Nirvana producer Butch Vig recalled using the Beatles as bait to persuade Kurt Cobain to work on elements of Nevermind that the frontman wasn’t happy with.
In a recent interview with Consequence, Vig said he first heard a rough demo of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when Cobain sent him a cassette recorded on a boombox. Even though it “sounded like shit,” he could tell the trio – complete with new drummer Dave Grohl – were “really, really tight.”
Vig said Nirvana “meant business” when they arrived in the studio to work on their breakthrough album Nevermind but Cobain had some reservations. “I would go, ‘Let’s go overdub that with a separate sound,’ and initially he was totally up for that,” the producer recalled. “But then, as soon as you started doing it, he would get a little mad: ‘I don’t want to do that again.’ I kept saying, ‘You know what, remember we’re trying to make this sound larger than life, man.”
He noted that the “first track we got to when I wanted him to overdub extra vocals, he just said, ‘I really don’t feel like I should do that – it just feels fake.’” That’s when Vig made use of the fact that Cobain “was a huge Beatles fan, and as much as he admired John Lennon’s aesthetic, he really admired Paul McCartney’s melodic songwriting and his melodic sensibility.”
The producer admitted he “filed that [information] away as a reference point” and brought it to bear during the session. “I kept saying, ‘The Beatles double-tracked all their vocals. Listen to John Lennon. Listen to Paul McCartney. All the vocals are double-tracked.’ And he sat there silent for about five seconds, and then he went, ‘OK.’”
Vig suggested Cobain was wary because the singer and guitarist “wanted to retain his punk authenticity” after signing with Geffen Records. Citing the hit song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Vig noted that the “recording is really simple. It’s basically them playing the song, with some overdubs and some harmonies and vocals. … I really concentrated more on the performance and the sound of everything being recorded. And that’s really the sound of Nevermind.”
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