In his 1994 Rolling Stone interview, Kurt talked about your need for reassurance. You were popular in high school, played in all sorts of bands.... What was it about Nirvana, or Kurt, that made you so insecure?
When I joined Nirvana I was the fifth or sixth drummer — I don't know if they'd ever had a drummer they were totally happy with. And they were strangers. There was never much of a deeper connection out side of the music.
Krist [Novoselic] and Kurt had a legendary lifetime connection. Those guys were soulmates. They'd been through so much together, from Aberdeen to the success of Nevermind. They fuckin' shared everything, and they were the kind of friends that didn't have to talk to each other — they just knew. I never really shared that moment with them because I came from such a different place, and within eight months to a year of being in Nirvana, the band blew up into something that no one had expected. It was hard to connect with anybody when that happened.
I don't think I've ever told anyone this, but there were times when Kurt was really unhappy with the way I played drums. I could hear him talking about how much he thought I sucked. But he'd never say it to me. If I'd confront him about it — "Is there a problem? If you want me to leave, just ask" — he'd say, "No, no, no." Most of that happened later, around In Utero. That's when I think Kurt became unhappy with what was happening with the band.
Kurt was so many different things. He was funny or shy or this outgoing, larger-than-life persona. He could be sweet or he could be fucking wicked. He could be intimidating. I thought I was a decent drummer, but I didn't know if I was good enough to be doing this thing, this big deal. I didn't imagine myself a world-class drummer. I was the same fucking drummer that was in Scream, or playing on my bed. All the pressure....
I can't think of one show that I ever played with that band where we walked offstage and said, "That was great." Never one. Only two times did I get any reassurance from Kurt. Once when I joined the band, in 1990, we were drunk at some disco in England, and Kurt came up and said, "I'm so glad you're in this band. I'm so glad you're down-to-earth." I was like, "Wow!" The next time was in late '93 or early '94 when I came home and turned on my message machine and had a message from Kurt that said, "Y'know, I was just sitting here listening to In Utero, and your drumming is so awesome. You did such a great job!" I was like, "Wow!" Those two things were spread out by about four years [laughs].
What was that last year like?
You just never knew. There were times when the room was lit up with energy and happiness, and there were times when the vibe was like the fucking plague. The last year, being in that band was rough. There was a whole lot of dark shit going on. At that point I was living this wonderful, healthy life outside the band, but when I'd enter a band environment, that all changed. It wasn't a lot of fun. But when Pat Smear joined the band, it changed everything. We went from being fucking sulking dirtbags to kids again. It changed our world. He's the sweetest person in the world. He became really close with Kurt. There was laughter.
That leads up to the "MTV Unplugged" performance, in which you absolutely killed. How did you prepare for that?
We'd seen the other Unpluggeds and didn't like many of them, because most bands would treat them like rock shows — play their hits like it was Madison Square Garden, except with acoustic guitars. We wanted to do something different. Like, let's call the Meat Puppets, and let's see if we can learn this Bowie cover. Like the Lead Belly song ["Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" — also recorded by Mark Lanegan]. Kurt looked up to Lanegan, and his first solo record, The Winding Sheet, is one of the best albums of all time. That was the soundtrack to my first six months in Olympia [Washington]. I listened to it every day — when the sun wouldn't come up, when it went down too early and when it was cold and raining. I was lonely. I'd listen to that record for reasons. It was a huge influence on our Unplugged thing.
It's weird to think that, even given the impact of Nevermind, "Unplugged" might be the best Nirvana record of all.
A lot of people feel that way.
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