Kurt Cobain wanted Nevermind to sound like Black Sabbath

Nirvana at the Motorsports International Garage in Seattle, September 1990, a year before the world heard Nevermind.

When Nirvana arrived at producer Butch Vig's Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, in April of 1990, they didn't travel by private jet or even a tour bus. The trio - Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and drummer Chad Channing - drove their battered van 1,900 miles from Seattle nonstop, and according to Vig, "they probably hadn't taken a bath or shower in three or four days."

In a week's time, the band recorded a batch of demos of songs that would ultimately wind up on Nevermind. Some of these run-throughs are among the gems on the 20th anniversary edition of Nevermind, due 27 September.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Vig said that during the demo sessions, "Kurt was charming and witty, but he would go through these mood swings. He would be totally engaged, then all of a sudden a light switch would go off and he'd go sit in the corner and completely disappear into himself. I didn't really know how to deal with that."

A year later, in the spring of 1991, the band (then with drummer Dave Grohl in place of Channing) met with Vig to cut the versions of their songs for Nevermind. The producer remembers the band being in good spirits: "They'd stay up all night and take drugs and go to the beach in Santa Monica, then wander in at three or four in the afternoon the next day.

"They were really enjoying a moment of freedom, and in the back of their minds, they knew they were making a great album. Those were fun times, man, before any of the craziness happened."

Even so, during a first attempt at mixing, Cobain asserted himself. Says Vig: "I'd be balancing the drums and the guitar and Kurt would come and say 'Turn all the treble off. I want it to sound more like Black Sabbath.' It was kind of a pain in the ass."

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.