Steve Albini On Nirvana’s In Utero

A few years ago I interviewed Steve Albini for Uncut. He is a great person to talk to, read blogs by, generally have opinions confirmed by. We’re kind of all on about In Utero again at the moment, and it’ll be hard to get a more lucid account than one from the man who produced it – someone who, a bit like Bob Johnston on the new Dylan Bootleg Series release, is kind of being titoped around by the official channels/current administration.  Anyway. May post the rest of this later for the other 14 or so Melt-Banana fans/ATP 90s guys. The word count for this is  666, just so you know.

Nirvana, In Utero, 1994

Final album by Kurt Cobain’s trio. Later remixed by other hands.

I think it’s a fine record. My only reservations about that experience and that record have to do with the aftermath. Actually making the record was super-easy: the guys in the band, I got on with them fine; the process of making the record, super-easy, we were done in ten or twelve days.

I think (i)In Utero(i) is by far their most interesting record, in terms of the creepy subject matter: Kurt had gone through a lot of personal shit, and there was a sense that he was barely keeping his shit together, and I think some of that is evident in how the record came across. I ended up developing a respect for the band. I wasn’t a fan when we started the record, but by the time we had finished, I respected and admired them.

The record was made in an intentionally isolated way. The band contacted me, the studio wasn’t told who the band was, the record label people were kept at arms length. There weren’t any communiqués between the band and the label, nobody heard anything until the record was done.

Then they took the record home and started listening to it, and like everybody, when you finish a record and you listen to it in isolation, you start to second-guess yourself. They were surrounded by people who were professional second guessers, who thought it was their professional responsibility to keep Nirvana from making a public mistake. They started to freak out, and they encouraged Nirvana to freak out. They were so afraid the record wasn’t perfect, they had started to convince themselves it was terrible. It’s just the paranoid thinking that runs through the music industry: everyone’s terrified about not being successful, so they’ll do anything they can to make sure their records are at least mediocre.

Everything that followed came from the fact that they were dealing with creeps and assholes. Kurt was under a lot of pressure, so I can’t really fault him for the way he behaved. He was a dope fiend. He’d just had a baby. He’s dealing with millions of dollars and people who all want a piece of him. How would anybody react under those circumstances?

I’ll tell you how naïve I was. I thought the record company would be annoyed, but when they heard it wasn’t a mess that they would look upon it as what they wanted – if only so they could claim authorship of that idea, kind of “We decided to let the band make whatever kind of record they wanted” Record company people have this way of claiming authorship for good things that happen in a band’s career.

The long and short of it is, the band Nirvana – totally normal guys. Punk rock guys, in a working band, totally normal. Every single other person involved in their life was a pure piece of shit. Pure parasitic piece of shit. There are people who were in Nirvana’s camp who will think “he can’t be talking about me.” I’m talking about them. Those people lied to my face, lied to the band’s face, took advantage of the band’s naivety and got them hoodwinked into signing ridiculous deals, embezzled money from them, made them pay for absurd bullshit. Every single other person involved in that band’s career was a piece of shit.

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