NFC Nirvana Information Articles and Interviews Interview


New Music Express - 08/91

Interview with Krist and Kurt

What's with all this "NIRVANA INC" credit card business - so you've become a punk rock corporation?

Chris: "Actually we're pretty well broke, we piddled it all away on the album."

Kurt: "Thirty three per cent tax bracket, 15 per cent to our manager ten per cent to our lawyer, ten per cent to our accountant. We paid off Sub Pop quite a bit of money."

Chris: "We hired a manager and he took everything from there. He just happened to be Sonic Youth's manager, and Sonic Youth just happened to be signed to DGC. But we like DGC "Of all those fucked-up major labels, they were the least fucked-up. Now the fuckin' Stone Roses are gonna be on the label and they're getting a ton of money, those guys really took Geffen to the cleaners."But you know, people were talking about us ...that, thousands of millions. We didn't even get - quarter of what they're gonna get. A tenth of that. A fuckin' tenth."

Was the split from Sub Pop amicable in the end?

Chris: "Uh yeah, we get along with each other now."

Kurt: "Bullshit, we hate their guts! The only communication we have with Sub Pop are our letter bombs and crank phone calls. We break into Sub Pop every other month and piss all over their Blood Circus CDs! Bruce and his henchmen come down to Olympia and jump me in the alleys! (Laughs.) "We talk to them when ever we see them. The only thing Bruce and Jon set out to do in the first place was to help some of their friends put out some records. Then it gets really big all of a sudden, everyone started getting scared of the major label threat. We wanted to be off Sub Pop for about a year. And if we were to go onto any other label besides a major we wouldn't have been able to be bought out from Sub Pop. We wanted to have our record available in stores, basically, that was our main gripe. They weren't paying us, their accounting was a bit screwed up, but mainly it was because kids were coming up to us during shows, saying, 'We can't find your record anywhere.' Y'know, Bruce and Jon are running their label better than I could ever do, so I really have no reason to complain "

Chris: "Yeah but that's not your job to run a label. We gave them music and it's their job to provide."

Kurt: "Yeah, and they promoted it well."

Chris: "No they didn't. They were just lucky. Anyhow, we're working with someone else now. That's 'with', not 'for'."

Would you regard yourselves as particularly motivated to succeed in this crazy business?

Chris: "Oh yeah, we're yuppie rockers, upwardly mobile. "

Kurt: "I'm a narcoleptic, so I have a hard time being motivated at any time."

Chris: "We were motivated enough to get a manager. He's motivated for us. We don't give a fuck, we just practice and go on tour."

Kurt: "And it's not because we're so anally anticareer-oriented, it's just that we don't have the patience to deal with all the managerial problems and the business part of the band. I don't care enough about it to deal with it. I used to forget things all the time when people would call up and try to book a show, I just didn't give a fuck. There was awful communication between the band. 'Oops, I forgot..." The punk fundamentalists are already sharpening the knives for when your new album comes out - regardless of what it's like. As something of a punk fundamentalist yourself what do you think of it?

Kurt: "i think it's a fine mixture of radio friendly accessible crap and still reminding you of what our 'Bleach' album sounds like and what we sound like live. It's still heavy. The songwriting is a bit different but it's been two years since 'Bleach' so it's an obvious progression. In every interview we've had over the last two years we've been practically warning everyone that we're writing more pop songs, so I don't think it'll be a surprise to anyone when they hear it." You presumably don't regard 'pop song' as a term of disgrace, then?

Kurt: "A disgrace? Oh, absolutely not. All my favourite songs are pop songs.The Butthole Surfers have pop songs. Pop just means simple, and that's what punk rock has been forever until it turned into hardcore."

Chris: "Like the Sex Pistols record, those are all pop songs. It's a great record. The Clash were a pop band."

Kurt: "I think the best Clash album is 'Combat Rock', I fucking love that record! It's definitely better than 'Sandinista' "

And The Clash finally got to Number One this year with 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?'!

Kurt: "Jesus!"

Chris: "How'd that happen?"

They used it on a Levi's commercial.

Kurt: "There you go!

The Clash sold out ten years after they broke up! Well, The Ramones are on Budweiser commercials in the States, so. . ." So why don't you do one?

Kurt: "Let's see. We'd only do either Dr. Bronner's soap or Depends diapers."

Chris: "We were bucking for a Pepsi endorsement but MC Hammer pipped us. Cmon man, ask us about the songs on our great new record!"

Righto. Tell us all about 'Territorial Pissings'.

Kurt: "I really don't have an explanation for that song. A lot of the time I write a song and when someone asks me about it I'll make up an explanation on the spot because a lot of times I write the Iyrics in the studio and I have no idea what I'm talking about half the time."

Cheers. 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'?

Kurt: "Well it's about, hey brother, especially sister, throw away the fruit and eat all the rind. . ."

Chris: "Wow, I can see that, too."

Kurt:"No longer is it tabooforte tattooed to take their generational solidarity and Byrds and Herman's Hermits-loving disgraces we call parents..."

Chris: "That's beautiful, that's really cool."

Kurt: "Posing as the enemy to infiltrate the mechanics of the system, to slowly start its rot from the inside. It's an inside job, it starts with the custodians and the cheerleaders."

Chris: "That's a good one. That's what that song's about too."

Kurt: "Or not." (Smirks.)

Let's try again. Why's the album called 'Nevermind'?

Kurt: "Because most people would just as soon forget or say 'never mind' than take a can of spraypaint or start a band, make up excuses for not starting a band. I dunno. People just don't do things very often any more. I'm kinda disturbed about it."

Chris: "In LA there's graffiti all over the place and it's just dumb scribbles. It's territorial pissings, that's what it is, guys just writing on walls."

Kurt: "It's an excuse to feed their ego. It'd be just as easy to spray paint 'Kill George Bush' over and over again. Whether that would have an impact on anything or not it doesn't matter, it's still fun to do it. Which is one of the lines in 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' - 'It's fun to lose than to pretend'."

Isn't Nirvana an excuse for not doing anything else?

Kurt: "We do plenty, as a band. And when we're not a band. I'm constantly vandalising. I think it's probably safe for me to say that publicly in an English paper, but I can't go into detail about it."

Chris: "He's made the local papers."

Kurt: "Many times. Many times I've been arrested."

So small scale subversion is something you admire?

Kurt: "Sure. I mean, I wouldn't want to assassinate anyone. Not just anyone. I wouldn't tell anyone not to, either."

Chris: "People deserve to see that kind of shit. Especially in the United States, people's heads are so far up their ass, and they're so set, you need to be shook a little bit."

Kurt: "It's just something to pass time, actually, just a little fun. Plus, they have nothing else to do in a small town, the cops."

Why not move to a city?

Kurt: "Well, because in a smaller place it might actually have an impact on people in larger cities it's too common. Christ, the United States are worse than any place I can think of besides a completely communist country. They just passed a law where for anyone to come into the US and play music you have to be part of the musicians' union and you also have to prove you've 'achieved greatness'. Who knows what 'achieved greatness' means?! That means you've made so many thousands of dollars or you're in the charts or you can prove to them that you won't be taking away American jobs."

Chris: 'The mainstream just gets fed garbage and it's like a vicious circle, they do demographic surveys and see what people want. People want shit so they give 'em shit. People only ever hear shit so they never pick up on any new ideas. They're really smart, the government, those l fascists. They're not dumb. They don't want any l punk bands to come over and rant and rave to the kids when they could be listening to Paula Abdul talk about broken hearts."

Isn't it telling how MTV presents a band like Guns N' Roses as an acceptable level of rebellion?

Kurt: "Definitely. I'm sure once Guns N' Roses got as big as they did the government checked up on them and realised they don't really have the brains to be a threat to anyone."

Chris: "Yeah! I mean, what does Axl Rose have to say to anyone? What is his platform, what's his core, where does he come from? There's nothing! He just talks shit, he just... he throws bottles!"

Kurt: "Actually. to tell you the truth, I learned that problem with the visas on MTV, believe it or not, on the news. Because MTV really does try to be as subversive as they can, as subversive as they're allowed, especially the news. They're constantlyexposing all the rights that are being taken away from Americans. But no-one gives a fuck. They just wanna see that damn Warrant video!"

Would you consider Nirvana on MTV a victory of sorts?

Kurt: "To get onto MTV would be a victory in that it wouldn't really matter to me, other than the fact that our band has been on MTV and maybe we can expose ourselves to a few gullible 15-year old kids and maybe steer them in a better l direction than they're going. It's never been a l desire of ours to be on MTV, we've always been totally anti-MTV. But now that we have the opportunity we may as well go for it. It has nothing to do with us wanting to be successful or more popular, we just want more kids to have the opportunity to hear us and decide for themselves. "Why couldn't Black Flag have been Number One? If the music industry really does have as much control as everybody in the underground claims, like pay-offs, payola, Mafia ties, then there's no reason why they couldn't make or break any band, no matter how crappy they are or how abrasive they are. It would be just as easy to take some stale bitch like (names poppy, souly female singer who, for legal reasons, must sadly remain nameless), who can't sing, who doesn't sing on he records, or take Black Flag and promote them the same way. "I'd say 80 per cent of the public aren't music lovers in the first place, so why even try to please them, anyhow? They can't even tell the difference between a good song, they can't tell the difference between a song that's already been written or a song that's been sampled, or anything. "So why can't Black Flag or Sonic Youth be Number One? Because major labels don't have that much control over making and breaking! It may happen with all these so-called alternative bands being signed. I don't know, it's going so slowly right now - Jesus Jones are considered alternative, All the bands that were supposedly punk rock in the first place all had their major hits when they had really accessible songs, when they finally wrote real accessible songs. Blondie were successful because of 'Heart of Glass'."

Are you saying this is a negative phenomenon?

Kurt: "I don't think it's negative if the band uses a couple of radio-friendly songs to lure in the audience, and yet still stay the same or mix it up with exactly what they were doing before."

Chris: "Plus, 'Heart Of Glass' is a good song. 'Brass in Pocket' is a good song."

Kurt: "I totally agree."

So is that what Nirvana are trying to do?

Kurt: "I don't think that's what we're trying to dot that's just what is happening. If we were on th K label we would have still put out this record, if we could have come up with enough money to pay for the recording. We never sat down and said, 'Let's write a few radio-friendly pop songs and then still play some songs that sound like 'Bleach' so we can keep our audience and maybe get on MTV..."'

Chris: "If you did something that contrived it'd show. And there's nothing worse than being ranked on by people you respect."

Kurt: "But at the same time, if we felt like doing a disco album their reaction wouldn't stop us from doing that."

Well, all the great pop bands make disco records eventually. Don't you think that at this stage a lot of people are unaware - or maybe in the case of your fans unwilling to accept - that Nirvana are basically a pop band?

Kurt: "If we're anything, we're nothing more than a plagiaristic professional bar band. We could copy anything, practically, besides white boy metal funk - we're not that good musicians, thank God! But probably the only thing that makes us seem unique is that we're able to play really soft songs and really heavy songs and mix it up in between. It's been done before, but not very often. I dunno, I'm too picky, I hear constant rip-offs and influences. I could make a compilation tape of little parts of our songs that are the parts of other songs, and you wouldn't believe some of them!"

What's the most important thing for you about your band?

Kurt: "Our songs. It makes us happy. I mean, I could live with or without anything. I've built up enough defences to be able to handle anything. Sc if we were to break up tomorrow, I'd be really sad about it but, start another one, do something else. We've all got friends. We all have friends."

Do people take rock'n'roll too seriously?

Kurt: "Way too seriously. People have so many expectations of rock'n'roll. They expect it to be used as a tool to be political, and it should be nothing more than the background music."

You mean you've never placed that much importance upon it?

Kurt: "Oh, music completely changed my life. Punk rock made me so much more aware of things that I couldn't believe it. It finally reminded me that I've had an identity all along. It changed my fucking life when I heard it. So it's a totally important thing. It's just that (laughs) people blob it out of all proportion."

Can you imagine what you'd have done if it had completely passed you by?

Kurt: "I'd be a bit more of a depressive person. I would have done something. I wouldn't have just ended up in a garage working on cars, I know that."

Chris: "The cool thing about music is there's many facets to it. You can listen to a Shonen Knife song about choco-bars. . ."

Kurt: "Or you can listen to a Fugazi song, and get just as much pleasure out of it."

Chris: "They're both equally as important. The escape and the message."

Where do you think Nirvana fit in that spectrum?

Kurt: "Pretty much in the middle, or to the left or to the right. Yes, no, maybe so! Probably Shonen Knife. I think we might be a good example of how you can be a fucking idiot and still be aware of things."

Chris: "That's us. People are so stupid, everything's stupid, this is just a self-defence. When the Gulf War was going on, I was out of my mind. I was so freaked out and so angry that it was so wrong, it was such a fuckin' lie. I bored everybody cos that's all l d talk about. It was just like a pressure release valve. "So I think the best thing for me is to go through life the best I can. I think I'm gonna get a vasectomy 'cos that way I'm not responsible for anyone but myself."

Kurt: "But you would probably be a good parent and your child might grow up to help things."

Chris: "Yeah, but there's a population problem. If I wanted to be a parent I'd probably adopt some Third World child and give him or her a decent chance instead of having my own little sperm ball walking around. "It would be nice to see a child my wife and I created, it'd be kinda neat. But I wanna see the world in 50 years, there's gonna be a lot of fuckin' people man. So have your wives and girlfriends douche with Dr Bronner's soap. .. (Chris momentanly tails off into incomprehensible bobbling.) "Whaddya gonna do, whaddya gonna do about anything? Play in a band! Write for a magazine!"

Erm, yeah. Or possibly something even more worthwhile?

Chris: "Yeah! Well, no!!! What are you gonna do, work in a gas station and pay off a car? Is that what life's about? Pay off a car? Pay off a blender and a food processor?? Slack off! Take it easy man, know what I mean? All you really have to do is eat, and drink and be merry. Whatever comes in between, just always have a good attitude, brother. When you're down in the gutter."

So this is the message from Nirvana— people need to get their priorities right?

Chris: "Right on!"

Kurt: "I asked my little four-year-old sister, 'What's the biggest problem in whole world, Brianne?' And she said, 'People need to concentrate more.' It was so awesome! She's gonna grow up to be something really great. . . and it won't be the president. (Laughs) I think denying the corporate ogre is kind of a waste of time, you should use them, rape them the way they rape you'.

Great, a world full of rapists.

Kurt: "At least you're fighting. I don't believe in closing off options to make your own world seem more important. (Long pause, then a smile) I think 'empathy' is a really nice word."

Thanks to MOLE for this interview.