Nirvana: Bleached Wails

Everett True Thrashes It Out With The Latest Wizards From Seattle’s Sub Pop Label Who Arrive In Britain Next Week

FEEL THE NOISE. Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, Britain is being swamped in a deluge of long hair, hoary old Black Sabbath licks and American Upstarts from Seattle.

Rich and poor kids with nothing better to do with their time, now create devastating slabs of rock’n’roll (some call it hard rock) and blow us away with their applied use of the wah-wah and suffocating powerchords. It’s music which seems to have no real sense of purpose except to say, “Hi, we’re here and aren’t we having fun?”

Soon it will be time to sweep the whole sorry mess under our carpets and wish to god Jimi Hendrix had never set his guitar on fire, but until then, I’d like you to welcome in the very best of the new breed on the block, hot on the footsteps of Mudhoney: Nirvana.

Nirvana are very much a band who would like to say, “Hi, this is us and we’re having fun, too!”, but the band are also a little bit weird. They’re a little bit gross and a little bit awesome. And a bit too determined to be content with just messing around. What else could you be if you grew up in the backwoods redneck helltown of Aberdeen, a zillion miles away from the isolated capital of the Northwest, Seattle?

Their bassist, Chris Novoselic, takes up the story.

“See, Kurdt had this tape, right?” he explains. “And we’re living in Aberdeen and he made it with Dale, the drummer of the Melvins (a band Matt from Mudhoney originally started in). That was in ’86, maybe. I heard it and I thought it was really cool, so I said to start this band, so we started a band and we went through three drummers and we’re here today, talking to you.”

Chris is over six foot tall, friendly and wired.

A competitive tree-climber, he was born and raised in Yugoslavia and looks forward to rockin’ the Iron Curtain on Nirvana’s forthcoming tour of Europe with Tad. Born to the outdoors, he worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska for three years, painted bridges and has Elvis sideburns.

Kurdt Kobain is the vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter behind the trio, who turned into a quartet for the album Bleach, but turned into a trio again after extraneous guitarist Jason Everman upped plectrums and joined Soundgarden as bassist in July. He’s your archetypal small guy – wiry, defiantly working class and fiery. His provincial and witty lyrics bring to mind an American Mark E. Smith. He has a small goatee and his pet rat once bit Bruce Pavitt, Sub Pop records supremo.

Chris: “We were branded Satan worshippers back home. Fuck, this girl came knocking on our door looking for a wallet and she goes, ‘You know what all the other kids told me in the neighbourhood? Don’t go there, they worship the Devil.’ That’s why nobody ever bothered us in redneck country. We would neither confirm or deny Satanic affiliations.”

“Maybe it was those desecrated cemetery pieces buried in our front yard,” Kurdt wonders. “But you didn’t have to do anything to be considered extreme back there. Just take a lot of acid.”

Chad Channing, the drummer, is the quietest of the trio, if any of this thundering trio can be said to be noiseless. On stage he’s a visual blur. He’d be a cook if it wasn’t for this. He looks permanently stoned.

“I was offered the choice once between a guitar and a bicycle for my birthday,” he recalls. “So I took the bicycle. Why did I start playing music? Boredom, I guess. I wanted to be able to play the drums. I still do.”

At this point in the conversation, a guy stops by on a bicycle, hawking tapes. Kurdt asks him how much they are. “One dollar,” comes the reply. “Shit” says Kurdt, “a dollar for a Van Morrison cassette? There are pawn shops all over here which’ll give you 20 bucks for them.” The guy disappears after trying to sell the band some hash.

“We set that one up, actually,” Chris boasts.

“To give you a taste of weird Americana. He’s the fifth member of Nirvana.”

So who do Nirvana listen to? The usual: Aerosmith, Tuxedomoon, NWA, Herman And The Hermits, Leadbelly, hard rock, punk rock, power pop, hip hop, Sub Pop – the sensibilities of the late Seventies mixed with the raw power of the late Sixties. Are they aware of any kind of “Sub Pop movement”?

Kurdt: “Sort of, but we didn’t start playing this stuff to join in, it just happened that way. Sure we are heavy, but little bit diverse maybe. The album has a couple of beautiful pop tunes on it.”

Chris: “We’re definitely not groundbreaking. If there was no Sub Pop sound we’d still be doing this. If there’s anything we’re really close to, it’s The Stooges – the momentum and the energy.”

Where Nirvana differ from most of their contemporaries is in the strength of Kurdt’s songwriting. Among those in the know, Nirvana are said to be the cream of the crop (if they get their live act together). Listen to the wickedly-named Bleach Sub Pop LP and you can hear those roots showing – far from being a melting pot-pourri of every loud noise imaginable, Nirvana craft their songs with a diligence not seen in this side of Creation. ‘Blew’, ‘About A Girl’, ‘Big Cheese’ (the first mind-fuck of a single), ‘Sifting’; all these songs are crafted round a firm base of tune, chorus, harmony.

Okay, so they might smother them a little with licks that’d do prime-time Sabbath proud, but what the heck? Every boy’s gotta have a vocation.

Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop appears. A cat walks by on a leash. I have a five minute coughing fit and nearly asphyxiate. Nirvana was suitably shocked. So I ask them what their name means to them.

“Big amplifiers,” Chris replies, incisively. “Not giving a shit and having fun. Dreaming. Being free from distraction and not being uptight. Jamming, having lots of good shows, being polite, respecting our moms and dads.”

Nirvana were once called too complex for their own good by our own Simon Reynolds – precisely the opposite to how I would describe them.

Kurdt: “Well the track he was describing (off the Sub Pop 200 box) was pretty much the most complex thing we’ve ever done. We’re moving towards simplicity and better songwriting all the time. There are songs on the album which only have two parts on them. That one has three. Fuck that guy, what does he know? He was probably in a bad mood or something! He doesn’t like Robert Fripp, that’s for sure. He probably doesn’t listen to Eno, either, which is stupid! Eno’s great!”

Chris: “We just want to make people happy. We just want to ROCK! Ninety-nine per cent of music out there is bullshit. There are way too many bands out there and they just get in the way. So quit! Give it up! Turn your guitars in for shovels! You guys suck!”

Kurdt: “The Pixies are pretty good band though.”

Chris: “Yeah, all bands should have shovels or chainsaws, so they can get out there and work the stage!”

Where would you be if you weren’t playing music?

“On the streets!”

“Living in Yugoslavia.”

“I’d be one depressed muthafucker.”

“I’d be one burly moustached guy.”

“I’d be in a bowling league!”

“I’d be eating chili dogs and drinking Budweisers.”

“I’d have to resort to playing the game and marry a rich heiress and shack up with…”

“Let’s start again. My name’s Chris Novoselic, I play bass and I’m in this great new band called Nirvana and we’re releasing this album on Sub Pop called Bleach full of hard rock riffs and beautiful songs and…”

Nirvana shortly have a limited edition 12-inch coming out on Tupelo featuring ‘Blew’ from Bleach, ‘Love Buzz’ from the first single and two new, Steve Fisk produced, tracks. It’s great! They’re gonna be over here any day now, touring with Tad. Don’t, for Hendrix’s sake, miss them.

© Everett TrueMelody Maker, 21 October 1989

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