Nirvana‘s Krist Novoselic has spoken to NME about the 30th anniversary of their seminal album ‘In Utero’ – as well as the potential of using AI to complete and restore old music, and the chances of the surviving members dropping new material.
Released 30 years ago today (September 21), the grunge icons’ third album would go on to be their last, with frontman Kurt Cobain taking his own life just seven months later. Produced by Steve Albini and containing the singles ‘Heart-Shaped Box’, ‘All Apologies’ and ‘Rape Me’, the record proved highly influential as a merciless and uncompromising response to the phenomenal success of predecessor ‘Nevermind‘.
“When you listen to it, it goes somewhere,” Novoselic told NME of the album’s enduring legacy. “It’s dark, it’s beautiful, it’s all points in between.”
“It’s bittersweet. We recorded it in about a week and a few of the songs were the first take. We were well-rehearsed and loved playing together. That was our glue as a band. We played live and it was live to tape.”
He continued: “It’s amazing what can happen when three people with instruments get together. You could make so much sound in a way that captures the imagination. That’s the beauty of music: you invite people in. The record can be pretty, but it can also be dark. Going back to this record, I was just reminded of our humanity as a group. There were a lot of different statements on there and that’s what you get: the post-’Nevermind’ Nirvana, after becoming a world-famous band.”
Speaking to NME earlier this year, Albini spoke of how he was more of an “engineer” than a producer to Nirvana, and recalled how Cobain came to him as a vocal admirer of his work with previous band, Big Black.
Recalling working with the producer and how the band landed on the post-‘Nevermind’ sound of the record, Novoselic said: “Kurt was a fan of Albini. I remember being in a tour van in 1989 and Kurt was listening to Pixies. He raised his finger and said, ‘This shall be our snare sound!’ He wanted to do it with Steve for a long time.
“There’s that whole thing where you get famous and you have to transition into it. It was hard for everyone, but Kurt got all the attention, being up front there. I don’t comment on the lyrics as they’re open for interpretation, but you can listen and make up your own mind. ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ was a smart-ass statement that Kurt made, and really says it all. We signed a record contract and had all these expectations.”
He added: “What came after we made the record was the stuff of legend, but you just get back to the band. It’s a beautiful thing that someone invented this concept of drums, bass, guitar and vocals. This was our version of that.”
Announced earlier this month, the band shall soon be releasing a deluxe 30th anniversary reissue of ‘In Utero‘ – with three super deluxe editions that comprise a total of 72 tracks with 53 previously unreleased live tracks from some of the final live dates from Cobain, Novoselic, drummer Dave Grohl and guitarist Pat Smear.
“This one’s got a lot of cool things like backstage passes and little things you can hold, like The Who’s ‘Live At Leeds’ record,” said Novoselic. “I’m excited about the live shows on there, because they used AI. We took the digital audio tapes from the soundboard in Rome, Seattle and Los Angeles, then the AI can separate all the instruments and we got a really good mix out of it.”
Would Nirvana ever consider using AI for unreleased Nirvana material, just as The Beatles are set to on their upcoming “final track“?
“That’s a good idea! I’m glad I spoke with you today, because that’s interesting,” Novoselic replied. “I’m going to bring that up with Dave and Pat! I can hardly wait to hear a new Beatles song. Come on, it’s The Beatles! I want to hear a new Beatles song! And if AI helps it, then absolutely – that’s the way it is today.”
And are there any remaining unheard demos or sketches of Nirvana tracks that they could complete?
“I don’t know. We’ve got the start talking about this. That’s a good idea. There could be. There’s a point where it’s like, ‘Is this Nirvana on AI?’ There’s a lot of that stuff already on Youtube, and that’s a debate that’s going to have to be settled when it comes to copyright and disinformation. It’s like 2001: A Space Odyssey – ‘Don’t do it!’ ”
The bassist added: “Kurt’s not here in the present, so everything has got to be done right.”
Nirvana CREDIT: Anton Corbijn
Asked about the potential sound Nirvana may have explored on future records after ‘In Utero’ had Cobain not passed, Novoselic said he “could only guess”.
“I don’t know. We recorded our last song together ‘You Know You’re Right’, and that was Nirvana,” he said. “It had our whole thing as a jam then a crescendo that builds to come back down with a big chorus. It’s a really hard one to answer. Dave went on to do Foo Fighters, he’s successful and carrying the torch. I’ve got another band called Third Secret with Matt and Kim from Soundgarden – we’re kind of like the grunge ABBA.
“If only Kurt would have hung in there, then we would have known. Just to have him in the world would make a huge difference, and that’s all that really matters. I miss the guy, so I can only dream.”
While admitting that Nirvana may seem like “classic rock” 30 years on, Novoselic also noted their ability to continue to appeal to new generations of young rock fans.
“I think there was just something about Kurt Cobain and his intensity and the way he presented himself, along with the way that he sang and his vocal style,” he said. “I remember playing people the song ‘Milk It’, and they were like, ‘This is from another world’. It was so intense, and it stands up to any Scandinavian metal band. It would blow a lot of them away. The best way I can describe it is as a truly menacing song.
Novoselic went on: “People keep saying, ‘Nirvana saved my life’, and I get that, because I had it with the band Flipper. Once it just hit me and made a lot of sense.”
“I just want to remember Kurt and give him credit. When you make an artistic statement, you’re inviting people inside, and people keep on accepting. Each new generation is connecting with Nirvana, especially people who are maybe going through a rough patch.”
Novoselic, Grohl and Smear have reunited on a number of occasions since Cobain’s death – most notably at the 2014 Rock And Roll Of Fame where they performed Nirvana classics with the the likes of Lorde, St Vincent and Joan Jett for their induction, in 2012 when they performed and released a one-off track with Paul McCartney, a surprise cameo with Foo Fighters at Cal Jam 2018 and a now legendary club show in 2020 featuring Beck and Grohl’s daughter Violet.
Asked if he’d reunite with the surviving Nirvana members again, he replied: “I’d like to. I always love. There was a time after Kurt died when I said to myself, ‘I’m never going to play these songs again’. That was part of the grief I went through. We don’t want to overdo it, we try to make it special and be grateful.
“When the opportunity comes, we do it if it feels right. In the meantime, we just remember Kurt and do our thing.”
And would they ever release new music together?
“Yeah, we actually have some material. Dave already spilled the beans on that. I’m going to bug Dave about that! ‘Hey, what about those jams we did? What do you want to do with those?’
“Thank you for reminding me – that’s another good idea!”
Nirvana’s 30th anniversary re-issue of ‘In Utero’ is released on October 27 and is available for pre-order here.