Butch Vig, the producer behind Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Siamese Dream’ and Nirvana’s second album ‘Nevermind’, has spoken at length about the recording of the latter, which turns 25 this year. In the new interview, Vig debunks some of the mythology surrounding the legendary album and gives new insight into working with Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. Here’s 11 facts he confirmed, denied, or elaborated on.
1. Kurt had to be convinced to double-track his vocals
“I had to convince him to double-track,” Vig says, getting him to use the technique on tracks like ‘In Bloom’ by telling him, “John Lennon did it”.
2. Only one of the eight tracks recorded at Smart Studios made it on the album
“‘Polly’ was the only one that made it on the album,” Vig explains, adding that there was other material produced at the Wisconsin studios. “We also did a couple of covers, including ‘Here She Comes Now’ by The Velvet Underground.” (That cover was released as a split single with The Melvins in 1991.)
3. Kurt’s mood varied wildly during recording
Vig gives a lot of detail about Kurt’s mood during production: “Kurt was awesome to work with, but he was incredibly moody. That was the thing, was to figure out when he was going to be focused, or when he was going to disappear into himself.
“I just had to learn how to pick and choose those moments, and figure out when was the right time to track something or record something. When I went to do ‘Nevermind’, I had an idea of what it was going to be like. I just knew I had to be ready to go, and when Kurt was on his A-game, we had to hit ‘record.’”
4. ‘Come as You Are’ and ‘Teen Spirit’ were written very close to recording
“They didn’t write them in the studio,” says Vig, “they had rehearsed them a bunch of times during pre-production, and the band sounded very tight. They had been practicing every day. They were not slackers and really put the time in.”
5. Most of the songs on the album were captured in two or three takes
“We did three days of rehearsals, and we’d only rehearse for a couple of hours. We’d set up stuff and just have them run through it. I had a few changes in the arrangements that they’d work on, but pretty simple stuff, tightening things up here and there.”
6. Dave’s personality made it fun
“Dave [Grohl] was a breath of fresh air because he had this goofy sense of humour. He was so young. He brought this great energy, sang a lot of the background vocals, and had this great voice. There really was no tension at all between Dave and Kurt. All we had to do was capture when Kurt was focused and there 100 percent.”
7. Kurt had to turn his back on ‘Nevermind’
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“When we finished the record he loved it. Absolutely loved it. We did some playbacks and he said, ‘Oh my god, this is fucking incredible.’ Cut to a year later when it’s sold 10 million records, and you have to disown it. You can’t have any punk ethics and go, ‘Man, I love the way our last record sounds and am so happy it sold 10 million copies!’”
8. The songs on ‘Nevermind’ weren’t about Tobi Vail, Kurt’s ex
“That’s just a rumour. Each song had its own thing. Kurt borrowed references from all over the place. He got the title for ‘Teen Spirit’ from a deodorant that he saw written on a wall. It didn’t really mean anything, he just thought it was stupid!
9. The label tried to get rid of Vig and the band said no
“They met with a bunch of other big-name producers, and they didn’t like any of ’em. I know their names, but I’m not going to name ’em!”
10. Vig might have produced ‘In Utero’ if he had time
“I kind of had to turn it down because I was doing [Smashing Pumpkins’] ‘Siamese Dream’, and that was a long record. It took five months and I was in Atlanta when they went up to Minneapolis to start recording In Utero.
11. Kurt wanted Vig to produce Courtney Love’s ‘Live Through This’ too
“Kurt kept calling me on ‘In Utero,’” Vig says, “and saying, ‘Butch, you’ve gotta do Courtney Love’s record! You’ve gotta do it!” And I said, well, I’m not done with the Pumpkins’ record until April or May, whenever it was. And Billy Corgan was like, ‘Do you really want to work with Courtney on this?’ I mean, I know Courtney, and god bless her, but I was pretty burned out after working on ‘Siamese Dream’.”
Vig adds that Kurt probably did help write ‘Live Through This’ – “I think Kurt might have helped her with some of the music, but those are totally her words,” he reckons.