The popular narrative behind Nirvana seems to be that it was Kurt Cobain and two other dudes, even if one of those other dudes (Dave Grohl) would go on to front one of the most successful rock bands of the 21st century (Foo Fighters).
In a recent interview with Ultimate-Guitar, Nevermind producer Butch Vig opened up about the recording process and revealed that Cobain wasn’t the only Nirvana member integral to the band’s sound. Here’s how Vig remembers the experience:
“We recorded Nevermind pretty quick. We did the whole album in 16 days. I had worked with Nirvana before at Smart when they had come out about a year earlier to do some demos. Well, it wasn’t for demos but they came out to record an album that was supposed to come out on Sub Pop. That was before Dave Grohl joined the band and what happened is we didn’t finish the record ’cause Kurt lost his voice. I mixed the songs they had finished and the band pressed up 100 cassette copies and gave them out to their friends. They ostensibly bootlegged themselves and then all of a sudden all the major labels started calling and they jumped ship and went to Geffen. They had a lot of big name producers they talked to and didn’t like any of ’em. They called me at the 11th hour to go out to LA, so I didn’t really have any preproduction time.”
Once he got to LA and met up with the band, Vig was immediately floored by the sheer power of their sound. “The band was tight as hell,” he recalls. “Contrary to popular belief, they were not slackers. They wanted to make a kickass record. Dave Grohl told me they practiced every day for six months before they went into record Nevermind. We pretty much got every take on that record in one or two or maybe three takes.”
Vig had especially nice things to say about Grohl and his drumming, which he said fueled much of the “loudness” you hear on the record. “[Dave’s] an incredible drummer. The first day of preproduction in North Hollywood, Kurt had this fucking very loud Mesa Boogie he was playing and Krist [Novoselic] had an Ampeg SVT bass amp and those were both loud as hell.
“I just kept pacing around the room and going, ‘Oh, my god. This sounds fuckin’ amazing.’ Dave is an incredible musician. He really is. People always say, ‘How’d you get that sound on Nevermind?’ and 90 percent of it is Dave Grohl… it’s just how Dave plays and he’s just so, so powerful.”
It’s worth noting that Vig is the drummer of Garbage, so dude knows what he’s talking about when he says Grohl slayed those skins.