Melody Maker | Feature | 15 December 1990 | Photo: Stephen Sweet
HEAVEN CAN'T WAIT
Nirvana's new single, "Sliver", weighs in at a fraction over two minutes and is one hell of a pop song. No messing.
Kurt Cobain (vocals/guitar): "We like to think of it that way too. It's probably the most straightforward song we've ever recorded, but we don't really care if people say that we're spinning off at a tangent. We've always tried to accomplish something new with every track and we've always liked the idea that each one sounds as though it's been written by a different band."
The glorious guitars and vibrant vocal harmonies of "Sliver" are a careful progression rather than a radical departure from their highly acclaimed "Bleach" LP – and anybody who thinks otherwise can't have listened very closely to "About A Girl" or "Swap Meet". But even during the darkest, most leaden moments of Bleach", those times when the bass rumbles and Kurt howls in mock sympathy, there's still a chance that a melody will suddenly spring forward to alter the mood. Nirvana are experts in the art of surprise.
But there's another sting in the tale of "Sliver". It tells of the traumas of a child away from his parents for the first time and Kurt believes it could be perceived as being as scary as it is poppy.
"Mom and dad go off somewhere and leave the kid with his grandparents, and he gets confused and frightened, he doesn't understand what's happening to him. But hey, you mustn't get too worried about him - grandpa doesn't abuse him or anything like that. And in the last verse he wakes up back in his mother's arms."
Chris Novoselic (bass): "We now specialise in happy endings. No, that's not true. We actually didn't really know what we were doing with the song when we recorded it. We did it on a whim."
Kurt: "Yeah, Tad were in the studio at the time and we called them up and asked if we could come over and record the song during their lunch break. It took about an hour and we used their instruments while they sat around eating. But that's nothing new – we approached the recording of 'Bleach' like it was a radio session. The key to a successful album is to get the fuck out of the studio before you're sick of the songs. I hate 'Bleach' so much now."
Dave Grohl (drums): "I still love the album, but that's probably because I've only been in the band for six weeks. I'm sure I'll get sick of it soon."
Kurt: "So am I."
Dave Grohl has already been with Nirvana longer than their last drummer, Dan Peters, who joined the band in time to record "Sliver" and left as the tape cooled down. Dan is better known as a member of fellow Seattle Sub Popsters Mudhoney. There had been speculation about him switching allegiance for ages, with the likelihood of Mudhoney splitting up as a result.
So how come Dan was in Nirvana for only a matter of days?
Kurt: "It wasn't that we were unhappy with Dan's drumming, it was just that Dave has qualities which match our needs a little closer. He takes care of backing vocals for a start. We were blown away when we saw him playing with this band called Scream a few months ago, and Chris and I agreed that we'd ask him to join Nirvana if we ever had the chance. Ironically, that chance came a week after we got Danny in. It was a stressful situation, but it now looks like Dan will rejoin Mudhoney and they'll carry on as before. They're one of our favorite groups and the idea of that band stopping because of Dan coming over to us had caused us considerable distress."
Dave says one of the best things about being in Nirvana at the moment is the fact that more and more major record companies are taking the band out to dinner to discuss a possible deal. What's the latest?
Chris: "Well, I don't eat red meat and I'm trying to give up chicken and turkey, so there's not a lot of choice for me."
Kurt: "There are six or seven labels interested in us now, but we're keeping all our options open. It's mainly a question of who understands us best, which A&R man's personality is most compatible with ours."
Dave: "But we have to remember that a major wants you to make money for them, and if you don't do that they can fuck you – and they fuck you hard."
Chris: "Oh sure, but also bear in mind that we've got a good lawyer. We have the same lawyer as The Rolling Stones, Poison, Kiss, The Bangles..."
Kurt: "The Bangles? Wow, that's really neat. He's also got Peter Frampton and we saw him sitting in the office only the other day. He was huddled up in a corner with a plastic tube poking out of his mouth, dribbling everywhere and making those weird wah-wah-wah noises. I couldn't understand a fucking word he said."
Whatever label Nirvana's second album appears on, Chris wants it to be a box set of seven seven-inch singles, each containing a pop tune on one side and a grungy track on the other. The idea sounds almost as much fun as the band's John Peel session a few weeks ago, for which they recorded irreverent versions of songs by Devo, The Wipers and The Vaselines. Leonard Cohen, Beat Happening and Fear are being considered for the next time they're in town. Nirvana also appear on the recent Velvet Underground and Kiss covers compilation LPs, contributing "Here She Comes Now" and "Do You Love Me?" respectively.
Chris: "That Kiss track was a bit of a joke. We drank a load of red wine and went into this college studio for free. We even let some student mix it for us. The next time we heard the song was on that fucking album. Mind you, who'd want to be serious about a track like that?"
Kurt: "Yeah, the whole idea of a cover is to have some fun, to try out something a bit different. We've never tried to do a straight copy and we've never bothered to pull a song apart in order to learn it properly. We'd rather just get on and do it."
Dave: "The Vaselines songs we recorded sound nothing like the originals at all. Having never heard any of the records until after we came out of the studio, I had no choice but to drum and sing the backing vocals my way rather than theirs. But The Vaselines themselves said that they enjoyed what we'd done to their material and that was quite a thrill. I'd like more covers in our live set, but Kurt has problems remembering the words to most of them."
Chris: "What the hell does that matter?"
Nothing, it would seem is precious to Nirvana. Not even Kurt's long blonde hair, which he's recently had chopped off. Although Mudhoney's Mark Arm beat him to that idea, he's gone a step further by having what's left dyed green.
Kurt: "I didn't do it to prove that we're not a Sub Pop big hair band, I did it because I wanted to."
Chris: "I hate the way that every single thing you do or say is seen as being of such great importance, just because you're in a band. We've been portrayed as redneck illiterates just because of where we're from, and while I don't mind admitting that we're from a redneck town, we've always had trouble dealing with the attitudes which prevail out there. By the same token, we're not an underground band because we've had records out on Sub Pop and we're not a teenage pop group because we now want to sign to a major label."
Kurt: "We're just some guys playing some music."
And modesty has rarely sounded so good.