Verse Chourus Verse: The Recording History Of NIRVANA
Goldmine #432, February 14, 1997
PAGE: 2 | back
"As far as really sharing his music with me, and saying, 'What do you think of this?' or whatever, he really didn't do that," she says. "Kurt was very sensitive about the stuff that he wrote and he was very careful about who he let hear it. 'Cause he didn't really like someone just poking fun at it. And being a songwriter myself, I can understand that."
As he grew more proficient, Cobain developed a strong desire to get a band together. But he wouldn't be in a regularly performing group for some time; he had already auditioned for the Melvins, and failed. Osborne, in Michael Azerrad's Nirvana biography Come As You Are, remembers another tape of original songs Cobain made around this time, accompanying himself on electric guitar.
Dropping out of high school in 1985 left Cobain with even more spare time to work on music. By the end of the year, he had formed a band called Fecal Matter with Melvins drummer Dale Crover (who played bass in the band), and Greg Hokanson on drums. Hokanson only lasted a few gigs, so it was Cobain and Crover who performed on the band's demo, recorded at Earl's Seattle home on a four-track TEAC, with Crover on drums.
"They set up in my music room and they'd just crank it up!" Earl remembers. "It was loud. They would put down the music tracks first, then he'd put the headphones on and all you could hear was Kurt Cobain's voice screaming through the house! It was pretty wild. My husband and 1, we'd just look at each other and smile and go, 'You think we should close the window so the neighbors don't hear? So they don't think we're beating him or something!"'
Earl says the session lasted a few days. "I don't recall any of the songs being early versions of anything he did with Nirvana," she says. "It just resembled the Nirvana sound. The drums were strong and forceful and Kurt was playing some pretty good bass by this time. The guitar riffs were fast and furious, with a powerful hook. The Iyrical content was rebellious and angry. Mostly slams against society in general. Kurt didn't like the social ladder in school. Kids thinking they were cool because they wore the 'right' clothes or were handsome or pretty, or had money. His songs back then reflected his opinions about these things." The final tape consisted of seven songs, including an early instrumental version of "Downer," which would appear on Nirvana's first album.
For the next few years, Cobain played in a variety of short-lived bands. In 1986 he fronted a one-off group featuring Crover on drums and Osborne on bass, performing under the name Brown Cow-the original name, Brown Towel had been misspelled on a poster-in Olympia, the Washington state capitol, an hour's drive from Aberdeen. It was at this performance that Cobain met Dylan Carlson, who became a longtime friend; Cobain would later record with Carlson's band Earth. He also played in a number of bands with Novoselic: one with Cobain on guitar, Novoselic on bass, and Bob McFadden on drums; another with Novoselic on guitar, Steve Newman on bass, and Cobain on drums. Both also played in the Stiff Woodies, which featured Osborne, Crover, Lukin, and Gary Cole. Novoselic played in another band with Osborne and original Melvins drummer Mike Dillard, and a Mentors cover band.
In 1987, Cobain and Novoselic teamed up once again, determined to keep this new band together at all costs. With Cobain on guitar and Novoselic on bass, the first in a long line of drummers was Aaron Burckhard. Their first performance by the then unnamed band was at a house party at nearby Raymond. The band was soon playing in venues as far away as Tacoma (about an hour and a half drive from Aberdeen), and had run through a number of names, including Skid Row, Bliss, Pen Cap Chew (also the name of one of the band's songs), Ted Ed Fred, Throat Oyster, and Windowpane, before finally choosing the name that would stick, NIRVANA.
The band's first recording was a nine song performance recorded live in the studio at KAOS, the radio station at Olympia's Evergreen State College in April '87. According to Steve Fisk, a producer who later worked with Nirvana, the band's appearance came about through the efforts of another local band, Danger Mouse, when two of the band's members, John Goodmanson and Donna Dresch, heard Nirvana and brought them up to KAOS to record. Six of the songs-"Spank Thru," "Love Buzz," "Floyd The Barber," "Downer," "Mexican Seafood," and "Hairspray Queen"-would be re-recorded nine months later, when the group recorded in a professional studio for the first time, Reciprocal Recording, in Seattle.Reciprocal had started in 1986, in order to record the new crop of bands springing up in Seattle in the mid-'80s who were mixing punk and metal into a new style of music that would come to be called "grunge." Jack Endino, one of Reciprocal's engineers (and who also played in the band Skin Yard), had already ready recorded such groups as Green River (who would later split into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, the latter becoming Pearl Jam) and Soundgarden when he took a call from "Kurt Kovain" (as he wrote Cobain's name down in the studio's session log). "Kurt called up out of the blue," Endino remembers. "And said, 'We just want to record some songs really fast.' And so we did."
At this point, Cobain and Novoselic were no longer working with Burckhard, with whom they were dissatisfied. In October'87, they had gone so far as to place an ad in The Rocket, a Seattle-based music paper: "SERIOUS DRUMMER WANTED. Underground attitude, Black Flag, Melvins, Zeppelin, Scratch Acid, Ethel Merman. Versatile as heck. Kurdt 352-0992" (the number of Cobain's home in Olympia, where he was now living). Finally, they brough' sale Crover as their drummer when they showed up at Reciprocal on January 23, 1988 to record what Endino calls the "Dale Demo." Endino adds that the group didn't appear to have a name yet; "The word 'Nirvana' was never mentioned until long after that. Months later. It was just Kurt Cobain and some friends. And they didn't even tell me how to spell his name!
"So they just came up and whipped out these ten songs in this one afternoon. And we mixed them right then. It wasn't a very serious mix. And they took it home with them." The 10 songs were, in order, "If You Must," "Downer," "Floyd The Barber," "Paper Cuts," "Spank Thru," "Hairspray Queen," "Aero Zeppelin," "Beeswax," "Mexican Seafood," and "Pen Cap Chew," which was given a fade-out ending as the tape was running out. Of the ten songs, "If You Must," "Spank Thru," and "Pen Cap Chew" remain officially unreleased. The entire session, including mixing, lasted six hours, from noon to six, though Endino only charged them for five, for a total of $152.44.Endino had never seen the band before, and was particularly impressed with Cobain's voice. "His singing stood out because he was really pretty impassioned. And some of the songs were pretty good; it sounded as good as any of the Seattle bands that were getting hype at that point." Endino was so impressed he also made his own mix of the session after the band had left, so there are two mixes of the session in existence; Endino's rough one-hour mix (which the band took with them) and his own personal "after-hours" mix. It was this latter mix that Endino would pass on to Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman. Both mixes of the session have also made their way to the collector's circuit. And though the band didn't have a record out yet, "Floyd The Barber" was soon in regular rotation at KCMU, the college radio station at the University of Washington in Seattle.
A bootleg that exists from a Tacoma show around this period, is said to be from December 1987, but Endino speculates that it might have been recorded the same day as the demo. "When we did the 'Dale Demo,' they told me that day they were going to play a show down at [Tacoma's] Community World Theater. I think this is that same show, because they play the same songs from the demo, all ten, in the exact same order! Obviously fresh in their minds! I finally got to hear the actual ending of 'Pen Cap Chew' after all these years!" (the song was faded out on the demo, as the tape was running out). A slight reshuffling of the order became necessary during the set when a bass string breaks during "Hairspray"; the band returned to the song after going through the other demo tracks. They also performed two songs not recorded, or even played at the demo session-or at any other session that Endino worked on. It's worth mentioning that Nirvana played around ten original songs live that were never recorded in a studio.
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