1992-1994: Maps

I don’t want to lose whatever respect or credibility I’ve earned with you but I confess I’m listening to Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted for the first time ever today. Apologies for delay too, office systems down so all a bit chaotic.

Now…As promised, the conclusion of Nirvana U.S. touring in map form! Though not the Salem of witch trial legend, it still seems neatly coincidental that Nirvana’s most testing year would commence in a town of that name. While previous years have taken me two or three slides to capture, the whole of 1992 can be taken in one:


I even abandoned the naming convention I’d previously adopted given Salem is the only ordinary looking show on the map. Nirvana essentially abandoned America for the full year; two TV shows, two benefits, two secrets. If it wasn’t for the thirty days out in the Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hawaii), and the smattering of European festival shows, it’d be entirely possible to declare the band missing, presumed dead. I’m being gentle including the TV shows.

It does explain some part of why, despite Nirvana being an American band, something like Reading 1992 should loom so large in the popular imagination; the entire peak of Nirvana’s fame, as far as live concerts went, was spent off abroad at these kinds of show. Reading would have been one of the view shows all year where a massive press contingent could be guaranteed. It’s precisely the reason Britain receives tonnes of U.S. news; there’s lots of footage and reportage, it’s therefore cheap to buy and as a result we all get to learn it.

1993 was basically more of the same; America’s finest nowhere to be seen — I’m being kind including Saturday Night Live just to expand the engagements:


That changes, however. The map becomes almost impossible to follow given how much the band crams into the final months of 1993. This is the most extensive touring Nirvana has done in the U.S. in their entire history. Looking back at past posts, at the maps for 1991, 1990, 1989, there had been big tours before but the scale and coverage achieved this time around was unprecedented. Of course, one thing to point out is that this kinda touring isn’t exactly uncommon for bands — this was the age of multi-year tours taking place, show after show… Nirvana staying out for the best part of three months was long by their standards. Having kicked off in Arizona (red line) the band took the obligatory pop over to Canada between Ohio and the start of the North-East U.S. visitation (blue line, November) and then the criss-crossing of central and western states in December:


1994 was the usual post-Christmas smattering of appearances. On this occasion, however, given the finality of ensuing events, it seems apt that Nirvana should retreat so far into their own past. The map needed to show the band’s U.S. presence in 1994 barely needs to show more than the map for 1987, or 1988—they hop across the borders of Washington State to two locations, they head home, then gone:




Nirvana in the U.S. 1991 – Maps

These maps take time, apologies for the delay!

The onset of major label time did break up Nirvana’s touring activity, the band barely made it out of the West Coast for most of 1991. In some ways this was the key Nirvana trend, long periods of localised activity, sticking to ‘home turf’ for months on end: Tour_Jan-Aug 1991

Of course, compared to 1987 to mid-1989 that ‘turf’ did now extend all the way down through California with Washington State only soaking up a certain amount of time. The band’s trip round the U.S. in September-October followed a regular pattern with the path set so that after running in circles in the North-Eastern states, most of October was always bringing them closer to home:

Tour_Sept-Oct 1991


Studio Life


The trailer for Dave Grohl’s documentary on the Sound City studio where Nirvana recorded Nevermind has just emerged. I enjoy the snippet where Brad Wilks, drummer of Rage Against the Machine chuckles “we chose Sound City because Nevermind was recorded there,” as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world that less than a year after Nevermind’s recording it had already set such a standard that RATM should want to work there.

The trailer dwells briefly on the death of the studio in 2011 as newer facilities took over and digital became the way of the future — it also implies that the decline of the music industry and the spread of low-cost recording technology has put paid to the recording budgets that allowed dedicated studios to thrive. Yet this isn’t an uncommon piece of the Nirvana story. As well as Sound City, Reciprocal Recording, Nirvana’s key locale, had already closed by mid-1991. It then became Word of Mouth Production and saw one Nirvana session in 1992 until it too closed in 1993. The list goes on; Butch Vig’s Smart Studios (Nirvana, April 1990) went out of business in 2010; The Music Source in Seattle which Nirvana recorded at in Autumn 1989 then again in January 1991 survived from 1969 to 1996 before owner Jim Wolfe closed it down. Viewing the history of Nirvana studio visits means looking over a clutch of tombstones.

It isn’t all gloom of course; Robert Lang Studios (Nirvana’s home for the fleeting January 1994 visit) remains a fully functioning facility, meanwhile Pachyderm Studios (In Utero sessions, February 1993) rolls on happily. Yet, following the trail, means coming across not just the ‘dead’ studios, but the lost. I can’t even find present day evidence of the BMG Ariola Ltda studio where Nirvana recorded in January 1993. BMG Ariola no longer exists as a distinct entity, the facilities themselves are now hidden somewhere inside the Sony identity. The name has gone, the location may or may not still exist, the owners have moved on — until someone furnishes me with the evidence it’s no more than a spectre.

There’s already, however, a sense in which studios were something more than a physical space. By the time Nirvana hit Barrett Jones’ Laundry Room Studios in 1992 it had already moved through four locations in Arlington, Virginia before settling in Seattle. The history page of the official website then shows it shifting through a further four locations from 1993 to present day. The point being that with the studio gear changing, with the location shifting so fundamentally, it’s unclear whether the studio is more than a name. Yet, actually, the name itself has significance. Instead of marking the physical presence of bands in a defined location, Laundry Room Studios remains as a marker of Barrett Jones’ first efforts in his parents’ basement laundry room. So, again, there’s a personal history, this time of the producer and owner, inscribed into the existence of the studio making it (for want of a better phrase) a mind-space floating free of present day location; tethered somewhere in the past.

That’s the wider point hinted at by interviewees in the trailer; there’s a spell in which they sit reciting lists of bands and artists who made use of Sound City. While focused on a single location, the studio’s significance within the trailer is as a haunted house. The past presence of an artist shouldn’t have any relevance to someone recording there but that link back to their predecessors seems to spark smiles on a host of places (“That’s what I’m talking about!” says Dave Grohl to emphasize the significance of studio ghosts.) Past residents act as a mark of taste, a source of inspiration, a reassurance that one has made it; music tourists walking through the phantoms. The studio is decorated to ensure this particular point is unmissable; the cameras trail down walls loaded with memorabilia indicating the people who haunt the hallways and the past records that acted as ancestors — in the sense of being previous Sound City recordings — to whichever album was being made in the present. Pachyderm Studios takes this to a further extreme given it houses a Neve Mixing Console that previously saw service in Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland studio and the Record Plant where John Lennon among others recorded. Even the equipment in the studio is haunted by those who came before.

It’s often hard to separate a celebration from a lament; there are few tributes until the life of something is passing — memory and remembrance imply a look back at what has gone. When interviewing Miti Adhikari about his involvement in Nirvana’s penultimate radio session, I asked (long-windedly) “the studio in which these songs were recorded, some producers seem to work hard to minimise or eliminate room noise, to what extent did the studio in which the songs were recorded matter to the music created?” I was just meaning the physical conditions.

His answer reinforced the sense that the value of a studio isn’t so much about the technical facts of recording or its physical realities. He replied; “these songs were recorded in Studio 4, Maida Vale. The studio is legendary, as it is easier to name the artists who haven’t recorded there than the artists who have. The place reeks of history and music and anyone who records there is acutely aware of this and wants to play their part in creating yet another bit of history. The sound of the room is the USP and has been loved by musicians through the ages.”

Again, Dave Grohl refers in the trailer to “the social” in music; it seems that a lot of that communion isn’t with those who are present; it’s with the ghosts in the machines, in the walls, with the echoes rolling through the building.

Well, anyways, here’s the breakdown of Nirvana’s time in studio by number of days spent and songs recorded.

Studio_Number of Days

While Sound City was the longest committed length of time Nirvana spent in studio in one go, Reciprocal Recording was the place where a core chunk of Nirvana songs were made. I sometimes wonder if the flitting between studios in 1992-1994 was a physical manifestation of Kurt Cobain’s discomfort with making music…

Studio_Number of Songs

Nirvana 1990 Tours

Darn. Got home late last night and no sign of the draft book – cross fingers for today!

1990 contains a virtual repeat of the first half of 1989. The band kick off in Washington State, then swoop down the west coast through California, dipping out into Mexico, briefly visiting Arizona, back into California, back home. A further jaunt abroad, just across to Canada, follows then, finally, April sees the band off on the road again.

April kicks off in Chicago, then is broken up by further shows in Canada, dropping across the order to Toronto and Montreal before returning to blanket the North-East U.S.:

April 1989_Part 1 and Part 2

That second part is certainly confusing, the band returned to Massachusetts three times, Pennsylvania twice, hence the “cat’s cradle” style map work. This led directly into another run right back across the U.S., twelve shows and a mere fifteen days getting them all the way back to Idaho and then on to home (waving goodbye to drummer Chad Channing at the same time):Tour_May 1990


This was followed by a decent pause as the band regrouped, acquired temporary drummers, then returned to the road with a short jaunt down the West Coast:

August 1990 Tour


That tour, starting in Las Vegas, ended with a run from Seattle across to Vancouver. September-October was a quiet spell; Dan Peters only show, then two practice outings in Olympia for Dave Grohl before his full ‘blooding’ in the full European tour that saw out the year.


Mapping Part II

From January 1989 onward, Nirvana finally broke their boundaries and moved on:

January sees Nirvana’s circle widen to encompass Portland, February and they make it as far as San Francisco and San Jose. Though persisting in their retreats to the safety of home, the band are spreading down that Western seaboard. It’s like seeing a child growing in confidence; come June they return to Portland, return to Seattle, back out to San Francisco…And then, thanks to Sub Pop’s ambitious plans, the doors open:

It gets harder to follow the band in map form, but let’s try. It’s just a different way of looking at things; the storytelling mode has been well done:

Followed by a breather back in Seattle for a couple months before:

It took the band two years to even make it two states on, then suddenly, in the next six months the band play in eighteen states scattered across the entire United States and over thirty shows, more than in the whole of 1987-1988. That must have been quite an experience.

Mapping Nirvana in the U.S. 1987-1990

In yesterday’s posts I just rambled over the tables, today I’m doing the same via maps. I find it intriguing watching the band’s horizons widen and expand. In 1987 this was a band that barely made it more than a few hours from home, even a drive all the way from Tacoma to Raymond is barely 100 miles. Nirvana really was a band from the middle of nowhere; a lot of bands wouldn’t travel to Seattle because it was so far from the main strip of big audiences and gig locations yet this band wasn’t even a Seattle band at this point – here’s 1987:

The gathering momentum is visible, again, when 1988 is mapped:

There’s still a time lag, however, it isn’t like 1988 starts and the band have moved up a gear. Until that first April show in Seattle, over a year since their first gig, the band are still stuck trolling between Olympia and Tacoma.

It’s clear though that from April Seattle becomes the adopted live ‘home’ very swiftly. Between April 1988 and the end of the year those eleven Seattle shows immediately mean the band have played there more than anywhere else, Olympia may be important but it’s no longer where the future lies.


Mileage Part II

Just a brief evening component…


Again, looked at by country, I’m not sure we’re seeing any great surprises except how closely matched the U.K. is by Germany. In terms of their presence as a ‘live’, real-life experience rather than just a consumable video/audio product, the rest of Europe had as much claim to the band as we Brits did. The thorough criss-crossing of these countries is noticeable too, for example, this is Nirvana’s visits to Germany:


It’s a rash! They peppered the country with visits and took in most major cities at least once. The U.K. is even more thoroughly carpet bombed. Again, Canada stands out simply as an indicator of how centred Nirvana was in North America; quick jaunts across the border made sense over and over again hence Vancouver earning its six visits.

Mileage out of Nirvana

Firstly, a sincere thank you to Nirvana Live Guide, their guide to Nirvana shows sets an incredible bar and I haven’t seen anything of similar depth or knowledge for any other band. Amazing. I’m sure the next chart won’t show anything people aren’t already aware of — for me, cramming the data simply acted as a reemphasis of how true some statements are:

Yes, Nirvana truly are a Seattle band and yes, they really are a Pacific North-West band with an allegiance to Washington State. Just for emphasis…

I guess I simply hadn’t realised how dominant Washington State was in the history of Nirvana. The band visited Tacoma as much as New York. It also emphasises how U.S.-centric the band was; despite eight tours abroad (plus two one off foreign shows in 1992) only seven non-U.S. cities receive more than two visits, three of them still being in Canada or Mexico. It’s intriguing to me how much attention Reading 1991 or 1992 receive, or the Astoria Lamefest in 1989; what I think we’re seeing is how influential the U.K. based music press are in comparison to any other nation’s music media. Sub Pop were right in terms of their strategy; take the U.K. media and you won the world…So long as you toured like crazy in the U.S. to back it up. The story of Nirvana is dominated by foreign shows but I can’t tell at this range whether I’m seeing reality at the level of the fans, or whether I’ve adopted and assimilated a message written mostly by U.K. music journalists in which the U.K. shows look huge despite the low numbers. Seeing how much work Nirvana put in within U.S. borders I admit it makes me think that their fame was more down to that hard graft and less to self-regarding British journalists declaring XYZ U.K. based gig crucial…But as the majority of us never experienced the band live, as we only know them as an audio, video, photographic experience – does that then make the U.K. shows the winners?

This final graphic shows two elements; one, the fact that Nirvana were so heavily focused on Washington State and their West Coast U.S. neighbours that they performed over one hundred shows in just three states. To put that in context, Nirvana only played 121 shows abroad in their entire career — given how centred the U.S. entertainment business is in California, in some ways gaining a reputation in that region was as significant as all the work abroad.

This table also emphasises, to me, how much work Nirvana put in to their success; they visited 37 of 50 U.S. states — significant mileage into some backwood locations to spread the word. It makes Nirvana’s rise to fame less miraculous but far more impressive in many ways; the status they achieved was down to hard slog not just because moneyed powers plucked them from obscurity and set them atop the music industry.

We’ll play more with geography later today – its a neat diversion and I enjoyed crunching the information…