Verse Chourus Verse: The Recording History Of NIRVANA
Goldmine #432, February 14, 1997
PAGE: 19 | back
On August 23, a press release from DGC announced the next full-length Nirvana recordings planned for release. Verse Chorus Verse, set for release in November, was to be a double album, including live performances from 1989 to 1994, and the band's entire "Unplugged" set. "It was going to be a sort of ying and yang of Nirvana," says Jim Merlis. Merlis adds the releases were planned due to high demand for new Nirvana recordings—and the fact that the band's "Unplugged" set was already being widely bootlegged.
But the following week, on September 1, DGC issued another press release saying the live performance part of the set was being postponed, as Novoselic and Grohl had found it too difficult to work on; "The emotional aspect of it all threw us for a loop," said Novoselic. "'Unplugged' didn't take much work, production-wise," Merlis explains. "It was done. And the live record was done, but when they went in to mix, Chris and Dave just couldn't do it. It was just too hard."
The press release gave some the impression that work on the live set had not progressed very far. In fact, the album had been completed except for mixing, which Merlis confirms. "It was a whole cohesive album. And it's different from the one that came out later [Wishkah]. They went back and started at square one with this because they gained a little perspective on it." A very small number of copies of the original album set, in its unmixed state, were made for DGC staff; Merlis thinks about four copies.
MTV Unplugged In New York was released on November 1, and despite MTV's continuous airing of the program since Cobain's death, the album easily entered the charts at #1 with first week sales of 310,500 (it reached #2 in the U.K.). "Something In The Way" and "Oh Me," cut from the original broadcast, were added to the album. Advance cassettes were released, and promo CDs were also available; for the album, for the songs "About A Girl," "The Man Who Sold The World," and one with both the Unplugged and In Utero versions of "All Apologies." In Holland and Australia the CD single "About A Girl"/"Something In The Way" was released.
The band's set had been a haunting one at the time it was first aired; now, in the wake of Cobain's death, it had taken on an additional poignancy "That record in particular gave Nirvana a whole new audience," says Merlis. "I think it showed another side of Nirvana that a lot of people, maybe some of older people, didn't realize. And it was really nice to see what was in their minds, what influenced them." Unplugged would go on to win a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance. Nirvana won another MTV Music Video Award in 1994, for "HeartShaped Box."
The same month, the band's first full length video, Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!, was released on November 15. The video primarily covered Nirvana's break-through into the mainstream, compiling live performances from their fall '91 tour, through their January 16, 1993 performance in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "Live Tonight was actually supposed to come out in '93," says Jim Merlis, "but it wasn't completed; they were touring and they didn't have time to work on it anymore. And it's so Kurt-like, it's incredible. It has his stamp all over it. You really get the sense of things going haywire; this local band from Seattle who just wanted to make a living playing music all of a sudden becoming this huge phenomenon, which they never anticipated. I think that's what Kurt is trying to show in that whole thing, especially that last montage of all that press stuff, MTV news and whatnot, that's very Kurt."
The tape came with a cover sticker that read "Includes Never-Before-Seen Live Footage, Backstage Tomfoolery And Interviews From The Days Of Nevermind." There was also a paper insert listing the shows the performances were drawn from (and illustrated primarily with Charles Peterson's photographs). There are a number of mistakes on the insert: the performances of "Breed" and "Polly," said to be from a Seattle '92 performance, are actually from the band's Halloween '91 show in Seattle (footage from the '92 performance does appear in the closing "destruction jam"); the band's appearance in Japan took place in 1992, not 1991; nor did the band play in Tacoma in 1992- their last appearance in that city was in 1990. Advance tapes were also available for the press.
As a document of the band's "breakthrough" period Live! Tonight! was in many ways more compelling than the band's next live album. The performances were strong, the interview segments clearly illustrated the band's sense of humor, and the overall feel provided fans with a welcome reminder of why they liked the band in the first place. Live! Tonight! has sold over 100,000 copies in the U.S. to date, and has remained in Billboard's Video Sales chart for over two years.
While both Unplugged and Live! Tonight! were receiving good reviews, Novoselic and Grohl were slowly returning to live performance. In early fall, Novoselic made an appearance at the Garlic Festival in Arlington, Washington, performing in a make-shift band that included Nirvana guitar tech Earnie Bailey, with a surprise guest appearance by Eddie Vedder. On November 19, Grohl drummed for Tom Petty when Petty appeared on "Saturday Night Live"; he also contemplated joining Petty's band on a permanent basis.
1995 was the first year in seven years that no Nirvana songs were issued. But the former band members kept busy with a variety of projects. The first one the public heard of was Grohl's new band, Foo Fighters, Air Force slang for U.F.Os.. Grohl had sifted through the material he'd recorded over the years, and entered Seattle's Robert Lang Studios October '94 with the intention of launching a new musical endeavor. He again played all the instruments and sang all the vocals on the 15 tracks he recorded, with the exception of "X-Static," which featured the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli on guitar. And naturally, Barrett Jones was on hand.
"I was just there to make him sound good, help him out," says Jones. "He made all the decisions. I always knew that he'd put something out on his own. He'd been kicking the idea around, and his songs are too good not to. I know he's sort of made it sound like he wasn't planning on putting it out, but I always expected that it would get put out. I always knew it would be huge and great! I mean, I've known him for so long and I've always known how talented he is. He never had as much confidence in himself as I did!"
The songs were recorded October 17-24. 'We 've always worked really fast together," Jones says. "There weren't any different takes of things. He'd just get the songs down. I personally don't like to work with lots of choices; it's either right or it's wrong. And he pretty much does things correctly the first time. Most everything's the first take on there."
The songs had all been written over a period of several years. An earlier version of "Winnebago" had appeared on Pocketwatch. "Alone And Easy Target," "Floaty," "Good Grief," and "Exhausted" were initially recorded in '92. "Weenie Beenie," Podunk" and "For All The Cows" were written in '93 ("as were lots of other songs I sure hope no one ever hears," Grohl said later). Other songs on the tape included "This Is A Call," "I'll Stick Around," "Big Me," "Oh, George," "X-Static," "Wattershed," and "Butterflies." "Butterflies" is the only track from the tape not yet officially released.
Copies of the tape soon leaked out. Two songs were "officially" previewed on January 8, '95, as part of Pearl Jam's "Self-Pollution Radio" broadcast, and KNDD and Los Angeles station KROQ later began airing songs from the tape, until they were hit with a "cease-and-desist" order. Excitement about Grohl's hooky, power pop quickly built, and soon labels were approaching him with deals. He finally signed with Capitol, where Gary Gersh, the former DGC A&R rep, was now president. Twelve songs from Grohl's tape were chosen to be issued on Grohl's own Roswell Records label, with distribution handled through Capitol.
But Grohl had no intention of keeping Foo Fighters a solo project, and had passed out copies of the tape to other musicians, including Pat Smear, who quickly agreed to be in the new band. Grohl also brought in bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, from Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate, who had recently broken up. On March 3, '95, Foo Fighters made their large scale public debut at the Satyricon club in Portland, Oregon, playing the next night at the all ages venue the Velvet Elvis in Seattle (the group's first performance was at a party shortly before the Portland gig).
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