Twenty years to the day after Nirvana released Nevermind, their generation-defining assault of hardcore energy and pop melody, surviving bandmembers Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl and producer Butch Vig reunited in New York for a gleeful, intimate fan Q&A moderated by the Daily Show's Jon Stewart. (Watch a clip of the interview below.) "SiriusXM's Town Hall with Nirvana," broadcast live from the station's glossy New York studio on Saturday night, offered new insight into the creative process behind the album, its dramatic impact on rock & roll, and the intense and mischievous bond among the flannel-clad young punks who made everything possible.
Covering two decades in two hours was a tall order, and Stewart set the evening's tone immediately with an enthusiastic recollection of the first time he heard Nevermind. "I couldn't believe it. It had everything – sonic menace, melody, urgency, irony. It was like the Beatles had swallowed Black Flag," he said as Novoselic, Grohl and Vig grinned at each other.
As the band revealed, the recording of the album was similarly scrappy with a strong work ethic throughout; with Kurt Cobain, they rehearsed the album uninterrupted for three months and then decamped to the shabby Sound City studios in Van Nuys, California, for 16 days. They recorded live in the same room and only one studio altercation occurred when Cobain became so frustrated during the recording of "Lithium," he launched into the deranged jam that became Nevermind's secret track ("Endless, Nameless") and then smashed his guitar. "Kurt could be really mellow and sweet, and then he would flip and be really intense. That's what a lot of Nevermind and Nirvana's music is: Kurt's intensity captured," Novoselic explained.
The Nevermind sessions were rigidly focused and the downtime was inversely giddy: each night, the band hit the beach, frequented one liquor store with a sinister clown on its sign and goofed off constantly in the studio complex. "There's a popular misconception that the band traveled with this black cloud over our heads all the time, and it was so not that way," Grohl said.
Recalled Vig of one mixing session, "We were enamored with the fact that Ozzy Osbourne was in the studio next to us. We would stand outside the studio and listen to him while he sang –"
Grohl finished: "So one time, we got trashed at our hotel and wrote OZZY on our fingers. I was playing pool with Kurt when Ozzy walked in, gave us this dirty look and walked out, and we realized we all had OZZY on our fingers. It was so fucking embarrassing."
Several fans in the studio asked how Nirvana bore their roles as the mainstream validators of Seattle grunge and counterculture music itself. Novoselic gamely described his anxiety dreams after the release of the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video (the synopsis included some gratuitous nudity, which Stewart riffed off ably), and then mused, "We had this attitude toward the mainstream world that maybe it wasn't for us, and we felt like outsiders. Then all of a sudden, we were the Number One band in the world, and we pulled people in. We had to reconcile that."
In the last few minutes of the interview, Stewart guided the band into a solemn moment for Cobain. "Remember Kurt Cobain. I wish Kurt was here," said Novoselic. "There's a big hole. For me, [his death] was so much reality, I was like, 'No, I'm going to live. That's what I'm going to do.'"
"I had the same reaction," added Grohl. "I remember the day after Kurt died, waking up and thinking, 'Wow, I get to wake up again? Ok. You have to make good with what you've got.'"
"Town Hall with Nirvana" also touched on the many drummers who preceded Grohl, breaking bread with Guns N' Roses, and Novoselic, Grohl, and Vig reconvening to record "I Should Have Known" on the Foo Fighters' latest album, Wasting Light. It will reair on Monday, September 26th, at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and Tuesday, September 27th, at 12 p.m. on SiriusXM's Nevermind Radio.
• Krist Novoselic, Duff McKagan and More Pay Tribute to 'Nevermind'
• Inside the 20th-Anniversary Reissue of 'Nevermind'
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Nirvana, 'Nevermind'
• Video: Jon Stewart on How the 'Daily Show' Is Made