Published Aug 16, 2013In separate conversations yesterday (August 15) about the 20th anniversary edition of Nirvana's In Utero, bassist Krist Novoselic and recording engineer Steve Albini discussed some fascinating facts about the original album and the fully loaded new reissue.
When it sees the light of day on September 24 through Universal, the deluxe edition of In Utero will include the remastered original album, a new 2013 mix of every song (primarily overseen by Albini, Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear), unreleased songs and photos, alternate mixes, demos, B-sides, the MTV Live & Loud 1993 concert (which is also available as a standalone DVD) and more.
Albini reveals that he came to work with Nirvana on the record after Kurt Cobain contacted him about the idea. The two spoke on the phone and then Albini wrote the band a very detailed letter about what they could expect from him and what he hoped he to accomplish in making a real punk rock record. The letter, included in the new set, is funny, frank and honest (its author says much of it make him cringe now), but it also possesses this cautionary tone: Albini itemizes possible interferences and reactions from Nirvana's label, Geffen, and most of them came to pass, like clockwork.
As it turns out, the phone call was not the first time the two men had spoken. Albini's iconic band Big Black played their final show in 1987 in Seattle at a disused power plant. Long after the fact, Albini says he recalls interacting with a young Cobain.
"At the end of that show, we smashed up all of our gear and I specifically remembered a kid coming up to the stage and, there was a piece of my guitar on the stage, and he reached out and asked if he could have it," he explains. "And I said, 'Yeah, sure, go ahead. It's garbage now; I broke it.' And I remember hearing from somebody else that Kurt had that piece of guitar from Big Black's last show. He and I never talked about it and I don't know that I've ever spoken about it before."
The notion to offer an entirely new mix of In Utero came from Novoselic.
"Y'know where I got the idea for it was listening to a Doors greatest-hits record," Novoselic says. "The Future Starts Now I think it's called? So, I'm listening to these Doors songs that I've heard my whole life and those songs were mixed in 1970, 1969. They just remixed them and, if you're a fan, you know what to listen for and you can hear things. That's what gave me the inspiration to think, 'Y'know, maybe we should do this with In Utero.' If the Doors can do it, we can do it."
Albini asked his colleague/Shellac bandmate Bob Weston to tech the In Utero sessions. Weston recently uncovered negatives of photos of the band in his garage that no one had seen before the assembly of this box set.
"He had to go digging around for them," Albini says. "He was there the whole time and assisting in the studio. He had an amateur dark room and would print his own photos but I don't think he'd printed all of these photos in the past."
Novoselic goes on to say that this box set came about was because, after a similar experience celebrating Nevermind with a big box, Nirvana may have solved the music business.
"Well, we figured out how to sell records in the digital age," he jokes. "What you do is, you put a package together with nice paper and photographs, you find some closet treasures and dig deep in the vaults and include that. You put a live show in there and the Nirvana fans seem to love it. People will trade bootlegs, they'll download songs and concerts and things, and so, these kinds of packages are for the Nirvana fans out there.
"This'll probably be the last one. It's the 20-year In Utero anniversary and it was the last Nirvana record. We're not gonna do the 25th year. Maybe I'll be around for the 50th anniversary."
Listen to Steve Albini discussing the In Utero reissue on the Kreative Kontrol with Vish Khanna podcast.