On the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Remote Control’s Steve Cross remembers interviewing the band on their Australian tour.
Nirvana were touring Australia. When was that? They were without a doubt the biggest band in the world and everyone was reeling and slightly elated that such an out of left field band could knock the whole music scene sideways.
I was doing the Friday drive show at PBS in Melbourne and at the time Bill Walsh of The Cosmic Psychos was working at the station. His band had recorded with Butch Vig just after he’d produced Nevermind (and before it was released). He had the inside track to Nirvana and set up a live to air, face to face interview for me. I’d done a run of pretty cool interviews around that time including Sonic Youth and Nick Cave, so a part of me thought it was just a part of the Friday afternoon set up for the show but I’d admit I was pretty excited and kinda nervous.
About an hour in to the show I was advised that the band had arrived and wandered out in to the foyer. Dave and Krist were talking to Bill in the office area and Kurt was playing pinball when I introduced myself to him. I was kinda surprised by how boyish he appeared – quite slight, almost like he had the physique of a 13 year old boy. All three band members came through to the studio. Dave and Krist sat down at the microphones and it was at this point that Kurt announced that he wasn’t going to actually take part in the interview and that he’d leave it to the other guys. He then stood directly behind me, out of my line of sight. The record I was playing came to a conclusion; I faded it down and turned the mikes on.
What followed is really fuzzy in my mind. Dave and Krist were amusing and charming, if a little jaded by too much travelling and too many interviews.
However the interview was massively derailed when Kurt suddenly started answering questions and joining in the conversation. No bad thing, except he was still standing right behind me and was way off mike and I started freaking out that listeners might not be able to hear what he was saying. He rapidly became the most vocal person in the room, but I wasn’t sure he was going to air and he had no intention of getting closer to the mike. My radio skills are semi-professional at the best of times and any control I might have had over the situation quickly evaporated.
I know we talked about their reaction to suddenly being the biggest band in the world and what they planned to do next. I asked them about the Seattle scene and what other bands we should be checking out. They seemed much happier to talk about other bands rather than themselves. At some point they started going through my records and were asking me to play certain tracks, which meant I was desperately trying to cue up song live on air as they thrust records in my hands. I recall one track they insisted I play was a song I had already played on the show before they arrived, but they really wanted to hear it so I gave it a second spin.
At some point Kurt came across a record in my pile by The Leaving Trains and asked me if I liked it. I said I liked the song Rock & Roll Murder, cos it was a really sloppy, low slung piece of rock n roll goo. He said they sucked and went in to a rant against them. He was probably right. But I later discovered that Courtney Love had previously had been married to Falling James, the band’s main guy, which might have coloured his opinion and explained his disdain.
I have no idea how long this chaos went on for. I know we played a few songs by other people and Kurt continued to speak off mike for the entire thing. At some point I found a moment to give him a book I’d found in an op shop. It was a hardback pulp novel from the 50s with a remarkably beautiful painted illustration on the front cover of a blonde femme fatale. It was called Death May Be Your Nirvana.
The interview came to an appropriately shambolic end. The band departed and I returned to the studio to discover I had been so wrong-footed by the entire experience I hadn’t recorded it. For the next few years I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t have a record of it gathering dust on a shelf, but at the same time thought it was a relief that it had just been a moment in time, one that was there and then gone. However about 10 years later somebody mailed me a cassette of the whole thing that they had recorded off the radio as it happened. It took me a while to summon up the courage to listen to it, especially given the sad passage of events that had followed. I finally gave in after a few weeks and put it in the player. In truth it wasn’t as terrible as I’d recalled. Chaotic, yes. Lo-fi, for sure. But it was also full of life, funny and endearingly unpolished, which made up for some of its other failings.
I’ve never listened to it again. But I regularly wonder what happened to the book.