In 1986, Bruce Pavitt hatched Sub Pop Records, subsequently revolutionizing the underground music scene and thereby placing Seattle and grunge on the proverbial map. But it wasn’t until 1991 when Sub Pop’s original “Global Domination” credo reached its apex when Nirvana’s Nevermind exploded off the charts, ultimately changing the music industry with the ginormous success of “Smells like Teen Spirit,” ultimately wiping cheesy hair metal bands off MTV’s radar. A massive interest in the band sparked massive sales for the band’s debut album, Bleach, which Sub Pop released in 1989.
As for the intrepid Pavitt, he essentially retired from the record business after Nirvana-mania swept the world and has been a scarce presence for years. Until now. Pavitt has returned to the fold — not to run another label — but with a stunning photo book of a monumental snapshot of a crucial yet brief time in the seminal grunge band’s history: Nirvana’s first trip to Europe.
For his book, entitled Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989, Pavitt culled together jaw-dropping photos he himself had snapped during that legendary grunge-breaking trip (they were just sitting in an attic). Hive caught up with Pavitt via email and got him to plug five images from Experiencing Nirvana and offer his recollections of that groundbreaking time.
1. Kurt Waving
Kurt Cobain was the first Sub Pop musician we connected with upon our arrival in Rome,” Pavitt explains. “He was visibly strained from five weeks of zigzagging across Europe in a cramped van with eight other people. Here, we find him relaxing for a moment while the Tad band sets up for soundcheck at the Piper Club. Kurt was a sweet guy with a big heart — it shows in this photo.
2. Kurt Backstage at the Piper Club
Although generally quiet and soft spoken off stage, Kurt had a sense of humor,” recalls Pavitt. “Here he is enjoying an amusing moment with my Sub Pop business partner Jon Poneman, minutes before Nirvana was to go on stage at Rome´s Piper Club. Little did we realize that Kurt would experience a breakdown during the set, climbing a PA stack and threatening to jump. After the aborted show, Nirvana briefly disbanded before deciding to finish the tour, which had five dates left.
3. Kurt Calls Home
Kurt calls his girlfriend (Tracy Marander) from the Geneva train station,” says Pavitt. “Unfortunately, he had just had both his wallet and his passport stolen while sleeping on the night train from Rome. Although committed to finishing the tour, Kurt was eager to get back home to Olympia.
4. Krist Backstage at the Astoria
The final show of the tour, LameFest UK, featured three Seattle Sub Pop acts: Nirvana, Tad and Mudhoney. Here, backstage at London´s Astoria Theatre, Nirvana´s bass player Krist Novoselic displays the bravado that is his nature. After rocking London, Krist would soon marry his longtime girlfriend, Shelli Dilly (left).
5. Nirvana Play the LameFest
The LameFest UK Sub Pop showcase was a pivotal moment in Nirvana´s history,” Pavitt explains. “Despite an early broken string, Nirvana raged it and won over the typically jaded British crowd. This is definitively the show that established Nirvana as international stars. Quotes New Music Express, ‘Nirvana is Sub Pop´s answer to the Beatles.’”
Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989 by Bruce Pavitt is available for download on your iPad with iBooks or on your computer with iTunes. All photos courtesy of Bruce Pavitt and used with permission.