Nirvana Drummer Steps Out

Chad Channing takes the mike for Before Cars

September 30, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Dave Grohl is not the only former Nirvana drummer who can play guitar and sing. Chad Channing -- Grohl's predecessor, who played on the band's 1989 debut, Bleach -- is launching a new project called Before Cars, which sees him supplying lead vocals and rhythm guitar, as well as drums.

He has been recording tracks for a full-length after Bleach producer Jack Endino, who worked on Channing's demo, convinced him to take the plunge. "Jack was saying, 'You really should do it,'" explains Channing, who is backed by guitarist Paul Burback and bassist Andy Miller. "It's basically a compilation of stuff I've written over the years -- a lot of the songs go back as far as 1984. For a while, I didn't feel like I was ready. But then I just thought, 'It's time to get this together.'"

Although not Nirvana's original drummer, Channing was the first to appear on record with the band during their Sub Pop Records glory years. Along with guitarist-vocalist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, he played on the group's first-ever release, 1988's "Love Buzz/Big Cheese" single, as well as Bleach and the 1990 EP Blew.

"Back when we just had the single out, we could end up playing Tucson for twenty people and be lucky to come out with thirty dollars for gas to make it to the next town," Channing says, recalling the early Nirvana tours. "But there were these people who would come out and say, 'We're in the Sub Pop singles club, and we know all about you guys!' And I'd be like, 'You do?' But once Bleach came out, we were playing to packed houses wherever we went."

Nirvana parted ways with Channing in 1990. "Ultimately, I didn't give them much of a choice," he says. "After we did Bleach, Kurt said he wouldn't mind having some help with the songwriting, and I was like, 'Oh yeah, I'm all for that.' But over time, I realized that that wasn't going to happen, and I slowly started losing my inspiration to play. And when you lose your inspiration, it shows."

After Nirvana, Channing -- who lives on Bainbridge Island, west of Seattle -- performed with a number of local outfits, including the Fire Ants, East of the Equator and Redband, for whom he still plays bass.

More than fifteen years down the line, he has fond memories of his years with Cobain and Novoselic. "Kurt was always really nice, always quiet," Channing says, "except for onstage."

Channing once attended a Grohl-era Nirvana performance at Seattle's OK Hotel, but, sadly, the next time he'd see Novoselic and Grohl again was at Cobain's funeral. "I always wished that I'd had at least one more opportunity to talk to him," Channing says of Cobain. "Just to hang out and talk. Then the next thing I know, he's dead. It was kind of like getting the wind knocked out of you."

As for his surviving former bandmate, Channing has kept in touch. "When Krist was on Bainbridge Island last month doing a presentation at our bookstore, me and a friend of mine went down there and hooked up with him afterwards and had a beer," Channing says. "We chit-chatted for a while, and ended up dancing to some Irish music in the street before he headed to the ferry. It was hilarious. I'm lucky to see him once a year, these days, but I just sent him my Before Cars demo."

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