Smells Like Teen Spirit was one of the last songs written before Nirvana travelled to California to record Nevermind, Kurt sending producer Butch Vig a cassette of its demo a week ahead of the sessions.
“It was a boombox recording of a rehearsal,” Butch remembered to Kerrang!. “Kurt introduced it by saying, ‘Hey Butch, we got some new songs for you, and we also got Dave Grohl – he’s the best drummer in the world!’ Then they clicked into Teen Spirit, with the scratchy guitar at the start. It was so fucking distorted, I could barely hear anything. But underneath the fuzz, I could hear ‘Hello, Hello’, melodies and chord structures. And even though the recording was terrible, I was super excited.”
Just before the recording session, Nirvana played through their songs at a nearby rehearsal space. “It blew me away,” Butch remembers. “It was the first time I heard Dave Grohl play live, and it sounded so amazing. I was floored when I heard it. I remember pacing around thinking, ‘Oh my God, this sounds crazy intense.’”
To give Teen Spirit proper emphasis, Butch wanted to use some studio trickery, though Kurt was typically reluctant. “I said, ‘Kurt, I want you to double-track the guitars and vocals, to really make this jump out of the speakers.’ He thought it was ‘cheating’, especially with his vocals. So I had him do multiple vocal takes, and he sang them so consistently I could run them at the same time as a double track, and it really made the song sound powerful.”