Verse Chourus Verse: The Recording History Of NIRVANA
Goldmine #432, February 14, 1997
PAGE: 14 | back
Before the In Utero sessions began, another non-album track from the band was released, "Oh, The Guilt," on a split single with the Jesus Lizard, who contributed "Puss." The single was released on February 22, 1993, on the Touch And Go label, in a variety of formats: in the U.S. as a 7-inch, cassette single, and CD single, in the U.K. as a 7-inch (on blue vinyl, some including a poster) and CD single, and in Australia as a 7-inch picture disc and 12-inch. The worldwide run was 200,000, with the Australian picture disc limited to 1500.
The single had been in the works for a few years, inspired by the Sub Pop single that paired Mudhoney (covering Sonic Youth's "Halloween") and Sonic Youth (covering Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick"). "Then Nirvana became, like the Beatles of the '90s," the Jesus Lizard's David Sims told The Rocket. "But they still wanted to do it, and we had to figure out, well, do we want to do this and look like we're just riding on Nirvana's coattails, or we could just do it and not worry about it, which is what we ended up doing...! think a lot of people who never would have bought a Jesus Lizard record went out and bought the Nirvana half of the single and got the bonus half, a Jesus Lizard song, and hopefully some of them liked that."
But despite the band's feelings about the project, DGC was reluctant to let yet another indie label have a new Nirvana track. At first, they suggested handling the manufacturing and distribution in the U.S. themselves, then asked to take care of all sales worldwide. But at Cobain's insistence, the record was released on Touch And Go exclusively.
The third week of February, Nirvana went to Pachyderm Studios Minnesota, to record their new album with Steve Albini. Albini had known of Nirvana since their emergence on the recording scene; as a member of Big Black, Albini had even recorded for Sub Pop before Nirvana (appearing on the compilation Sub Pop 100). He was also friends with Cory Rusk, head of Touch And Go. "Cory actually found out after Nirvana started putting records out on Sub Pop that they had originally wanted to be on Touch And Go," he says. "They had sent him demo tapes but he'd never seen them. So some of the millionaires on the planet would have different names if Cory had gotten that demo tape! "
It had been rumored that Albini was going to work on Nirvana's new album for some time. "I had heard that rumor for about six or eight months!" he says. "But no one had ever spoken to me from the band. I'd gotten so tired of that rumor I actually approached the magazine that printed it and sent them a fax saying,'Look, if this is true, I don't know about it."' Shortly after the item appeared, Albini was contacted by the band.
"To be honest, I really hadn't given their music that much attention," Albini admits. "It wasn't really the sort of stuff that appealed to me. But socially they were part of the same circle, so I kind of assumed, without really knowing, that they were basically like any of my other friends; music friends, guys in bands. And I talked to them pretty extensively bfore I agreed to do it, and we corresponded a little. They had liked all these other records I had done; Jesus Lizard records and the Pixies records and the Breeders records. And they seemed genuine in their interest and so I took them at their word."
Discussions between the two primarily revolved around how Nirvana wanted to go about making their record. "Their previous record had been a more labor intensive affair," Albini explains. "Very long strenuous recording sessions where things were done piecemeal. And I've never enjoyed working that way I explained that I'd rather do things in a more straight-forward fashion, where things are recorded as they are, rather than trying to build things out of components. To try to record the band as a band. And they seemed ready for that, because while they enjoyed working with Butch, finishing the record off proved kind of difficult."
Before the band arrived, Albini received a cassette with demos they'd recorded in Rio; some tracks had vocals, "and I think one of those songs ended up being the'secret track' on the album ['Gallons Of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip']." Sessions were booked for 14 days, "but I think the total amount of time we spent on the record was 12 days," Albini says. "For what it's worth, we all had a great time. I really enjoyed doing it and I enjoyed meeting them and I enjoyed dealing with them. There was virtually no fiddling around. They were as prepared as any band that I've ever worked with."
At least eight of the 17 tracks recorded (including the "secret" track and songs that ended up on B-sides) had been part of the band's repertoire for some time, including "Dumb," "Pennyroyal Tea," "Rape Me," "tourette's," "All Apologies," and "Sappy," now renamed "Verse Chorus Verse." "Marigold," from Grohl's Pocketwatch tape, was also re-recorded. An early version of the album, which leaked out that summer, had the songs in the following order, in some cases with different names: "Rape Me," "Scentless Apprentice," "Heart-Shaped Box," "Milkmade" (renamed "Milk It"), "Dumb," "Four Month Media Blackout" (renamed "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter"), "funky, New Wave Number" (renamed "Very Ape"), "Pennyroyal Tea," "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle," "Fineprint" (renamed "tourrette's"), "Serve The Servants," "All Apologies," "Moist Vagina," "Marigold," "Verse, Chorus, Verse" and "Two Bass Kid" (renamed "I Hate Myself And Want To Die").
As far as additional material, Albini says "I'm sure some of that stuff exists as master tapes, but I really don't know. It's normal for some stuff to be generated that doesnt get followed up on." He adds that he doesn't think there were any outtakes from the sessions.
Though the album had been recorded quickly, it would be dogged by controversy over the next seven months. Come As You Are frankly states that DGC "hated" the album. According to Albini, "Gary Gersh [the band's A&R rep] called several different journalists, including Greg Cott, a journalist in Chicago, and told him that the album wasn't going to be released in its present form, that it wasn't fit to be released, and that it was all my fault. And so Greg Cott called me and said, 'What do you have to say about this?' And I said, 'It's a load of shit.' And Kurt had called me and said that the people at the label didn't like the record, and at that point he was still being fairly defensive and still trying to defend the choices they'd made. But the record company and Nirvana's management wasn't shy about trying to make the band feel that they'd made a mistake. And I think it contributed to the general psychotic frenzy that took over the final period of that record's completion."
As other media picked up the story, DGC denied that they didn't want to release the album, running a full-page ad in Billboard, and issuing a press release on May 11, headed "Nirvana's Kurt Cobain Debunks Rumors Of Geffen Interference With New Album." In the release, Cobain was quoted as saying, "There has been no- pressure from our record label to change the tracks we did with Albini. We have 100% control of our music!" Geffen's president, Ed Rosenblatt, added, "The simple truth is, as I have assured the members of Nirvana and their management all along, we will release whatever record the band delivers to us...When the band has finished their album, to their satisfaction, they will turn it in and we'll give it a release date. It's that boring and straightforward."
Though Albini was not surprised by the label's reaction, he says, "I suspected that there would've been intervention earlier than there was. And because we got all the way through the recording and mixing process, without any intervention I thought we were in the clear. It was frustrating from my viewpoint because I felt like I was being used as a scapegoat and I felt like I was being used as a tool to try and put pressure on the band. And the people involved who were pressuring them didn't have the balls to say with a straight face, 'We want more control.' So what they said was, 'We're not happy with the results, anit's this guy's fault.'"
By this time, the band members themselves claimed they weren't happy with how the record had been mixed. "They did ask me to do remixes," Albini says. "But before I agreed to do it, I sat down and I played my copy of the master. And listening to it, I honestly felt like I couldn't do any better. If I had gone out there to remix this stuff, it would've been a compromise. Because it wouldn't have ended up sounding as good as it did already, and it would've been an indulgence. I felt like I would've been wasting their money in order to make a record that didn't sound as good. I just could not hear any room for improvement."
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