On the 30th Anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind, Phoenix Musicians Talk About Its Importance

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Geffen Records
This week marks the 30th anniversary of Nirvana's seminal sophomore album, Nevermind. You could look at album charts or sales, or even the hundreds of reviews and essays, to gauge the record's larger, long-term significance. Instead, we opted to talk to members of several Phoenix bands to see how that record shaped their respective artistry and overall careers.

Across each conversation, a common thread emerged: the album's more "explosive" qualities. Like, how it blasted apart the era of hair metal and ushered in grunge and alternative. The way this LP shattered the norms of popular music and gave credence to slackers everywhere. Or the way it erupted within the young minds of an entire generation of future artists, musicians, and creators. Nevermind was the fuse that reshaped popular culture as we know it, and we're all still living and sorting through the rubble.

Happy birthday, Nevermind, here's to 30 more dynamite years.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.

Richard Nihil, I Am Hologram

I'll never forget the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I'd wake up early to watch MTV. It was at, like, 6 o'clock in the morning. I remember thinking, "What did I just hear?" It was almost like electrified pop music. I saw something in Kurt Cobain that I never saw in anybody and still probably [haven't] to this day. I understood it without even knowing what the fuck the words were.

It's actually not my favorite Nirvana record anymore; In Utero is. What Nevermind did, though, was take someone who was very obscure [Cobain] and bring them into a format where it just seemed that it caught on with everybody. He ushered in this whole, and I know he hated the word alternative, but he did usher in this whole alternative side to self-expression.

People would not have gotten into [alternative], I don't think, had it not been for one real, commercially raw album that influenced everybody else to listen to different things. It did awaken something, like a mystery, within you. Kurt legitimized a whole bunch of genres of music that people probably wouldn't have ever liked.

I have a Nirvana cover band. I think we're different in that we're not a tribute band. We don't try to sound like them so much. We don't dress up like him or anything. But I like to think that we try to capture their earlier vibes, that kind of goofiness and the fact that they didn't take things so seriously.

My last gig before I left Arizona [on an extended trip], we redid Nevermind in its entirety. Even the noise song at the end. I ended up smashing my guitar; I destroyed the shit out of it. People were picking up volume knobs. There's some people that even have frets. That experience let me turn a guitar into 40 different pieces of memories for people.

Jacob Smale and Joe Platt, Mile High Actors

Jacob Smale: I can remember actually sitting down and fully listening to Nevermind in high school. I can't say that I'm the biggest Nirvana fan, but I know so much about them. And it's just hard to deny the fact that they are so influential. They made a whole movement.

Joe Platt: For me, it was just recognizing songs. The smaller bands that I was mostly into, I'd listen to one song and then later on the notion comes that it's a Nirvana cover. So, it's kind of a by-proxy thing, with those bands deriving so much from Nirvana.

JS: You've got three rowdy kids from Seattle or wherever. The producer [Butch Vig] was such a genius when it came to really setting it all up. Take, for example, "Territorial Pissings," where you literally plug the guitar straight into the soundboard, which managed to give Kurt the double-track, sort of like a Beatles album. Even "Something in the Way," with the wonderful, beautiful strings, is just the opposite of "Yesterday" by The Beatles.

This is the first mainstream album that really took those hard emotions that a lot of people tended to avoid and blast them in front of the entire world. That's why it's just one of those albums that's just undeniable.

JP: I think it's the energy of the album. That energy kind of encapsulated everything about them and also Seattle. It paved a lot of roads for other bands using that momentum and that same force. It came from literally every aspect of every song on the album. It's a step [removed] from all of our tastes. And yet we can all come together and say, "Yeah, this meant this to me or that song," and you wouldn't even necessarily attribute it to the album itself.

JS: It inspired me that you really don't need technical training to be a musician. [Nevermind] is a turning point, where it's inspiring for everybody [and showing them] that they're fully capable of picking up an instrument. They're fully capable of going and playing shows. They're fully capable of doing all these things.

Logan Miracle, After the Calm

My birthday is the day when Kurt was found but a year later, April 5, 1995. So I always thought that was weird.

If you're a kid learning guitar, you learn Cobain riffs because, whether or not you ended up liking them, it's easy to learn some Nirvana songs. Me and my friends had a drum kit at my buddy's house. Every day after school, we'd go over there, and everybody would try to do the little drum fill intro to "Breed." Or, yell like maniacs to the intro part of "Territorial Pissings."

Now that I've had a lot of time to be a musician myself, I love the fact that there's so much raw energy and chaos [on Nevermind]. I always say music is subjective. Somebody could listen to one thing and say, "This saved my life," and another person can say, "I don't like that at all. It's trash." But when the majority of people can say, "This is not only a great piece of you know, music, but this is an important piece of music," I really do feel like that that stays true for not only Nevermind, but just Nirvana.

Kurt was one of the first people that I noticed who would almost, like, mock society or mock ideas or mock social stuff in his lyrics. That whole music video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is mocking that cookie cutter/MTV thing. It's funny because it's exactly what it ended up becoming about as a song. Twenty One Pilots had "Stressed Out," and they wrote about songs getting overplayed and that song ended up getting overplayed and they hate it now. Even after all these years, the same things ... are still blatantly being said today.

There's albums that are great that I ended up hating. With Nevermind, you just get to appreciate it more and more. I kind of look at it as a fine wine.

Elliot Diggs, Painting Fences and Rundown Roommates

I went to a church camp when I was about 14. I ended up in a room with the only other kid there with a guitar and long hair. I was all into Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull; all of the prog guitar music of the '70s.

[The kid] just played the [Nirvana] chords and I'm thinking to myself, "Maybe he's just not that good. Like, that doesn't make sense — why?" He hands me the CD of Nevermind, and goes, "If you hate it, immediately hand it back. But just try it." Once I heard him sing on it, it all makes perfect sense why you'd play those chords or that riff. When [Cobain] started singing the melody to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," it blew me away.

That solo in "In Bloom" — I've heard a million guitar solos from Hendrix to Van Halen and that was like, "What even was that?" Just a bunch of noisy, bent, and distorted notes and then something that didn't even sound like it was quite the right key. How does he do things that shouldn't work?

That got me open to the whole grunge movement, and that's how I discovered Tool and stoner metal. It's very all over the place, and that's what's great about it. It may have been why I gravitated toward it immediately. All the classic records, from Hendrix to Led Zeppelin to Pink Floyd, their big albums have a lot of diversity. They go from loud to quiet and fast to slow.

It was that album that really put a hard reset on music in the industry in general. Like, let's stop that and let's do something a little more real. [Nevermind] is the spirit of rock 'n' roll. It just congealed in the best production that the '90s could offer. It was that moment in time that this album needed to happen. And it blew everything out of the water.

Marcus Rushmore, Let Alone

I saw the music video for "In Bloom" and it kind of blew the doors open.

Because I hadn't done my own music yet, I was kind of a late bloomer on finding things that weren't my parents' music. That was kind of my first delve into something that seems mainstream, but is something that actually connected with my own music that I wanted to listen. For any of us that wanted to make music and bring a new version of rock to the table, [Nirvana] created the earth's acceptance of lines like, "We can have some more / Nature is a whore / Bruises on the fruit / Tender age in bloom."

It's not that [Cobain] was more weird, or had more developed individuality than tons of other artists. I think he had a lack of fear, and to go right for these things. It's rare that someone can do it so recklessly. And there's beauty in that recklessness, right? You need someone that has less fear than other people.

Nirvana set a bar for me. That darkness sits with me on the tones I choose, or the vibes, if you will. The production and the way they decided to make those albums, everything they record is darker. I tap into that all the time. And that's because I don't want to let that go. I yearn for that shit, and so I would like to make that shit.

Nevermind is not an album that you could put on your headphones and listen to all the way through, or listen to a couple tracks of, and then decide that you can live your life the same way.

Kevin Michael Prier, The Real Fakes

I grew up in a rural town in Missouri; we didn't get a lot of music unless it was on the radio. Once, my cousin left me to play Doom when I noticed he had [Nevermind], and I could listen to it without getting in trouble. [Doom] ended and I kept playing, and "Endless, Nameless" comes on and I thought I'd angered the gods or something.

For me, it mirrors what people in the '60s say about seeing The Beatles for the first time on Ed Sullivan. How [Nevermind] just changed their world, and from that point forward, they wanted to play rock 'n' roll. It was like, "This is what music can be. Well, this is what I've always wanted to do." I got a guitar as soon as I could earn the money. A little $75 cheap Stratocaster copy.

I was exposed to a lot of country and bluegrass and a lot of '50s rock 'n' roll growing up, and none of that ever spoke to me. Nevermind contains some special ingredients. I think it was Kurt's sensibility, where he was combining all this punk energy and punky stuff. He was playing punk music, but what he was doing was writing pop songs. It's like putting salt and caramel together, right? It's two things that you're like, "How does that work?"

I heard in interviews and stuff that his favorite book was Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. The protagonist just loathes the smell of humanity, and he's separating from the world. That book really spoke to Kurt, and knowing that, it made a lot of sense why these sort of abstract lyrics spoke to me and others like me. They were expressing the same kind of things. What we were seeing at that time was all that fake consumerist stuff. This weird, plastic, and kitschy stuff. [The album] really makes you think about where you're at in this moment.

Not to make too grandiose a comparison, but that's what Shakespeare did really well: take the bland, the tragic, the humorous, the dark, the serious, and the frivolous, and combine into all into a story that people could relate to.