"WE WROTE Smells Like Teen Spirit in January or February of 1991. We'd been rehearsing in this shed behind someone’s house in Tacoma, Washington. The guy who owned it played in a covers band, a bar band, and he rented out this rehearsal space with a home made 8 track studio and we rehearsed there for three or four months and that's where a lot of Nevermind was written.
"We d always start rehearsals with a jam, an open, free-form jam, and a lot of the songs came from that: songs like Drain You and Teen Spirit. At the time we were really experimenting with dynamic, with the quiet verse/loud chorus thing, a lot of it was derivative of Pixies and Sonic Youth, but you just knew when the t chorus was supposed to get bigger, and you just knew the point of the song where just when you think you can t take it any higher, you do take it one step higher.
"I didn't really think much of Teen Spirit at first I thought it was just another one of the jams that we were doing: we had so many jams like that, that we'd record onto a boombox tape and then lose the cassette and lose the song forever. But Teen Spirit was one we kept coming back to because the simple guitar lines were so memorable.
“We played a show in Seattle (at the OK Hotel, on April 17,1991) to get gas money to go down to Los Angeles to record the record. We set it up at the last minute, it was an afternoon gig, and we played that song for the first time and the audience went nuts. I don't know if it was the rhythm or the melody but people got caught on it pretty quick.
“With Nevermind I thought In Bloom was going to be the 'smash hit' off the record, or Lithium. I thought Smells Like Teen Spirit was just another album cut. We recorded it pretty quickly, and I think it was one of [producer] Butch Vig's favourites, and it soon became pretty clear that it would be the special song on the record. But of course at that point we didn't think anything was going to happen with the record. It was like releasing a Jesus Lizard record or something, there was no world domination ambition, because that just couldn’t happen, that wasn't allowed to happen. “I thought Teen Spirit might get on MTVs 120 Minutes and allow us to tour with Sonic Youth, but no one thought it was a hit single because [that] was just unimaginable I mean the funniest part was seeing the video on MTV. We were touring America just as the album came out in September of '91, playing places that held maybe 200/300 people, and we'd go back to the hotel and turn on the TV and see our video and go, ‘That's so funny, we re on TV, and we've just played the 9:30 Club’ or whatever. Then with the video came more people and the clubs got bigger and bigger.
“The proper tour started in Toronto at the Opera House and it seemed like a fairly typical Nirvana gig: there were maybe 500 or 600 people there. To me you have to remember that was like making it, going from the 32 people who would usually come to see Scream in every city to. like, 500 people, I considered that to be the greatest success of my entire life! But the capacity of a lot of the gigs that we were playing on that tour were low. we played a place in Portland, Maine or maybe Vermont where the legal capacity was 67, a tiny little living room of a place, it was chaotic. When the video hit MTV it made a big difference That’s when you'd show up to a 500 capacity gig and there were 500 extra people there. We were still in our little bubble, we were in our van, the three of us, Krist's wife Shelli, our monitor guy Miles, and Monte Lee Wilkes, our tour manager and it didn't seem like anything unusual was happening until we'd get to the gig and it was fucking chaos. And we started to notice there were normal people here, what are they doing here? That guy looks like a joke, what the fuck is he doing here? And it was like. Oh, maybe that video thing is attracting some riff raff! The only indication that our world was turning upside down would be when you'd get to the venue. Then it would be, ‘Holy shit, these people are nuts'.
"Teen Spirit definitely established that quiet, loud dynamic thing that we fell back on a lot of the time It did become that one song that personifies the band. But the video was probably the key element in that song becoming a hit. People heard the song on the radio and they thought, 'This is great, but when kids saw the video on TV they thought, 'This is cool These guys are kinda ugly and they're tearing up their fucking high school!' So I think that had a lot to do with what happened with the song. But do I think it's the greatest single of all time? Of course not! I don t even think it's the greatest Nirvana single. And compared to Revolution by The Beatles or God Only Knows by The Beach Boys ?! Give me a break! Smells Like Teen Spirit was a great moment in time… but there's better."
As told to Paul Brannigan