On October 18, 1993, Nirvana kicked off a world tour in support of their In Utero album at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona.
MTV News was there that night and sat down with the band following the show to discuss coming to terms with their arena-rock status, the perils of stage diving, a rumored rivalry with Pearl Jam, and why they insisted on wearing dresses from time to time.
The resulting interview revealed a side of the band few ever saw. Turns out, Nirvana weren't always the surly, serious artistes the media had made them out to be. Rather, they were four funny, self-effacing guys — Pat Smear was playing with them at this point — who enjoyed cracking jokes and poking fun at themselves. At one point, Kurt Cobain even marvels about an overzealous fan who tossed some of her undergarments onstage during the show ("My first ever bra," he laughed.)
In short, it's the Nirvana you never knew. And on the occasion of In Utero's 20th anniversary, we're bringing it to you now.
MTV NEWS: So how was the first show? I thought it was really good. What was it like to start the tour today?
KRIST: Today, with all the lighters out there it felt like we were doing Aerosmith "Dream On" or something. I felt like Tom Hamilton, the bass player from Aerosmith.
MTV NEWS: Have you done stadiums before?
KRIST: We did a stadium. It was like 110,000 people in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And we had a mental breakdown on the stage and played "Seasons in the Sun" and "Her Name is Rio" and we played "She Dances in the Sand" by Duran Duran. Remember that time we did that thing?
DAVE: That was a mess.
KRIST: It was a lot of fun.
KURT: That was great.
MTV NEWS: Kurt, you sang "Seasons in the Sun?"
KURT: Did I sing? Yes, I did. I don't know the words. One of the only singles I can remember from my childhood that I used to cry to.
KRIST: What's the best lyric in there?
KURT: It's such an emotional song.
KRIST: There's like the best lyric...
KURT: (sings) Good-bye papa it's hard to die
KRIST: The stars on the beach were... I forget how it goes
KURT: (sings) The stars on the beach...no, the starfish on the beach where the star's out of reach.
DAVE: What do you mean?
PAT: The wow really made it...
KRIST: Don't you get it?
KURT: I don't know. I don't know... All I know I know is there's a better song on the B-side of that single. "Put the Bone In It."
DAVE: Put the bone in it... (laughs) It's about a guy's dog gets hit by a car and they ask him to put the bone in the grave with the dog.
MTV NEWS: You look up and see yourself on the big [video] screen. How is that?
DAVE: I felt like I was a f***in' hockey player on a big screen with a Budweiser sign above it. I don't know, it was funny.
KURT: What I was trying to do, and you guys didn't have enough ESP, I was trying to get up and stand up on top of the P.A. speakers under those columns I was trying to do a solo like an arena rock solo.
PAT: It was the Led Zeppelin solo.
KURT: Did you notice it?
MTV NEWS: Yeah. "Heartbreaker."
KRIST: I picked up on that!
KURT: What can you do when you're in that kind of situation? I thought I'd one last time test the audience to see if I could jump into it. And I failed. It's not working. And I stood there for a long time and I know they couldn't read my mind but I was trying to with my eyes tell them "Don't hurt me." Can't you tell? Haven't you read enough bitching from us for the past year? You know we're not rock stars, we're not trying to be. Although we did display enough rock star things today.
MTV NEWS: So Kurt, when you fell, you didn't really jump that hard, you just sort of like lay down into them... What happened to you?
KURT: They immediately just started grabbing for me, trying to rip my flesh off for souvenirs. Oh I have a piece of Kurt's forearm... frame it... I don't know.
MTV NEWS: Do you have an arrangement with your guys on the side of the stage, you know "Come lift me out of it?" It looked like you were sort of playing while they were pulling on you and you were holding onto the guitar.
KURT: I think it's a reaction of the people who work with us, to try to save me when I do stupid things like that. They're never prepared for it. Before the show, I wasn't like, you know, I'm going to do that, you know? I was really for a long time contemplating whether I should do it or not. I just wanted to do it, 'cause it used to be so much fun in clubs... reminiscing about the old days.
I used to be able to jump out in the audience and they would carry me all the way to the back I used to be able to roll around in the back. And it was really fun. It was like a celebration. Everybody was like jumping and throwing up in the air and everything. Like a beach ball in an arena rock concert. But these kids, some of 'em don't understand that, they're not used to that. All they know how to do is to tear people apart.
MTV NEWS: It seems like, from you to the audience is like 15 feet.
KURT: Not quite that. Not that much
MTV NEWS: Does it feel distant?
KURT: It does feel 15 feet, but it's not 15 feet it's about 6 feet.
MTV NEWS: Do you notice? Is there a trade off? When you're playing arenas obviously its a lot of people. I want to hear you talk about the difference in the mind of the audience. How close you are to them. Can you see the people... you can see the people off the spill lights. But the people 40 yards away, you know, 100 feet away... Do you have a sense of that? Do you feel the energy?
KURT: Oh yeah, I can feel it, I can sense it. At certain times when the house lights come on during certain parts of the songs I can see everyone. I think "Lithium" is a good example because when we break into the distortion part, the lights all come on and I can see everyone jump up and down and I realize it's not only just the front part that I can see, it's the whole audience. And it's great. There's nothing better than that much of a capacity of people in tune with the band and giving off that much energy, its just like a little club but one hundred times more. Yeah... they always sing during "Lithium," which is kind of neat.
KRIST: Or if they don't speak English they just go... (hums).
MTV NEWS: Is this an arena tour?
KRIST: We're playing some theaters
KURT: But it says arena on a lot of the shows on the itinerary, but they're like 5 or 6 thousand seat places.
DAVE: They just do that to make us feel like we're popular.
KURT: They put arena down there to make us feel better.
MTV NEWS: Worcester's got a mini-Madison Square Garden, it's got like five thousand seats. It's laid out like it, but just shrunk. Did you guys think of playing smaller places?
KURT: We wanted to for sure. We determined about a year and a half ago after getting off of that grueling tour that we had. Well, first of all, that we were going to put out a record that would completely ruin our reputation and only a few thousand people from every city would show up. But that wasn't the case. And then we realized that because of the production costs and because we have to bring our own lights and PA and all that stuff... It costs a lot of money, and if we were just to play venues and clubs and stuff we'd be totally in the hole. We're not nearly as rich as everyone thinks we are, so you have to try to play the biggest kind of place that you can if you're using this kind of production. We actually have... We have a couple of mannequins on stage. Nothing compared to an inflatable monster or an Eddie from Iron Maiden...
MTV NEWS: So, do you have backups in case you took some shots at the one... anatomical stuff usually isn't too cheap.
KRIST: Well they can glue it back together...
PAT: Duct tape...
MTV NEWS: It looks glued together. Talking about audiences, I seem to remember you guys talking about when you get an audience larger than a certain size you start attracting people that maybe isn't your audience. I remember the bass player from Jane's Addiction was going off that in the audience at Lollapalooza there's always people he'd never want to play to coming to their shows.
KURT: I think in the beginning when we were doing all those interviews when "Nevermind" was getting really popular, we were really concerned with the people who wanted to come and see our shows and have a good time. We were afraid we would have these mean type of people who just went to the shows to cause trouble and we didn't want that. We didn't want to have to have security to beat up on people to keep them in line. But since we've had the experience and we've had to play a couple of shows like this and there hasn't been any trouble. We're relieved of that kind of pressure. That's the only concern that we really had but it obviously translated into we hate our audience, which is bulls---.
KRIST: There's a meeting before every show between our road managers and the security people and they're saying you know anybody who gets too violent you just grab a person sit him down and walk him over to the side. We don't want to see any kind of nasty violence. It just escalates. People see that and they get appalled and we see that and we get appalled. It just drags the whole show down.
MTV NEWS: People also talk about selling out when you got big. That "if you've sold a lot of records there's something wrong" doesn't seem to be following you anymore.
KURT: It's too far beyond that now. It's far beyond that now. It's been going on for so long now. That issue doesn't even come up anymore.
MTV NEWS: You said before these weren't your words, but you said let's make a record to blow away that audience. Of that eight million people let's get rid of seven and a half million whatever you're thinking... When you say that, what do you mean?
KURT: Well when I say that, like I said the main reason was to make sure that we could have a good time at live shows. We just weren't comfortable with it at the time. And now that its been proven to us that there aren't any problems at the shows then it doesn't matter. People are behaving themselves. Maybe the message got across to them somehow, maybe all that bitching and complaining that we did may have worked a little bit.
MTV NEWS: So you weren't talking at that point about alienating or losing most of your audience?
KURT: I was at that point about a year and a half ago. I was completely fed up with the whole thing. I didn't want to be a rock star at all. It was just freaking me out, you know. But I've had two years to recuperate.
MTV NEWS (to Pat Smear): When the camera isn't on you you're quite animated and interesting... So how was the show for you tonight?
PAT: I loved it.
MTV NEWS: You were bouncing around...
PAT: I had a good time.
MTV NEWS: Who got hit in the head with the stick pin?
KURT: I got a bra.
KURT: My first bra.
PAT: I got a Germs t-shirt.
DAVE: Someone threw you a Germs t-shirt? That's cool!
PAT: It was used.
MTV NEWS: A lot of shoes coming over.
PAT: What's up with shoes? Who would throw their shoes?
DAVE: There's only one that comes up. They go home hopping.
MTV NEWS: Are you staying in nice hotels? Do you like that? Would you rather be sleeping in a van?
KRIST: No we wouldn't rather be sleeping in a van. We've done that for years.
KURT: We've done that enough. You know if we were still doing it then fine but we've made a point to sleep on the bus as much as possible because buses are expensive so we're not staying in hotels as much as we would normally or as much as other bands would.
MTV NEWS: Got one of these full decked out buses?
KURT: One of those typical... You know, VCR... I remember a few years ago when we were lugging around our own equipment in a van, you know, five people cooped up in a van with our own equipment and we'd see a band with a bus and we'd think man what a bunch of gluttonous bastards, you know? What a waste those things must cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day.
KRIST: I once pissed on one, on their air vent one time. I said look at these rock stars and I pissed on it.
KURT: But a lot of that's just out of spite. And also I looked into it and if I were to stay in a nice hotel every night and drive in a van then it would equal out the same. So what's the difference?
MTV NEWS: I wanted to ask about why you released the album in vinyl and did that first. Is it a vinyl thing, is it a fidelity thing?
KURT: We love vinyl. I only still buy vinyl. The only CD's I own are CD's that have been given to me. I just love vinyl. It is something sacred to me.
KRIST: This year I got a linear tracking turntable. Yeah, it sounds really good. Where have I been all these years with out it? It seems like there's just this tone to vinyl. You listen to these old ZZ Top records and the drums are really harsh. Now they've re-issued all the ZZ Top records and the drums are all like (makes a drum noise)It's like terrible
MTV NEWS: I ask because we did a story earlier this year...
PAT: Yeah, I saw that, that was a great story and you used the Nirvana record as an example.
MTV NEWS: One more serious question and two sillie ones... Someone at the station is doing a piece on men wearing dresses in rock and roll this year. And it is mostly a Ru Paul thing but they asked me to ask you why you would choose to wear a dress on stage.
KURT: Comfortable? I don't know.
KRIST: The Rolling Stones wore dresses.
KURT: It's nothing new. It's been going on for years and years and years and I don't understand why it's an issue still. But it seems like when bands do it now even when we do it, it is so exhausted. I don't know I personally like to wear dresses and I wear them around the house sometimes. So, whatever.
PAT: The one dress I own Courtney gave to me. Well she didn't give it to me, she left it at my house.
KURT: Courtney has good taste in dresses.
PAT: Excellent. Norma Kamali. Ah! Looks so good on me!
KURT: I guess it's just I think a lot of bands do it to show their support for femininity and the female gender. I did it the first time when we played with the Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, when we went on that tour with them you know? I was at the height of freaking out about playing big places and I was convinced that a lot of people out there in the audience, you know, a lot of macho people would freak out about it and it would create a little controversy. I don't know if it did or not.
MTV NEWS: Are you and Eddie Vedder friends now? Have you always been friends?
KURT: We've never had a fight ever. I just have always hated their band. I didn't consider him a person that I really like. We've had a few conversations on the phone and he's a person I really like. You know, I really like him. He's a really nice person.
KRIST: He's come over my house a few times. We had a good time. He's really nice.
MTV NEWS: And he doesn't take exception that you don't like his band?
KURT: I don't think he really cares. I don't know. I can't say that now. I didn't like him then when I was talking sh-- about him all the time. Well now I can appreciate him. I realize that the same people that like our band like their band. So why create some kind of feud over something as trite as that?
KRIST: You know how Metallica and G-N-R did a tour? We're going to have a Pearl Jam/Nirvana tour.
MTV NEWS: When they did the thing that they're doing right now with the vinyl and the CD release...
KRIST: Well, that was a kind of a compromise by the label. They're like, we're postponing your album, and we're like, no we want our album out. And one of their compromises was that they put the vinyl out. It wasn't really calculated.
KURT: I just feel sorry for the kids who have to decide on what they should buy in the next two months. Our record or our concert tickets or Pearl Jam's record. I mean that's a lot of money for kids to shell out all of a sudden. I mean I know that is more than I had when I was fifteen or sixteen. I feel really bad about that. I wish that we could have made a deal or something or put our record out a little bit earlier so we could have spaced it out a little bit longer.
KRIST: Like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones! Who's the Beatles and who's the Rolling Stones?