Krist Novoselic on Kurt's Writing Process and the 'In Utero' Aesthetic
Krist Novoselic of Nirvana performs in Frankfurt, Germany.
"I listened to a lot of Nirvana lately," bassist Krist Novoselic says one morning in early September. It is a couple of weeks before the release of a deluxe 20th-anniversary reissue of that band's 1993 album, In Utero – the last studio record Novoselic made with his late friend and Nirvana's leader, singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain. Novoselic worked closely with drummer Dave Grohl (now leading Foo Fighters) on the project, which includes a definitive remastering of the original LP, a new mix by its producer, Steve Albini, and early demos and rehearsals.
"There is a lot of baggage that comes with it," Novoselic says of all that listening. "It brings back a lot of memories – good memories, painful memories. But it's good music – good rock music."
Novoselic spoke to Rolling Stone for a major feature about In Utero and Cobain's final, convulsive year before his suicide in April, 1994. The setting for the interview was far removed from rock madness: the children's reading room in a public library in Longview, Washington, an hour-or-so's drive south of Aberdeen, where Novoselic and Cobain first met and, in 1987, started what became Nirvana. Novoselic, now 48, is active in state politics and studying for an online-university degree in social sciences.
He still plays bass, as well as accordion. Novoselic recently recorded with ex-R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck for the latter's next solo album and describes, in this additional excerpt from our conversation, the eerie thrill that came during a session last year with Grohl, guitarist Pat Smear – who played with Nirvana on the In Utero tour – and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Novoselic is proud to be, as he puts it, "the Nirvana guy" – a link, for fans and newcomers, to the music and history he made with that band and his friend. "I mean, what a privilege."
But when asked about the downside – that he and Grohl are forced to carry that weight and memory in Cobain's absence – Novoselic replies, firmly, "Kurt carries the music still. All of that music is a testimony to his artistic vision. Dave and I aren't carrying the music now. It's Kurt."
You've talked about the difficult state of relationships in the band at the end of 1992. Did you wonder if you would ever get to make a followup to Nevermind?
Things were not like they used to be. But one thing we liked to do – we liked to play music together. And that's what it was all about anyway. We were a band. We did those Laundry Room sessions [on the In Utero reissue] with Barrett Jones, at his house. We never had our own rehearsal studio. We were always bumming studio time from the Posies or somebody. We rehearsed on Bainbridge Island, in Tacoma, in Seattle, wherever we could find a spot. Barrett had a multi-track recorder. If we had something like that, there would have been so much more music.
How did song ideas come into rehearsal?
There were songs that Kurt would woodshed. He would come in with it, and we would work it out, build it up. There were songs that were made up on the spot, coming out of jams, which took a few rehearsals to come together. But they would find form. That was another thing with Kurt – he could have a riff, but then he was so good at vocal phrasing. He would usually write the lyrics at the last minute. But he was so good at vocal phrasing [in rehearsals]. And voilà – you have a song.