Legendary Seattle producer Jack Endino was out on tour in Europe with Kandi Coded on April 5th, which marked the 15th anniversary of the death of perhaps the most influential musician he has yet produced: Kurt Cobain.
"Fifteen years doesn't mean as much as a decimal," Endino tells Rolling Stone, when asked if any reporters tracked him down for a reaction. "I didn't hear a peep." He expected a different response on June 15, 2009, which marked a decimal anniversary for Cobain's band, Nirvana: the 20th anniversary of the release of Bleach, their debut album, which Endino produced. Endino made an early spring deadline for Sub Pop Records, remastering the 13 original album tracks, as well as a 12-song set list from a February 9, 1990 gig at Portland's Pine Street Theatre.
However, June 15th passed with no anniversary reissue of Bleach, reportedly a victim of the legal hassles that tend to surround all things Nirvana, particularly in the wake of Cobain's death — but it is difficult to get Endino or anyone from the Nirvana camp to speak on the record about the legal headaches that plague the band's legacy.
At last, Sub Pop has emerged with the less historic date of November 3, 2009 for the historic reissue, but Endino is sure the band's core audience will consider the wait to have been worthwhile. Looking back at the recording of the original tracks in a mere 30 hours at his old Reciprocal Recording studio in the Seattle neighborhood of Fremont, Endino said he did what he always does: "I made it rock." (Check out the reissue's track listing here.) Endino now works in his Soundhouse Recording studio, in the adjacent neighborhood of Ballard, within walking distance of the old studio space, a "triangular, wedge-shaped building with a door at the pointy end and an air conditioner above the door" that is now used by Death Cab for Cutie as rehearsal and storage space.
Endino says he pushed for George Marino — "the guy who did the Led Zeppelin remasters" — to remaster Bleach, and Sub Pop went along with his suggestion. Endino and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic supervised Marino's work, with approval. "He didn't squash it," Endino said of Marino's effect on the sonic range of his mixes.
Today Endino says of the Bleach sessions, "I hardly remember any of it," but the drummer on most of the record, Chad Channing, has not forgotten. "I always liked working with Jack," Channing says. "He is open and receptive to ideas, but at the same time he is very keen and won't let you get away with anything. He'll say, 'I think you can do better.' It's fun and good to be pushed that way."
Channing, who joined Nirvana in 1986, was replaced on drums by Dave Grohl in 1990. (Dale Crover also has drum credits on Bleach, owing to the band's decision to use tracks from an earlier session for three songs.) Channing admits to losing interest in the band after he said Cobain reneged on an offer to include some of his own songwriting, and the quality of his drumming suffered. This leads to the standard opinion in Nirvana circles that Grohl tightened up the band and made the staggering success of Nevermind possible.
Endino thinks the 1990 live set from Pine Street Theatre with Channing behind the kit will force some rethinking of this conventional wisdom. "The bonus material has some live tracks, some stuff that people haven't heard, the Bleach lineup with Chad on drums," Endino said. "It's surprisingly good. Chad was a better drummer than people realize. It's actually pretty tight."
Channing's memories of Nirvana also come as something of surprise, given the associations the band left behind — dark lyrics, grungy power chords, drug abuse, untimely death and those endless legal squabbles. Channing remembers the experience of playing music and enjoying it. "For me, it was pretty exciting, really fun," he says. "Before Nirvana I had always played with people I had known for a long time. This band was my first opportunity to play with people I had never played with before. It was fun, refreshing. It was really cool."
Even Endino is not too grizzled a rock veteran to brighten at one memory he owes to having recorded Bleach. It dates from a backstage meeting in Seattle with rock pioneer Iggy Pop. "When I met Iggy Pop, he said, 'Oh yeah, you made the good Nirvana record,' " Endino recalls with a big, bright smile. "Iggy was effusive, he was thrilled to pieces. He went on about how much he loved that Bleach album."