An interview with...Kurt Cobain

Flipside - May/June 1992.

Flipside's Cobain interview

By Al and Cake


Blah blah blah.... a Nirvana interview!? Yeah, we fucking love the band and the guys in it are great people. They have a lot to say and are blazing a trail every other band out there wishes they could follow. If you want to know the basics, (as if you donít know who they are by now) read the interview we did in Flipside #62. This one just covers the things happening now. We started this chat off with Cake and Kurt rapping about some side projects heís been involved in....

Kurt: ... That was Dylanís project. I think it came out on Caroline - Sub Pop and it was distributed by Caroline. They made these ads that said "Featuring Joe Preston, the bass player from the Melvins" and they made it seem like it was his project - but it was really Dylanís. He was the brain behind it. They're just some songs that he wrote and he asked me if I wanted to sing on it, and thatís my involvement. I sang on one song on it.

Cake: Is it called "The Bureaucratic Desire For Revenge" or something like that?

Kurt: I donít even know the name of the song, they probably named the song after we recorded it. I have a CD copy so I havenít gotten a chance to listen to it because I donít own a CD player.

Cake: Iíve seen so may bootlegs of you guys, are you pissed off about that or what?

Kurt: For the most part I really donít care. I like to hear live bootlegs and I would appreciate if the people that make them would send me a copy but thatís the case, nobody sends me anything. But when embarrassing things come out like stuff that I've done in my basement on a 2-track or a boom box that are basically just unwritten songs or pieces of songs, songs Iíd like to put together someday into a song - when those come out itís really embarrassing and it frustrates me.

Cake: Like when you were playing Jabberjaw and all these people were singing "Polly" when you were doing it and Chris goes "How the kick do you guys know that song?" and somebody goes "Bootlegs!"

Kurt: Right. Itís really embarrassing also when they take it upon themselves to title the songs for you. There are some really dorky ones like "The Rocker" and "The Eagle Has Landed." Oh God!

Al: Well, youíve gotten a little more popular since our last interview... whatís it like, how did you do it?

Kurt: You mean, what is it like being in the Beatles! I hope to eventually someday turn into Pete Best - just brush it under the carpet and forget about it.

Cake: Thatís something you said in BAM magazine, how you wanted to destroy your career before it gets out of hand.

Kurt: Well...

Cake: But I can understand, you probably want to do something different.

Kurt: Well, weíre definitely gonna do something different. I donít want to go so experimentally overboard to where it seems obvious that weíre trying to destroy our career, you know. That BAM article was really embarrassing for me because they made it seem like I was just this self-destructive-heroin-taking little dork. I donít need that kind of shit from them! I donít need a second rate Freudian evaluation on my career and how Iím adapting to the success. Itís really stupid. I think we've taken it well, really. I've had a few weeks off of touring too - we were on tour for seven months, and I wasnít in the best of health. It was draining definitely Itís really hard to decipher what is going on in your reality - we couldnít even tell how big we were getting. We were on tour playing shows every night and getting reports from our manager telling us "Yeah, youíre selling as much as Garth Brooks and Michael Jackson." That reality just didnít sink into our heads at all. Iíve never been aware of that, I never really cared. I didnít even know that we had sold 50,000 copies of "Bleach" until everybody started talking about how many copies of "Nevermind" we had sold. I never paid attention to it. Iím glad we survived this tour because it was really stressful to all of a sudden be expected to carry on the traditions of an arena rock band. We were only expecting to sell at least as many as Sonic Youth, we were just hoping to use the corporation to get good distribution. Thatís all we were hoping, or asking for.

Al: But then it took off. Was there anything obvious to you that helped that happen?

Kurt: Well, I donít know. If you listen to the record ("Nevermind") it's really not that much different than a Skidrow album - I mean itís commercially accessible for the general public. They can listen to it and it is easy to digest.

Cake: Well, I think thereís a definite difference in the lyrics. Yourís are really thoughtful, unlike Skidrow, you have to admit to that?

Kurt: Oh, I do. I mean I donít want to burst my bubble or anything but weíre fucking 100 times better than Skidrow or Poison! Or any of those bands. What Iím saying is that weíre in the same league as them as far as accessibility. Itís easy to listen to our music. Itís not like it we were the Melvins or Jesus Lizard - if they were to sell as many records as we did then that would be a phenomenon. That would be amazing! Weíre a rock and roll band and itís pretty obvious.

Al: Iíd put you in a league with the Melvins or Jesus Lizard before Poison or Skidrow!!

Kurt: I would hope weíre in that league! Thatís the kind of music I listen to when Iím home, thatís the kind of world I want to be a part of. But still, thereís so many clean, nice, accessible songs on our album... I donít understand why everyone is so enthusiastic about it

Al: Did you approach it that way? To write more accessible songs for your major label debut?

Kurt: No. No, it just sort of worked out that way. We did some demos at Butch Viggs Studios in Madison, that have come out as bootlegs that are pretty close to what "Nevermind" turned out to be like. It would have turned out the same way if we would have had the same amount of time in the studio for an independent release - if it was on an independent label it would have turned out similar. It still only took us a week and a half to record. We had a two week lock out but we took our time, we slacked off, I was writing lyrics in the studio, I was being real lazy about it.

Kurt: Look at the time Rod Stewart spends in the studio and ifs a hunk of shit!

Kurt: We could have done it in a week if we wanted to, we were pretty much prepared for it. Iíd like to go back to an 8 track for next year.

Cake: Like Mudhoney, thatís cool.

Kurt: Yeah, Mudhoney are sticking to their guns and it's great.

Cake: Mark Arm told me that they have to go to 16 tracks next because they want to add tambourine tracks! You guys have a split single with Jesus Lizard coming out soon.

Kurt: Yeah, were gonna record it soon.

Cake: Thereís other things also, like a Sub Pop single...

Kurt: Um,yeah, I think we have to put out another Sub Pop single...

Cake: Is it a contract thing...

Kurt: Yeah...

Cake: Limited edition of 100,000! Is Geffen going to keep putting out singles?

Kurt: Yeah, weíre gonna put out a "Lithium" single within a couple of months. Itís gonna have a doll theme. Iíve been collecting old dolls for most of my life and I make dolls out of clay that are replicas of 18th century Yugoslavian dolls. Theyíre really weird, they have elongated heads and have really long fingers. Kinda like a Brothers Quay video. Itís gonna be a rip off of a Brothers Quay video because we asked them to do our video and they refused. Thereís not much of a theme other than the dolls doing weird, surreal things with each other. When Courtney goes to get another ultra-sound weíre going to video tape the baby in her womb and put that in the video too.

Cake: The "Sliver" single was probably my all time favorite rock song...

Kurt: I like that song too, ifs my favorite song to play live. Weíre gonna put out a record pretty soon that is a compilation of Peel Sessions and BBC sessions that we've done that have all come out on bootlegs and we'll put the "Sliver" single on that also. Just because a lot of people havenít heard that single and Iíd like them to hear that song.

Cake: And then I heard about a possible Peace Of Mind / Jabberjaw thing.

Kurt: Oh, whatís this?

Cake: A Jabberjaw compilation someone is putting together. I heard you guys might be on it under the name Negative Creeps or something like that.

Kurt: I havenít heard anything about that.

Cake: So I guess thatís a rumor then. You said your next album will be in a different direction, I heard you guys want to use Steve Albini for your next album?

Kurt: Well, ha ha, thatís an obvious choice. It would be nice, I like the drum sounds that he gets - but now that I think about it more I really donít care about the drum sound all that much...

Cake: Get Bob Rock from Metallica to produce you!

Kurt: Yeah, ha ha ha.

Cake: You guys have a Cheap Trick sound on the song "On A Plane", is that deliberate? Like off of "Dream Police" or "Budokahn"...

Kurt: Thatís weird! I was just listening to both of those records today. I donít know. That song came out way too clean. Iím not happy with the way that came out at all. It should have been a lot rawer, we play it a lot better live I think. Iíll admit, I like Cheap Trick, that first record is great. I keep forgetting how punk rock it really is. It's pretty raw for a commercial rock record.

Cake: You have Kirk Canning from Spoon playing Cello on "Something In The Way"...

Kurt: Yeah, I havenít heard Spoon yet, theyíre on tour right now. I guess because I just talked to Chris and they stayed at his house. I wanted cello on that song and it ended up being the last day in the studio and I told Chris, "Geeze, maybe we should try to find one." And it just so happened that Kirk was there at the apartment we were staying at and he said "Oh, I can play cello!" So we brought him in the next day.

Cake: That's how spontaneous it was!

Al: Who came up for the design of the cover of "Nevermind"?

Kurt: I guess Iíll take the blame for that. Dave and I were watching a documentary on babies being born underwater and we thought of the image. Thereís no special story behind it at all.

Al: Was it something you had to set up to shoot or...

Kurt: We just asked the art department at Geffen to come up with a baby in the water and we choose from a bunch of pictures. We thought it looked good with the dollar bill with the fish hook on it...

Cake: Like innocence trying to get corrupted or something?

Kurt: Yeah...

Al: They had no problem with the naked baby?

Kurt: No, no, we were expecting that their might be a problem with it but there wasn't any at all. We thought their might be a problem at some retail stores but we were prepared for it - we were going to have a sticker that said "If you are offended by this youíre probably a closet pedophile." (Laughter).

Cake: I noticed in other interviews that you always show your support for like K Records or the Melvins, who I guess were one of the first bands that influenced you...

Kurt: Yeah, Iíve witnessed about 200 Melvins practices in my lifetime, if that doesnít rub off on you in someway then youíve got to be a really jaded person. Thereís just no way I couldnít have let the Melvins influence me, theyíre just such a great band. And K Records is a really good label, it turned me on to a lot of really good music that I had never heard before - like the Vaselines and Tour Le Gosh and all that cutie stuff from England. Thereís a whole another world of underground music that I wasnít even aware of - I started getting into Jad Fair and Daniel Johnson and all that stuff.

Cake: That would be cool if you wrote a song together with Daniel Johnson. Can you imagine that!?

Kurt: Weíll do it!

Cake: The English press seem to write a lot of stuff about you, like they said you had ODed, which obviously isnít true. One minute they love you and they next they attack you.

Kurt: Oh, has the backlash begun now. I havenít been keeping up on the English press.

Cake: I just read one "On page three, Kurt ODs in Australia." Iím like, what? I called Courtney and she goes "Heís right here!"

Kurt: God!!! They announced on MTV in Europe that Courtney and I had both died of a drug overdose. We had friends calling up for days really upset thinking we were dead. I donít know. Iím just now learning to accept all the rumors and all the lies that are involved in being a big rockstar. It bugs the shit out but I just have to deal with it. I DONT TAKE drugs. I HAVE taken drugs in my life and every once in awhile I may dabble in drug taking but I am definitely not a drug addict and I donít like to condone anyone using any kind of drugs. Theyíre a waste of time.

Cake: The media is your worse enemy when youíre in the spotlight. They look in every nook and cranny. Any move you make if you look sick "Oh, heís on drugs."

Kurt: Yeah, right. I was almost dead from touring. My body wouldnít allow me to take drugs on tour even if I wanted to. Iíd die in a day.

Cake: Donít you have a condition that makes you fall asleep or something?

Kurt: Iíve got narcolepsy and I can see how someone would think I was nodding off when Iím just falling asleep. Just being on the road is stressful enough physically, thereís no way I could ever take drugs. I just couldnít do it.

Al: Being a band of your size, is there more of that offered?

Kurt: No, not at all! Backstage at our shows is pretty sedate, I mean itís really boring - thereís no groupies, thereís no drugs and we havenít even drank for a long time! I havenít drank for months and Chris quit drinking. We wanted to survive this tour so we even quit doing that. It really bugs me a lot to be accused of being a drug addict - thereís constantly articles being written about it. It sucks because I kinda feel a responsibility to kids who might want to start taking drugs. In a few interviews Chris and I have talked about smoking marijuana, and we read it back and thought, "Geeze, that probably influencing someone." Iíve done enough pot in my life where I donít need to do it anymore. I learned too late that it destroys your memory and now Iím suffering for it. I think ifs really lame for journalists to write and accuse me of taking drugs because kids are going to read that article and then theyíre going to do drugs because I do. Thatís really lame.

Cake: What are your feelings on whole Pearl Jam, Soundgarden thing. I hate to put Soundgarden in that class because when their first EP came out I thought they were like Robert Plant fronting the Butthole Surfers, I thought they were amazing.

Kurt: They used to be great, they were even better in like Ď85 when Chris Cornell had a Flock of Seagulls haircut! They were just like the Butthole Surfers, they were amazing.

Cake: Now theyíre totally into this metal thing, theyíre touring with Guns and Roses... Thatís the tour you guys turned down?

Kurt: Right, we turned down Guns and Roses. That would be a big waste of time. I canít comment on Soundgarden because I know them personally and I really like them a lot, but I have strong feelings towards Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains and bands like that. Theyíre obviously just corporate puppets that are just trying to jump on the alternative bandwagon - and we are being lumped into that category. Those bands have been in the hairspray / cockrock scene for years and all of a sudden they stop washing their hair and start wearing flannel shirts. It doesnít make any sense to me. There are bands moving from L.A. and all over to Seattle and then claim theyíve lived there all their life so they can get record deals. It really offends me.

Cake: What was the inspiration for the track "Endless Nameless" that appears on the CD?

Kurt: It's a little taste of what our next album might sound like. We were screwing around with those kinds of sounds at the time we were recording "Nevermind" and at the last minute we decided to record that song. Weíve been fooling around with a lot of noise and different guitar effects pedals and stuff. I donít want to get too experimental to where we turn into a punk rock version of Rush or Yes! I hope we have enough sense to know when to quit.

Cake: Have you seen the "Teen Spirit" ad on TV?

Kurt: No, someone told me about that. Iíve been waiting for them to jump on that. I was kind of afraid of being sued. That isnít why I wrote the song, I didnít even know that product existed.

Cake: Well they did jump on it!

Kurt: When youíre in the public eye you have no choice but to be raped over and over again - they'll take every ounce of blood out of you until youíre exhausted. Weird Al Yankovic is... his whole album is devoted to us! In the beginning I talked to him on the phone and heís like "Hey Kurt, how ya doing? Iíd like to record your song ĎTeen Spirit" for my next album." I thought, ok, that's fine, I liked "Mother One Rides The Bus", I thought that was kinda clever. Then all of a sudden heís done a video in mockery of our video and the album has a picture of him naked in the water with a dollar bill. I think itís gone a bit too far! We werenít prepared for something like that. Legally he can do stuff like that, at the time I thought he was just going to record our song but heís trying to revive his career based on us. I donít know, I guess ifs no more offensive than a bootleg. Journalists are grovelling for any kind of article about us, like theyíre going down to Aberdeen and talking to kids that look to be in my age range and they look like they could be my friend and these guys with tractor hats and moustaches are claiming to be my friends. Theyíre saying "Yeah, Kurt slept on my couch for six months, it was great!", "I sold him his first amplifier!"

Cake: Then youíll have all these people writing books on you!

Kurt: Well... it wonít last. Iím looking forward to the future. It will only be another year and then everyone will forget about it.

Cake: The last time you played here you played at the Sports arena, what are you going to do the next time you play here?

Kurt: Thatís a big problem... I was thinking about some kind of a system that we could work out so we could go on some kind of a club tour - somehow kids could prove that they were into Nirvana, with an old worn out "Fudge packing" shirt or something... It would be great to do something like that but itís not very realistic. It just doesnít seem possible. Weíll just have to wait until our next record comes out and it bombs, then weíll loose the audience that really doesnít matter in the first place, all the kids who just turned on to "Nevermind" in the last year, and weíll have our old fans back probably. I donít even know if thatís realistic, but itís a nice thought.

Cake: A friend of mine just got a Nirvana fan magazine that Rip put out- "40 pages of Kurt, Chris and Dave! All color, all grunge!".

Kurt: Itís weird that things like than can happen. I guess if magazines have done an interview with you then they have the right to put out booklets like that and make a bunch of money out of it and you donít get anything. Itís kind of embarrassing too, like a pin-up model! Weíre going to put out our own fanzine and I think weíre going to do a compilation tape to go along with it of some of our favorite songs. Just like if you were going to make a tape for your friend, of old punk rock records. I donít know what the fanzine will be about, I donít want it to be a homage to the band. Iím thinking of getting a bunch of people to contribute to it and just write what they want on any subject.

Cake: In the song "Lithium" you have a line that says something like "Lite my candles, in a daze, because Iíve found God." Is that your view on people who are brainwashed by religion?

Kurt: Yeah, I guess you could say that. The story is about a guy who lost his girlfriend, I canít decide what caused her to die, letís say she died of AIDS or a car accident or something, and heís going around brooding and he turned to religion as a last resort to keep himself alive. To keep him from suicide. Sometimes I think religion is ok for certain people. Itís good to use religion as a last resort before you go insane. I have this relative who I really love a lot and she really inspired me because she was a musician and I used to go to her house all the time and she because really disillusioned with her life and became suicidal. And we felt that she was gonna kill herself. Now she's a Born Again Christian - and because of religion she is alive still. I think that is ok.

Cake: I have a lot of friends who are ex-drug addicts, and when you take the drugs out you have to put in something more powerful, like God.

Kurt: Thatís the truth.

Cake: I guess itís cool because they ARE alive. That is a point. You guys are planning a big tour this summer, I hate to say like Lollapabooza, but not called that, something else.

Kurt: Itís going to be called the Lollapa-looser tour!

Cake: Who will touring on that?

Kurt: Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, hopefully the Pixies or the Breeders, Shonen Knife, probably Jesus Lizard if theyíre available or the Melvins and this band called Bjorn Again - theyíre amazing. We want to have it at around the same time as Lollapalooza to show that there is an alternative to false alternative macho metal.

Cake: Like Chili Peppers...

Kurt: Yeah, and especially Pearl Jam. I canít really call Pearl Jam "macho" but itís not the kind of stuff that I am into.

Cake: I call it "lame macho".

Kurt: I donít mean to slag them so much but I canít help it! They really get on our nerves because on MTV they put us right into the same category with them.

Al: How big a role does Geffen have in your plans? Itís everybodyís big phobia that the major label will take away your artistic freedom, or at least play a big part in forming it.

Kurt: Weíve never had a conflict with Geffen, not one. Our A&R man lets us do what ever we want - and legally we can do whatever we want because we have a really good contract. Our lawyer worked at getting us one of the best contracts Iíve ever heard of. The people that work at DGC are really good people, a lot of the employees are people that worked at independent labels like SST. Theyíre totally aware of what our band is like. Now that we sold a whole bunch of records we have even more control - even though we donít need to stress anything. They let us do whatever we want.

Al: Do they try to treat you like traditional rock stars just because that is what they are geared towards - because of Gun and Roses or whomever?

Kurt: Not at all. Thereís been a few times where limousines shows up at the airport when we get there, but sometimes thatís not DGCís fault, itís just the promoters fault. There are some places where the representatives of DGC arenít that hip to underground music, so thereís a lot of learning going on at the label. No, they donít treat us like rock stars. Plus, DGC is a subsidiary of Geffen, Guns and Roses are on Geffen and DGC pretty much just has Teenage Fanclub, Sonic Youth and, us and, uh, Nelson. I forgot all about them!

Cake: How was your Australiaí New Zealand/Japan tour?

Kurt: Well, it was just a continuation of our other tour, and by then I was just a walking zombie, I didnít have very many emotions left. But still, playing live was good enough, it made me feel good. Especially in Japan because the environment was so different than anywhere else. We were playing clubs to a couple of thousand people... all in seated areas - the kids werenít allowed to leave their seats. There were like 30 bouncers with three piece suits to restrain any kids who were having too much fun. You play a song and then they clap... politely, then there was dead air. It was really bizarre! We got to hang out with Shonen Knife while we were there.

Cake: So youíre taking time off and living here in L.A.

Kurt: Right, living and relaxing.

Al: Where are the other guys?

Kurt: Dave is in Washington DC with his mother. Chris is living in Seattle, heís got a house there. Iím looking forward to finding a place to live up in Seattle - we want to move up to Seattle. Iím just taking time off right now, I need to relax. It feels like Iíve been on the road for the last three years... Weíve always toured a lot, weíve been to Europe three times. Before we started the last tour we decided to go out before the record came out so that fans who have been into us for years could see us in smaller clubs before it got any bigger. It took years off of our lives to go on tour for so long, but it was worth it. The last time we played in New York it was in a club of 1000 people, so we donít know what itís like to be on an "arena rock" tour yet - or even if weíre going to, I donít know. We did a short tour with the Chili Peppers and played arenas and it was really weird, like playing on a different planet.

Cake: And you guys did a cover of "Baba O'Rielly" by the Who!

Kurt: Yeah, we just got on the stage and Iím like "Chris, I feel like weíre the Who!" and he said "Hey, lets play "Teenage Wasteland!í"í we didnít know how to play it but the "Louie Louie" chords worked out.

Al: What about "Saturday Night Live"?

Kurt: It was really scary. Thereís a lot of stress to play on a television show live, you can hear every little note thatís missed. I donít know, it kinda bugs me.

Cake: At the end of the credits Chris and Dave acted like they were making out!

Kurt: Yeah, we got a lot of irate letters about that. "I used to like you guys but now that I found out that youíre fags..."

Cake: Well, we donít really have any more questions -thanks for doing the interview with us.

Kurt: Well you know Iíve been wanting to do fanzine interviews this entire time and so far only a few have approached us. I think they just assume that we wouldnít even want to talk to them at all. That was bumming me out.

Cake: I saw the interview in Your Flesh...

Kurt: Yeah, I donít know what happened with that at all, I donít have any excuse for it... We fired our publicist over stuff just like that. We said get us a list of fanzines to do and we gave them a list also - but nothing was happening with it, we just kept getting metal magazines! I mean itís still obviously a corporation, so there are bad sides to it. But the Your Flesh thing, thatís expected. I totally understand their attitude, when Husker Du came out with "Candy Apple Gray" I wrote them off as being corporate sell-outs - and I didnít even listen to the whole record. I just thought it was too commercial sounding and I didnít like them anymore. So if I was 18 and a fan of Nirvana in the beginning and all of a sudden they became these big pop stars, Iíd slag them off. I totally understand that, that kind of attitude. Itís a totally natural thing. But if you sincerely like a band, youíll stick with them no matter what they do... unless itís so embarrassing that you canít handle it. I donít know, weíre not going to put out solo records... They even announced the band on MTV now as "Kurt Cobain and Nirvana". That's ridiculous... the Melvins are putting out solo albums though.

Cake: Do you think you'll ever do any music with Courtney?

Kurt: Oh, I donít know, we play guitar together. There wonít be a "Kurt and Courtney" album, like John and Yoko... Yoko was the first female punk rocker...

Cake: Totally! Especially in "Donít Worry Kyoto", Goddamn... if not for her no B-52ís or Lydia Lunch or Lene Lovich....