Chillout Radio

The fascinating insights into understanding Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana

WFNX’s Kurt St. Thomas (right) interviewing Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain (left) and Dave Grohl on Lansdowne Street in 1991. Source: Julie Kramer, Wikimedia Commons.

What are they famous for?

Nirvana is famous for being an American rock band who have had a heavy influence on modern rock and roll culture. The band were first founded in 1987 and consisted of singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic who were founding members. The group also included drummer Dave Grohl who joined the band in 1990. The band disbanded after the death of Kurt Cobain but continues to be popular to this day. The band won many accolades after achieving mainstream success, including an American Music Award, Brit Award, Grammy Award and seven MTV Video Music Awards. The band has sold more than 75 million records worldwide. The band was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Career Beginnings

Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic met during high school; Cobain showed interest in forming a band and gave Novoselic a demo. Novoselic listened to the demo three years after the two initially met and they started a band called ‘The Sellouts’ which was a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band. The project fell apart after a month and they formed a new band with the drummer Aaron Burckhard. The band went through a number of names over the next few months until they settled on Nirvana. The band recorded their first demo tape in 1988. The band went through a number of drummers before they met Chad Channing and the band played their first show together in May 1988. The band released their first single ‘Love Buzz’ in 1988 and began recording their debut album ‘Bleach’ and the band subsequently signed a contract with Sub Pop.

Dave Grohl playing with Scream, 1989. Source: Tobby Holzinger / Agentur Spirit, Wikimedia Commons.

Following the release of their album the band went on a national tour although the tour was ended early due to conflict with Everman. The album sold 40,000 despite a lack of promotion from their label.

In 1990 the band started to work with the producer Butch Vig on their next album. During their recording sessions the band started to struggle with creative differences with the drummer, Channing whom was frustrated at his lack of involvement in song writing. Channing left the band as bootleg versions of the bands recording sessions started to circulate and the band started to get the attention of major labels. The band recorded the single ‘Silver’ with a new drummer, Dan Peters.

Dave Grohl was introduced to the band in 1990 after the breakup of his band Scream. Grohl was auditioned by the band and joined up as their drummer.

Career Breakthrough

Unhappy with their record label Sub Pop, the band started looking for a major label who could buy them out of their contract. The group asked Susan Silver, manager of Alice in Chains for advice and she introduced them to Don Muller, a talent agent and music attorney Alan Mintz who helped the band send out their demo tape to major labels in the hopes of helping the band get a deal. The band eventually signed with DGC Records in 1990.

The band subsequently recorded their first album under a major label, titled ‘Nevermind’. The album was produced by Vig again and a number of lyrics were completed during the process. When it came time to mix the songs, Andy Wallace came on board. The label initially planned to sell 250,000 copies of the album but the lead single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was an unexpected hit. The song received airplay on MTV and during their subsequent tour the band discovered that their shows had been oversold. By the end of 1991 the album was selling more than 400,000 units a week and made it to the top of the charts by 1992. The album has now sold more than 30 million copies globally.

The band embarked on a small American tour to further support the album. In 1992, Cobain wanted to revise the way the royalties were split and wanted to make it retroactive to the album ‘Nevermind’ however this cause disagreement amongst the members of the band and almost pushed them to break up. Kurt Cobain headline the 1992 Reading Festival and the performance is often remembered as one of the best of the bands career. They also played at the MTV Music Awards where Kurt Cobain played the song ‘Lithium’.

The band released the compilation album ‘Incesticide’ in 1992 as a joint venture between their current label and previous label.

Continuing Career

In 1993 the band released the single ‘Puss/Oh, The Guilt’ and chose Steve Albini to help them record their third album. The album was recorded and mixed in only two weeks in the Pachyderm Studio in Minnesota. There were a few songs that the band was unhappy with and Scott Litt was brought in to help the band remix the songs. The album ‘In Utero’ debuted at number one on the charts upon its release in 1993. The album sold more than 5 million copies in the United States along and the band began a tour of the United States. In 1993 the band recorded a performance for MTV Unplugged and chose to perform a number  of cover songs. They also appeared on Saturday Night Live in the same year and played ‘Heart Shaped Box’ and ‘Rape Me’. The band began their European tour in 1994 however Courtney Love found Cobain unconscious in the bath after an overdose on Rohypnol and alcohol and the remainder of the tour was cancelled. Cobain was admitted to rehab but left after only a week. Less than a week later Cobain was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Kurt Cobain, WFNX, 1991. Source: Julie Kramer, Wikimedia Commons.

After Cobain’s death the bands label planned to release the album ‘Verse Chorus Verse’ which included live materials from the bands career. However the album was cancelled because Novoselic and Grohl found it emotionally overwhelming and instead the label released the MTV Unplugged performance. The also released a live video and the live album ‘From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah’. Grohl went on to found the band ‘Foo Fighters’ and Novoselic moved on to political activism. Grohl and Novoselic intended to release a 45 track box set in 2001, however Courtney Love put an injuction on the release of any music featuring Cobain.

They eventually released a settlement in 2002 and a compilation album ‘Nirvana’ with the track ‘You Know You’re Right’ was released. The album debuted at number three on the charts and the originally planned box set ‘With The Lights Out’ was released in 2004. The box set included demos, rehearsal recording and live tracks. Another box set was released in 2005.

In 2006 Courtney Love sold her stake in the Nirvana song catalogue in a deal that was worth $50 million. Since then there has been DVD releases of ‘Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!’ and the full version of their MTV Unplugged show in New York. A DVD and CD release of their performance during the Reading Festival was also released. They also released deluxe editions of the albums ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’.

The group were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. The surviving members of the band have reunited on a number of occasions to perform together since Kurt Cobain’s death.

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