Until 2010 the three men weeping with mirth at the end of Q's phoneline hadn't been together since the summer of 1991, wrapping up arguably the most important rock album of the past 20 years. But when Dave Grohl invited Krist Novoselic to play on the Foo Fighters album Wasting Light, helmed by Butch Vig, three quarters of the team responsible for recording Nirvana's Nevermind were reunited for the first time. "It was fUcking beautiful" says Grohl.
On the occasion of Nevermind's 20th anniversary reissue the trio came together at Grohl's studio 606 in LA. Obviously a Nirvana reunion entails one big empty chair in the room, but, as befits the mischief that so often gripped Kurt Cobain that Summer, the group are in a celebratory mood as they recall the high times of Nevermind.
What were you doing the day Nevermind was released?
KN "Weren't we on some scrappy little tour? Ohhh God - we played in Boston with the Smashing Pumpkins."
DG "Butch, you came to see us at the [Chicago] Metro, didn't you?"
BV "That's right. People were crying, it was like Beatlemania."
DG "At that gig I smashed my drum set. Kurt had been chopping it up with his guitar, there were holes in the toms. I kept asking our tour manager, "Can I get a new drum set?" And he'd say, "Can you just hold out another week?" On the way in to town I heard on the radio that a music store was having a sale, and so I said to Kurt, "Tonight, let's smash our drum set for real, so there's nothing left, so I have to get a new one." At the end of the set we spent 20 minutes breaking the drums. And the next day was Sunday - the fucking place was closed! So I had to borrow Urge Overkill's kit for the rest of the tour. "
What are your favourite memories of the recording sessions?
BV "Dave doing backing vocals, taking a hit off Krist's bottle of Jack Daniels, then puffing a cigarette, trying to hit the high harmonies on In Bloom. And an amazing food fight! Kurt left a chicken leg on the console."
DG "We were staying at the Oakwood, this corporate apartment building. By the time we were done we just swept all the broken debris into a pile. We fucking destroyed it. We went to see Butthole Surfers and L7 at the Palladium, and I'd just gotten my first motorcycle. I drove it down there and the battery died. My friend Pete Stahl and I were trying to charge the battery and these skinheads came up and started fucking with us. Then Krist comes over in the van - you tried running over the skinheads."
KN "They started throwing beer bottles at the van. I just flipped.
DG "Rick Rubin was in the lobby at the Palladium and Kurt ran right up to him and started humping his leg! Those were the days man."
Didn't you get arrested Krist?
DG "He's innocent! When we started mixing at Devonshire studios, Ozzy Osbourne was there. And the guy who worked in Ozzy's studio said, You can always tell when Ozzy's in, because there's piss on the floor" around the toilet. It's strange the stuff you remember."
The Devonshire mixes remained unreleased until the anniversary reissue - why where they deemed inadequate?
KN "Butch wanted to take a week or two off, to rest his ears. But the recording went on too long, and we just immediately moved on to the mixing."
BV "We only had seven or eight days booked, but around the third or fourth mix I realised it wasn't sounding optimal. Part of it was that the band were hanging out with me. Kurt would keep coming up to the board: "Turn the trebel off all the tracks." And I'm like: "I don't think that's going to sound very good." So I'd turn all the cymbals down and it made it all sound like Black Sabbath. We went around and around. When we played stuff for the label they felt it could sound bigger and bolder - and I think it was smart to get Andy Wallace to come in with a fresh perspective."
DG "We liked Andy because he had mixed some Slayer records and we felt you can't get any more in your face than that."
How do you feel about this Butch, and these versions being available now?
BV "The songs are the same. What strikes you about all those versions is that the performances are amazing. You could have sent a monkey in to mix it and it would probably still kick ass!"
DG [Laughs] "Probably better call Andy and tell him that one's coming!"
The rehearsal performance on the boxset seems just as intense as the finished versions.
DG "We practised every day like it was the only thing we had. We wanted to make a great record. That whole slacker aesthetic did not apply to the making of Nevermind. When I listened to those tapes at the end of the day, I'd cross my fingers and hope it was good enough. For what? I don't know. And I don't know what aspiration or ambition any of us really had, because I don't think anyone expected what happened to actually happen."
Our fifteen minutes are up. As the three Nevermind survivors face Q's photographer, Vig is worried about his "asinine monkey comment" being misconstrued. "Andy is a great friend of mine and an amazing mix engineer." he says. But his words are drowned out as Grohl and Novoselic shriek with laughter, the anarchic spirit of 1991 returning these rock legends to a more innocent time. "Hey! How do you take a good Nirvana picture?" Grohl hoots. "Quick-ly!"
Words: Keith Cameron     Pics: Austin Hargrave
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