the vocals up, maybe compressed it a little, and that did it, cured everything. (22)
Albini's assessment of Ludwig's mastering work is far less favorable:
The mastering session that was done took several days, at a studio where the mastering engineer is famous for being very manipulative of the material. A normal album mastering session is a couple of hours. So obviously they thought they should butcher it in some way to try to satisfy these people and to try to satisfy their own expectations. The dynamic range was narrowed, the stereo width was narrowed, there was a lot of mid-range boost EQ added, and the overall sound quality was softened. And the bass response was compromised to make it sound more consistent on radio and home speaker. (11)
The stereo doesn't sound as wide. The guitar has been flattened out a bit. On the original mixes the guitar would just leap out, agrees Weston.
But, even with the changes that were made it's a great record. The songs are great and the recording is great and the performances are great. And besides, it's their record. If they wanted to remix a few songs and do a lot in the mastering, that's their prerogative. All that matters when you make a record is that the band is happy with the final result. (4)
In spite of all the fuss, Cobain did seem satisfied in the end,
I actually want to promote this record, not for the sake of selling records, but because I'm more proud of this record than anything I've ever done. We've finally achieved the sound that I've been hearing in my head forever. (16)
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