41 Artists Reflect on Nirvana’s Nevermind Turning 30
The world changed 30 years ago today.
Though it took a few months before the proverbial train left the station, the rumblings from the underground completely blew up when college rock and punk blended to form alternative rock, with Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl serving as the conductors.
Nevermind’s legacy is firmly and safely entrenched in music history. It’s been discussed so many times before, but here’s the CliffsNotes version.
All of these years later — even though Nirvana burned out instead of fading away — Nevermind continues to resonate. Cobain’s powerful lyrics are still influencing people of all generations (maybe not Boomers, but Gen X and beyond) and their musical tastes. It still serves as the gateway to rock for countless fans.
When SPIN spoke with Novoselic last year while naming Nirvana our most influential artist of the past 35 years, it’s exactly this that he marveled at.
“It’s the individual connection [to the music],” Novoselic told us at the time. “I still get fan mail, and when I used to go out in public, people would tell me how Nirvana changed their lives. Something about the music just connects with people, and it’s very personal to this day.”
The album kickstarted an entirely new way (especially in the peak MTV era) of how musicians were perceived. The ’80s and hair metal were on the way out, and new — albeit sometimes reluctant — bands were now in the spotlight. That wouldn’t have happened without Nevermind.
Lots of pretenders got rich after Nevermind, but soon they would be left in the dust.
We asked artists (usually we stick to 30, but for fuck’s sake, this is Nirvana so we cheated) to share with us why they think Nevermind remains a touchstone in music history and how it impacted their lives. One theme that it all comes back to: authenticity. That’s what Nirvana stood for and will forever be the legacy of Nevermind.
Perry Farrell, Jane’s Addiction/Porno for Pyros
It’s a testament to who they are as people that it’s lasted this long. Absolutely and young people and old people alike should understand that. When you come from a place of good intention. You’re eternal. When you don’t and when you lie, and when you make up fake shit. You know, the world spits people like that out. Everything gets uncovered. Nirvana was real. That whole record is perfect.
Jerry Cantrell, Alice in Chains
It was ’92 when that record really took off and when everything really came together. Nevermind is one of those records, forget rock and roll history, it’s just it’s a really significant record. It’s a perfect piece of work is what it is. There was a good handful of those I would argue in our little town. That one I think is obviously the crown jewel, nobody can really compete with the reach of that record. It’s perfect from beginning to end. The artwork is amazing, the band was was in perfect form on that record. Bleach was cool as fuck, but this this this was something else. This was a whole other level.
Every song on it is great. But my personal favorite is probably “Come As You Are.” This has got that real dreamy cool roll to it and it’s sexy and well written. Kurt truly was an amazing songwriter. He did a lot with a little, you know what I mean? Very simple. Very simple songwriting. Super powerful. Great melodies, great lyrics. And the band is badass, Kurt Krist and Dave — it was just amazing.
Patrick Carney, The Black Keys
Nirvana really turned me on to the contemporary rock and roll music that I love. I’d been listening to the Stones and Beatles and things like that, but it seemed like I wasn’t even paying attention to MTV until “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I remember turning into MTV and it seemed like you know between Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica and Pearl Jam, there was so much cool music. I still gravitate towards Nevermind. Not that many records can fuck with Nevermind. For me, it was such a turning point in my life. I like every single song and some days, I’m a “Territorial Pissings” guy and others I’m a “Lithium” or “In Bloom” dude. But I like every single song.
Paul Banks, Interpol
Nevermind was released when I was 13, and by 15 I had decided that rock music would be my course in life – a decision 100% inspired by Nirvana and this record. I bought every magazine and read every article that talked about them. I drew pictures of Kurt from photo clippings. I learned how to play the big riffs. “Come As You Are,” “Teen Spirit,” “Lithium” were the go-to’s for 13-year-old guitarists of the day. I watched MTV religiously, daily, to see Kurt jump into the drum kit during the video for “Lithium”: the coolest thing I’d witnessed at that point.
My mom even used to rock out to Nevermind with me on car rides. And despite being an angsty teenager, possessive of my heroes, I was happy she enjoyed it. Because it was ineffably dope – a classic, perfect record – universal, for moms also.
It seemed to me at that time that Nirvana took over the world. And in retrospect, it still feels that way. They ushered in the soul of the ’90s, and set the bar for authenticity as the millenium closed. They changed the times as much as they signaled a change in the times.
Phoniness, pretension, pomp – all fell away from pop music for a while, and Kurt’s primal scream, raucous guitar playing and sledgehammer lyrics woke everyone up, setting dreams like mine in motion.
In closing, I’d point out also that not enough can be said here or elsewhere in celebration of the thunderous rhythm section provided by Krist and Dave – always equal parts ominous and danceable. A rare and exquisite combination of vibes – always incredible. I imagine Nevermind still ignites minds as much now as it did then. And I’m so glad to have lived for it.
“Weird Al” Yankovic
Whenever I do a parody, I always strive for authenticity… so when we shot the “Smells Like Nirvana” music video, we did it in the same gymnasium (actually a soundstage) with the same janitor, cheerleaders, and even many of the same moshing fans that Nirvana had in theirs. Similarly, when we did the cover for Off the Deep End (which is a direct send-up of the naked-baby-in-a-swimming-pool Nevermind cover) we got the original photographer and even used the exact same swimming pool. In light of recent news, it’s been suggested that perhaps I should consider suing myself over that album cover, but… I don’t know, seems kinda counter-productive to me.
Taylor Momsen, The Pretty Reckless
Sometimes music and culture need a reset. That’s what this record seemed to do; it took everything back to the start. When you have a great singer, who writes great songs and doesn’t compromise their art, combined with the perfect recipe of drums, bass and guitar, it can take over the world. And I’m so glad it did. So many of us wouldn’t be doing this without their influence, myself included. Nirvana are simply…great.
Car Seat Headrest
I remember hearing “In Bloom” when I was about 10, playing on the radio as my parents drove me to Blockbuster. Last month, I heard “Come As You Are” in the bathroom of a newly-opened bar and grill. These are songs which not only survive the minimalist, often soul-sucking landscape of FM radio; they tower over their peers as some of the most thrilling, timeless pop songs ever recorded. Kurt Cobain studied the Beatles and loved R.E.M., and the DNA of both is seen clearly in Nevermind, in its emphasis on the tension between parts. Each song is a constant ebb and pulse of energy: it presents itself, then withdraws, then slides back into full throttle, holding the listener at the throat as it plunges into the next section with an inescapable snare fill or vocal line. This is three-dimensional music, for sure.
And that is Nevermind’s hidden strength, what makes it more than tight pop craftsmanship – these songs, with their strange chords and strange words, unfold themselves out of miniature proportion to project an entire world, a massive, dark, and deep vision. The lyrics of songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Lithium” are not merely cryptic; they are specific. Each song taps into a particular strand of emotion that no one else would think to identify, let alone try to write about. Yet in Cobain’s hands, they come out starkly defined, and alarmingly intense – elements of his soul, rendered in ultra-precise origami.
My mind didn’t stand a chance from this music. By seventh grade I had the Greatest Hits comp, and was eagerly making my way into the unhinged experimentalism of Incesticide, the poetry and raw production of In Utero, and the glimpses of far-out creative energy shining throughout the three discs of With the Lights Out. These works redefined my notion of what music could be, and Nevermind is the proof that it can all be summed up into a simple, powerful, coherent whole.
Kathy Valentine, The Go-Go’s
The time when Nirvana and alternative music was breaking into the mainstream, I was detached from contemporary music and in the beginning of a deep, long love affair with jazz. I was newly sober as of 1989, and discovering Miles, Coltrane, Bird, Wes, Kenny, Barney, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith etc etc etc, was a lifeline—music that emotionally moved me like none ever had. It replaced being high! Nothing new could compare! I also had zero interest in the cult of personality surrounding Kurt—seems like I shared that lack of interest with the guy himself. The only thing that made me grateful to Nirvana was how their success obliterated hair metal and power ballads and the dreck that had taken over since the mid-’80s. The cool thing is that good music endures, and way after the fact, I got to appreciate Nevermind and In Utero. I’m happy to find music the way I find it, when I find it, without the hype and press and fandom surrounding the initial ascent.
David Lovering and Joey Santiago, Pixies
David Lovering: When that came out, I heard the tape of it from my wife at the time. It was just like, “Whhhaaaatttt?” It was different at the time and very, very wow. It was new in such a way that it changed things. It seemed to change the landscape in a way. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the killer song on it.
At the time, the Pixies were touring. When I heard Nirvana, our manager at the time said, “Oh, we have a band Nirvana that could open up for us.” And I was like “I don’t think so” [Laughs.]. I don’t think would be a wise decision at that moment for us to turn the tables around.
A story going back to it, through mutual friends, we were friends with Kurt and Courtney. With some other friends, we all went to Magic Mountain. This was on Super Bowl Sunday 1992 or whenever it was and this is when Nirvana were HUGE. So we meet there on a Sunday and Kurt is in pajama bottoms. We’re walking around doing the park going on rides, there was nobody there [If there’s any word of advice, if you want to hit any theme park or something like that, in this day and age, go on Super Bowl Sunday]. We’re walking around and stuff like that having a good time talking and stuff like that, then this kid walks by. He was like [whispers] “Oh my God. It’s David Lovering!” I’m looking around like “What are you talking about? I’m standing next to these two right here [points at Cobain and Love].” It was surreal and we laughed about it afterward.
Joey Santiago: For that album, I saw the merch before hearing the music since I don’t listen to the radio. Then I turned it on and it was like, “Oh, my God, it’s a big deal. A BIG deal.” It was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and it was like “Oh yeah, it does sound Pixies-ish.” It reminded me of “UMass” for some reason but there’s other elements to it. And I thought it was a good song, a great song. Then it took over the world.
It’s obviously a great record. I’m not the first one to say that. But I am in awe of it.
I like to think that bands have a sense of humor. There’s a lyric on “In Bloom” that says “Knows not what it means when I say yeah.” And in “Lithium” the fucking chorus is “yeah.” So I thought that was hilarious. That’s why it’s my favorite one, just because I do find it, for myself, the humor in the chorus where it’s just “yeah.” I think it’s very, very funny.
Nevermind is one of the hardest rock records of all time whether you love Nirvana or not. They’re special like that. I can hear their music in so much music that’s still being made. The musicality is high, the writing is incredibly tight, and within all of the production and cool tricks – you’ve got some of the most emotional and creative music ever made. Like ever. So shoutout to this record and the millions of lives it’s touched.
I have a strong connection with the album because these songs have been there for me throughout my entire life. I can’t say that about any other body of music. When I was young, I vividly remember seeing the posters everywhere, hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio and loving the melodies. As I got older, Kurt’s lyrics became very meaningful to me. “I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now entertain us,” I resonated with this lyric because you have to be vulnerable as an artist. I felt Kurt understood exactly how I feel when I create.
Every time I hear the lyric “Come as you are” it inspires me to embrace who I am, nothing more, nothing less. It’s such a beautiful song that reminds me to pursue self-love and acceptance.
I don’t think Kurt Cobain realized the impact he would have on so many generations when he wrote Nevermind. It’s an honor to cover one of these iconic songs for such a massive audience.
“Come as You Are” is one of the most metal songs ever written. I wouldn’t want to try to interpret it too heavily but to me, the feeling is that it’s just about not being a fucking faker. As in, come here and be in my presence and tell me what you really think, whether we like each other or not, and I’m not gonna hurt you. We can sit here together with our differences and not pretend or veil our intensities or whatever it is we try to hide from each other. Kurt was a mastermind in the way he could write lyrics that do so much more showing than telling. You can look at the words on paper and on their own they’re a little like trying to read William Burroughs…the meaning is all in the way it’s felt and delivered. He was a really intuitive writer. I used to drive around in my car at 2 am my freshman year of college cracked out on coffee or Red Bull or some shit, and blast the CD, which I bought used from Grimey’s in Nashville, and just imagine that I was gonna get to scream my head off onstage like that someday.
Dale Crover, Melvins/Nirvana
Melvins visited Sound City when they were making the record, so we heard mixes pretty early on. Sonically it sounded bigger and there was more production involved than on the first album. Bleach was done relatively quickly for hardly any money at all.
I thought that “In Bloom” was the best song. I would’ve picked that one for the first single over “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was a fun one for me to play live as well.
Of course! We were good friends! They had already recorded earlier versions of some of the Nevermind songs with Chad on drums and Butch Vig producing. Chad left and I filled in playing live dates for a West Coast tour with Sonic Youth. “In Bloom” and “Lithium” were both in the set.
Kurt and Dave both stayed at my house in San Francisco when they were traveling down to Los Angeles to record the album. We went to my rehearsal space where I had a cassette four-track recorder and worked on an unfinished song Kurt had called “Drain You.” I played drums and Dave played bass. Dave didn’t have a drum part yet and ended up using the drumbeat I came up with. That recording is on the box set.
Robert Levon Been
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
I remember Nevermind being literally everyone’s everything, and their music videos being played on a surreal constant loop. I think I hated it at first because it seemed as popular as Coke or McDonalds overnight. Something just felt off around that time like your pre-approved counter-culture was brought to you by NASCAR/MTV. It took me a year to listen to the album without bias and understand how painfully genuine and brilliant every one of their albums are.
There are very few works of art though that can weather that nature of a storm exposing a society of excess and all its fetishized machinery, still oh well, whatever, nevermind.
What a time shift that Nirvana brought to life during a time of expansion, finding more freedoms, and mixing genres of music. They actually broke a lot of previous rules while flirting with death, mayhem and destruction in songs, titles, drugs, life and sex.
I felt like that when I was with Funkadelic, but we could have walked down in the middle of town, shot each other, and nobody would have given a funk! Lol
Being as good as they were, and Generation X morphing into what they were feeling at the time, really helped in the creation of the movement that was waiting for them to show up and show out—and show up they did. They actually made it to the light while tempting darkness through their music. Which is a sacrifice everyone is not willing to take. Nirvana did!
Music gives life, while it takes others away. Thx u all for your gifts and dedication.
Curt and Cris Kirkwood, Meat Puppets
Cris Kirkwood: I recall listening to Nevermind for the first time and realizing afterwards that I could remember pretty much the whole album after hearing it just once. Sick! Wonderfully thoughtful song craft, spot on production, such a kick-ass band…it’s a hell of a record!
Curt Kirkwood: I remember the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”…I was getting ready to play a show in Boston and it played over the house sound system. It sounded so damn good but I had no idea who it was. My brother Cris said, “that’s Nirvana.”
A while later I listened to the whole album…I was floored…entertaining on so many levels. What a great band and Kurt could sing anything and make it sound just the way it should. My hat’s been off to them ever since.
Jon Foreman, Switchfoot
I remember hearing Nirvana’s Nevermind for the first time. I was a freshman in high school in the passenger seat of my friend’s VW bus. We were on our way to go surfing when someone popped in a burned cassette of Nevermind.
From the very first song we all knew something was happening. It felt like time stood still. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”… it’s such a simple song. And we’ve all heard it a million times by now. But even today, it still feels so potent, so important. So vital. I remember the first time I heard it, after the song was over, we all just sat in the car, stunned, wide-eyed. Someone pressed rewind so we could listen again: Four simple chords and a drum fill… felt like the starting of a new universe.
Nirvana was the first American band that I had ever connected with. Up until that point, I was only interested in the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, U2, and the Police. Whenever I was learning their songs I always felt like a bad actor, trying to pretend to be something that I wasn’t. But when I played Nirvana, I felt like I could just be myself. No airs. No fake accent. I could just be who I was: this pimply, post-pubescent kid that had just moved to California and didn’t really fit in anywhere. Nevermind was an atomic explosion; it matched my inner landscape perfectly.
Zane Lowe, Apple Music
I really can’t overemphasize how life-changing it was the first time I heard Nevermind. It was that eureka moment that millions of other people had and it was just this undeniable bolt of lightning. Music just didn’t sound the same after that. Going back to it 30 years later, it’s as exciting and visceral and heart-wrenching as it was the first time we heard it. It’s simply one of the most powerful records ever released.
I was just a little kid when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” But funny enough, not from Nirvana. Moulin Rouge had just come out and they did a re-imagined version of it in the movie. I was so obsessed. I didn’t understand the lyrics yet, but I still felt connected to them. And after doing some digging I realized it was a cover, originally by a band called Nirvana from an album they released 10 years earlier. That’s when I bought Nevermind on CD. I wasn’t a depressed kid, but I was definitely different from the rest and Kurt’s voice has always made me feel understood. I typically never liked dark, grungy chord progressions as a kid, but the songs were just too good. Nirvana was the exception. Listening to the album as an adult is a whole different experience. As a musician and songwriter, I hear things now I didn’t as a kid, and I appreciate the artistry so much more. Upon first listen, Nevermind is loud, angsty and in-your-face, but after I really sat with it, I discovered how delicate and poetic it really is. And that made me connect with it even more. Nirvana has been such a huge inspiration for me and my own music. When Kurt screamed, I fucking felt that shit. If I can have that kind of effect on my fans, then I’ve done something right.
Christof Ellinghaus, City Slang Records founder
The first time I heard Nevermind was in late August 1991. I had just picked up Courtney Love from the airport in Berlin and we were zipping across Germany, where she was supposed to do interviews to promote her band Hole’s debut album, Pretty on the Inside which we were to release a few weeks later. The night before, in Chicago, she had hooked up with Kurt for the very first time and she was still very clearly enchanted. She pulled the advance cassette of his album out of her handbag, and it ended up being the sole tape we listened to on the entire road trip. She kept taking notes, shouting out jubilantly when she spotted another, “Look, this is totally Pixies!” Or, “Man! He totally ripped off the Beatles here!” When we arrived in Munich, we turned off the engine and during the first moment of total silence she said, “This will change everything.” Which, to be fair, it did…
The discovery of Nevermind was, for me, a life-changing event. A friend named Ashleigh used to write band names on the white strip at the bottom of her Chuck Taylors; I recall first seeing Nirvana as a name scribbled in sharpie. Prior to that my music preferences ranged from Yellowcard to The Who to Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC. Rock and Roll was what I felt in my spirit, but the language of my thoughts did not yet exist. Nevermind gave words to the knowing feelings of loneliness that I had always experienced, the sense of un-belonging that came with my black sheep upbringing as a mixed-race child in a black and white world. The hauntingly powerful statements of disaffection resonated with me like nothing before, and few things after ever would.
Joan as Police Woman
In ’91 I was living in a loft in a deserted part of Boston’s South End. I’d been deep into all the Sub Pop releases. I’d go to their shows no matter who was playing because they had built such a solid roster. I saw Nirvana for the first time at Green Street Station in the late ’80s. I don’t know if it was their first show in town but there weren’t many folks there. Same deal when I saw them the next year at ManRays — where the Sub Pop bands began to get booked. I remember them ripping both times.
My friend Stevie from DC loaned me his car that summer. It came with a homemade handwritten advanced cassette of Nirvana’s new album, Nevermind, from his friend Dave Grohl, who had recently become their drummer. I had been looking forward to hearing this record. I had already played Bleach to death.
I remember being surprised and blown away by the sound of it. It felt like a big step away from Bleach but still sounded like the same band, just dressed in a slicker outfit. It had been obvious Kurt had a way with melody but these songs and production highlighted the catchiness of the songs in a new way. I did think THIS SHIT IS GONNA BE HUGE. I mean, this was not hard to predict. Every song was amazing. It hit harder than anything I had heard. It was filled with hooks. Kurt’s clever/cutting lyrics and singing style were now audible.
My boyfriend Colin and I took that car on a trip to the Cape. We started the trip with that cassette in the stereo and it just remained the whole time. We were planning on having a beach vacation and instead a hurricane hit. It was very symbolic. The record hit us all like a hurricane.
At the time I worked at this rock-n-roll bar called Bills. It was owned by the same people who owned the club next door, Axis, where I would see Nirvana play for the third time. I remember Kurt’s face. He looked freaked out. There were 500 people there as opposed to the 50 at previous shows. This was September 23. I knew all the words. The next day Nevermind was released. From then on, the world knew all the words.
T Hardy Morris
I feel like the grunge sound and movement spoke for Gen X in that its core ethos was plain: resignation. Obviously, nothing exemplified that more than the album Nevermind. In modern history, young people had spoken up, protested and attempted to lead the charge over this issue or that — and while strides were certainly made, the systems still held in the end. That’s why, after the ’80s and the long-held sway of Reagan, young folks truly felt unheard, unseen and “oh well, whatever, nevermind.”
While I do feel the above statement holds some truth, it is also too simply put and doesn’t account for the incredible ear for melody and songcraft that Kurt Cobain had. He was a pure artist who created his own world lyrically and melodically and infused it with the power of punk rock in a way that created anthems that I am not sure he nor the band had the intention of creating. That’s the power of good, lasting art. You can’t really put your finger on what makes it so great, it just is… All elements working together to create something greater than its parts… sounds cliche, but so true with Nirvana.
I owned the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cassette single which had “Even in His Youth” on the B-side. I would listen to it over and over and honestly, after a while, preferred “Even in His Youth” — it remains one of my favorite Nirvana songs.
I was talking with a friend once about that cassette single and how amazing and impactful “Teen Spirit” was when it hit the airways. He said, “Man, Nirvana could have finished that album, printed only one CD of it, thrown it in a river and it would have washed up, some kid found it, heard it and it still would have spread worldwide in the exact same way!”
As a teenager, I was on the path of trying to find my own identity through the music I connected with, as so many others are as well at that stage in life. Nevermind, though being released six years before I was ever born, was something that gave me a place to release so much buried tension even as a lonely, disillusioned 15 year old. It was for me, one of the opening doors to deeper grunge pockets of music I hadn’t been exposed to by my family or peers’ tastes.
“Lithium” and “In Bloom” are loud, a little chaotic and still to this day feel just as exciting and as much of a sense of release as they did when I was an, albeit, late to the hype teenager listening alone in my room at 2 am in my parents’ house.
Ricky Young, The Wild Feathers
I was 9 years old when Nevermind came out. My aunt bought me the cassette and my dad and I played it loud as hell in his Chevy Blazer. Up until then, “rockstars” wore spandex and makeup and were beyond over the top. It was cool until it wasn’t. All of a sudden, being in a band was obtainable to me. It was my generation’s Beatles on Sullivan. The most important thing about Nevermind is that it holds up. Great songs never go away. And Nevermind has 12 great songs that we get to have forever.
I just think in general, Kurt Cobain was one of the greatest observers of the world and culture. He was also the greatest communicator of his observations. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Territorial Pissings” are all commentaries on the things he sees and feels. We live in an age with so much news, information and tragedy, and Nirvana’s music is striking a chord again because he was hoping for the better but seeing it get worse. My favorite song is “Come as You Are” because the production and movement is iconic.
Troy Nelson, KEXP DJ/The Young Evils
I was a 14-year-old skateboarding metal kid who stayed home on Saturday nights to watch MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and learn Metallica riffs on my guitar. Then I saw the video premiere for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and paid close attention because a few friends suggested I would like this new band called Nirvana. The very first thing I remember was that this guy’s hair was cut to shoulder length and I had never seen that before. I kept watching and telling myself “it’s heavy but it’s not metal, it’s not really punk but has a punk attitude, and it’s melodic but not cheeseball. It ended up becoming my whole world. Nothing sounded like it. That voice was my voice, I just hadn’t found it until that moment. It was an audio version of exactly how I felt. They made me feel way less alone, it was like a dream come true. I’ve lived in Seattle now for 20 years and as I get older, I’ve had the fortune of befriending many people that worked with the band.
Hell, I’ve even hung out with Dave and Krist on a couple of occasions and have interviewed Butch Vig twice. I have asked all these people so many questions about that time around Nevermind to try and figure out how it actually happened. I was looking to find that “X factor” so maybe I could understand the whole picture and maybe even apply it to my own life. That album was lightning in a bottle and I have to get to the bottom of it. Low and behold, every answer I got from all of these people has led me to realize that it was purely, and simply, organic. I’m always looking for an “aha” moment, but there isn’t one. It was truly just a vision of these artists and it just so happened to resonate with an entire generation. It wasn’t a dream, it was real. Every so often, the power of art can ravish the landscape like a mammoth firestorm and leave a beautiful destruction in its wake. It leaves us forever curious and inspired. Even after all of the information I’ve received about that moment in time, I’m still searching for more. I’m still inspired to create because of it. I’m still that 14-year-old small-town kid swimming in daydreams and wonderment when I hear those songs. I’ve been trying to write the next “Smells Like Teen Spirit” since 1991 and even if I keep failing to match it, it’s been a magical source of motivation and inspiration.
Dale Stewart, Seether
Nirvana Nevermind. Has it really been 30 years?
I’ll never forget that night, I mean being invited to a party by the older kids was really something special. On top of that my crush would be in attendance and this was my chance to trick her into believing that I was cool and maybe even making out! Sadly neither goal came to fruition but something else very special happened that night, it was the first time I heard Nirvana. More specifically Nevermind. Wow!
Growing up in South Africa we didn’t always have great access to international music but when “Nevermind” blew up it kind of transcended everything. It was like the spearhead to a cultural movement that’s effect was felt ten thousand miles away. Being a young teen at the time with an interest in music and playing guitar it blew me away, it really spoke to me. Shaun and I grew up on different sides of the country but I know he had a similar experience, perhaps even more profound. “Nevermind” is the album that made him pick up the guitar and learn to play it. I guess it literally changed his life.
And that’s the beauty of that album, the songs are accessible. Simple, melodic and catchy, dripping with raw emotion and energy.
As a band we’ve done many different Nirvana covers, two of our favorites being “Drain You” and “Something in the Way.” I can’t speak for the rest of the guys but if I were to pick a favorite from the album it would have to be “On a Plain.” I love the bass line!
Which brings me to another thing, I think Krist Novoselic is an underrated bass player. Cheers!
Myles Kennedy, Alter Bridge
I think what was going on in Seattle, which was essentially their own thing, was very insulated and very different from what was going on in the mainstream at the time. We were seeing and feeling some of that just because we were four or five hours from Seattle. But, once the record dropped, once “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came into the public consciousness, it was like the door was kicked down. Suddenly all the things that I was seeing in my area, would just spread like wildfire.
I don’t think I realized at the moment, how much it was going to change things from that point moving forward. I was a guitar teacher at the time as well and was playing in bands at night — it was almost like from that day forward, 50% of the things that I was showing my young students were Nirvana songs and they didn’t care about anything else. “Show me ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.'” That was a good way for me to gauge how big a band was going to be. They definitely loved that riff. My favorite riff on that record was “Territorial Pissings,” and that was just pure energy and badass.
I was coming back from up north with my family – I was 12 and my parents were always trying to expose us to interesting music, and as the second youngest of four, I had more or less no choice but to go along with it. this time they decided that it was time for us to listen to Nevermind. while jarring at first — it was unlike anything I had ever heard — on repeated listens it only made more and more sense, like a record I had been looking for but had never found previously.
I’d have to say “In Bloom” because of the forward-looking ideas Cobain expresses about fame in America — his disdain, irony, and humor about what it means to be idolized. for a young songwriter, it’s an interesting perspective, about the pitfalls that can come with a record that he sensed would change his life and a whole genre of music.
There is something about the way they expressed themselves – wearing dresses and skirts, bug-eyed glasses and other things that looked ridiculous at the time. not only do we see those things reflected in modern fashion, we see that attitude coming up more often, of not caring what other people think. that’s what I take away and will always love about the band beyond the music.
Everything on Nevermind is a hook. The vocal melodies, the guitar parts, the drum beats, the drum fills, and the lyrics. You’d be hard-pressed to find catchier songs anywhere else. I was 13 in 1991, and I had fallen in love with some punk and metal, but it all seemed like it had already happened and I was playing catch up. This was exploding right in front of me just as I was wrestling with religion, sex, drugs and rock and roll for the first time, and I’ve loved that haunted, perfect record ever since.
As an artist who’s been navigating mental illness and mood disorders since the end of my teens, songs from nirvana often speak to the condition and conflicting feelings I experience, especially in a song like “Lithium.” Trying to find the right cocktail of medications just to feel alright is a near-impossible and ever-changing challenge.
I’ve taken lithium on and off over the years. this song really reminds me of what it’s like adjusting to life in the lithium groove. being happy is always a struggle for me, no matter what. There isn’t a song on Nevermind that doesn’t remind me of that constant ache and longing for it to all be better in an ode to the overwhelm. On “Lithium” in particular, the line in particular that gets me is “I’m so lonely, that’s okay, I shaved my head and I’m not sad” because I have never been okay any of the times I have shaved my head, which is three. But instead, I’ve been in this deep denial that somehow a drastic change will fix me.
Bob Mould/Superchunk/Split Single
I was 20 years old driving my used Honda Civic hatchback on Padonia Rd. outside the Baltimore beltway when I heard the song. I had to check the radio station. This song was punk rock and metal and it was haunting so why was it on 99.1 FM? In 1991, WHFS played college rock like Billy Bragg, Love and Rockets, Jesus Jones, and The Sugarcubes. It was alarming to hear “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on that station.
I had formed a punk rock band in Evanston when I was 10 years old. We were called Verböten – the umlaut was a nod to Hüsker Dü. Punk was my generation’s music. Our parents liked rock but they didn’t understand punk rock so it was ours. Nevermind took many of those influences (Killing Joke, Bad Brains, The Stooges), slowed it down to a sludge at times, and made it so damn catchy. It spoke to me immediately and I was confounded by its popularity – not because the album and band didn’t deserve it but because I was so used to this music, our music, being largely ignored.
In 2011, I played a small 200 capacity club in Milan, Italy. We were the early rock show before the room turned over to a dance party. The DJ started playing loud pulsing beats for 18 and 19-year-olds immediately after we finished while I packed up my bass and amp on stage. The room was full and moving. About 10 minutes in, the DJ played “Come As You Are.” The room erupted and the kids sang every word. I was, once again, confounded.
When I listen to Nevermind now, I’m struck by the power of Kurt Cobain’s voice. Yes, he had a great scream but his lower register notes are no less compelling and authoritative. Most of us singers have sweet spots – keys that we sing stronger in than others but Kurt had tremendous range.
Maybe not enough has been said about Krist Novoselic’s bass parts and playing on these songs. In any trio, a weak link is sure to be exposed if they aren’t carrying their weight. In songs like “Lithium,” Krist is choosing the fifth instead of the root or playing a counter melody in the choruses while Kurt and Dave Grohl repeat their parts. It’s a beautiful thread below the darkness.
Dave’s drum performances on Nevermind are a combination of memorable parts and superb playing. You can’t pinpoint his influences to any specific drummers because his style was and is so different. The parts aren’t flashy – more deliberate than anything. His now iconic full bar fills are a powerful warning of the next Cobain hook and wail. With Nevermind, Dave Grohl became a legendary drummer at age 22.
How many times in your life do you remember exactly where you were the first time you heard a song? I have that one.
Justin Osborne, SUSTO
I was around 14 or 15 when I first heard Nevermind, and it came completely out of nowhere for me. This was around 2002-3, so it was already an iconic album, and Kurt Cobain had already been dead for almost a decade — I had just missed it before (other than a Weird Al parody that I didn’t realize was a parody until I heard the album). I would’ve been 4 when Nevermind came out, and 7 when he died…so odds are I wouldn’t have been aware of it either way, but also I grew up as the oldest kid in a pretty sheltered religious family, so I just hadn’t been exposed to much alternative music at the time. This all changed when my friend got his beginner’s driving permit. We would cruise around listening to music, and that’s when I discovered Nirvana. My friend had older siblings, so he was always hearing about new music through them and sharing it with me. I remember just becoming absolutely obsessed with the album. I bought it at this place called Ray’s Discs & Tapes and would just play it all the way through on repeat. This went on for months and the album eventually acted as a springboard for me to find other music. Still when I hear songs from Nevermind, I feel like it’s a part of me. The lyrics and tone just resonate. I know it really stood out as something new when it was first released, but I think that breakthrough sound still resounds with so much authenticity, intelligence and nihilism that it’s dark but also inspiring. When you’re a kid and you’re still forming a worldview, that sort of raw power just sticks with you. It still sticks with me. I still feel like the 14-year-old riding around in that old Nissan, blasting Nirvana.
Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum
Michael C. Hall
It’s a fundamental threshold. There’s before Nevermind, and after it. “‘Lithium.’ The melody is addictive, it’s a masterpiece of transcendent self-loathing, and the lyrics get across the singer’s state of mind by saying the opposite of what is true: “I’m so happy,” “I’m not gonna crack,” “my will is good.” Salvation is unattainable, and s/he knows it, so may as well embrace the chemical mind field suggested by the song’s title, a word that does not appear in any of the lyrics.
Nevermind renewed the immediacy and urgency in rock music.”‘Breed.’ It is as close to the perfect grunge/punk song as one can get. The fuzzed-out guitar intro, followed by machine-gun drums and razorwire bass, reaches cruising altitude in seconds, and the intensity does not cease. The guitar solo is a fuck you to the overwrought technicality ’80s guitar solos (which I love too), favoring noise and abrasiveness to musical complexity. Yet all of this is supported by the lyrical/melodic beauty of the chorus …. staggering.
A couple lifetimes before Michael C. Hall, Matt Katz-Bohen, and I started Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum in NYC, I was living in a Beverly Hills pool house playing drums in what would become The Wallflowers with Jakob Dylan. Jake, who was also a really good painter, had recently quit going to Parsons in Greenwich Village after just one year and he was back in L.A. to start his first band.
The Wallflowers early days were a lot of fun because Jakob was writing his first songs and that kind of has a first kiss-ness about it. I love the energy of a new band forming, the suddenly found family, the dreams and the dramas. We jammed in a garage behind The Whisky on Sunset Blvd. The Wallflowers had a much edgier sound in those early days and I like to think I brought some of that energy to the band on the drums.
Our rival band in town was called The Freewheelers. We would play shows with them sometimes at the Coconut Teaser, or Gazarri’s, and one time I didn’t let their drummer Craig borrow my drum kit at a show (after he politely asked me) because I was being a dick. I mean they were our rivals. I felt bad about it later. His name was Craig Aaronson and he had a day job sorting mail at Geffen Records. We eventually became friendlier.
One time Craig invited me and Tobi from The Wallflowers to drop by Geffen. We acted like it was no big deal but it was really impressive.. Craig had worked his way up in the company quite rapidly and he was now assisting A&R guy Gary Gersh who had recently signed Nirvana. Craig was actually working on the Nevermind record with Gary which was due to be released in 2 months. On our way out he casually handed us an advanced cassette of Nevermind.
Tobi and I put the cassette in his car’s crappy tape deck and started driving home. What happened next is kind of a blur. But I do remember after Dave Grohl’s first snare fill in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” filled the car we just looked at each other and started screaming our faces off. We freaked the fuck out. It was the best thing we’d ever heard, and we knew right then and there it was gonna fucking explode. It was like knowing a bomb was going to blow up in exactly two months. And boy did it ever.
It was everything, this perfect alt-rock storm of pure youthful energy, pop melody, and smart-ass brilliant poetry. Explosive and catchy .. and sexy too. We just drove around Beverly Hills that day blasting it over and over again. I mean It changed everything. It certainly changed me as a drummer from that moment on.
On The Wallflowers’ first record you can hear Dave Grohl’s influence on my drumming in the song “Sugarfoot.”
And in my band Morningwood I directly ripped off “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when I wrote the song “Nth Degree,” a loud/quiet anthem with lyrics that act as a sort of ‘love letter’ to the band itself.
Nevermind’s DNA is all over our band Princess Goes to the Butterfly Museum’s music as well. The quiet/loud ethos permeates most of our work, especially in songs like “Airhead,” “Angela Peacock,” and “Vicious.” Where they used distorted guitars we use synths. With Michael C. Hall as our singer/lyricist we have our own dark poet who consistently surprises with his ability to find new ways to spread his words, stories, and melodies over the music like butterflies on toast.
Long live Nirvana’s Nevermind!!!
Rasmus Stolberg, Efterklang
Many people think Efterklang are classically trained musicians gone prog-rock-pop whatever and that’s why we sound the way we sound, but for me personally, Nirvana is the school I went to. I grew up in the countryside in Denmark and we played almost all the Nevermind songs in my teenage band (the In Utero songs were too difficult for us). Soon after we started writing our own songs in a similar style. Before I discovered Nirvana I was diving deep into my parents’ Beatles albums and I considered them gods. Nirvana became the Beatles of my teenage years and looking back I still consider them gods. Sometimes I imagine my life without being in a band – without making albums and getting up on stage – and it scares me to lose that huge joy of my life. When I have those thoughts I calm my mind by saying “you could maybe start a Nirvana cover band” and that thought makes me happy. I think I can take almost any “real” job if now and then I get to go up on stage and perform Nirvana songs with some good friends.
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