Dave Grohl And Krist Novoselic Remember That Time Nirvana Reformed
Two years ago, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic reformed Nirvana live onstage at Cal Jam in San Bernardino. Following a raucous Foo Fighters headline set, Nirvana’s two surviving members took to the stage with Pat Smear, Joan Jett and more to honour the legacy one of the greatest bands of all time. It took everyone by surprise, including those who actually bought a ticket, and we thought it was just a one-time thing, but with rumours circulating that the reunion is happening again this weekend in Los Angeles, we thought it was the right time to discuss the 2018 celebration with Dave and Krist.
What were the stress levels like on the day?
“It was crazy! But one of the great things about Cal Jam is that it really is a gathering of all our friends. And it was the same the previous year – we basically invite all of our friends to come and join us at the festival. It really is a celebration of a community of musicians. It’s basically a big backyard barbecue that 30,000 people come to. It’s a reunion, and it’s not every day that you get to gather all those people in one place. So I just raced around on a golf cart and tried to catch as much as I could.”
And then you had the small matter of that Nirvana set…
“To have Krist and Pat and I be able to play some Nirvana songs again – which we rarely ever do – was beyond everything else to me. It’s a complicated feeling: it’s cathartic and sad, but at the same time it’s beautiful for lots of reasons. When Pat and Krist and I sat down to go through those songs in a small rehearsal room with concrete walls, it fuckin’ sounded like Nirvana. We would look at each other and smile, but the emotions would kind of go in waves, because there was someone missing – and you wish that you could still share those songs with Kurt. For the three of us to revisit them and just let all of that out… There’s a lot that comes out. It’s more than musical or physical – it’s this emotional, spiritual release that those songs are filling the room with. It was something special that doesn’t come around often. It was amazing. It’s hard for me to even imagine how people felt on the other side of the stage. It was just Krist, Pat and I, with Joan and John, within a 10-foot radius blasting these songs into the universe again.”
What made Cal Jam the place for the reunion?
“It was really by chance. We never had any grand plans to make that happen – it came together four or five days before the show. Krist texted me saying, ‘John’s gonna be there, do you wanna do some songs?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ Once everybody agreed to do it, that’s when it ramped up into becoming a reality. But yeah, there wasn’t really ever a plan. After we played the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, I considered the idea that, if there was an opportunity, we could do it again. But it’s delicate territory, and you can’t treat it like just another show. It’s very complicated, and very special. In those moments, when it just happens naturally, I think is the best way.”
Was there a moment where it hit you, like, ‘Holy shit, we’re playing Nirvana songs in front of thousands of people again’?
“It was probably …Teen Spirit. The whole thing seemed sort of surreal, and it raced by in a heartbeat and it seemed like a dream. It’s not unlike these recurring dreams that I’ve had for the past 24 years, y’know. I still dream that Nirvana is still a band, and Kurt just appears – like he’s been in hiding (laughs). We look at him and go, ‘What the fuck?! Where have you been?’ And we’ve got a gig in an hour, and I get this feeling, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I get to play these songs again.’ I have that dream at least once or twice a year, and have done for the past 24 years. Getting up to play those songs is like living in that dream. When we rehearsed backstage the day before, the first time we kicked into Breed with Joan Jett was just explosive. It was fucking massive. So the next time we rehearsed, I started inviting my friends, like, ‘Come here! Come and watch this. See what it feels like when we bust into …Teen Spirit.’ It was fucking like being shot into outer space. Being able to play that drum fill and break into the chorus… I don’t know how to explain it. It’s spiritual, physical, emotional – all of that. It’s not something that happens often, that’s for sure.”
What inspired you to text Dave about doing a Nirvana reunion in the first place?
“Well, I thought that since we were all going to be there, we might do a song or three, maybe with John [McCauley]. And then, of course, Joan [Jett] was also around, so we thought, ‘Let’s just get on and do it!’ It was Dave’s idea to try to make it work properly, so we rehearsed a few times to make sure it would be okay. And it was. It reminded me that Dave is just such a powerful drummer, as well.”
It’s the second time you’ve done something like this since Kurt’s passing. How do you feel about commemorating Nirvana’s legacy these days?
“It’s bittersweet, because somebody was missing up there. That’s why during the set – during most of which I was standing very close to Dave like some sort of security blanket – I walked up to the mic and said, ‘Let’s have a cheer for Kurt Cobain!’ I felt we had to say something about the situation. I don’t know if we’ll ever do something like this again, but it felt really good to do it. Personally, it was great to play with those guys again, and to play those songs.”
Your dedication to Kurt came straight after Smells Like Teen Spirit, and it was very moving.
“Thanks. I wondered what the audience were thinking. We could have left it to them to say something, but I felt it had to come from us, so that’s why I did it.”
What made you decide to ask John to sing those songs in the first place, and what did he bring to them?
“He has [Nirvana tribute act] Deervana going and he was in the proximity so, not to make light of it, but he was just there. It was that simple. But he’s great, and the way he delivers those songs, he manages to hit the sweet spot and sing them appropriately. That’s difficult to do, because those are such big shoes to fill.”
What made you decide to ask Joan Jett to help out originally?
“It popped into my head because I’ve loved her my whole life. She’s a total icon to me. She also has that punk credibility, and she’s known Pat [Smear] for forever because she produced the Germs album [1979’s (GI)], so there’s all sorts of connections between us and her. It just made sense to me.”
Pat and her are very much part of that late ‘70s LA punk scene that you love.
“They really are. It’s that real gritty rock scene that was pretty special and contributed a lot to music.”
How were rehearsals for you? Obviously you know the songs, so was it quite easy?
“It was, in some ways. I screwed up on a couple of things, but John was there to say, ‘No, it goes like this, Krist!’ which was very useful (laughs). Dave was busy blasting away throughout, and it was such a pleasure to hear him playing drums. The concrete room backstage was not a very romantic place – it’s almost like a closet with concrete walls and a concrete floor. It was just so loud. Obviously Joan came down and Brody [Dalle], too, but it felt really good, and we were all on the same page straight away.”
When it came to the show, did you feel nervous when you walked onstage?
“No. Not at all. I don’t ever get nervous. Like I said, it felt bittersweet – someone was so obviously missing. But it also felt really intimate, somehow. We hit that first note on Serve The Servants and we took it from there. Even though we were playing on a big stage with a massive PA and in front of thousands of people, it still felt like our thing, and it felt good.”
Serve The Servants and Scentless Apprentice is a pretty hard-hitting opening salvo…
“I guess so, but it seemed right to go back to In Utero and start with the first two tracks from that. Then we went back to In Bloom and we moved on from there.”
The Nevermind period obviously changed a lot for you and the band. What was going through your mind when you were playing those songs?
“It was odd, but it felt like a real treat. I caught myself beaming away during …Teen Spirit. I couldn’t quite believe I was playing it again, and I will cherish that moment for a long time because it was pretty special. I don’t think this will become a regular thing at all. It won’t become a whole circus.”
You mentioned Brody earlier. She played bass on All Apologies, the last track in the set. That allowed you to bust out your favourite instrument: the accordion!
“Yes, it did. And, as you know, I love doing that. My wife doesn’t always agree because I do practice it all the time, but I love that instrument.”
And yet, even though you played accordion with Nirvana back in the day – most notably during the Unplugged performance – people still freak out when they see you playing one…
“They do. But I can tell you that the accordion is a rock’n’roll instrument. I play a Petosa Accordion, which is made by Joey – the youngest of the Petosa family. He has all these new ideas about how to present and market the accordion. If you look at mine, it’s a sunburst colour, like a guitar. It’s not like a traditional accordion that would ordinarily be red or black. It’s a great instrument and I love covering Beatles songs on the accordion. I haven’t yet covered anything by The Stones, maybe I could start with something off Let It Bleed. In fact, their 1965 to 1966 period would be perfect for accordion interpretation.”
That may be down to your ‘unique’ view of pop music. Coming back to Cal Jam, though, once you’d finished the set and walked off stage, what did you say to each other?
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘Wow!’ and we had a hug. Then, the show was over, Dave had just played a huge show, and the adrenaline was flowing. To be honest, I couldn’t believe we’d done it, and I still can’t. But people expected something, so we gave it to them.”
Originally published in Kerrang! issue K!1744.
On March 1, 1994, Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear played live with Nirvana for the very last time…
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