Nirvana recorded around 18 songs in total for ‘In Utero’. Among those that didn’t make the track listing were ‘I Hate Myself And Want To Die’ and ‘Marigold’, which was the first (and only) song Dave Grohl wrote for the band. It was later released as a B-side to ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and on the Foo Fighters’ live album ‘Skin and Bones’.
‘Scentless Apprentice’ was inspired by Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel ‘Perfume’, about a boy born without body odour, who stalks and murders virgins in search of the ‘perfect scent’. Cobain said that he’d read it, “about 10 times in my life, and I can’t stop reading it. It’s like something that’s just stationary in my pocket all the time. It just doesn’t leave me.”
The recording of the album began on February 12th, 1993 at the secluded Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, and ended on February 26th. After several years of decline, the studio was put up for sale in 2011 and bought by a new owner last year, although he was forced to change the name. It is now known as Seedy Underbelly North.
Before being approached to produce ‘In Utero’, Steve Albini had dismissed Nirvana as “REM with a fuzzbox” and claims to have only accepted the job because he felt sorry for them. During the recording, however, his opinion changed: “I can’t really express how much my admiration for that band grew during the course of making that record.”
During the recording, Nirvana and Albini bonded by prank-calling other musicians. One of their victims was Evan Dando, who they rang claiming to be Madonna’s manager. Another was Eddie Vedder, who thought he was talking to producer Tony Visconti.
The only other musician to appear on the album other than the band members themselves was Kera Schaley, who played cello on ‘All Apologies’. It was also one of three songs – the other two being ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ – to be remixed by REM producer Scott Litt, after Cobain felt the vocals on Albini’s original mix to be too “mushy”.
When Walmart and K-Mart threatened not to stock the album, Nirvana were forced to change the artwork on copies sent to those stores. ‘Rape Me’ was renamed ‘Waif Me’ (Kurt’s original suggestion was ‘Sexually Assault Me’) and all foetus images were removed. The band agreed to the changes because the two stores were they only places Kurt and Krist could buy music as kids.
Working titles for ‘In Utero’ itself, meanwhile, included ‘Verse Chorus Verse’ and ‘I Hate Myself And Want To Die’, which was how Kurt would sarcastically reply to anyone who asked him how he was doing. The band decided against using the latter because they worried fans might not get the joke.
Despite both band and label being convinced that the album would not be a commercial success, ‘In Utero’ debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 180,000 copies in its first week of release. It has since gone on to sell over 15m copies worldwide.
‘In Utero’ is Krist Novoselic’s favourite Nirvana album because “we just played music, we worked together really well, we were laughing, we were concentrating, we were open. And that really shows on the record. We didn’t mess around. Nobody got bombed, everybody was focused and clear-headed. I’m really proud of it, it’s a beautiful record.”