In early 1993 Nirvana headed to Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota to work on ‘In Utero’. It was a different feeling to the last time they stepped into the studio to record a full length album. The last time was when they were a little known Seattle band. For instance they just left Sub Pop Records for the mainstream label – Geffen Records. That album was Nevermind, and it was so big it smashed Michael Jackson off the charts. Of course Nirvana became a worldwide smash. Kurt Cobain told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke in 1993. “If there was a Rock Star 101 course, I would have liked to take it, It might have helped me.”
So what do you do after this? You’re one of the biggest bands on the planet and you’ve got a lot of expectations to fill. Nirvana dug into their punk ethos, ignored outside influence and made the album they wanted – a raw, dark, gritty album. The album opens with Kurt Cobain screaming the lyrics “Teenage angst has paid off well … now I’m bored and old” For song titled “Serve the Servants”. In Utero was produced by musician, record producer, audio engineer, music journalist – Steve Albini. Steve Albini is known for being in great bands such as Big Black, Rapeman and Flour and Shellac.
Albini explains “I got involved with the Nirvana In Utero record when Kurt called me and asked me if I’d be willing to do it,” He continues “[With] In Utero they did intentionally want to make a more primitive record, and by primitive I don’t mean a more rudimentary record, I mean a record where the band’s sound was unvarnished.”
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About the album Albini says “The In Utero album was done fairly quickly, we were done in 12 or 14 days. The band left the studio really happy with it, I left the studio really happy with it. As soon as they got home they started getting advice from people not in the band. All that advice was fraught with fear; ‘Don’t put out a scary record right now, put out a happy, pretty record that dumbasses will like’.
He continued “To their credit Nirvana largely ignored that advice,” the producer reasons. “They developed some reservations of their own about their record, which is totally normal. And I think partly because they were being told by other people that their record was bad and partly because they had these minor doubts of their own. They made some changes to a couple of songs. They remixed a couple of songs. Those remixes and those original album masters were then sent to a professional mastering studio, where a guy [Scott Litt] who is known for the mastering guy for professional hit records, did his mastering magic on them. And there was a lot of work done in the mastering. The mastering changed the sound quality of the record quite a bit.”
“When I heard the finished result, which had a couple of remixes plus the original mixes that had gone through this mastering process. It didn’t sound familiar to me and I thought it sounded not so great,” says Albini. “Relative to what I’d heard in the studio.”
After In Utero
Having a look back on In Utero – it’s a big important moment in rock history. It shows the reaction by Kurt Cobain to his assigned status of “Spokesperson to Gen-X”. Sadly, not long after the release of In Utero Kurt Cobain died by suicide. What would a fourth album been like if this tragic moment didn’t happen. Given that short time of In Utero release and Kurt Cobain’s death the album never got enough time and attention. Dave Grohl speaks to Rolling Stone about it “There are a few ways you can look at it. You can describe it as a remarkable achievement. You can also remember it as a fucked up time.”. Grohl added that it’s often difficult to assess the record without attaching Cobain’s death to some of the lyrics. That it should be viewed minus those associations.
Years before reaction videos became popular on YouTube here’s a video of Nirvana reacting to fans thoughts on the album