Krist Novoselic Wrestling With a Legacy

Krist Novoselic Wrestling With a Legacy
Photo: Anto Corbijn
Krist Novoselic is an American musician. filmmaker, author, columnist and political advocate who has played in bands like Sweet 75, Eyes Adrift, Flipper, and, on occasion Foo Fighters. He also played bass in the Washington State-based rock trio, Nirvana, which he co-founded in the mid-'80s with the late singer/songwriter and guitarist Kurt Cobain.

In the past few months, Novoselic has made the odd live appearance with fellow Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Pat Smear in a unique collaboration with Paul McCartney of Wings. Oh, and the Beatles — Paul McCartney was also in the band the Beatles. Nirvana's final album was an amazing one called In Utero, which came out in September 1993 and to honour its 20th anniversary, a special edition of the album with lots of cool additions was released by Geffen on September 24. Novoselic told us more about this.

You've released deluxe editions of all the Nirvana albums to date, and I imagine that putting them together has been both fun and difficult. Now that we're at In Utero, the band's final album, how are you feeling about these projects?
Well, we figured out how to sell records in the digital age. 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.

Yeah, and who knows what format that'll be in.
Who knows what'll come out? We did things like remix the record. After 20 years, I thought maybe it could breathe a little better; open it up. Speaking of posterity, y'know somebody down the road's probably gonna remix it, maybe after we're all gone. So I thought, "Well, why not remix it now?" So I had the chance to work with Steve Albini again, who recorded and mixed the record, and that's part of the package.

Yeah, I was supposed to speak to Steve about this today but he was busy making a record for somebody and we have to reschedule.
Steve's the hardest working man in show business.

Yes, it was once said of James Brown and now it can be said of Steve Albini. So much of the mythology surrounding In Utero has to do with the sound of the album and Steve Albini's role in recording it. This anniversary package contains the typed letter Steve sent to the band after Kurt approached him about working together, and true to Steve's style, it's frank and funny, but also cautionary, like he anticipated problems with your record label. What did you guys make of his letter?
Well, it's there for the public to enjoy. That's a good question. Y'know, it's a great record and I'm glad we had the chance to remix and remaster it because it just breathes better. It's like 20 years and four ears later and it's a different take. There's different levels, background vocals are louder in some places, different guitar solos in some places.

You're referring to Steve's new mixes.
Yeah, that's what I'm talking about, yeah.

Why do you suppose the actual recording seemed to be a concern for people in the Nirvana camp?
Well, you had Nevermind, which was a very polished record okay? And there are obligations when you're a #1 rock band, getting played on the radio, and you make this record that sounds really edgy. And so, that's one of the reasons that drove us to compromise and we knew it too. We started working with Scott Litt, who had produced R.E.M. and he had just done Automatic For the People in Seattle. We went in that same studio with Scott to remix those songs and those are the ones you hear on the radio.

And to your ear, what are the fundamental differences between Steve's mixes of "Heart Shaped Box" and "All Apologies" and Scott's?
Scott's mix was more accessible for mainstream people.

That's it in a nutshell?
That's it in a nutshell. It's just more radio-friendly. It was a radio-friendly unit shifter is what it was.

You've talked about the record itself and what you wanted to see happen with these new mixes. What else were you keen to present with this particular edition of In Utero?
We know how to put these packages together. We had the box set, which was epic and a huge selling box set. We had 20-year reissue of Nevermind and now this one. So, how do you do it? You make these packages printed on nice paper with never-before-seen photographs, you put in lost archive material and you include a video, and that's how you sell records. We figured it out. There's a song on In Utero called "Milk It." Well, we figured out how to milk it. In all honesty. You know what? It's good material. It's a great record. I think it is. There's really good material on it, it's a good listen. That concert, Live & Loud — that's a great concert. That's Nirvana at the height of our power. Kurt Cobain looks great, sounds great on high-definition — these aren't VHS tapes. These packages are made for fans. There's a lot of Nirvana fans who collect all the bootlegs, live shows, the photographs. They're really intense fans and I love them all and they're the people who buy these packages. And we've stumped a lot of these great fans with material that they haven't heard. So I'm glad it's out there for people to enjoy.

Yeah, the Live & Loud concert that was on MTV, I taped that off of the TV when MuchMusic played it. Who else was on the bill? The Breeders and…?
Cypress Hill!

Right! What a bill! That's a weird bill.
It was supposed to be Pearl Jam but Eddie didn't feel good. So Nirvana played longer. That was a special with Anthony and Flea from the Chili Peppers. They were the hosts of the show and it was like for New Year's Eve. They filmed all of these funny segments where they were in drag, or they were Hassidic Jews! They were like, doing these skits.

But none of that is on this thing you're releasing?
No, this is just the straight-ahead show.

Well, it was a great show and made a huge impression on me as a kid.
Right on!

There's been so much said and written about Nirvana and In Utero over the past 20 years. In taking this anniversary edition on, did anything about it and the sessions that spawned it surprise you?
No. I mean, there's a lot of lore and perspective but it has to just be about the music. And that's what you get and that's what Nirvana was about. It's a band. And, like all Nirvana releases, it's a tribute to Kurt Cobain and his vision as an artist, and how he expressed himself. That's what you hear with In Utero; you have this signature of his style.

Given how scrutinized it's been, do you see aspects of it that have been overlooked in any way?
To tell you the truth, I haven't really followed up on the scrutiny. I don't read the Nirvana books. For some reason, it doesn't yank my crank to read these perspectives. I know there's a lot of them out there and I'm sure they're important. I'm not discounting them; it's just a personal thing for me. I'm aware of those things and that's why it was important that we went back and remixed it with Steve Albini. There were no computers. There was no clicking or dragging. No plug-ins, no command + C.

You were at Electrical Audio in Chicago in the beautiful facility there.
Electrical Audio. It was one hundred percent analog. So, the remixing was just listening to all the tracks, the 24 tracks, and seeing what the heck we could do with them. There wasn't a lot to do with them but some fresh ears, 20 years later, pried them open a little bit wider.

So, to clarify, the revelations about this release for you, and maybe for the fans, will actually show up in the new mixes that you and Steve did?
Yeah, it's just a fresh take. There's some differences there. Some things are pushed up a little bit louder, some are brought down. There wasn't a whole lot to work with to make them radically different.

When I listened to it, I heard solos and parts I've never heard before.
Yeah, that was the idea. Y'know where I got the idea for it was listening to a Doors greatest hits record. It's the newest one — 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 1969, 1970. 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. George Harrison, he remixed All Things Must Pass. The Beatles remixed Let it Be and somebody who's listened to those records for decades, the remixes were fun to listen to. It's just a new take. Or even the Beatles' Love. That's a re-mash is what that is. That's a mash-up of Beatles. Have you ever heard that?

I haven't heard that but I know what you're talking about because when the reissued White Album came out, I was hearing things I'd never heard before. At first, I was bit freaked out because there's no way I haven't listened to it a trillion times before. So, you're right. Some people decry this whole remixing/reissue thing but—
Oh, I know! They shall remain nameless, but people I know in big bands are like "I know that record could sound better but it's just a document of that time." And I'm like, "Well, that document will always be there," you know what I mean? Why don't you try remixing it? Somebody else is gonna remix it long after you're long gone. Who knows; in 50 years, 100 years — someone's gonna remix it! Can you guarantee that it's not gonna be remixed? Yeah, if you destroy the master! I don't know, I like Psychic TV where they have like, 100 mixes of one song. It's fine by me.

You're right; remixing doesn't necessarily have to be a cash grab. It can actually revitalize a record you love.
Or it can destroy it. I heard a classic country singer from the '50s and they remixed this record but like, in the early '80s. It was timeless when they recorded it in the '50s, but then they put all of these '80s-era audio quality tools on it and it was not timeless anymore. You have to be careful with these things; you can screw them up. That's why we did it with Steve.

Yeah, Steve's not gonna screw it up. Have you heard his remixes of the Jesus Lizard albums?

They're amazing. They put them out a few years ago. Steve and Bob Weston remixed them, they sound amazing.
Oh, that's great, You know Bob Weston contributed photographs to this In Utero package. He was like the only person taking photos and he found the negatives in his garage somewhere. It's like a picture of Kurt, the band, and Kurt's birthday cake!

That's cool. So, what's next for you?
Well, I've been doing some cool music projects. The latest one was with Dave, Pat, and Paul McCartney and that was getting back to Nirvana in some ways and in a lot of ways doing something new. I did a song with Modest Mouse. Just trying to keep it together.