The History of Nirvana

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The Band Formation

Kurt Cobain rockingKurt Cobain (lead vocalist and guitarist) and Krist Novoselic (bass guitarist) first met in 1985 hanging out at Melvins concerts. They tried to start their own band with limited success until they got drummer Aaron Burckhard to play with them. Burckhard wasn’t working out and was temporarily replaced by Dale Crover of the Melvins. Dave Foster then began a brief tenure as the band’s temporary drummer but was fired mostly because of his inability to attend rehearsal sessions regularly.

At first the band went through a series of names, including Skid Row, Pen Cap Chew, and Ted Ed Fred. The band then settled on Nirvana in early 1988, which Cobain said was chosen because he wanted a name that was kind of beautiful or nice and pretty instead of a mean, raunchy punk rock name like the Angry Samoans. Nirvana played their first show under the new name that March. A couple of months later, the band finally settled on a drummer, Chad Channing.

The first songs and Bleach

BleachLater in 1988, Nirvana released its first single “Love Buzz/Big Cheese” on the independent record label Sub Pop. Then in 1989, the band released its first album, Bleach. Nirvana spent just $606.17 for the recording sessions of Bleach and the album sleeve, was supplied by Cobain’s friend, Jason Everman who would hang out with the band, and offered to lend the money to them for the recording had a brief stay with the band as a second guitar player.

Some transitions and Nevermind

In April 1990, the band began working with producer Butch Vig at Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin on recordings for the follow-up album to Bleach. During practice sessions, Channing became frustrated in not being involved in the song writing and left the band. Dale Crover of the Melvins filled in for a few weeks before Nirvana hired Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters, with whom they recorded the song “Sliver”. A few weeks later they met Dave Grohl, who was looking for a new band following the sudden break-up of Scream.

NevermindWith the Smart Studios sessions generating interest, Nirvana decided to look for a deal with a major record label. Nirvana signed to DGC Records in 1990 when they then began recording its first major label album, Nevermind. They chose to record at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, California. For two months, the band worked until the recording sessions were completed,.Vig and the band turned to Slayer mixer Andy Wallace to create the final mix. After the album’s release, members of Nirvana expressed dissatisfaction with the polished sound the mixer had given Nevermind.

Initially, DGC Records was hoping to sell 250,000 copies of Nevermind. The album’s first single Smells Like Teen Spirit quickly gained momentum, thanks to significant airplay of the music video on MTV. As they toured Europe in late 1991, the band found that the shows were all sold out. By Christmas of 1991, Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week in the US. On January 11, 1992, the album reached number one on the Billboard album charts, displacing Michael Jackson’s album Dangerous.

Cobain’s marriage, child, and MTV Music Awards

Kurt Cobain grunge musicIn February 1992 after the band’s Pacific Rim tour, Cobain married Courtney Love in Hawaii who gave birth to a daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, in August, 1992. The band decided not to undertake another U.S. tour in support of Nevermind, instead opting to make only a handful of performances that year. Just days after Frances Bean’s birth, Nirvana performed one of its best-known concerts, headlining at the Reading Festival in England. Two weeks later, Nirvana performed at the MTV Video Music Awards where they were originally going to debut Rape Me but instead played theire latest single, Lithium.


In December, 1992, Nirvana released Insecticide which consists of demos, outtakes, and radio broadcast recordings. The record label, Geffen, decided against heavily promoting the album because of the amount of recent singles being released at the time. The cover  artwork  of Inescticide was painted by Cobain. The album sold 500,000 copies in two months.

In Utero

In UteroFor 1993’s In Utero, the band brought in producer Steve Albini. The sessions with Albini were productive and notably quick, and the album was recorded and mixed in two weeks for a cost of $24,000 at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Cobain felt that Heart-Shaped Box and All Apologies did not sound quite right. R.E.M. producer Scott Litt was called in to help remix them with Cobain adding additional instrumentation and backing vocals. In Utero debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart in September, 1993

More touring and Unplugged

Later that fall, Nirvana embarked on its first major tour of the United States in two years. The band added Pat Smear as a second guitarist to help with the tour. In November 1993, Nirvana performed for MTV Unplugged. The band opted to stay away from their most recognizable songs, playing only two of their hits, All Apologies and Come as You Are. The band’s performance debuted on MTV the next month.

The end of Nirvana

In early 1994, the band embarked on a European tour. Following a tour stop in Munich, Germany, on March 1, Cobain was diagnosed with bronchitis and severe laryngitis. In Rome, on the morning of March 4, Love found Cobain unconscious in their hotel room and he was rushed to the hospital and the rest of the tour was canceled.

In the following weeks, Cobain’s heroin addiction resurfaced and an intervention was organized. Cobain was convinced to admit himself into drug rehabilitation but after less than a week in rehabilitation he left the facility and took a plane back to Seattle. A week later, on Friday, April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head at his Seattle home.

The following years

In the years following Nirvana’s disbanding, both surviving members remained musically active. Several Nirvana albums have been released since Cobain’s death including MTV Unplugged, Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, A Greatest Hits package, With the Lights Out, Sliver: The Best of the Box and Live at Reading.


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