“What are we about? Oh, we’re just this crazy rock and roll band.”
That was wild-haired Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic’s summation of the band during their first interview with MTV, on September 30, 1991, and he wasn’t just being modest. At the time, their Nevermind album had been in stores for less than a week, the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had just premiered on “120 Minutes” and, really, outside of a few hardy souls in the Pacific Northwest (and various in-the-know journos), no one had really heard of Nirvana, the band that would come to “define an era,” “change the world” or any other hyperbole that would (rightfully) be showered upon them.
Back then, they were just another “crazy rock and roll band,” one that was just beginning the voyage from underground to mainstream. Twenty years later, we still marvel at how far they managed to get, and how symbolic that trek truly was. And though they’d released their debut album in 1989, for all intents and purposes, Nirvana’s story really began with Nevermind, which, though it may seem incomprehensible to anyone who lived during the halcyon days of 1991, turns 20 on Saturday.
In honor of that anniversary, and the moment where the foundations of rock and popular culture fundamentally shifted, we’re rolling out a week’s worth of coverage — exploring the impact of Nirvana and their wondrous, groundbreaking album, talking to folks who were there the moment everything went global and, of course, mining our tape libraries to unearth rare moments that show Nirvana as they really were: three rather scruffy, decidedly playful guys who often seemed at odds with their own success.
Or, as Kurt Cobain put it in a 1993 interview with MTV News: “I wanted to have the adoration of John Lennon but have the anonymity of Ringo Starr. I didn’t want to be a frontman; I just wanted to be back there and still be a rock and roll star at the same time.”
To kick things off, we decided to look back at Nirvana’s meteoric rise to fame, as told by the band itself. The above video compiles quotes taken from our vault of Nirvana interviews, starting with that first sit-down and continuing on to the release of their final studio album, 1993’s In Utero. It’s a story that’s been told thousands of times before — as most great tales have been — but never by the members of Nirvana, in their own words. It is appropriately raw, unwashed and revelatory. Just like Nevermind was when it burst forth 20 years ago … and, like all classics, how it still is today.
Stick with MTV News all week as we reveal the Nevermind You Never Knew, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s definitive album with classic footage, new interviews and much more.