Natural descendants of Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana are a high energy explosion resulting in a trail of smashed gear and beat anthems. John Robb slugs it out with them in New York.
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.
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 Muddy ones.
Nirvana are the natural descendants of Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr.
Their debut 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.
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 three, formerly four, piece 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 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 mouldy 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 psychorama, ‘Love Buzz’. 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 poppist grove – and an indication of the band’s future development? – through to the heavier post-Killing Joke grind of the intense ‘Paper Cuts’, 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 remaining three, he’s now taken up the bass in the gloriously ascendant 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, Novoselic, in a rush of Balkan blood, threw himself onto the ground, seconds later the whole band hit auto destruct and emulated The Who’s early ’60s guitar antics.
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, guerrilla insurrections and scuzzed pop punk 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.
© John Robb, Sounds, 21 October 1989