By Mark Guarino
A cynic might be tempted to see Eyes Adrift as a band project by three guys looking for something to do. Self-induced tragedies by frontmen in their former bands left Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), Curt Kirkwood (Meat Puppets) and Bud Gaugh (Sublime) jobless, battling legacies and myths bigger than themselves.
As much as Novoselic may deny it below, the self-titled debut by his new band is weighed with a mournful underbelly. Written by Novoselic and Kirkwood, it sounds nothing like their former bands, but could be easily viewed as emanating from the suicide of Kurt Cobain, overdose of Sublime singer Bradley Nowell and heroin addiction of the Meat Puppets’ Cris Kirkwood. “Silence is better than nothing,” his brother Curt sings (“What I Said”), with stoned numbness in his voice. Unlike the grunge, punk or ska their respective bands are known for, these sturdy and melodic songs could be classified as space country.
Novoselic, 37, sings on a few songs, a switch from his Nirvana days and his one-off album with Sweet 75, the post-Nirvana duo he formed with Venezuelan singer Yva Las Vegas. Over the years he worked as a political activist, although much of his recent time was tied up in a countersuit against Cobain’s widow Courtney Love over control of Nirvana’s unreleased material, in what has been one of the most contentious court battles in rock history. The suits were settled the week before I talked to Novoselic, on the phone from his home in Olympia, Wa. Now that Love, Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl have agreed to terms, expect a flood of Nirvana music in stores this year and next, the first a greatest hits collection due Oct. 29.
What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q: You played a tour last spring to fans who didn’t know the new music. Was that a new way for you to test the songs?
A: I’ve done it before, I did it for Nirvana for sure and I did it with Sweet 75. So that was familiar territory. What was going on was people were there with the curiosity factor. Meat Puppets, Sublime and Nirvana fans were coming out and so that was our draw. But it only goes so far. You play that first note and you stand on your own.
Q: Did being in Nirvana, one of the most influential and revered bands in rock, put pressure on you when you stepped onstage?
A: I’m way over that because that’s the 100,000-foot shadow and it’s just mythical. We all come from Meat Puppets, Sublime, Nirvana, but you know, there’s the pressure but … it’ll kill you, you have to let it go and believe in yourself and go forward and do it and do the best you can.
Q: When I met you last April at Double Door, you were just hanging out, meeting fans.
A: In a lot of ways I’m a politician. I like people and I’m always meeting people. The fans are who made me who I am today and why I’m so successful in a lot of ways. And I really appreciate it and I like people. Ninety-nine percent of people are great and then there’s the one percent who are psycho creeps. But they always make sure they make themselves seen.
Q: You know when they’re coming.
A: Yeah, you know when they’re coming, they pull the same shenanigans. But it’s like oh well, as long as you aren’t dangerous, that’s cool. But meeting people’s good and a lot of it too is just like, the whole mythos of the whole thing is so huge, a lot of ways I like to debunk it. (laughs) “Hey how are ya?,” you know what I mean? There’s human beings in the equation.
Q: Meeting so many Nirvana fans one-on-one, did you learn something new about the impact that band made?
A: Yeah it seems like I’m learning more and more about how deep Nirvana’s music is for people. And I’m still trying to come to grips with that. Just hearing people say, “God, it changed my life.” I was in a hotel room watching the end of this movie, “Rock Star,” and I was sitting there with Curt and at the end of the film there’s Mark Wahlberg, who I think is a great actor and so I’m glad he’s doing this. And at the end of the film, he sheds his heavy metal image and so he’s wearing this cardigan and playing sensitive songs. I gasped when I saw it — it’s like (Nirvana’s) “(MTV) Unplugged (in New York).” I gasped but then I go, “well I guess this scene represents an evolution in consciousness and personal growth and this is good.” At first, I gasped. He had the hair, the whole thing going.
Q: Is it strange seeing your own image embedded so deeply into pop culture? There are still books coming out on the band.
A: Oh yeah, I can’t do it, it’s not healthy for me I decided. Even the good stuff. Reading the good stuff, it’s just too much. Because I have my reality and I like my reality … there’s all these perspectives. A lot of them are good and some of them are (expletive) and some people’s motivations are good and some people’s motives are dubious.
Q: Is that what brought you to write the new song, “Inquiring Minds” about another pop culture magnet, Jon Benet Ramsey?
A: Yeah, maybe somewhere deep inside me it struck a chord. What happened was, I was in the studio (in Austin) and walked down to the convenience store and there was a picture of Jon Benet Ramsey (on a magazine cover) and it said what she would look like if a computer aged her into a 13-year-old trying to be a 19-year-old. God bless ‘em, that’s cool but it was weird. It seems like in a lot of ways, Jon Benet is the junior Marilyn Monroe and there’s all this deep icon stuff. It’s not about her, it’s about the people, what they did to her. It’s all about money.
Q: Why did you stay away from music for so long after Nirvana ended?
A: I always seem like I’m going off and exploring and checking out different things. Nirvana just, for all its glory and greatness, in a lot of way was kind of a bad trip too. And I was doing a lot of political work. I was just living. I had the luxury. I could do whatever I wanted to do. I started playing with Curt and Bud and things just came together and it was like wow, this is really good. The thing about playing with Curt and Bud is they’re colleagues. I feel so blessed. I’ve been such a fan of Curt’s for years and now I’m in a band with him. And thing is, we had a lot of fun in the process. It was pure. We didn’t have a record deal, we weren’t thinking about a record deal. With technology alone, just to make a record, the technology is going up and the prices are coming down. It’s just accessible. You don’t need 125 grand to make a record anymore, you need just a tenth of that.
Q: In a lot of ways, it’s like going back to your lo-fi days.
A: Yeah, it’s lo-fi. It’s not as lo-fi as (Nirvana’s 1989 debut) “Bleach” or anything but it was just as straightahead.
Q: The three of you share three respective tragedies in your background. Was that also an unspoken thing that bonded you together?
A: That just sort of happened that way. When we going back to that first tour … reviews of the shows would be about that too. And so we’re sitting on the bus reading Dave Matthews reviews and it’s all straight reportage: “Dave came out and the place screamed and they soloed,” you know what I mean? And I’m like, “why aren’t our reviews be like this?” Our’s are always all this dramatic tragedy.
Q: Is the idea to make this a one-album band or keep it going?
A: I don’t know. We’re going to play it by ear. We don’t have new material. We’re like across the chasm from art onto commerce. The art’s done and we’re on an independent label and we’re independent business people working in the free enterprise system. We didn’t sell our soul to the company store. We want to go out there and be viable. We think we have something to offer. It’s a really good deal. I think the CD list price is way cheaper than the majors. And then our shows are same thing — 12 dollars just to come out to the show. And it’s like grassroots rock and roll again, meeting people. I do that every night. I sign Nirvana CDs, meet people, take photographs. It’s really grassroots because we don’t have a budget at all for any big time promotion.
Q: Since Nirvana, the mainstream has been filled with so many clones.
A: I had this argument with a friend who said, “oh you steal your stuff out of art books and it’s like, “no we’re not stealing out of art books, we’re influenced by it.” I was just listening to Black Sabbath’s “Sabotage” the other day, you can hear Nirvana in that big time. And that record came out in what, 1975? Everything comes from somewhere, you have to interpret it. Someone asked me the other day, “where do you get your bass paying from? Oh, just (John) Entwistle, Geezer Butler, Paul McCartney.
Q: Last week, the news came that the lawsuits between Courtney Love and you and Dave Grohl were settled. What turned the tide?
A: I think everybody just got worn down. I’m not going to speak for Courtney and I’ve talked with Dave and I know he’s pretty burned out on whole thing. Well jeepers creepers, this is a point I haven’t been made since the settlement but, this came eight years after Kurt’s death and I want to remember Kurt and I want to thank him for sharing his powerful artistic vision for so many, myself included. And I know that this suit will not harm his musical legacy, right? And so my own personal thinking is who will own this in a 100 years? Now I have a record out, Dave has a record out and it sounds like Courtney has something coming out. It and it just goes on and on and on and on and I couldn’t bear to go to trial.
Q: I was amazed to hear that Geffen was already rushing out the greatest hits as early as next month.
A: Well, the new song leaked out. Wonder who did that? (laughs) I didn’t. I had that song for like eight years in my basement and no one even knew about it. I can keep a secret.
Q: Who do you think leaked it?
A: I’m not going to say. No way. But it’s good to kind of remind people. I heard “You Know You’re Right” for the first time on the radio last night and it sounded great. I was listening to modern rock alternative and there’s a lot of hard stuff out there and it sounded vital. It was there. It still held up.
Q: You can say that format was influenced by your former band.
A: Yeah, it kind of comes full circle. Maybe just a reminder that hey, this is kind of where it came from. And then, Nirvana came from somewhere too.
Q: What can you tell me about “You Know You’re Right?” Is that the only unreleased song in the Nirvana vault?
A: There’s some other stuff but that was the best one. It’s just a cool song. We had some studio time booked. Kurt showed up, plugged in the guitar (makes the sound of a large guitar riff) and we jumped into it and kicked it around for a few hours and said, “alright let’s do it.” That’s a live performance right there. (Nirvana’s 1993 swan song) “In Utero” was like that. Just first takes — boom. And overdub the vocals and maybe a little guitar stuff. And that was it, it was done. It was after “In Utero.” It was somewhere at the end of ’93. We were in a funky studio in north Seattle. We just busted it out.
Q: Anyone who looks back ten years can feel disconnected from the past. How otherworldly does that time seem for you now?
A: Oh yeah, different planet, way different. It was just rock and roll music in the mainstream and we had revolutionary illusions you know? But for every Lenin, there was a Joseph Stalin to co-opt the whole thing.
Q: Meaning the grunge era was co-opted and then ruined.
A: In the ‘90s they were signing bands out of the garage. They were throwing them against the wall and if they didn’t stick, that was the mark of Cain — dropped! — they were over. And maybe this would have been a great band, but they never had a chance to develop. But I say to beginning bands: if you go out there and start playing shows and start selling shows in your town, in your region and start building something up, well, you’re building your own career into an asset. And the only way you do that is through hard work. So if you want to sign to a label, you’ll have a lot more leverage instead of being really green and picked out of a garage somewhere. It’s all about hard work.
Q: For some bands, it’s strictly about the fame.
A: Oh, fame is (expletive), you know? What fame is good for are free drinks at bars.
Eyes Adrift plays 10 p.m. tonight at Schuba’s, 3159 N. Southport. Tickets are $10. Call (773) 525-2508.