Nirvana: The Recording Sessions


The sessions for what would become Nirvana’s debut album were spread over a year. When they started they Nirvana: The Recording Sessions front coverdidn’t even have the name ‘Nirvana’ but what they did have was a handful of demos to record and a different drummer. Sub Pop, the label that would give them their break, wasn’t yet a fully operational outfit and they were all pretty much broke. Kurt had saved a small amount of money to pay for the initial session (see session 7) and later in the year, for the final Bleach sessions (see session 11), they got extra guitarist Jason Everman to foot the bill. He didn’t even play on the album though he was credited as doing so. All sessions for the album took place at Reciprocal Studios in Seattle under the guidance of Jack Endino. Recording Nirvana’s debut releases did his career no harm either.

Kurt was already taking his music seriously and insisted on a number of rehearsals before the January 1988 session (see session 7). He’d honed a number of songs to record from his quickly growing repertoire. The plan was to record a tape of demos to send to his favorite punk labels like Touch ‘n’ Go and SST. Producer Jack Endino passed on a tape to Sub Pop though, and the rest is history. Dale Crover left to be replaced by Nirvana’s first ‘permanent’ drummer, Chad Channing, and the new trio cut a debut single, “Love Buzz”, in the summer of 1988 – a cover of a song by an obscure Dutch band of all things. Then they reached an agreement with Sub Pop for an album, re-cut some of their songs and had a concentrated effort to finish the album between December 1988 and January 1989. The resultant record, Bleach, led the grunge movement and put Seattle’s burgeoning rock scene firmly on the global map.

This scBleach - Nirvanaene had the Sub Pop label at the heart of it. Bruce Pavitt had started his Subterranean Pop fanzine back in 1979 and had produced cassettes to be given away with his publication. This gradually gathered momentum and in April 1988 Pavitt linked up with Jonathan Poneman to launch a ‘real’ label (they had put out quarterly EPs since late 1987) and shortened the title to Sub Pop.

By the time Sub Pop approached Nirvana to work on a single, the band had switched drummers from Dale Crover (who moved to California with the Melvins shortly after session 7) to Dave Foster, briefly back to Aaron Burckhard and then finally to Chad Channing. Nirvana would re-record some of the tracks that Crover had played on, but three of his tracks – “Downer”, “Floyd The Barber” and “Paper Cuts” – would make the album.

For some people, especially those that went back to buy it after hearing Nevermind (30,000 copies of Bleach were sold before the follow-up album, almost four million have been sold worldwide since), Bleach was a difficult album to listen to; abrasive, uncompromising and punk-metal, whereas Nevermind was punk-pop. Bleach did have some ‘pop’ moments though, as “About A Girl” and “Love Buzz” proved, but the overriding sound was heavy, sludgey, grungey. It was released in June 1989 with a Sub Pop press release that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but turned out to be pretty accurate: “Hypnotic and righteous heaviness from these Olympia pop stars. They’re young, they own their own van and they’re going to make us rich!”

Bleach sold well for a relatively unknown band, and reached the indie Top 10 in the UK before its infinitely more successful follow-up arrived. Nirvana was on the way.

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