Musicians Talk About Nirvana’s Influence
It’s been 20 years since Kurt Cobain took his own life. And over the past two decades, Nirvana‘s influence has continued to grow, spreading from indie rock to hard rock to metal and beyond. On the anniversary of his April 5, 1994, passing, we asked some artists what Cobain and Nirvana mean to them, and why their legacy remains so strong.
Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin
Nirvana will always make me think of the dramatic shift in music that ‘Nevermind’ brought about in the early ’90s. Some much great music was happening at the time: Pixies, R.E.M., Smiths, etc. Nirvana was the band that took all those influences from the late ’80s and turned it into a movement. Suddenly everyone was listening to and buying the sound of real bands playing music, and that was incredibly inspiring to a band like Better Than Ezra touring around the South in our van. We could actually make it. It was in our and every other band’s grasp.
The Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor
[The music of Nirvana to me means that] mainly a huge chunk of my life that is gone. All sorts of of sadness and longing for someplace I can never go back to are associated with that fuggin guy. That band dominated popular culture for what at the time seemed like a helluva long time — omnipresent while I lived through a lot of changes as a young man. He was exactly the same age as myself. This dirty little humble greatness guy. Sad and angry got huge.
Falling Off Maps
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana mean many different things to me. One thing I think that should cross people’s mind if they get that much success in such a short time is that you don’t haft to drape yourself in front of the cannon and hit fire. You can pace your self a bit. Yes, being famous and being a worldwide sensation is great. But you have to keep in mind the road and the shows will always be there if you want it. But to have such a overload can be very hard to come back from in many ways, and unfortunately Kurt didn’t get to stick around and be a father and a musician — especially for a guy like Kurt Cobain with a punk rock background and who liked to march to his own beat. Nirvana brought tons of hope and dreams to kids and adults all around the world, showing you don’t have to be the world’s greatest guitar player or singer to do what you do.
Hiatus Kaiyote’s Paul Bender
Nirvana represented a new “realness” that had been lacking in popular music at that point in time. I think it’s important that everybody have art on their lives that relates to their own experience, and for the kids who had not already discovered Sonic Youth, the Pixies and the Melvins, etc, ‘Nevermind’ and its explosion into mass culture must have been quite the revelation, a beacon of teenage catharsis. I got onto the Nirvana boat pretty late, but it was some of the first music I ever played, as I was ushered into my older brother’s punk/grunge/metal cover band Frij. Those were the days (sort of).
Mainland’s Jordan Topf
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were the culmination and answer to the end of the punk and hardcore era. Their sound was a grimly painted representation of suburban Seattle in the late ’80s/early ’90s. I love that they sound like where they are from. Their songs are economical but deep in Kurt’s cynical, abstract and damaged viewpoint of the world around him. I discovered Nirvana in high school and grew fondly of their ballads more so than their thrashers. Kurt’s voice always resonates so nicely on songs where he’s not straining or screaming. His screams are essential to Nirvana, yet the ballads they wrote always struck a chord (for lack of a better term) with me.
Jessica Lea Mayfield
NOMADS’ Nathan Lithgow
Kurt Cobain means a lot to me. He represents the inherent paradox of our hero worship of stars in the modern age. He made art that ultimately became commercialized and successful, even though he just wanted to make something pure and unadulterated and raw. He was as much a poet as a “rock star,” and his rejection of his own success is something that fascinates me. We’re all in bands, we all want to tour and see the world and make money and live life largely, but those are all things that Kurt Cobain fought against even after achieving meteoric fame and fortune. In my opinion, grunge music gets a bad rap because of what ultimately followed it (think Creed, Limp Bizkit, Korn, etc.), but to me, Kurt Cobain was as pure a natural lyricist as there has ever been in popular music. Plus, he had a way with songs that connects to how we process musicality as children … simplicity in melody, juxtaposed with extremely powerful imagery and sense of higher song. He also wrote songs that just kick f—ing ass. Territorial pissings? Are you kidding? Try to listen to that song and not freak the f— out.
Odonis Odonis’ Denholm Whale
Nirvana was a band that helped fuel the dramatic angst of my teenage years. Without Nirvana I wouldn’t have been exposed to bands like Flipper, Scratch Acid, Big Black and Bad Brains at such an early age. I feel like if I hadn’t caught on to the band at the age I did, I just wouldn’t have the same outlook on music. It’s different nowadays when I go back, but I still get a surge of nostalgia every time I hear a ‘Bleach’ track.
One Hundred Percent’s Matt Habegger
I was 11 years old when ‘Nevermind’ broke. I was just this youngster trying to tag along with the cool older kids but never quite making it into the inner circle really. When you’re that young, you’re always looking up to the older kids for guidance on how to be cool, what to listen to, how to act. Especially the bad ones! At the time they were all into bands like Mötley Crue, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Poison and the rest. I felt that I was supposed to like this music because the older kids did, but I didn’t really understand or relate to it. Then ‘Nevermind’ came out and completely obliterated that whole era of music. When that happened, I learned that not only were there options out there, but that I didn’t need most of these guys to show me the way. This seems pretty silly to say now, but hey it was an important lesson for an 11-year-old to learn, and gave me the kick in the ass to start finding my own path.
1, 2, 3
Right after ‘Nevermind’ came out, I bought the T-shirt with the track listing on the back. For some reason, my fifth grade teacher didn’t find ‘Territorial Pissings’ draped on the back of a shirt appropriate for an 11-year-old to wear to school, so I was sent home that day. Nirvana meant everything to me when I was a kid. I was a skate rat, and when I saw the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ I thought, “Whoa, these look like dudes I would hang out with.” In a way, they were the Ramones of the ’90s in that they made you feel like, “Hey, I can do that too!” I was devastated when Kurt died; I cried for three days straight. He was one of the last frontmen who felt larger than life and at the same time someone who you completely identify with. That’s what made that band special.