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State of Nirvana
A conversation with Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic
INTERVIEW BY KURT ST. THOMAS


Cobain speaks

The night Nirvana first played Saturday Night Live, Kurt Cobain, the driving force behind Nirvana, also spoke with WFNXís Kurt St. Thomas alone ó about fame, youth, and Leave It to Beaver.

ē On Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol, and her Scum Manifesto:

Itís an amusing little book. I laughed really hard when I read it. Itís really cool. I was almost embarrassed to realize that I agree with a lot of it. Basically, itís just women taking over the world. And men agreeing to go out with a bow of grace. They should all be assassinated, and those who agree with the ideals of this little manifesto should be in concentration camps and fed bread and water. Whatever. I donít remember the specifics. Sheís willing to let the men who agree with it survive but then just die out like the dinosaurs. The book kind of inspired "Territorial Pissings." That songís about. . . . I guess you could call it an ode to women. My love and respect for them ó and how theyíre mistreated.

ē On autographs:

Autographs are really annoying. Iíve never understood why anyone would want an autograph. There are a lot of people whom I admire, you know? Look up to, respect, and all that. But I never wanted their autograph. If I ever wanted to say anything to them, I thought Iíd just walk up and say hi. And if I didnít have anything interesting to say, I wouldnít say anything to them. But Iíve just never had any desire to have an autograph by anybody.

ē On Evel Knievel:

Like when I was a kid, Evel Knievel was a real big thing for me, but I never really wanted his autograph. So I just donít understand it. That was the first thing that I wanted to be when I was a kid ó a stunt man. I took all the bedding out of our house and put it on the deck. Iíd get up on top of the roof and would jump off. I took a thin piece of metal one time and duct-taped it to my chest. Then I put a bunch of firecrackers on it and lit them on fire.

ē On his favorite bands:

The Pixies, the Breeders, the Melvins, Teenage Fan Club, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., Bikini Kill, Witchiepoo ó I know Iím forgetting some. Captain America, Shonen Knife, Jad Fair, lots of stuff. I mean, thereís still a good handful of bands that are great. I hope we can help out in some way, exploiting them. [Laughs.] Exposing them. Thatís the problem with independent music. You canít find it half the time. Thatís why we decided to go to a major. We got tired of kids coming up to us at concerts saying, "We canít find your record anywhere."

ē On Hollywood:

Iíd like to get into movies. That would be fun. Itís not too easy for a musician to become an actor. I donít want to be like Rick Springfield. I like movies. Paris, Texas, Rear Window, the Hitchcock movie. I used to like them a lot better when I was young. I canít think of any more movies that I like. Iím usually disappointed by them. I canít wait to see Naked Lunch. Yeah thereís a lot of TV I like, too. Not now, not new TV, except for the A&E channel and documentaries and stuff. Oh, The Simpsons are good. I didnít really get into Twin Peaks. I canít think of anything new, but old, dorky sitcoms like The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. I like Andy Griffith, Leave It to Beaver. Leave It to Beaver is probably the most classic TV show ever. Thereís just something so wholesome about it.

ē On kids today:

I think that teenagers have evolved a bit. I think the average 15-year-old is more intelligent than a 15-year-old 10 years ago. It just seems like it. I donít have any proof, and I donít really have any reason for that. I just sense it. I guess if I could say something really clichéd and punk-rock to kids, Iíd say start a band. Especially girls ó they should start bands. There arenít enough girl musicians.

This interview appeared in the March 11, 1994 issue of the Phoenix.

Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobainís near-lethal mixture of champagne and tranquilizers last week nearly put him in the dubious pantheon of rock-and-roll fatalities. Fortunately, Cobain emerged from a coma and is, reportedly, expected to recover fully. Fan reaction was immediate, especially at college and "alternative" radio stations, where Nirvanaís music had first been championed. WFNX program director Kurt St. Thomas reports that after airing the news from its AP wire, FNX was flooded with concerned, often fearful phone calls.

The reaction underlined the fact that from the beginning, Nirvanaís connection with their audience has had an emotional depth that goes beyond catchy hooks and noisy guitars. That connection has been personified in the sound of singer/songwriter Cobainís voice ó capable of frayed, melodic murmurs and bloodcurdling screams. Like the bandís music, Cobainís voice is at once vulnerable and invincible, infinitely tender and pitilessly corrosive.

St. Thomas catches some of the bandís ineffable appeal when he recalls first seeing them, at Man Ray, in 1988. "I had been enjoying their Sub Pop album, Bleach, and then the Man Ray show blew me away. It was really loud, and in-your-face, and with all that guitar-smashing it was like punk rock again. For some reason, it was what I needed in my life at that time."

From that moment on, St. Thomas has been a true fan, and he recalls meeting the band backstage for the first time at that Man Ray show: "Krist [then Chris] Novoselic, the bassist, was nice to me, and Kurt was arrogant and not friendly at all. Basically, the feeling seemed to be that I worked at a commercial radio station and therefore he didnít want anything to do with me."

That didnít deter St. Thomas from playing Bleach obsessively. "I had the cassette, and it stayed in my car cassette deck forever. I couldnít get it out. And then there was that long waiting period for the next album."

The "next album" proved to be 1991ís Nevermind, the first "platinum punk" disc. WFNX world-premiered the albumís lead single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," in August. By the time the band played the stationís eighth-birthday-party concert at Axis, in September, it was the top-requested song. The album hit the stores the day of the FNX party. In January, the band played Saturday Night Live.

At the FNX gig, St. Thomas forged a relationship with the band ("ever since then, Kurt has always been very gracious to me"). By the time of the SNL show, he was "begging" the bandís record company, Geffen, to allow him to make a promotional interview CD with the band. Over the course of two days in January, in which the band taped performances for MTV as well as SNL, St. Thomas interviewed all three band members ó Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic. It was eventually released to radio by DGC as Nevermind Itís an Interview.

What follows are never-before-published outtakes from those interviews. It comes from a time when the extent of Nirvanaís influence on rock and roll and the music industry was just beginning to be realized. Today, Cobainís reflections on drinking, gun violence, and punk rock seem almost quaint, given the bandís ensuing superstardom and Cobain and wife Courtney Loveís play in the international press as the First Couple of Rock (second only to John and Yoko).

From the interview, one also senses a harmony among the three, rather than merely the voice of Kurt Cobain. St. Thomas points out, "When I looked at the transcript later, what amazed me was how consistent their answers were. I would ask each of them the same question, and they would all answer the same way. I couldnít believe how much on the same wavelength they were."

* * *

St. Thomas: So, obviously, you guys are going to make some real money now. But it doesnít seem like youíve changed since the last time I saw you.

Kurt Cobain: Yeah, we havenít even changed our clothes.

St. Thomas: Isnít it expensive to keep smashing your guitars?

Cobain: Normally only the neck will break, so Iím able to keep the body for a few more times. We just put necks on the bodies.

St. Thomas: But you never smash any Fender Mustangs, do you?

Cobain: Yes I do. Not on purpose though. Iíve smashed three Mustangs. Theyíre my favorite guitars, I love them, and theyíre kind of hard to find, especially in the left-handed version. The last one I broke was in Dallas, and Iím not even going to elaborate on what happened that night. Itís too embarrassing. Letís just say alcohol and I donít agree with each other. But I definitely regret breaking that guitar. I tried to baby it as long as I could, but it didnít work.

St. Thomas: So what happens? Something inside makes you feel like this is the moment, and youíve got to smash it?

Cobain: Yeah. For the first couple of years that we started smashing our equipment it was out of frustration, because I felt that we werenít playing very good. So Iíd get mad and throw a rock-star temper tantrum. Just break things to cool myself off. Itís really not a very wise form of rehabilitation, but it worked. Now itís just kind of an excuse to not do an encore. I donít know. Itís just kind of a climax. People expect it. Give the kids what they want ó plus I have an endorsement now.

St. Thomas: You do? With Fender?

Cobain: Yeah, with Fender. So I can buy guitars at half-price. I can buy $300 guitars now, and thatís really nice.

St. Thomas: So that means you can smash even more.

Cobain: Yeah, but itís getting kind of old. So I probably wonít do it as much.

St. Thomas: How do you feel after playing Saturday Night Live?

Cobain: I kind of feel like we accomplished something. It was really neat to see how the show is actually put together. We played pretty abrasively tonight. Wrecked our equipment as usual, and I have goofy-colored hair. It was just something that isnít normally on television, so I guess it was kind of an accomplishment.

St. Thomas: Did it feel good to smash your guitar on the SNL stage?

Cobain: Actually it did. It wasnít as sterile as it has been within the last year or two.

St. Thomas: When did you first know you wanted to play this music?

Chris Novoselic: Buzz Osbourne ó guitar player for the Melvins ó was turning people on to it. I heard it, and it sounded live to me, and then I borrowed the record Generic Flipper. It was like a revelation. It was heavy, it was art. I was affected, and Iíve never been the same since.

Cobain: I was 15 when I got my first guitar. My mother had just gotten married. This was in the first year of her marriage. My stepfather ran out on her, and she got so irate she took all of my stepfatherís guns, various pistols and rifles and stuff, walked down to the river, and threw them in. And then I hired this kid to fish a couple of them out, and I sold them. I got my first guitar with the money.

I took lessons for a week, I learned how to play "Back in Black" by AC/DC. Itís pretty much the "Louie, Louie" chords, so thatís all I needed to know. I never did pay the guitar teacher for that week, either. I still owe him money. But thatís it, I just started writing songs on my own. Once you know the power chord, you donít need to know anything else.

St. Thomas: Tell me about Aberdeen and how you started the band.

Novoselic: Aberdeenís basically just small-town America, itís about a hundred miles southwest of Seattle. Itís on the Pacific Ocean. Everything revolves around the logging industry there. If the logging stopped, it would be a ghost town.

A little social group came together, and we just kinda hung out and talked about things, and one thing led to another. Kurt did a tape with Dale Crover, from the Melvins, and one of the songs on it was "Spank Through." He turned me on to it, so we scrounged up a drummer and started practicing. We took it very seriously, too. He [Dale Crover] played on our first demo, and a couple of those songs made it over to the Bleach LP: "Floyd the Barber" and "Paper Cuts." We jammed for about a week, put some songs together, and made this tape.

St. Thomas: Why did Chad leave?

Novoselic: Chad Channing wanted to express himself in a way that really didnít gel with the band. Chad really compromised his style to suit the band. I donít think he was happy doing that. It was a good departure. It worked well for everybody.

St. Thomas: Bleach was recorded quickly, wasnít it?

Cobain: We had a few hours every night for about six days. There were a few guitar overdubs, but thatís about it. Bleach just seemed to be really one-dimensional. All the songs are slow and grungy, and theyíre tuned down to really low notes. And I screamed a lot. But at the same time that we were recording Bleach, we had a lot more songs, like "About a Girl." In fact, "Polly" was written at that same time too ó itís just that we chose to put the more abrasive songs on the Bleach album. So it really wasnít a matter of evolving within just a year. Weíve always liked pop music, and always had a few songs like that.

St. Thomas: Why such a delay before Nevermind?

Novoselic: We went to Madison, Wisconsin, to make a record with Butch Vig in the spring of 1990. We laid down about six, seven songs ó "Lithium," "In Bloom," "Polly," "Dive," "Stay Away." Right after we finished recording, we went on this eight-week tour of the US starting in Madison. We got as far as New York, and everything was geared up to put out this second Nirvana record. Well, once we got off of that tour, thatís when we lost Chad, so there was uncertainty with that. We didnít want to release it. If we wanted to do anything, we wanted to do it with a new drummer. Sub Pop was doing some wheeling and dealing. They were going to sign a licensing deal with a big label, and there were so many variables to consider that it wasnít wise to put out a record at all. We toured the UK, we toured western Canada, and next thing you know, we were talking to labels ourselves.

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Issue Date: April 2 - 8, 2004
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