11 bands and artists who wouldn’t be here without Nirvana
Nirvana always wore their influences on their sleeves. Speaking about Nevermind, frontman Kurt Cobain famously told Rolling Stone, “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies… We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.” Every band takes cues from others who came before them, but there’s no denying that the grunge icons became hugely influential in their own right.
As the biggest and arguably most important rock band of the ’90s, they had an impact that went beyond the mere musical, spearheading the scene that would come to be known as grunge and becoming a genuine cultural phenomenon in the process. They’ve inspired multiple generations to start kicking up a racket, and continue to exert a huge influence nearly three decades after Kurt’s death and Nirvana’s untimely demise.
Here are 11 acts who probably wouldn’t be here without Nirvana…
A temperamental genius with a unique lyrical approach and seemingly inborn grasp of songwriting, you say? Rivers Cuomo has carved out his own legacy, but Nirvana were the primary influence on the developing Weezer frontman. Talking about his exposure to Nevermind, he told Rolling Stone: “It felt so close to what I wanted to do. I thought, ‘I can write chord progressions like that. I can write melodies like that. This is something I can do.’ This was right around when Weezer started. I probably wrote The Sweater Song and The World Has Turned and Left Me Here and My Name is Jonas that month – all those early Weezer songs – and then we had our first rehearsal in February of ’92. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that Nevermind really inspired us to go for it.”
Hitting his teen years in the early ’90s, Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil was another muso-to-be for whom Nirvana broke at just the right time. “I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted to be, until Nirvana gave me an identity,” he told Kerrang!. “Having been a Guns N’ Roses fan up until Nirvana arrived, they showed me and all my friends you could be a normal person and do something extraordinary. They are, without doubt, the band that saved my life.”
30 Seconds To Mars
So what do the towering, polished and prog-tinged compositions of 30 Seconds To Mars have to do with Nirvana’s dirty, punk-fuelled grunge? On the face of it they’re two very different bands, but much like the punk bands Kurt adored, Nirvana simply inspired people to express themselves. “They were a great band with a genius songwriter, who had an unstoppable voice. They made a really unusual sound together,” Jared Leto explained. “But I think there was something else that Nirvana gave: it was permission for all of us to have the right to pick up an instrument and create, regardless of your skillset or talent. And that’s a powerful lesson. I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for that insight.”
Ash are the very definition of a band who wouldn’t have existed without Nirvana. Frontman Tim Wheeler was 15 when he saw them – hanging around to get Kurt and Courtney Love’s autographs after the show – and he’s described it as a life-changing moment. “Getting into Nirvana was a turning point for me. I loved them,” he told Kerrang! on the 25th anniversary of Kurt’s death. It was also a turning point for the development of his band. “After seeing Nirvana, we actually changed our line-up and became a three-piece,” he said. “Before that we had been a five-piece metal band, struggling to make it – and seeing Nirvana showed us that a three-piece could be powerful.”
Lana Del Rey
Nirvana and Kurt’s influence went way beyond grunge and guitar-fuelled rock bands. In 2012, Lana Del Rey covered Heart-Shaped Box (prompting Courtney Love to tweet, “You do know the song is about my vagina right?” in the process). Speaking to Sirius FM about the cover, the singer-songwriter gushed, “When I was 11, I saw Kurt Cobain singing Heart-Shaped Box on MTV and it really stopped me dead in my tracks. I thought he was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. Even at a young age, I really related to his sadness… [his music has] continued to be my primary inspiration – in terms of not wanting to compromise lyrically or sonically.”
Okay, so Frank Turner the man would still exist, but his music might be very, very different. Before he was an Acoustic Punk Troubadour™, he was in the full-on punk band Million Dead, and before that he was a committed metalhead (as his impressive Celebrity Mastermind victory with a specialist subject of Iron Maiden testified). But Nirvana marked a turning point in Frank’s own musical development and ambition. “Before them, I was big into bands like Metallica and AC/DC… bands that sounded shiny, perfect, unattainable,” he told us. “Nirvana sounded like me and my friends playing; Kurt’s tone, parts and playing were all within my reach. Kurt taught me to play it like you fucking mean it.”
A lot of the post-grunge bands that proliferated in the late-’90s and early-2000s were keen to downplay the influence, especially given the fact that so many sounded like ersatz Nirvana with all the grit and passion buffed away. South Africans Seether were a lot closer to the spirit and never denied the obvious musical comparisons, though. Frontman Shaun Morgan has said that Nirvana were the band that first inspired him to be a musician, and when rumours of a reunion tour followed the first of Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear’s get-togethers a few years ago, a lot of fans were clamouring for him to land the guest vocalist role. He described the prospect as a childhood dream but added that “sadly, it’s not something that anyone has ever asked me to do”.
Bush were one of those bands who were tagged with a copyist label, especially at the start of their career. Gavin Rossdale always asserted that their main influence had been the Pixies – essentially drawing from the same wellspring as Kurt Cobain – but you could certainly argue that Bush would almost definitely not have been one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the 1990s without Nirvana kicking down the door. Gavin has also been more forthcoming on the influence of Kurt and co. in more recent years. “I thought there was immense brilliance by that band, and who made rock records that weren’t influenced by them in some way, in some capacity?” he told American Songwriter.
The ’90s might be long gone, but music has a tendency to move in cycles, and a clutch of up-and-comers have rediscovered, retooled and reignited that Nirvana-esque mix of pop, punk, metal and noise. Ireland’s Fangclub are one of the best, and frontman Steven King can pinpoint the moment his obsession began. “We were calling in to see our friend and her older sister was blasting out Territorial Pissings,” he told Totally Dublin. “It was like a switch going off in my brain that I just couldn’t turn off. All I was thinking was, ‘What was that? Everything about this, I need to know.’ ”
Machine Gun Kelly
Machine Gun Kelly’s journey to the more guitar-fuelled side of the musical spectrum was inspired not by virtuosic musicianship but by players with grit, feel and something to say. People like Kurt Cobain in fact. “Kurt didn’t give a fuck how he sounded; he gave a fuck how he felt,” MGK told Kerrang! in 2020. “Give me three chords and tell me to show you how I feel, and I bet you I will, and it’ll come out sounding revolutionary… I bet you a robot can play the most technical guitar solo than anybody on this fucking planet, but it can’t play it better than Kurt at the Reading Festival in 1993.”
Are we going there? Okay, it’s hard to believe someone as passionate as Dave Grohl wouldn’t have spent his life making music, but would he have left his drum seat? Appearing on CBS show Sunday Morning a couple of years ago, Dave told interviewer Anthony Mason: “I didn’t like my voice, I didn’t think I was a songwriter, and I was in a band with one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. I didn’t really want to rock the boat.” He’s also admitted that Nirvana’s success gave his new band an obvious initial profile, even if that did bring its own problems. “I’ve never been afraid to say that if it weren’t for Nirvana, the Foo Fighters wouldn’t be in the same position that we’re in now,” he explained to Mojo. “We had an advantage right out of the gate that there was an interest in the band because of that. I mean, it’s obvious.”
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