Butch Vig Remembers ‘Nevermind’ 30 Years Later

Butch Vig (Photo: Bo Vig)

Butch Vig has had a long journey with Nevermind. Nirvana’s second album, which turns 30 this year, was a triumph for the Garbage drummer and producer, who has worked Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, Silversun Pickups, The Smashing Pumpkins, and more throughout his nearly 40-year career. But it was Nevermind that left its biggest mark. A tectonic shift in music, the 1991 release marked the onset of grunge and a new alternative movement. 

For Vig, the recording of the album and making their videos to the bittersweet moment when he found out that Cobain had died on the exact same day he met Shirley Manson and started his new band Garbage, the making of Nevermind is a moment in time he holds dear.

Remembering his time with the band, Kurt Cobain, Kris Novoselic, and Dave Grohl, Vig remembered their personalities most, and how it all played into the making of the iconic album. “When he [Kurt] was on he was really focused,” said Vig during an interview with STROMBO on Apple Music Hits. “He was funny witty [with a] grin ready to go. Kris [Novoselic] has always been really amiable and kind of low-key, easy-going, and what Dave also brought besides incredible drumming was he was goofy. He brought a lot of little levity to the band, and, quite frankly, they were having the time of their lives.”

Maneuvering around some of their inner demons, Vig said that Cobain, in particular, was never vocal about his struggles and medical issues. For many years, Cobain suffered from severe irritable bowel syndrome caused by a pinched nerve in his stomach, the result of scoliosis.

“He never talked about what his personal demons were, and he always said he had a lot of stomach pain,” said Vig. “He never really talked much about what was going on inside his head. For me, I was trying to decipher that in his lyrics. I’d ask Kurt, ‘What’s going on in this?’ and he’d go, ‘It’s just what I’m saying.’” 

Vig adds, “He never really articulated to me what the songs were about, and in some ways, as a producer, and also as a listener, I don’t think you want to know what the song is about. There are millions of people who have listened to ‘Nevermind’ and they’re trying to figure out what Kurt is singing to, but I think somehow they relate to it.”

In the studio, everything fell into place around the songs, but something was off from the start with the fifth track “Lithium.”

“The day we tracked that, they kept speeding up and that was unlike Dave because he usually had a metronome, a built-in metronome,” said Vig. “So after like four or five takes, Kurt went mental and launched into what became ‘Endless, Nameless’ at the end of the record. I’ve never seen so much anger and frustration coming out of Kurt, and at the end, he just smashed his guitar, threw it down, and walked out of the studio.”

Thinking that was the end of their session, Vig asked Dave for a do-over the next day without playing to a click track. “He came in the next day,” said Vig, “and in one take they nailed ‘Lithium.’”

Years later, Vig was disheartened to know that the band was beginning to disown Nevermind in some ways. “I understood that because you can’t really be a punk rocker and then sell 20 million records, so you have to sort of disown and walk away from it,” said Vig. “I think that’s one of the reasons they wanted to work with Steve Albini and make a raw and simpler sounding record when they did ‘In Utero.’”

Still, before they finished Nevermind the band loved it, said Vig. “Kurt called me several times saying, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe how great this record sounds.’ And then you have to disown it because that’s success, so I get that,” but about 20 years later hooking up with Dave and Kris Novoselic, they were like, ‘man, ‘Nevermind’ sounds so good, you nailed it on the head.’”

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