Nirvana in 1993 (from left): Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl.
Few bands ever reach the popularity, influence and status of the early-'90s rock group Nirvana. Anyone who's old enough to remember knows that the trio from Aberdeen, Wash., helped pioneer grunge rock. But more than that, Nirvana became a symbol for an entire generation of ideas and popular culture, from fashion and art to our collective conversations about the way young people were making sense of the world back then, and how they saw their place in it.
Remarkably, Nirvana did all this in a very short period of time, from about 1987 to 1994, and only released three albums during that period. The last one the band released — about a year before singer Kurt Cobain took his own life — celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The album, In Utero, is being reissued with some remarkable additions: There's a remastered version of the original record, a remixed version, a DVD, a disc of live recordings, a bunch of previously unreleased demos, and tons of photos and liner notes.
All Songs Considered's Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton spoke recently with Nirvana's two surviving members, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic, about the making of In Utero. The two shared their memories from when they were just kids in the studio, piecing together what would become the band's last studio album.
You can hear our interview, and the unreleased songs, by clicking the audio link on this page. Or you can read a full transcript of our conversation — and stream the individual tracks — below.
Dave Grohl: Well, let's see ... in 1993 I was listening to a lot of The Jesus Lizard, which was a great band that Steve Albini also produced. I think I was also listening to ... I was still listening to that last Pixies album, or there was maybe that first Frank Black solo record, which came out around that time, too.
Bob Boilen: Maybe if you pick something off of that Jesus Lizard, since it's a Steve Albini production. We can talk about something in the sound that attracted you.
Grohl: I gotta say, Steve Albini was really famous for his signature sound. The sound that he got on his albums, it was no accident. There's a science to what he does. It was usually mostly recognized in the drums. So if you listen to the Breeders' first album Pod or the Pixies' Surfer Rosa, or you listen to the Jesus Lizard album Liar, it sounds like a band in the room, but there's some sort of sonic element to it that nobody else could get. And Steve Albini was the only guy who could get that drum sound.
Boilen: Let's listen to some of that — because we'll hear some on In Utero. Let's listen to some of The Jesus Lizard and hear the drums, and then we can talk about the specifics and how he did it.
Grohl: There's a song called "Boiler Maker," which is the first song off of the Liar album, maybe. That's a good one.
Boilen: You really do feel — especially coming off of the drum sounds of the 1980s, they were monstrously compressed and in your face — you really do get a sense of a big, open, spacious thing going on on drums here, and we'll play some of In Utero and hear some of that, as well. Would that be a good characterization of the difference there?
Grohl: Yeah, I think so. You know, I remember when we were making In Utero, one of the things that Steve talked about was trying to record or mix or equalize the sound of the band in a way that seemed natural — without the vocals seeming disconnected from the music. Like, I think what he tried to do was present the song to the listener in a way that sounded entirely real. But he would kind of embellish things in a way that made it more powerful. He is a brilliant dude. And going to make that record with him, I remember taking the Breeders' first album Pod to Sound City when we were making the album Nevermind and saying, "This is the drum sound." Like, "That's the sound. We love that sound! It's a great sound!" That was always, I don't know, it was something we always loved or related to, those Steve Albini recordings.
Boilen: Did you feel disappointed in the drum sound on Nevermind?
Grohl: No, dude, that record sounds great! I wouldn't change a thing.
Boilen: But the sound is so very different. It doesn't sound like the Steve Albini sound. That kick drum has heavy compression on it; it is really a different sound than the Albini sound. That's why I ask.
Grohl: Well, you know, it's one of the great things about recording in different places with different people, is that you get to experience their technique or their sound, and recording with [producer] Butch [Vig on Nevermind] was a lot different than Steve. With Butch, we would do multiple takes and we would try and get things to sound the way we would like, really craft these things, whereas with Steve, I swear, we'd do one take and he'd hit stop and say, "OK, what's next?"
Krist Novoselic: We had to prove ourselves to Steve. So, on the first day at the studio [for In Utero], we're all set up and ready to go and like, "OK, Steve, we're rolling, right?" And he goes, "We're rolling." And so we play that song "Serve the Servants." And you know Dave counts us in and just goes, "Bahhh!" And the song starts OK. And then we play this song and, of course, the ending falls apart, like every song on In Utero. And so we finish the song, and Kurt and Dave and I look at each other and we're like, "Yeah, that felt pretty good. How was it, Steve?" He's like, "Sounds good." And we're like, "All right! We're going to do another song," like in one take. We won Steve over after that.
Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Hear Dave Grohl And Krist Novoselic On 'In Utero'
Serve the Servants
Boilen: That's fabulous. We should listen to the first cut of In Utero to hear those drums we were talking about and get the feel of what it was like to be in Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota in February of 1993.
Boilen: It sounds so good. To so many people that don't know about recording and technique, the idea is ... I guess the question would be, what's so complicated about throwing a band in the room and just recording them? And, of course, it presents all sorts of problems when everybody's in the same room. Isn't that the mega problem that engineers face?
Grohl: I think so. I mean, it depends on what you want to do. But for the noise we made in the room, separation and isolation was usually a good idea. If you put the three of us in a room with microphones and hit "go," it would just sound like, "bahhhh." I remember that room was such a beautiful place to record in, too. If you've ever seen pictures of the studio or the house, I'm sure it's a beautiful place to hang out in in the summertime. Unfortunately, we were there in February. It's outside of Minneapolis. It was, like, subzero arctic temperature. But that room where we recorded the stuff, the room sounded great and it was a comfortable place to be. And I remember sitting at my drums and Kurt was to my left and Krist was to my right, and we had proper isolation and we would track live together.
Boilen: Describe what it means for proper isolation to somebody that doesn't know what it means. Is it foam or is it glass? What's between you and him?
Grohl: Well, there were probably some sort of baffles.
Novoselic: It was a sliding glass door between you and the bass amp. But I stood on your side of the sliding glass because I wanted to feel the kick drum, like, in my chest.
Grohl: Feel the power in your heart and your mind and soul!
Novoselic: I wanted to feel the power. That's it.
Grohl: You know, when you're recording multiple instruments in a room with multiple microphones, the sound of the room is bleeding into each microphone. Say you have a microphone that's pointed at a snare drum or is pointed at a singer's mouth: You want to try to contain or isolate those specific microphones so that not everything is bleeding into those, if that makes any sense. But you do want to be in the room with each other, so you can get the vibe of playing with that person.
Novoselic: And Steve Albini has these strategies — and they're rather sophisticated — about where you place the microphone in the room, and how you put it in one place. And he doesn't really use any type of, like, equipment. He calls it synthetic reverb and this and that, because he wants the real thing. It's very organic: non-GMO organic, no pesticides, labor-friendly junk food.
Boilen: There was a moment before you got there that the band ... Robin, you've got the letter. The [20th anniversary In Utero] box set has all this stuff...
Robin Hilton: Yeah, let's talk about it real quickly. There's a remastered version of the original album. It's been remixed — Steve Albini remixed it for this edition — tons of demos, previously unreleased tracks, a disc of live cuts, a DVD, and there really are some amazing liner notes. And it includes a five-page letter that Steve Albini wrote you guys before you even got in the studio with him. And I can just read the opening graph. It's a single-spaced, typed, five-page letter: "I think the very best thing you could do at this point is exactly what you're talking about doing: bang a record out in a couple of days with high quality but minimal production, no interference from the front-office bulletheads. If that is indeed what you want to do, I would love to be involved." Then he closes by saying, "If a record takes more than a week to make, somebody's f---ing up." So you guys did this in two weeks, yeah?
Novoselic: We didn't screw up, though! We recorded and mixed in two weeks. We moseyed along, though. We were also well-prepared. We developed a great work ethic. We had a great work ethic. We would rehearse a lot. We were coming in and blasting out songs in one take, two takes, three takes at the most.
Hilton: The remixed versions, I'm really curious to hear what you think of these newly remixed versions that Steve did for this release. I'm really hearing a lot of things I've never heard before, little details — like, he added Kurt's voice to the top of "Serve the Servants." I noticed "Dumb" loses most of the string parts. It comes in at the end, but it's not throughout the body of the song. I'm wondering if you saw these remixes as a chance to fix things you weren't happy with, or a chance to re-imagine how it could all sound.
Novoselic: In Utero, with the remixes, just breathes a little more now. It was a little squished-sounding [before], I thought. And, well, it's remastered now; the original is remastered now.
Boilen: Tell people what that means, because it's always very complicated for people to understand.
Novoselic: When you remaster something, and it was remastered at Abbey Road in London ... so, when you record a record, there's, like, different levels and frequencies on each individual track. So when you master a record, you give it some uniformity where it doesn't, like, blow someone's speakers. One song's super-loud, the next one's super-quiet, or whatever. It just kind of evens everything out. And you put some EQ on things — that's what mastering is. But we went one step beyond that and remixed the record, too. So it was on multi-tracks and it was not done on a computer. There was no clicking or dragging — there was no "Command-V" or "Command-C." We weren't on hold with service people in Mumbai, India, "Oh no, it's crashed again! Hit Control-Alt-Delete! No, we tried that, we tried that!" "Unplug it and plug it back in." "OK, but the bass amp is going to go out if we do that!" But, anyway, it was all done on tape. And, again, that's Steve's way. And it was all set up in the recording. So, the way those microphones were stationed around the room, and we just, we were listening to each individual track. So, like on "Serve the Servants," it was listed on the track sheet: guitar, guitar 2. And it was like, "Whoa, we never used this in the mix we did." So we listened to it, and on the remixed [version], there's a different guitar solo. And we worked with, like, some vocals and just kind of freshened it up. And I listened to The Doors — there was a Doors anthology remix, The Future Starts Now, I think it's called, where they remix the songs. And that's where I got the idea. I go, "Well, The Doors sound all nice and fresh for the 21st century, and it's the 20-year anniversary [of In Utero], so it'd be a good time to try something similar."
Boilen: So did you approach [Albini] to do the remixes?
Novoselic: Absolutely. The man. We went to the man, Steve.
Grohl: Straight to the source.
Novoselic: We went to his studio, Electrical Audio in Chicago.
Grohl: He wears a jumpsuit when he works.
Boilen: What color?
Grohl: Blue. Well, sort of like a grayish. It looked like maybe it was cobalt at one point, but it faded in the wash. I'm not sure.
Hilton: Does he put orange hazard cones around the chair he sits in?
Grohl: He works in a onesie.
Novoselic: The place is OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) approved. It's a super-safe environment.
Grohl: He also serves that kind of coffee that those weird lemurs ... when they eat the beans, then they poop them out. They're very expensive, and you can make coffee with them. And they're good, too!
Novoselic: Cobalt is like a really happening color now. I feel like all the new cars have some shade of cobalt and kind of a smoked purple.
Grohl: Pelham blue, that's a nice blue, too.
Novoselic: He's into texture. Steve is into textures.
Hilton: So, you guys were sitting in on the remixes, then? You were with Steve when he did them?
Novoselic: Absolutely. He wouldn't have it any other way. He wouldn't remix a record without the band there.
Boilen: So, let's walk it through. We're back in Minnesota and we're in February and it's '93. You'd bust out a couple of songs in a day. Would you then try and go ahead and mix some of them, or was everything just performance, performance, performance?
Grohl: I think at first it was performance. We finished the drums in the first maybe three or four days, and then I think maybe after that it was bass and guitar stuff?
Novoselic: I maybe changed a few things here and there on the bass, and then there was Kurt, and he did his vocals.
Boilen: Wait a minute: I'm confused about something, because we just talked about the fact that the band was in the same room at the same time, and now you're telling me that people are doing parts separately. You do the drums in three days?
Grohl: Usually what you do is, there are basic tracks, and then there are overdubs, and so a basic track would be Kurt, Krist and [me] in the same room. And we would lay down the guitar, bass and drums in one take. And then you'd move on to the next song. So after you've done 13 basic tracks, then you go back and you listen and you think, "Does this need an extra guitar part? Does this need percussion?" And then you start overdubbing things, and if there's anything that you need to redo or fix, then you can do that, as well. But recording with Steve, there's minimal overdubbing and there are minimal fixes, and there's hardly any percussion or anything on the record. It's a really simple recording. So then it's just a matter of Kurt going in and singing all of the songs and putting harmonies on. I didn't even know if he had all his lyrics. I remember there were some days where, like, nothing would happen for hours and we'd just be sitting, waiting for something to go down, you know?
Novoselic: There was no Auto-Tune, no comp tracks.
Grohl: You know what I remember? There was this stuff that they used to clean the tape heads in the studio, and it was like pure alcohol and incredibly flammable. And so we started doing things like pouring it on someone's leg and lighting their leg on fire, or pouring it on someone's boot. I poured some on my head.
Novoselic: Flaming cymbals are so cool.
Grohl: Ask Gibby [Haines, founder of the Butthole Surfers, who often put kerosene on cymbals and lit them during live performances]. Yeah, a lot of time spent doing absolutely nothing, too.
Hilton: It's interesting to hear you say that sometimes you'd be recording and Kurt hadn't even worked out the lyrics yet, because there are some really cool demos in this 20th-anniversary set, and most of the demo tracks don't have any lyrics on them at all. And I thought we could play a little bit of "All Apologies," the demo for that, because it sounds like Kurt is still trying to work out the lyrics on it. Could we just hear a little bit of that?
Boilen: Sounds like they didn't have his vocal mic on. It sounds like he was somewhere in some room just near some open mic, right?
Hear Dave Grohl And Krist Novoselic On 'In Utero'
'All Apologies' Demo
- from In Utero [20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition]
- by Nirvana
Novoselic: We found that on a cassette. Like, the multi-tracks vanished, so we couldn't even mix that.
Boilen: Oh, that's why the tape speed is so odd, too, right?
Novoselic: Yeah, that's what we got. So the [20th-anniversary] re-release is about, you know, those kinds of things. Fans really like those little chestnuts like that.
Hilton: Are there any surprises that came out for you in the remixing of these songs; anything that surprised you in any of the tracks?
Novoselic: [Long pause.] No...
Novoselic: It was all there. It was like, it's so straight-ahead: It's an old-fashioned record in some ways, like it was before the Internet. We made this record before computers. And, again, it's nice to have it breathe a little bit. So we just pried it open a little bit. And that was the mission: Kind of open the windows and kind of freshen it up.
Boilen: So you spend like two weeks in Minnesota. You do these recordings. You come home and everybody seemed pretty happy when they walked out the door, right?
Grohl: I think so.
Novoselic: We were out of the woods of Minnesota.
Grohl: Yeah, we were happy to be the hell out of there!
Novoselic: Because we were from Washington. Western Washington has a mild climate. We're just not used to those cold temperatures.
Grohl: You know what I remember? I remember that there was this sock that Steve had stuffed with mashed potatoes.
Boilen: Sorry, you said sock? S-o-c-k?
Grohl: Yeah, there was a sock that Steve had stuffed with mashed potatoes from dinner one night. And it was going back and forth from, I put it under his pillow at night, or then maybe it'd wind up on my drum stool the next day.
Grohl: And I got home, I opened up my suitcase, and that sock full of mashed potatoes was in there.
Boilen: That's a beautiful love message, I'd say.
Grohl: You know, he and I really hit it off.
Boilen: The winter that was! So, do you come home with tapes, in other words?
Novoselic: We came home with cassettes. And we had this really raw and intense record. And then the conversation started regarding the obligations [we had] of being a No. 1 band on the radio and on the charts.
Boilen: And those conversations are with whom?
Novoselic: With, like, label people and people who deal with those matters. So we decided we'd pick the songs. Like, we could hear singles on the record for the radio, and a few months before we did In Utero, R.E.M. were in Seattle and they were recording Automatic for the People, so I'd go down there and say hi. And they'd be wrapping up things and, like, they'd play me a song. Like, I heard "Man on the Moon" right off the press and I'm like, "Michael, are you going to keep the yeah yeah yeahs?" He's like, "Absolutely!" I'm like, "Really good!" And so we all decided that [we had] obligations as a "professional rock band" and as "unit shifters," so we remixed the [In Utero] songs with Scott Litt, who recorded Automatic for the People, so we had a little more work to do on the record.
Boilen: First of all, did you play these cassettes for the label, or did the label get more proper copies to listen to?
Novoselic: I don't remember what they got. That was before [CD-Rs], so they probably got a DAT, a DAT tape.
Grohl: A wax cylinder.
Boilen: Was the reaction, both from you and from them, "Hey, we need more single-y stuff?" I mean, this was not well-received. I wouldn't be wrong to say this wasn't completely well-received?
Novoselic: Well, we weren't going to have a song like "Milk It" be the first single, OK? Yeah, so it was like people have their roles. And, again, I call them "the obligations of being the No. 1 rock band." We worked our way through it. And part of the solution was working with Scott Litt.
Boilen: And how did Steve [Albini] feel about it?
Grohl: I think he was kind of pissed.
Boilen: I would think so. I mean, you go in there with this philosophy to do this one thing, and you walk out the door, and you go in with the people he tried to keep away from you, the record-label "bulletheads."
Novoselic: Are you saying we were conflicted? That we were a conflicted band?
Boilen: It kind of sounds that way.
Novoselic: Is that what you're trying to tell us?
Boilen: Yeah, I don't know if you've thought about this...
Novoselic: I've thought about it a lot.
Boilen: Yeah, I know, of course. Was that just this tear inside of all of you, or did some feel more than others that obligation? Or, in some way, you were running from the obligation and the rawness you walked out the door of Albini's place with, right?
Novoselic: We weren't necessarily running from it. But, you know, you've got to be rational. Like, "OK, we could make this if it's going to work on the record, work on the radio. And we signed the deal." And a lot of bands were, like, fiercely independent and never even signed on a major label. And, well, we were there already, you know? So we weren't really running away from it. And it was just, like, a solution, and it was a viable one.
Boilen: The 20th anniversary presents us with, let's say, a version of "All Apologies" that was Albini's mix, right, and the mix we are familiar with is not his mix, correct?
Novoselic and Grohl: Correct.
Boilen: Because I think in people's minds, they know those vocals, which sound doubled. Is that one of the things that got done after Albini on "All Apologies" — Kurt sang on top of himself, so to speak?
Novoselic: He added some background vocals, because I remember I went to his house and he's walking down the stairs and he goes, "Check out these background vocals for 'Heart Shaped Box.'" And, like, "Well, that sounds cool!" And I guess we were still working on the record at his house, and it just made sense to go in and remix it.
Boilen: How about if I play a little bit of the original Albini version? Would "Heart Shaped Box" be one of the tunes we're talking about?
Novoselic: Yes, let's do it.
Boilen: So, what do you all hear as the big difference when you listen to this version?
Hear Dave Grohl And Krist Novoselic On 'In Utero'
Steve Alibini's Original Mix for 'Heart-Shaped Box'
- from In Utero [20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition]
- by Nirvana
The version of "Heart-Shaped Box" that originally appeared on In Utero in 1993 was remixed by producer Scott Litt. This is the version producer Steve Albini intended to include on the record, before it was replaced.
Grohl: Well, when we were remixing those songs at Steve's studio Electrical Audio — it's been 20 years since we made that album — and I think in that time, Steve has gotten better at what he does. And, you know, when we were sitting there listening to the basic rough tracks, the recordings that we had done, you just hear a sound that you don't necessarily hear anymore, you know? A lot of modern recordings just don't hold that same sort of weight that Steve got then, and can still get now. And it's a weird thing when you isolate tracks of something that you recorded a really long time ago.
Boilen: Meaning that when you're listening back and the multi-track is playing, he hits a solo button and you just hear that one instrument in isolation.
Grohl: Yeah, or like a vocal mic, and you can just hear someone breathing in the room. It's a sonic document of a moment in time, and you listen to it back, and it really brings you back to that place. It's one of the funny things about this experience of this re-release and all of this nostalgia or retrospect or whatever it is, like, that time might seem a little blurry. But you remember the feeling of being there, and it was one of the reasons why Steve was the perfect person to make that record, because that's kind of what he did. Like, he was not into manipulating moments. He was into capturing them. So, when I listen back to this stuff, it's like it makes me sort of feel the way I felt then, because it's so real, you know? And I mean, I think about us being kids, like ... we were kids. It's so crazy that we were going through all of this stuff and these real sort of formative years. And this album was such a transition for us, too. Like, I have an emotional reaction to this record. I don't listen to it like I listen to, like, Saturday Night Fever. I have a more emotional reaction to it, because it's really raw and it's really real. So, as we were remixing these things, it was even more so. It was like, wow, now you can just listen to Kurt's vocals or just listen to Krist's bass, and it's, like, it really sort of breaks those memories into all these different pieces that are very defined and specific, you know?
Novoselic: I remember with "Heart Shaped Box," in the studio, on that version you just played, there was a long discussion about the solo. And Steve and Kurt had this idea on the solo to make it just very distorted and kind of out there, and I was against it. I was like, "Why are you doing this?" I was the sellout in the room or whatever. You know, this is a beautiful song; it's an epic song. You remember that?
Grohl: I remember that, too. I felt the same way — I just didn't say anything!
Novoselic: Remember, it was just like an hour and a half, and all these speeches were going down, and I'm like, "OK, that sounds good. Now, don't do it!" I understand. I completely understand."
Grohl: Please, I would say delete that. Mute, mute!
Novoselic: Delete-alt. It was an epic discussion. It's like, "Why are you doing this?"
Grohl: "You are making a career decision, my friend!" Yeah, I mean, it's just a different time, now. Well, at 24 years old, I was wearing shorts with long johns under them. What did I know?
Boilen: And making career decisions, lighting fires on your pants.
Grohl: I was changing the face of popular fashion with my long johns and high tops.
Novoselic: I was a mature 28. I was a 28-year-old.
Boilen: Yeah, you were the old guy.
Grohl: Yeah, he was the elder statesman of the band.
Novoselic: "Fellas, do it my way or the highway!"
Boilen: How old was Albini? Was he your peer?
Novoselic: He was our age.
Grohl: Well, he was one of our heroes, man. That was a big deal to be able to make a record with him. I had Big Black records and I loved Surfer Rosa. To make a record with him was a big deal. And I admit that when we walked in there, I was terrified and intimidated because his reputation was that [he was] really cynical, opinionated — and I heard stories that bands would send them their single and ask him to do their next record and he would smash it and send it back with no letter. Stuff like that. Like, "Oh my god, he's the [Colonel] Kurtz of the music industry! This is crazy; he's gone too far up the river and he's lost it!" And then we get there, and he's like a pussycat. He's the sweetest person in the world, and we had a blast. He and I got along really well, because we're both kind of goofs. But I remember at one point, I had taken that tape cleaner and poured it on my leg as he was taking a nap on a couch, and I lit my leg on fire, and I ran in there and woke him up with my leg on fire and said, "Steve! Steve! There's something wrong in the studio!" We had a laugh. Then, at night, he went back to sleep and I went back in the control room and poured some on my hat and lit my hat on fire and put it on top of my head, and I ran in there with my head on fire, "Steve! Steve, there's something wrong!" And before I could finish saying that, my hair kind of started, and I could hear my hair burning!
Novoselic: There was a bad smell.
Grohl: That sizzling and that smell. So, I take my hat off and I stamp it out on the ground and he's looking at me like, "You idiot."
Novoselic: The horror, the horror!
Grohl: And I nailed it to the wall and put a little piece of tape and just wrote "dumb" on it, and just had a burnt hat that said "dumb" on the wall. And I came back 15 minutes later and he had changed that piece of tape to say "drummer."
Boilen: Perfect! Were there a lot of drugs and alcohol in the studio?
Novoselic: No, no!
Grohl: What is this, Behind the Music?! C'mon, guys!
Novoselic: I don't remember even a beer, or pot. Nothing.
Grohl: I had stopped smoking pot, like, in 1990. So I was a sober guy. Plus, where the hell are you going to get weed in the middle of winter outside of Minneapolis? We weren't making a record at Tuff Gong! I mean, we were focused; that's the funny thing. I think maybe the reputation that Nirvana has is that we were three Sid Viciouses, Viciousuzzes, how would you pluralize that? Viscii?
Novoselic: It was kind of a family atmosphere.
Novoselic: [Kurt Cobain's wife] Courtney [Love] came over with [their daughter] Frances. And then Courtney wanted to add to the family atmosphere in that she wanted to bake us a roast, remember? And we were like, "Oh, no!" So I think we unplugged the stove and said it was broken. And were like, "Oh, the stove doesn't work!"
Boilen: You already had the mashed potatoes.
Grohl: Yeah, but those were in my suitcase!
Boilen: I got a note last night — do you know the musician Dan Deacon at all?
Grohl and Novoselic: Who's that?
Boilen: He lives in Baltimore. He does great community-oriented electronic music. Big parties. Anyway, Dan Deacon sent me a note last night and it made me think of what you were talking about. He said, "Why don't you guys release the stems, the original tracks of each of the records, because people can learn so much from what's on those tracks. Just hearing them."
Grohl: It's true. When digital technology started becoming the norm, you've got 50, 60, 70 years of recordings on tapes that are just deteriorating. Like, a two-inch reel of recording tape won't last forever. It dissolves. It will disappear. So when digital stuff became what everyone uses, people started taking these two-inch tapes and archiving them digitally so that the recording would last forever. The tape might disappear, but you download it into a computer and that will last forever. So, in doing that, all of a sudden on YouTube you started getting the isolated tracks. Like, Freddie Mercury's vocal track from "Under Pressure." And it's just his vocal. Or, like, Paul McCartney's bass line from "Hey Bulldog." And it's just his bass line, and it's amazing, man. I mean, any studio dork like me has spent countless hours listening to the bass track from Def Leppard's Hysteria or something, just wasting valuable memory space in my brain listening to these things you'd otherwise never hear. And it's really, really cool, because you hear things that you might not have ever heard.
Novoselic: The bass line to "Bohemian Rhapsody." I've [played with the stem], and it's on YouTube. There are Nirvana stems [recorded, but not available on YouTube].
Grohl: For sure, man. "Killer Queen"? You ever listen to the drums for that? You listen to it and you're like, "Oh my god, they decided they were gonna keep that?" It's raw! It's great! One of the great things about it is one of the reasons why an album like In Utero still sounds fresh today, is because it's the sound of three people. It really is. There's imperfection and inconsistency, you know? We didn't scrub it up and polish it and clean it up and hand it to you. We recorded it, sometimes only once, and then decided that's what you needed to hear, because it's real in that way. And I think that when I hear a song from In Utero come on the radio in between maybe other popular modern recordings, it really stands out, you know? Because it sounds like us, and the only people that sounded like us were us, you know? That's the way a musician should be. A musician should only sound like what they do, and no two musicians sound the same. It's an individual-feel thing, you know? It's one of the greatest things about that record. Like, we totally achieved what I think what we wanted to do. There was an integrity in our band that we wanted things to be real, honest and real, and that's In Utero. It's entirely that.
Novoselic: In Utero is a testament to the artistic vision of Kurt Cobain. It's kind of a weird record, and it's strangely beautiful at the same time. And if you look at Kurt's paintings and his drawings — he even did a sculpture for me — it's a rising, tortured-spirit person. It's kind of weird. It's done well, but it's like what Dave was saying about having your own sound. Kurt was a great songwriter. He knew he had a good ear for a hook [and was] a great singer, great guitar player, and In Utero is a good representation of what he liked in art and how he expressed himself.
Boilen: That's beautiful. Anything to add to that?
Hilton: I feel like that's a good point to let you guys go. But I did want to ask you about some of these previously unreleased cuts. What can you tell us about the "Forgotten Tune" demo?
Novoselic: Well, "Forgotten Tune," we found it and were like, what is this song? And I don't really remember. And [we were], like, what do you want to call it? And I'm like, I don't want to give it a name, so let's just call it "Forgotten Tune" and let people make up their own minds what it is. But I remember the main riff in that tune was, like, from 1988 or something. Just trying to, like, bring back a riff. "All Apologies" was from 1990, and "Dumb" was a pre-Nevermind song. "Pennyroyal Tea," [Dave] and Kurt were getting crazy some night down in that apartment with a multi-track cassette recorder, and "Pennyroyal Tea" came out of that. It's just kind of, like, there were new songs we were trying to revisit, old ideas ... "Forgotten Tune" just represents that idea. "Let's see if we can make something out of this."
Boilen: So let's go out on that. We'll go out on "Forgotten Tune." And, so the 30th anniversary, then, will have all the stems of all the songs. You promise that, right?
Grohl: It will just be the drums.
Hilton: I'd buy that.
Boilen: Dave and Krist, thanks a lot. I really appreciate your time.
Grohl: Thanks a lot.
Novoselic: Thank you.
Note: At the band's request, "Forgotten Tune" is only available to hear in the audio of the full show, with the link at the top of the page.