http://clashmusic.com/features/its-the-heaviness-the-layers-the-noise-d%C3%A4lek

Was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak to Will Brooks of Dälek – it’s interesting watching some of the same spirit that motivated the U.S. punk underground surviving in numerous forms. In the end I suspect it isn’t the music that creates the culture, it’s the shared culture, the people, first – the instruments and sound come after ward.

Also wanted to share a lengthy review (thanks Brett for noticing it) of ‘Cobain on Cobain’ from PopMatters. Megan Volpert is a very experienced and expansive writer so enjoyed reading this on many levels.

http://www.popmatters.com/column/cobain-on-cobain-edited-by-nick-soulsby-sad-rest-of-kurt-cobain/

In other ‘stuff’…Well, I wasn’t so chirpy about the Melvins’ latest – but, as ever, it doesn’t matter because those guys are an idea fountain and there’ll be new, fresh thoughts spurting out of them soon enough. In the end I admire a band willing to walk the high-wire and fail publicly – at least these guys ain’t save even if this is far from their best record. The track with Krist Novoselic, alas, I was too distracted by the horrors of the accordion to even notice the bass playing so I’ve not got any deep analysis of this latest on vinyl outing for Mr. Novoselic. I would say though, love that ‘The Decay of Lying’ track. Awesomeness.

http://www.wordsandguitars.co.uk/2016/07/melvins-basses-loaded/

http://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/31722/1/listen-to-previously-unreleased-nirvana-recordings

Interesting, since early last year the locks seem to have fallen off the ol’ Nirvana vaults somewhere down the line. My suspicion is that activity surrounding Montage of Heck led people to hunt out buried tapes, source material, to surreptitiously snag copies that are now emerging. That’d be ironic if part of the impetus around MoH was for the Estate of Kurt Cobain to safeguard the material.

So! What does it amount to? Incidentally, yes, I’m doing something I find fun and comforting – chatting about the music of Nirvana – to distract me from the dreary reality of the U.K. voting its way out of the EU. Probably best I don’t get into that one eh?

The first piece of interest is the emergence of ‘Lullaby’, a title that has floated around in fan circles (as ever kudos to LiveNirvana) for years. What does it amount to? Alas, not much. A jammed out improv with organ to the fore. There’s a guitar part low in the mix but is there – it seems all three members of Nirvana were in on this. The drum sound makes me think it might be Cobain drumming (thoughts and opinions welcomed!) Alas, these stabbing chords and little strolls don’t offer much and the band clearly know there’s not much left to offer other than a final shambolic breakdown. Noise is a good refuge for any jam that has run its course. Shame it didn’t quite live up to it’s name – I think I’d actually been hoping for some kind of slight ‘Marigold’ style acoustic piece.

Speaking of Marigold…Two versions have come out. The instrumental take one of Marigold is intriguing for giving a sense of what a more muscular guitar part might have lent to the track. The decision to keep it as a light pop tune, something whispered and gentle, certainly created something unique but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have potential to be a more standard fit for the Nirvana template.

Take two of Marigold, again an instrumental, seems primarily intended as a run-through of the drums. The guitar part is far more familiar but the drums are more forcefully delivered. Maybe it’s my ears but the drums seem to become more confident as it develops, like this is a practice exercise, warming up, Dave coaching Cobain through it until Cobain has it ready for what will become the proper cuts.

Oooo… ‘Dave Solo’, southern-fried boogie-down grunge rock! It’s pretty likable! The scratchy guitar sound and the growling rhythm guitar fit beautifully, it’s something different to verse-chorus-verse, works well as a relatively brief n’ spunky run-through of basic ideas and doesn’t outstay its welcome. There’s basically just a couple of thoughts at work in it, pretty-vestigial, no sense of how it might shift or develop…So it doesn’t, which is fine for a sub-two minute running time.

There’s also a barely different version of Dumb released. To be fair, by February 1993, Dumb had been worked over for so many years it would have been stunning if there were any significant changes or inflections left to make to it. The only thing I noticed is the absence of backing vocals (and perhaps a slightly less powerful delivery of the “I think I’m dumb” outro line:

Just for fun, here’s Dumb from KAOS 1990 too – nice to compare the takes and the small elements that shifted 1990 to 1993. The humming on the chorus is a lovely touch and does make me wonder if he was using a vocal sound to indicate where he already imagined another sound (the cello in 1993?) would substitute:

 

To finish on a high note…Now THIS I could listen to all day. Some kind and awesome soul has spliced together Nirvana’s ‘live destruction’ efforts from 1991 into two ten minute efforts. Ah…The sweet sweet sound of Nirvana torturing their instruments…

 

 

http://www.wordsandguitars.co.uk/2016/05/jaccuse-jesse-hughes/

Doesn’t time fly? Here we are in late May and it’s been ages since I last posted. Many apologies, a full month of ill health, final preparation on the Thurston Moore book I’ve been working on, plenty of my real job to do, a lot of real life.

The attached piece written for Words & Guitars is…Well, I’m less temperate or mellow than I’d be ordinarily. Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal made a batch of comments about what happened at the Bataclan in Paris last year. Why does it bother me? Because this is friends of mine he’s talking about, these are people I love and care for that he’s calling terrorists when they’re just as upset or worried by it as anyone else. The day I see Jesse Hughes take responsibility for crimes committed by white Christians is the day I’ll suggest that the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are anything other than individuals getting on with their lives as, unfortunately, the usual ragtag bunch of idiots present in any society or group ruin it for the majority.

Here’s the letter shared by one Muslim survivor of the Bataclan attack:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/24/jesse-hughes-eagles-of-death-metal-paris-attacks-bataclan-survivor

And here’s the piece regarding the gentleman who saved several hundred lives that night:

http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/02/05/465551737/in-france-a-quiet-hero-belatedly-comes-to-light

 

http://www.wordsandguitars.co.uk/2016/03/in-conversation-tad-doyle-on-brothers-of-the-sonic-cloth/

Had the pleasure of chatting to a very perky Mr. Tad Doyle a little while back – finally finished writing it up.

 

The second interview piece filmed by Omnibus Press. Basically I wanted to yak on about Nirvana/Cobain’s relationship with the press – how it isn’t as one dimensional as is often portrayed, that’s there’s a clear evolution and progression in how the band relate to the media.

The first spell is simply one where, like any new band, they’re barely noticed – a few lines here and there, a quote or two. Likewise Cobain isn’t singled out – it’s almost always the band as a whole being interviewed because the underground isn’t as prone to ‘superstar syndrome’. During the next spell, the majority of media activity happens around touring, snatched time here and there – with the band complaining that there’s not enough of it, that Sub Pop aren’t doing enough to arrange interviews for them. Nirvana’s media activity continues in this off-on tour/off-tour cycle until into 1991 when Geffen are doing a tad more and Nirvana’s status as a major label act (and increasingly one of the top draws in the underground) garners them more attention.

The explosion in late 1991, as you might expect is where things get crazy. The band have to try to find a way to cope with it and they, very sensibly, begin to divide-and-conquer. They’re increasingly interviewing with different people all in the same venue, it’s the only way to accommodate the quantity of attention – and they really do try to accommodate everyone. They’re a courteous bunch and they do their best until it becomes simply too overwhelming.

The nature of the attention influences what occurs at this point. Previously, they’ve mainly been talking to people from fanzines or the music press who possess a fair idea what’s on in the underground – sometimes people who have their own bands (like Paul Kimball who was in Landsat Blister and Helltrout). After September 1991 there are magazines calling who would never have dirtied their hands with anyone Nirvana call their friends, who wouldn’t have bothered with Nirvana until ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ set things on fire. The band are increasingly less inclined to handle these requests except where they have to.

Cobain retreats. This is where the stereotype of the ‘difficult’ relationship with the media commences – and it becomes the dominant story simply because it occurs during the phase of peak attention. It overlooks the years where Nirvana (and Cobain) wanted more attention; it overlooks their attempts to speak to everyone – there’s just too much. Add on Cobain’s troubles plus the media’s natural urge to separate the front man from the rest of the band (the standard media ‘rock god’/’guitar hero’ stereotype plays best where its one person with everyone else in the background) and then recall that late 1991 is the heaviest spell of touring and performing Nirvana have ever embarked on – the exhaustion and desire for peace in 1992 makes a very human sense.

Novoselic shoulders a lot of the duties, the rest of the band speak up and shield Cobain from the attention. The band try to find some good in their situation so increasingly try to use their podium to share the spotlight with favourite bands and artists. A little further down the line they’ll start to talk up good causes too.

But the real game-changer is the attacks on Cobain’s new-found family in Autumn 1992. It brings him out of his media exile because he needs to use the media to launch his counter-offensive. This is when Azerrad is brought in to write the ‘official’ biography, this is where he starts talking to a few more journalists at major newspapers and lifestyle magazines.

1993 is much the same – interviews on tour in South America, In Utero promotion is very much a group affair, then 1994 is another drop into silence…

 

IMG_5582

The paperback edition of ‘Cobain on Cobain’ is out on Omnibus Press now too. Different cover, same content (yes, I still pretend to be American throughout the entire introductory essay – I’m so used to spelling American English by now, drives my friends up the wall when I write dates as March XX, 2016 rather than keeping things English…)

As a diversion, I also wrote a piece about Nurse With Wound for the Vinyl Factory recently:

An introduction to Nurse With Wound in 10 records

IMG_5583

The main connection between the Nurse With Wound piece and ‘Cobain on Cobain’ would simply be the value of immersion. For the NWW piece I submerged in the music for a full month – it’s amazing how things start to tie together, connections get made, the brain gets used to one sound or another simply through lengthy exposure… For ‘Cobain on Cobain’, imagine pulling that process out to a full year (to be fair, I drowned in Nirvana from Feb 2012 until early 2015). Listening to interviews, transcribing material, reviewing translations, viewing the videos, reading the printed works, heading back to the existing interview volumes or to a few of the magazines I have here, going back to the biographies to check and re-check my timeline, hunting down the copyright holders, discussing the interviewers’ introductions with them… Finishing ‘Cobain on Cobain’, having done ‘I Found My Friends’ and ‘Dark Slivers’, did feel like coming up for air.

The main drive through those three years has remained pretty constant; I wrote ‘Dark Slivers’ because I felt I could say things that hadn’t been said in the existing bibliography – I felt there were quite a few books I could ‘beat’. As a fan I’d collected 40-odd volumes already and I was so sick of the posthumous ‘sainthood’ articles and their overloaded cliches – if I could just create something more original than that, something that added something, then I was happy. ‘I Found My Friends’ and ‘Cobain on Cobain’ then became two sides of a coin; hunting down all these people who have never spoken about performing with Nirvana – getting their testimonies down on the page, shared with the fans; then getting a good chunk of rarer interviews with Cobain and Nirvana, his own words, down on the page, into the libraries and shared with the fans. In each case I knew what had come before and wanted to beat a few of them…

Anyways, there it is. ‘Cobain on Cobain’ for what it’s worth. Hope it’s a fun read if you take a shot on it.

 

I’d like to thank Mitchell for popping up and asking me to speculate on Nirvana’s next direction in light of the material shared on ‘Montage of Heck’ – if I did the math I suspect we’ve now seen more of Nirvana’s leftovers than we did original songs while the band was actually a living entity. Do they, plus other rumours tell us anything about what ‘the next Nirvana album’ may have been?

Ultimately, after all this time, the answer is still “we know nothing.” While preparing ‘Cobain on Cobain’ I was delighted to be permitted access to the full 40TV video footage of Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl being interviewed (in two different settings) while in Portugal in February 1994. It’s a fun piece, they’re enjoying themselves, then there’s a moment where they look sheepish, where the high spirits fall away:

Interviewer: I’ve heard that you’re going to release another album in several months. How will it be deeper or more poppy than this one?

DG: I don’t know. We’re still trying to figure it out. We’re just experimenting. Might be really weird.

Interviewer: But have you already composed songs or not yet?

DG: A few.

KN: Few, yeah.

DG: Just a couple. We’re still — we don’t know what we’re going to do yet either. It’s kind of — it’s up in the air right now. Still a mystery. To us.

They move on swiftly to talking about Grohl’s work with the Backbeat band. They’ve no desire to halt the cavalcade, but this is a huge contrast with late 1991 when Nirvana were all confidently claiming that they had the next album plotted out and ready to release in ’92. This time ‘a few’ becomes ‘a couple’. They have no plan at all for a new album – not even a vibe they’re thinking of following. In Sandrine Maugy’s interview with Dave Grohl a few days later in Paris, they talk about everything but the idea of new music from Nirvana isn’t even mentioned. There’s nothing here.

The more one looks, the more things recede into fuzziness. Michael Stipe is clear that he invited Cobain to join him and R.E.M. in March 1994 simply because he was scared about Cobain’s state of mind – it wasn’t a plan for a collaboration, it was a musical intervention. The idea that Stipe was about to halt R.E.M.’s own album recording plans for ‘Monster’ in order to record a fully-fledged body of work with Cobain is simply unreal. R.E.M. were in studio in February, booked in again for early April – there’s no time.

Similarly, the ‘Lollapalooza Tour EP’ idea is supposedly the next Nirvana product meant to emerge after the ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ single – again, however, there’s nothing except an ‘idea’ for a release, no substance at all. Interviewing members of Geffen management for the ‘I Found My Friends’ book they were clear there was nothing they recall even discussing at the time. The label’s hottest property’s supposed new release wasn’t worth remembering because it never existed.

What about ‘You Know You’re Right’ though? It’s a demo, a good one, but still a demo. There’s obvious work still to be done to create a credibly releasable song. Its status comes posthumously not because it was album-ready/release-ready at the time. Pat Smear has suggested he was told he could add parts to it but as nothing happened even he is unwilling to confirm that the song was deemed complete. It is true that on ‘Nevermind’ and on ‘Bleach’ Nirvana used older recordings from previous sessions (‘Polly’, ‘Floyd the Barber’, ‘Paper Cuts’ – ‘Downer’ was a later bonus) but it seems that was a decision taken during album sessions, not a deliberate plan. It makes it unlikely ‘You Know You’re Right’ was something being placed in the can ready for later.

And ‘Do Re Mi’ suffers from the shadow cast by MTV Unplugged. Though a titanic performance, that session was a contractually obligated TV format Nirvana was required to adhere to if they wished to perform. It therefore says nothing about Nirvana’s own intentions though they were flirting with acoustic segments for a time in 1993. Nirvana’s albums are over 90% electric all the way – the idea of a new singer-songwriter direction, though alluring and possible, isn’t substantiated by any evidence. ‘Do Re Mi’ itself was unlikely to remain in its unadorned bedroom demo form – when Cobain strains for a note it sounds more like the technique he uses on other home demos to indicate where he’d be adding a scream to the final amplified version.

People point back to Cobain leftovers to claim the band could have cobbled together a complete work, forgetting Cobain’s strong pride in his work, his deep consideration of the final form and selection for each album. ‘Old Age’ was long abandoned – a gift to his wife so no longer even a Nirvana song. With ‘Talk to Me’ there’s, so far, no evidence supporting rumours it was played in ’94 though there is clear evidence that it was so uninteresting to Cobain and the band that in the numerous sessions from spring 1992 onward, all those concerts too, they didn’t even attempt it. ‘Opinion’ and the original ‘Verse Chorus Verse’ had gone missing years earlier too. The use of 1990-1991 songs for early 1993’s ‘In Utero’ is well testified; but is poor evidence for other resurrections.

There are other places to look for potential songs, of course, the https://nirvana-legacy.com/category/unreleased-n-posthumous-nirvana/ thread on here is loaded with them. The unknown rehearsal instrumental added to the In Utero deluxe was so dashed off no one involved had even remembered it existed. Then there’s the ‘unknown’ song that gets played twice in late 1993 and at the January 1994 session – now that, at least, is a credible new Nirvana song but it’s still only a minute-and-a-half shred. Alongside ‘You Know You’re Right’, however, it certainly lays to rest the idea that Cobain was abandoning the effects pedals and volume. Heck, Nirvana didn’t even play MTV Unplugged, unplugged.

One could look to his various home demos with Courtney Love to tease out future works:

The Key Category of Missing Kurt Cobain Songs: Love Collabos

Except nothing seen so far has been a truly credible new song – they’re whimsical games. There’s little to see so far though I look forward to the eventual archive release.

Others hold out great faith for Cobain giving up being the guiding force in Nirvana and letting Dave Grohl shoehorn some songs in – to be fair, at least he had the material:

Dave Grohl and Songs for Nirvana

Again though, I just don’t see it. This was Cobain’s fiefdom – he might take the odd idea, try the odd b-side, but handing over a percentage of an album to his drummer? This wasn’t a democracy.

On the bright side though, Nirvana were quick, disciplined workers in studio – there’s no reason to claim they weren’t capable of jamming together a bunch of songs over the course of 1994-1995 in the way that ‘MV’, ‘Gallons’, ‘The Other’, ‘I Hate Myself’, ‘Milk It’, ‘Serve the Servants’ and so forth don’t seem to have existed until late 1992. These were talented and experienced musicians.

…But the question “what do the demos currently available show?” The answer is they show Cobain had one unknown song he was tinkering with; he had ‘You Know You’re Right’; he had ‘Do Re Mi’. Three datapoints isn’t enough to draw any kind of pattern. The ‘Path to an Album’ posts (https://nirvana-legacy.com/?s=path+to+an+album) suffered from that same point – that the past isn’t a perfect guide to the future. It’s speculation.

And it’ll always be speculation, which is kinda fun isn’t it?