Down on the Bleach
Sounds, June 9, 1990

Life's a bleach for Nirvana as they continue to plug last year's storming album to an unresponsive America. Sam King joined the Sub Poppers to find them shaving their hair off and wearing dresses. Photos by Steve Double

JONATHAN PONEMAN, Sub Pop's hyperactive business manager, doesn't believe in crisis management.

He doesn't believe in crises either, but now he's got one he's dealing with it quickly and courteously.

"Uh, let me explain my problem to you, Ma'am," he says over the phone to the United Airlines ticket desk. "I run a small independent record label in Seattle and one of my bands on tour in Philadelphia has dire need of a soundman, so I was wondering if it would be possible to fly this person out from Seattle to Philadelphia today. Uh huh ... uh huh. And could I pay for this with my American Express card from here? I'm in New York."

Right now, Jonathan's operating out of a small New York apartment trying to hold together tours by the Afghan Whigs and Nirvana, as well as negotiate a major distribution deal with Columbia (CBS) with his partner Bruce Pavitt. Pavitt may be the idealist, the fanzine writer turned supercool record boss, but it's Jonathan who's the businessman, the Rick Rubin of the new American guitar age.

Rockin' out halfway between the flippancy of Mudhoney and the threatening extremity of Tad, Nirvana are reckoned to be the band that will break Sub Pop out of the indies and into the American mainstream. It's partly for their benefit that Bruce and Jonathan are in New York getting their distribution deal that will ensure Sub Pop's continued expansion.

When Nirvana's second album, the follow-up to last year's gut heavy 'Bleach', is released in the autumn with increased distribution, label insiders are hoping it will comfortably outsell even Mudhoney's recent releases. Right now, however, the band are in a spot of bother.

They're halfway through yet another seven week tour across the States. This time it's the Eastern seaboard, from Maine down to Miami. Tour fatigue has hit them bad as they scurry across the States tracing and retracing their route.

In a recent American interview former Nirvana guitarist Jason Everman declared that the best thing about being with his new band Soundgarden was travelling in a big van, having his own room and not having to hump his own gear.

"Seven weeks, f**king seven weeks," recalls guitarist/vocalist Kurdt Kobain in frustration. "And it's just us three in the van, nobody else. We've got to drive, load our stuff up and everything. We didn't bring anybody, we just left. We attempted to get a soundman two weeks before we left, but you've got to worry about the guy's personality. We did want the guy who worked for Mudhoney but we didn't know him, we may be too weird for him.

"But nothing is better than playing live, even though we may say we hate it and have said we may not continue to play live if we have to keep doing these stupid seven week tours. But playing in front of a bunch of people who react well is the best thing in the world."

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