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Melody Maker - August 29th, 1992.
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana talks about the records that changed his life.
1. The Breeders: "Pod"
"By that I don’t necessarily mean that the record reminds me of my last girlfriend. It seems that when the girls in The Breeders get together, they give off this air of... their ex-boyfriends. But the main reason I like them is for their songs, for the way they structure them, which is totally unique, very atmospheric. I wish Kim was allowed to write more songs for The Pixies, because ‘Gigantic’ is the best Pixies song and Kim wrote it.
"I love their attitude. ‘Doe’, the song about where a girl gives a boy head and he pats her on the head like a doe, is very funny. They’re strong women, but it’s not that obvious. They’re not militant about it at all. You can sense they love men at the same time."
"Everyone who has ever commented on "Surfer Rosa" has said, ‘Yeah, the production’s amazing’. I agree with that, but the songs are so strong that it wouldn’t have mattered if you’d listened to it through a boom-box.
"I was completely nihilistic up until about four or five years ago, when I first heard this. It changed my attitude. It made me finally admit, after being into punk rock for so many years, that I liked other styles of music as well. It made me finally admit that I’m a music lover. Their music reminded me of the music that I always wanted to do — and was doing – before I got into punk rock, eight or nine years ago. When I first started writing songs, they were a mixture of punk rock and The Beatles, but then I abandoned that and did nothing but Black Flag rip-offs.
"Right around the time ‘Surfer Rosa’ came out, Sub Pop was happening and I was starting to write those sort of hard rock, Iggy/Aerosmith songs again.
"It’s obvious that when ‘Bleach’ came out ... except for that one song, ‘About A Girl’ ... that I was very set in one frame of mind. I’m really glad that at least we’ve got that one song on the album, but I had a few more like that that I could’ve put on the album, and I wish I had, because then it would’ve sounded more like ‘Nevermind’ and it wouldn’t have been such a drastic leap."
"That all has something to do with Burroughs, because Burroughs turned me onto that guy. He said that if you want to hear true, honest music with passion, then you should hear Leadbelly. The songs are just amazingly heartfelt.
"Leadbelly was this poor black man in the early 1900s who went to jail a few times for wife-beating and robbery and getting into fights and bootlegging liquor. While he was in prison, he started playing the guitar, and he sang so well that the governor started to like him and let him out of jail. Leadbelly became an apprentice with Blind Lemon Jefferson and started recording songs, but none of the commercial recordings he made ever captured his true essence, except for these last sessions. They happened when this guy who’d been following his career for a few years caught him on a two-track tape recorder one night when they were hanging out at this hotel. It’s just real cool.
"I’d hope that my songs approximate that honesty. That’s what I strive for. He was like the first punk rocker, because he was such a hardened person. He’d get into town, walk into an all white bar, try to have a drink, get beat up and then go to jail because of it. So it’s really cool to hear this music, especially the air of the recordings themselves, because it’s so eerie to hear it on this crackly two-track. He’ll start off with a little introduction on what the song is about, play a little and [dive] in."
"But that’s what Folkways records are like – they’re awesome. I’m gonna get a Folkways tattoo next to my Black Flag tattoo. Folkways are affiliated to the Smithsonian Institute; they even have the entire Watergate tapes available as a 10 album set. Our next album cover’s gonna be like a Folkways album cover—no gloss on it at all, just recycled paper and the strip of paper on the back."
"I just hove this feeling they had a really cool relationship. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I just think it’s a really amazing thing when a couple can get together and write some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. They’re kind of sharing their life with people. Eugene and Francis are the Captain & Tennille of the underground.
"Could I imagine myself and Courtney ever doing something like that? Absolutely. We play together all the time. Musically, we’re compatible, because we think exactly the same and we feel the same, and it’s really easy to come up with good music if you’re like that. If I could just have a romantic relationship with Chris and Dave, it would be nice. I have no definite plans to release the stuff with Courtney, but it’s a nice idea. Maybe we’ll do it someday, but we have too many things to do right now. Just playing together in our house is satisfying."
"This music relaxes you, it’s total atmospherics. It’s just nice, pleasant music. I love it. The drum machine has to have the cheesiest sound ever. We’re going to be on a Young Marble Giants compilation, doing ‘Credit In The Straight World’. I had a crush on the singer for a while—didn’t everyone?
"I didn’t know much about them — the Moxham brothers, right? I heard they might be getting back together again recently. (NB: Stuart Moxham just produced one side of the new Beat Happening album, another of Kurt’s favourite bands). Isn’t it weird how, when you hear something like that, you still get excited, even though you know you shouldn’t?
"I first heard ‘Colossal Youth’ on the radio, after I started getting into K music when I lived in Olympia. It was a year before I put out the ‘Bleach’ album. At the time, I was just painting and doing art stuff. I still do, but now I use oils because I can afford them. I like Goya a lot – I use animated dolls a fair amount. I don’t mean to make them look evil, but they always end up that way."
"The Wipers were a Portland punk band who were started in the late Seventies by Greg Sage and released maybe four or five albums. The first two were totally classic, and influenced the Melvins and all the other punk rock bands. They’re another band I tried to assimilate. Their songs were so good.
"Greg Sage was pretty much the romantic, quiet, visionary kind of guy. What more can I say about them? They started Seattle grunge rock in Portland, 1977."
"This was the first cassette that came out on K. Eventually, after a week of listening to it everyday, I started crying. That’s how much it affected me. I just couldn’t believe that three people from a totally different culture could write songs as good as those, because I’d never heard any other Japanese music or artist who ever come up with anything good.
"Everything about them is just so fucking endearing. They’re not too cute! That’s part of the charm. Do I think there’s a paedophiliac element to their appeal? I think, in Japanese culture in general, there’s a paedophilioc element ... most of the women there dress up as young girls. It’s weird.
"I’m sure that I was twice as nervous to meet them as they were to meet us. I didn’t want to offend or scare them in any way, because I know I’m a scruffy, slimy person who might scare them off ... and that’s exactly what I did. They were afraid of me. In fact, on one of our first dates together, they saw me at the backstage area walking towards them and they screamed at the top of their voices, turned around and ran away from me, and then peeked their heads out of their dressing room. I was trying to reassure them that I was harmless. The communication we had with them was deathly silence and a lot of smiling.
"In many ways, they’re the ultimate K band, because they are sincere, they are real. They don’t purposely put their guitars out of tune, and they don’t purposely sing out-of-tune."
"How do I explain that? Hmm, Both were the original punk bands, but The Clash were always a bad imitation of The Rolling Stones, in love with America. But at least they took their girlfriends on tour with them (The Slits). Their music was terrible, though. I blame ‘Sandinista’ for not letting me get into punk, years after I should’ve done— it was so bad.
"The Pistols album has the best production of any rock record I’ve ever heard. It’s totally in-your-face and compressed. All the hype The Sex Pistols had was totally deserved ... they deserved everything that they got. Johnny Rotten was the one I identified with, he was the sensitive one.
"The only reason I might agree with people calling our band ‘The Sex Pistols of the Nineties’ is that, for both bands, the music is a very natural thing, very sincere. But in terms of influence, fuck, no! Rock is too exhausted for that. We haven’t produced a totally original sound like that. We might be uncompromising, but that’s about it. We’re an obvious metamorphosis."
"I like to listen to Jad Fair and Half-Japanese with headphones on walking around shopping malls, in the heart of American culture. I just think that, if people could hear this music right now, they’d melt, they wouldn’t know what to do, they’d start bouncing off the walls and hyper-ventilating. So I turn up the music really loud and pretend it was blasting through the speakers on the malls,"
"They were all sisters, with their evil uncle making plans for them. I heard this one live song —a Carpenters song, maybe? ...where they must have been playing a day centre, and the screams in the background are louder than the music. The Shaggs are another archetypal K band.
"Am I a Calvinist (named after Calvin Johnson, leader of Beat Happening and founder of K Records in Olympia, where Kurt used to live)? No. The Calvinists area handful of Olympia residents between the ages of 16 and 50 who wear ‘Leave It to Beaver’ hats and sweaters, worship Calvin and follow him around. They leave him gifts, and they have Calvin altars, and candles and effigies of Calvin. I don’t know much about the rituals of praising Calvin, but I know what punk rock is about."