Nirvana interview Sounds October 1989

This was the second time I interviewed Nirvana for the sadly defunct Sounds music paper. Famously the time before was the band’s first ever interview and was conducted over the phone. This time we were flown out to New York to interview the band- who were playing the last dates of their first American tour. Being Sounds there was no budget which played into our hands as we had to share floor space at Janet Billig’s Lower East Side flat where the band were staying. It was a really hot summer few days as me, Ian Tilton the photographer, Nirvana and Tad crammed into the apartment. At the end of the trip Ian Tilton got run over by a bus and broke his leg!

We saw the band play at Maxwells in Hoboken to a near empty room but they tore the place apart in one of the best ever gigs I’ve seen. their raw power was intense and the songs were already amazing. At the time they were a four piece but within days of the interview guitarist Jason Everman was no longer in the band and drummer Chad Channing was soon ousted.

I’ve still got the tape of the interview somewhere and one day will transcribe the whole thing. The article was edited to fit into Sounds so there is quite a bit missing from the actual interview itself…

Nirvana interview SOUNDS – October 21, 1989. By John Robb.

Chewing on some of the keenest noise baccy in the biz, the Sub Pop bastards are spittin’ it back out as some of this year’s finest platters. The label which has become the key operator in rock has turned up another slice of genius.

And the latest contenders in the vinyl Midas story that Mudhoney’s grungenomic success are Tad and Nirvana.

The pair are touring the UK next week in a hefty double bill that fattens up to a mighty trio at the occasional dates where they collide with the mighty Mudhoney.

Nirvana are the natural descendants of Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr. with that knack of writing great melodies and combining them with the love of post hardcore noise.

Their debut mini album, ‘Bleach’, which scorched the tail end of the summer, collected some salivating press commentary and fixed a few vinyl junkies’ habits for the interim. Stuffed full of powerful songs compete with great melodies, sung with that scorching powerful voice, it’s both melancholic and euphoric- a powerful combination.

And now they’re on tour with a helluva chance of making up some spectacular ground. For, while Mascis’ legendary lazyitis could blot the lank-haired guitar fiend from the landscape and with Mudhoney’s splendid thrashiness in danger of cul de sacking their mainstream putsch, Nirvana have the teen beat at their feet. And their overt pop ethic is married to mad dog guitar antics; a rowdy burn-out that’s featured on the band’s new four-track 12-inch, ‘Blew’, released in the UK on the Tupelo label.

Too young to be nailed to the spot by a beergutted energy sap, the now three, formerly four piece (guiatrist Jason Everman leaving the band days after I interviewed them) literally explode onstage, their enthusiastic energy burns resulting in a trail of smashed gear and highly charged beat anthems.

Offstage, the small town muthas are quiet and affable, with only what seems like seven-foot bass pulper, Chris Novoselic, and former guitar vandal Jason Everman chewing the social cud with any vengeance. The other two members opt for the Lennon/Ono approved, ‘bed in’ method.

Nirvana did their teenage thang in the wilds of smalltown USA in the Washington state backwater town of Aberdeen. Kurdt Kobain, the band’s songwritter, vocalist and guitar player, scratches the moudly bumfluff on his pixie skull and picks up the tale.

“Chris and me are from Aberdeen, which is a really dead logging town on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The nearest town was Olympia, about 50 miles away, which is where we’ve moved to.”

Chris, the bass beanpole, cuts in. “It’s a logging town – they want to cut all the trees down that are left in the state, you know. You could say that they are at loggerheads with the environmentalists…”

Touring has provided Nirvana with a welcome escape from the smalltown hell. Kurdt is animated with road fever.

“I’m seeing America for, like, free and only having to work for two hours a day.It’s weird though, I’m not homesick yet.

“If we hadn’t done this band thing, we would have been doing what everyone else does back home, which is chopping down trees, drinking, having sex and drinking, talking about sex and drinking some more…”

A lifestyle not totally at odds with the band’s slogan, “Fudge Packing, crack smoking, satan worshipping, mother fuckers”, which is sprawled rather rudely across their t-shirts.

This small town suffocation inspired the first bunch of songs Kobain ever came up with and still fires the mood.

“The early songs were really angry,” explains Kobain. “But as time goes on the songs are getting poppier and poppier as I get happier and happier. The songs are now about conflicts in relationships, emotional things with other human beings.”

“When I write a song the lyrics are the least important subject. I can go through two or three different subjects in a song and the title can mean absolutely nothing at all.”

Kurdt’s still not totally comfortable with his new upbeat mood though.

Sometimes I try to make things harder for myself, just to try to make myself a bit more angry. I try out a few subconscious things I suppose, like conflicts with other people. Most of the lyrics on the ‘Bleach’ album are about life in Aberdeen.”

Kurdt had been writing songs in his bedroom for years until finally deciding to lay down some demos with the help of Novoselic, a first generation Yugoslav. The drummer on these sessions was Del Crover, who’s also stixman for the only other band in town, The Melvins, a seminal outfit on the development of Nirvana. The demo was laid down in a studio belonging to Jack Endino, an old chum of the dudes at Sub Pop Records and a guitar player with the crucial Skinyard outfit.

One phone call later and Sub Pop were marvelling at the “beautiful yet horrifying voice” of the kid that looked like a garage attendant: Kurdt Kobain.

The final connection with the rest of the world must have been a relief.

“We’d been revolving around in bands for years,” explains Kurdt. “I’d been writing songs since I was about 13. I’d never heard of Sub Pop before, although I suppose we didn’t exist in a total backwater, we had the Melvins in our town and we used to go and listen to them rehearse all the time.”

The resulting debut single was a classic 7-inch; the seesaw-riff, garage punk cover of the Screaming Blues’ late ’60s slice of psychodrama, ‘Love Buzz’ which I made into single of the week in Sounds. The future looked promising and was fulfilled by the ‘Bleach’ album, a 12-inch platter which saw Nirvana taking the opportunity to cover several bases at once.

From the lighter pop dynamics of ‘About A Girl’, an uptempo almost poppist grove – and an indication of the band’s future development? – through to the heavier post-Killing Joke grind of the intense ‘Paper Guts’, the album thrives on gristly hooks onto which Kobain grapples his scarred, world weary howl, a thousand years of life trapped in his young larynx.

The live destruct and the album’s full bodied sound was enhanced by the heroic, hair-throwing antics of the band’s fourth member, Jason Everman. Having seemingly been ditched by the remaing three, he’s now taken up the bass in the gloriously asscendant Seattle rockers, Soundgarden.

Even at the time of the interview, Jason seemed to be orbiting on some kind of inner core, a key yet somehow peripheral component. His wicked onstage demeanour and ass splattering six-string made him a crucial cornerstone on the band’s love buzz. It would be interesting to see how they fare as a three-piece, although label boss Jonathan claims that the already gigged trio are rocking harder then ever.

Nirvana’s live action is a dangerous burn out. At one of the gigs in New York at maxwells Hobokon about 12 people watch the band play one of the most exciting sets I have ever witnessed. Their intesnity in power is unquestionable and the songs explode into life. It’s already excing enough when Chris Novoselic, in a rush of Balkar blood, threw himself into the ground, seconds later the whole band hit auto destructand emulated The Who’s early ’60s guitar antics trashing all their gear with Kobain crashing backwards through Chad Channing’s drum kit. Guitars are piushed through the venue’s roof and destruction is everywhere. It’s a thrilling pop art destructo moment made even more convincing by the fact that there is no-one there to watch it.

Bit of a Townshend vibe going on here, Chris?

“Yeah, it’s a nice feeling, it’s something that needs to be done at least twice a week. It seems to becoming more common at our gigs. The more people screaming at you the more you are into smashing everything up. It’s definitely not a contrived thing . We don’t smash the gear up on purpose, we’re not trying to impress or anything.”

Scrawny bar-chord operatives, Nirvana are the small town kids let loose in the middle-aged music biz grind. Their onstage, guerilla insurrections and scuzzed pop poonk anthems are just about heroic enough to push through the Nirvana-as-Sub-Pop’s-trump card prediction made by some old fool a couple months back.

7 Responses to Nirvana interview Sounds October 1989

  1. James says:

    Thanks for that, always nice to see an interview I haven’t seen before.

    Did you do the previous interview with the band as well? I seem to remember their first ever interview was conducted by a woman… That’s all I can remember though.

  2. johnrobb77 says:

    Thanks james.
    I think there was a couple of interviews in Sounds after my initial piece. I think Ann Scanlon might have done one of them.

  3. Joe says:

    Great read – thanks a lot for posting that. Will be interested to read the rest if you can put it up.

  4. PB says:

    It’s a shame Sounds went bump. The NME has always had it’s head up it’s own arse. Sounds wasn’t perfect, but it was alot better and down to earth compared to the fuck wit intellect of the NME.

    • johnrobb77 says:

      Sounds was great, of course it had its flaws but it was the best of them all. Funny how all the music press turned into Sounds after it went down….the NME became a pale imitation of Sounds…

  5. Ash says:

    This was really enjoyable and properly captures that youthful exuberance that was crushed as the band grew bigger. It must have been pretty incredible for you to have seen them go from this to bewildered dominators. Thanks for this.

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