The Boys Are Back In Town
Alternative Press, October, 1993
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Cobain will confirm his thought later that evening, likening the experience to waking up one morning to discover that local TV has named you as an escaped Nazi child killer. The first you know about it is when the firebombs land on the bedspread. "Of course we reacted badly!"
And now they're reaping the rewards.
In Utero has been described as the year's most eagerly awaited album, up there with Belly, Suede and (oops!) Pearl jam. But awaited by whom? The pick-up trucking, flannel-shirted mob which thrust "Teen Spirit" to the top and then wrote Nirvana letters saying, "Hey dude, you rock!" or the rubber-necking press vampires eagerly awaiting another superstar pratfall?
"I know a lot of people want to see us Fail, particularly journalists," answers Cobain, "and that's Fair enough. Maybe they're jealous, maybe they're jaded, maybe they simply don't like us. What upsets me is that they go about it in such an underhanded Fashion."
Check out the U.K. music press, he declares, and you'll find that suddenly In Utero producer Steve Albini is no longer the flawless genius he was once deified as. Instead, he's "slipping," or "fading," or 11 getting too clever," and it's not just one writer saying it, it's a lot. Cobain smiles wanly. "Maybe I really am paranoid, but I don't think it's Albini they're getting at, really. They're just setting the stage for hammering us."
There again, he agrees that Albini's recent coupling with PJ Harvey wasn't the smartest collaboration on earth, and while he new album from Seattle's Silkworm, which Albini completed shortly after In Utero, dismisses any fears Rid or Me may have unleashed, still there's a nagging doubt that Albini isn't exactly arm-in-arm with mainstream America.
"Commercial suicide!" yelps Cobain, and he brightly observes, "if we'd done Nevermind with Steve, then gone to Butch Vig [Neverminds actual mastermind] for this one, people would have said the same thing." But it's not what people say that matters, is it? It's what your label says, and from all accounts...
"Did you see that story in NME about me working on something with Henry Rollins?" Novoselic pipes up, seemingly irrelevantly.
Yeah, I thought it sounded exciting.
"So did I. Pity it isn't true."
"We have one of the best contracts any band has ever had, or so I'm told," Cobain continues. "We have complete control over what we do, and what we release, which literally means that if we handed in a 60-minute tape of us defecating, DGC would have to release it and promote it.
"But I can honestly say that only one person in the entire Geffen organization, at least among the people we worked with, had anything to say against the album. Gary Gersh, who was our A&R man [before he quit to become president at Capitol] didn't like it for various sonic reasons. But he heard the album before it was mastered, and it's at that stage-although I only found this out when we actually did it-that a lot of those problems can be sorted out. Which is basically what Albini said to begin with."
But still Nirvana wound up remixing two songs ("No Apologies" and, significantly, "Heart-Shaped Box"), with Scott Litt of wait for this-R.E.M. production fame at the helm. Losing your religion, boys? Or just your balls?
"I'd been listening to Automatic ror the People, and I really liked what Scott did with it," explains Novoselic (whose MOR credentials were already confirmed by his presence at an admittedly brilliant Leonard Cohen show in Seattle two weeks before). "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."
According to Novoselic, the original mix on "Heart-Shaped Box" was marred, even scarred, by an effects-laden solo which carved through the song, and set his flesh crawling whenever he thought of it. "The band would say something, how great the album was, and it was like-'Yeah. Shame about that solo, though."'
Finally, Cobain and Grohl agreed it could go, and this is where things go awry. It's now common knowledge that the band and Albini had a contractual agreement which stipulated no work could be done on the album once Albini declared it finished. It's less widely known, apparently, that Albini happily waived that stipulation the moment Cobain asked him about it.
There was no dispute, no problem, and all down the line, no bad feelings. Cobain added a few backing vocals to one song, Novoselic wiped the solo on another, and everyone was happy. It was as simple as that.
But the story was twisted, the twisting was leaked, and before anybody knew it, another dagger quivered in Nirvana's back: the boys who cannot keep promises-and make "fuck you" sounding records as well. Why else, we've all seen it written, would they have brought Albini aboard in the first place? The fact is, In Utero makes parts of Nevermind sound muddy, and if "Penny Royal Tea" isn't the best Kinks song Ray Davies never wrote, then the bastards did an album I never heard.
"We've been hit with the most amazing Shit," says Grohl, with the Albini controversy only half on his mind. "And nearly all of it is lies." The rest is opportunistic greed.
It started with the emergence of another Nirvana, an obscure English psychedelic duo whose day had passed before Cobain even picked up a guitar. From the depths of an obscurity so deep that even vinyl fetishists fear to tread there, the delightfully named Patrick Campbell-Lyons suggested that our Nirvana somehow detracted from his, and because it was easier to pay up than make him prove it in court, Nirvana U.K. got their cash.
So did one of Grohl's former "business associates," who celebrated winning a $35,000 breach-of-contract suit by sending the drummer a free copy of his fanzine and the plea "let's not let this come between us." And then, of course, there's Killing joke, whose claim that Nirvana lifted their "Eighties" for the intro to "Come As You Are" seems scarcely more credible than my conviction that "Teen Spirit" started life as Boston's "More Than A Feeling."
Wriggling out of the woodwork, everyone wants their pound of flesh, but while Groh] quietly muses, "When all this is over, I'm going to become a lawyer," Cobain continues, seriously, "One of the reasons we signed with Geffen was because we believe in what David Geffen stands for, which is a very left-wing, very caring, very honest outlook. He's said that at his age [he'll be 50 next year], he doesn't even know what alternative music is, but his whole outlook is alternative.
"The downside of that is that he doesn't have the muscle to protect his artists in the same way as, say, certain east coast labels with underworld connections."
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