Record producer and Garbage member Butch Vig recently reminisced on his time producing Nirvana's breakthrough record Nevermind during his recent keynote speech at the Yellow Phone Music Conference in Milwaukee. It was the first time he had ever spoken at a music conference, so he had a font of entertaining stories about Nirvana that he had not worn out previously. Vig found a roundabout way of crediting a space heater as the impetus for Nirvana to rehearse more and claimed that, because they were so well-prepared, he didn't have to do much editing on the album – other than on the intro for "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"Some people don't know this, but before they came in, they rehearsed every day for six months, like 10 hours a day," Vig told the audience. "Kurt, contrary to the slacker attitude, wanted to have a hit record. He wanted to make a really good-sounding album. Part of the reason they rehearsed for 10 hours a day was they were living in a really floppy, shitty apartment up in the northwest, and the rehearsal space had a space heater. So they would go in there and it would be warm and they would go in there and play until 10, 11 o'clock at night and then they'd go back to their apartment. But they were tight."
The group was so tight that Vig recalls Nirvana tracked Nevermind relatively effortlessly. With "Smells Like Teen Spirit," he recalls needing to redo Kurt Cobain's solo because the tone wasn't right, and he had to help the band get Dave Grohl's drum intro right on the song. "I remember torturing Kurt for about half an hour, trying to play it to get the timing so when Dave came in with the drum fill [it would be right]," he said. "He was not happy about that, but he eventually got it. But it's the same chord progression all the way through, and you can feel the way the band plays, especially the way Kurt sings, they are going for it. And again it's that human performance thing. I think that's one of the reasons the record still sounds good. It doesn't sound dated to me. It just sounds like an amazing performance and it's a killer song."
The fourth annual Yellow Phone Music Conference, which emphasizes sharing ideas about the industry in an intimate setting, took place in early September. "The industry focus and accessibility for musicians is something the business needs right now," Vig said in a statement about why he decided to do the keynote speech. "Yellow Phone's commitment to bridging the gap between the musician and the industry is something that really resonates with me. The fact that such a progressive conference is taking place in the area I grew up in is fantastic — the industry could use more of that."