Verse Chourus Verse: The Recording History Of NIRVANA
Goldmine #432, February 14, 1997
PAGE: 6 | back
The session was a clear demonstration of how Nirvana was progressing toward even more of a pop sound. "I got them them thinking about Top 40 radio, and their drum sound, and how that relates to Top 40 radio," says Fisk. "After I'd been working on the mix all evening, in a soft, considered voice we were talking about making the snare bigger. I was playing with early '80s ideas with mid-'80s toys. We were turning the three part guitar thing all the way down; it's three tracks, exactly the same guitar part, with exactly the same EQ, one in the middle, one on the left, one on the right! And we were turning those down and turning those up, and Kurt got all excited about it, because it was a good Top 40 drum sound."
"Been A Son" and "Stain" were finished and appeared on the Blew EP. The other three songs were unfinished. "I think the idea was to finish two and we were supposed to finish the other ones at a later date, and we just never got around to it," says Fisk. "They were talking to me about maybe working on their new record for Sub Pop. But that was a long way away Jonathan was offering them ten, twelve-thousand to spend on their next record and they hadn't even figured out what they were going to do."
The uncompleted songs have scratch vocals, and Fisk doubts there are any other outtakes or alternate versions. "There's five songs on one reel," he says. "There probably is not a lot of multiples. There might be bits and pieces. There was no money. Tt was recorded on some used tape that we had Iying around. Sub Pop was broke. And they wanted to do everything as cheap as possible, so any corner we could cut, we would cut. That was how it was back then."
Fisk also remembers Nirvana's more playful side in the studio. "When 'Been A Son' was done, Kurt and Chris asked, 'Can we dance on the tables?"' he says. "And I said, 'Okay' So they jumped up on one table and they rocked, and I jumped up on another and rocked. Me and Chris were almost up to the ceiling and Chad was in the other room wa:tching TV or something. And as we Rstened to the song, we rocked. Ah! That's cool! That's fucking cool. Not a lot of people ever got to do that. I got to nail the mix and jump up on the furniture and rock with Nirvana."
In October, Nirvana went on their first European tour, with TAD. While on tour, they recorded a session for John Peel's radio show in London, performing "Love Buzz," "About A Girl," "Polly," (then still unreleased), and "Spank Thru." In Hilversum, Holland, they recorded another session for radio station VPRO, performing "About A Girl," and "Dive," the latter also unreleased at that point.
In November, the first Nirvana track to not appear on Sub Pop was released, when "Mexican Seafood," a track from the "Dale Demo," appeared on the compilation EP Teriyaki Asthma, Vol. 1 (the first in a series of ten EPs), released on C/Z. Daniel House had been interested in Nirvana ever since Endino had played him the "Dale Demo" Iboth Endino and House were in Skin Yardl. '-'Jack was in the studio going 'Dude, you gotta hear this. You're not going to believe this. This band's amazing!"' House remembers. "So within a week of their recording that first demo, I'd heard of them, had received a tape and had fallen in love with their music! "
Some of Nirvana's early Seattle shows also saw them sharing the bill with Skin Yard. "They were very very timid, very gawky, awkward looking," says House. "This big tall lanky bass player who didn't look comfortable in his own body, and you had this timid frail guy who seemed to be afraid of getting too close to the mike, but the music was still really powerful." House would have offered Nirvana a deal with C/Z, `ibut Jonathan jumped on them so fast," he says. Nonetheless, he arranged to have the group contribute a track to C/Z's upcoming Kiss tribute album, and asked to use "Mexican Seafood" on Teriyaki Asthma. The other artists on the 7-inch EP were Coffin Break, Helios Creed, and Yeast. The EP was probably issued in a limited edition run of 1000; House thinks it may have been as many 1500 copies, and adds, "We must've done some on colored vinyl l'm sure!"
The Blew EP was the next Nirvana record to be released, in December in the U.K. only, as both a 12-inch and CD, on Tupelo. The songs were "Blew," "Love Buzz," "Been A Son," and "Stain," with the cover photos again shot by Tracy Marander. That same month, Novoselic married his longtime girlfriend on December 30.
As 1990 dawned, Nirvana spent January 2 and 3 working with Endino at Reciprocal, for seven hours and three hours, respectively. "This was when they came in and just did one song, 'Sappy,"' he says. "That was first time I knew that Kurt was fallible, because everything he'd done had been brilliant to me up to then. And then there was this song which just didn't seem that interesting. And he was determined to get it. And I was like 'No, write some more songs, Kurt! "'
In fact, Cobain was working on a number of new songs, which would be recorded that spring, when the band began work on what they believed would be their second album for Sub Pop. One of the new songs was previewed when the group shot four videos over spring break at Evergreen State College with a crew of three, including Alex Kostelnik, who wrote about the-experience in an unpublished manuscript. "I showed Kurt how to edit the stuff he taped off TV to use for background footage in the videos. Our payment? Forty dollars and some pizza." The four songs were "School," the new song "Lithium," "Big Cheese," and "Floyd The Barber." The videos are essentially performance videos, the "background" footage consisting, among other things, of shots of Shaun Cassidy They have never been officially released, though they have appeared on the collector's circuit.
The band had gone on a short West Coast tour in February, and in April began another U.S. tour. Prior to the tour, the band spent the first week in April in Madison, Wisconsin, recording at Smart Studios with Butch Vig. Vig had previously worked with a number of Sub Pop bands, and though he was aware of Nirvana, he admits, "I wasn't totally crazy about Bleach the first time I heard it. Except I really loved 'About A Girl.' The funny thing was, I remember Jonathan Poneman saying, 'If you saw Nirvana here in Seattle, it's like Beatlemania. And they're going to be as big as the Beatles!' And I'm thinking to myself, 'Yeah, right.' Now all I hear is, 'This band's going to be the next Nirvana! "'
As far as Vig and the band knew, the sessions were for the purpose of recording Nirvana's second Sub Pop album. "When they showed up, they were actually very funny and charming, particularly Chris," Vig remembers. "Kurt was always an enigma. He was very charming when he came, and then he would get really moody and sit in the corner and not talk for 45 minutes. I didn't really have to do too much fine tuning in terms of what they were doing. They had been playing most of the songs, the arrange. meets were pretty solid. I could tell that Kurt wasn't too pleased with Chad's drumming, because he kept going and getting behind the kit showing him how to play things."
The band ended up recording at least seven songs: "Dive," "In Bloom," "Polly,"Pay To Play," "Lithium," "Immodium," and "Sappy," most of them having been in the bands repertoire for the last six months. As usual, the emphasis was on recording quickly. "Most of the Sub Pop records I made we'd do in a week," Vig says. "Record, track over two or three days, and then overdub a couple days, and finish the vocals or whatever, and then mix two or three days. But Kurt was having problems with his voice. Basically he'd be able to get through one or two takes, except for something like 'Polly' which was soft. All the other stuff he was singing, he'd get through one or two takes and wouldn't be able to sing anymore. I remember we had to take one day off in the middle of recording."
The songs themselves were undeniably the strongest material Nirvana had come up with to date. "I thought they were totally amazing," says Vig. "The songs were much more focused in terms of melody. They still had the punk attitude, but they were really really hooky songs. 'In Bloom' was an amazingly hooky song when that chorus comes in. And Kurt's Iyric writing was becoming even more enigmatic. You weren t quite sure what he was singing about, but you knew it was really intense. I thought that his songwriting was just amazing. He'd really developed. I also realized a lot of the stuff, a lot of the hooks in the songs, Chris was writing on bass. And I think that Kurt basically let him come up with his own parts. They're great hooks. "
Vig also says that the hand recorded a cover of the Velvet Underground's "Here She Comes Now" at Smart, and it's possibly this version that turned up later that year later on Heaven And Hell Vol. 1. But he doesn't think there were any other songs, or outtakes saved. "If a take wasn't a keeper, we'd just erase it and do another one," he says. "I sent the tapes to Sub Pop; there may be something else on them. And I don't know if Kurt had any other songs finished or not, 'cause he didn't play me anything else at the time."
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