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Fifteen Years After Kurt Cobain’s Death, Would-Be Nirvanas Share His Broken Crown

Ever since Kurt Cobain, Seattle's seminal grunge hero, shot himself in the head, slews of would-be successors to Nirvana's sonic throne have come and gone. Because April 5 marks the 15th anniversary of Cobain's death, we're taking a look at some of the bands that have been hailed as "the next Nirvana" — who they were, why they were handed the imitator's crown, and where they are now.

Local H (est. 1987): Though this hard rock duo from Zion, Illinois, started playing gigs the year Nirvana formed, they didn't release their first album, Ham Fisted, until 1995, the year after Cobain's death. As one of the first dynamic duos in rock, vocalist/guitarist/bassist Scott Lucas and drummer Joe Daniels (replaced by Brian St. Clair in 1999) embraced the same, stripped-down sensibilities that gave Nirvana its "grunge garage" vibe. Their first hit single, "Bound for the Floor," boasted similar song structure (soft verse/loud chorus) to Nirvana's earliest songs. Also, Local H played Halloween shows from 1996-2006 at the Double Door in Chicago pretending to be other bands, including a show as Nirvana. Local H still record and tour, and haven't changed their sound much since Cobain kicked it (nor have they cracked the top five since their first hit single). Their last album was 2008's 12 Angry Months.

Foo Fighters (est. 1995): Founded by Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, fans half-expected Foo Fighters to be a cookie-cutter imitation of Grohl's former band, especially since initial FF guitarist Pat Smear also toured with Nirvana. In 1997, Grohl told Guitar World that Cobain had a huge influence on his songwriting: "Through Kurt, I saw the beauty of minimalism and the importance of music that's stripped down," Grohl said. He also admitted he'd been intimidated by Cobain's songwriting skills when he was in Nirvana, so Grohl kept his songs to himself until he could launch Foo Fighters, which in effect became a solo project of Grohl's (with the exception of one guitar solo on the band's self-titled debut album, Grohl played all the instruments). Foo Fighters have sold more than 29 million albums worldwide, and are slated to release a greatest-hits album in 2009.

Puddle of Mudd (est. 1993): Perhaps the most commercially successful of Nirvana's imitators, Puddle of Mudd has actually started to sound more like Cobain 's power trio since their breakthrough single, "Control," hit the airwaves in 2001. That song didn't sound like much of a Nirvana rip-off, but singer and guitarist Wes Scantlin's raspy screams and sulking demeanor were quickly compared to those of the late Cobain. Radio DJs hailed the band as "the next Nirvana," and Puddle of Mudd seem to have done their best to earn that label. Aside from frequently covering Nirvana's "Breed" and "About a Girl" at live shows, the band's biggest hits — "Drift & Die," "She Hates Me," and "Psycho" — sound more like Nirvana songs than Puddle of Mudd's earlier, breakthrough material. According to its Wikipedia entry, the band is currently in a state of disarray, with Scantlin announcing at this year's Grammy Awards that Puddle of Mudd's next album, tentatively called The Rise of Destruction, "sucks balls," and that he was going to fire and replace all his band members — which sounds more like something former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters kingpin Dave Grohl would do, rather than Cobain.

The Vines (est. 1999): Though they came into their own as one of the forerunners of the garage rock revival in the new millennium, this Australian quartet started out performing Nirvana covers in friends' backyards. When their 2003 album Highly Evolved debuted, British music pundits like NME called the band "the second coming of Nirvana" and compared frontman Craig Nicholls' raw vocals, unpredictable behavior, and marijuana use to Cobain's singing, sulking, and substance abuse. But by the time The Vines released their 2006 album, Vision Valley, they didn't display a shred of grunge in their music, instead adopting short-and-sweet songs that sounded more like a cross between The Beatles and the Sex Pistols than anything else. Their latest album, Melodia (2008), made it to number 12 on the Australian music charts but has yet to crack the charts stateside.

Seether (est. 1999): One of the first bands to be saddled with the "post-grunge" label, this South African quartet has frequently covered Nirvana's "You Know You're Right," "Something in the Way," and "Heart-Shaped Box" at live shows — three of Nirvana's most gloomy songs. That's fitting given that Seether singer Shaun Morgan seems hell-bent on emulating Cobain the Tragic Hero, wearing cardigan sweaters similar to Cobain's, dying his hair the same bright maroon that Cobain did after the release of Nevermind, and indulging in similarly self-destructive habits (Morgan entered rehab for alcoholism in 2006 and told a South African news outlet that he was addicted to a combination of substances). With Morgan now seemingly clean, Seether seem to have stalled since the release of their 2007 album, Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces. The band released an iTunes exclusive album in 2008, interspersed with interview bits and new recordings of previously released songs, and Morgan says the band plans to release an album of demos and previously unreleased songs this year, but he has yet to announce another album of all-new studio material.

Silverchair (est. 1992): This Australian trio has been compared to Nirvana ever since its breakthrough single "Tomorrow" in 1994, and not always in a good way. Because of the band's Seattle-soaked sound (they were admittedly heavily influenced by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden), they've been called "Nirvana imitators," "Nirvana clones," and "Nirvana rip-offs." Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns hasn't taken those accusations very well. In a 1999 issue of Metal Hammer, Johns said, "I think the main thing, although I can understand it, that really knocks me over the wrong side of the fence is the Nirvana comparisons." Silverchair garnered so much vitriol for their Nirvana-ness that they went out of their way to try and make an album (Neon Ballroom in 1999) that sounded as little like Nirvana as possible, ditching the gritty, verse-chorus-verse grunge formula for more experimental elements and complex songwriting. The band's last album, 2007's Young Modern, continues the band's morphing into its own sound, incorporating lush string arrangements, catchy pop hooks, and tricky chord progressions. Most critics hailed the album as a marker of Silverchair's maturity, but Pop Matters critic Nick Pearson still compared Johns to Cobain, saying the two share the "inability to write lyrics."

Torche (est. 2005): Who? The newest "next Nirvana" is a relatively unknown three-piece band from Miami, but that didn't stop their first label (Robotic Empire) from comparing their 2005 self-titled first album to Nirvana's 1989 album Bleach. Although the band is classified as "stoner metal" and "sludge metal" (genres that influenced Cobain but never really fit Nirvana's sound), some people are comparing Torche's musical prowess and innovation to that of Nirvana. In an interview with, guitarist Andy Williams from metalcore band Every Time I Die said, "They're going to change the course of music the way Nirvana did. I really believe that. They're the next wave of Nirvana." But Torche's second album, 2008's Meanderthal (released on prominent prog-metal label Hydra Head Records), is extreme doom metal, more along the lines of the Melvins (one of Cobain's favorite bands) than Nirvana. Meanderthal was ranked number one on Decibel Magazine's list of "Top 40 Extreme Albums of 2008," and also received favorable reviews from Spin and Pitchfork Media, suggesting that the band may be "the first Torche," rather than "the next Nirvana."

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea