20 Musicians Discuss Nirvana's Nevermind

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20 Musicians Discuss Nirvana's <i>Nevermind</i>

Nirvana’s Nevermind turns 20 this week, and many have taken the opportunity to reflect on its importance and influence on rock over the past two decades. The seminal album marked alternative rock’s breakthrough to mainstream music audiences, as the Seattle grunge trio managed to connect to an entire generation of music fans.

To celebrate Nevermind’s 20th anniversary, we turned to 20 musicians to share stories about the impact that Nirvana had on them as well as the album’s lasting legacy.

1. Gregg Gillis

Girl Talk

What age did you first discover Nevermind?

How did Nevermind impact your life?
Nevermind made me want to start making music. It also made me want to discover new music. Nirvana led to Sonic Youth, which led to the Boredoms, which led to Merzbow, which led to my friends and I starting to fool around on electronics and start our first bands. Nirvana is my favorite band.

2. Ian Saint Pe

The Black Lips

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I was Age 13 when Nevermind came out.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
It made me realize that I could play music. I never could relate to those Big Hair spandex wearing guys… except for the chicks.

3. Peter Silberman

The Antlers

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I started watching MTV about a month before Kurt Cobain died, I was 8 or 9 at the time. I had just begun buying CDs and Nevermind was my second. I listened to it every day and learned to play all the songs on guitar. Over the next year I accumulated somewhere around 5 gigantic Nirvana Shirts, the first being the Nevermind shirt.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
Nevermind was the first album I heard that I felt a personal connection with, the first music where I realized that was even possible (and important) in music. Nevermind pointed me in that direction for the future of every album I would eventually feel attached to.

4. Nicole Atkins

Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I think I was 12. I remember finding a cassette single of it at Sam Goody and thinking how cool it was that the tape was white plastic instead of black. I remember bringing it to a birthday party and it completely changed the mood of everything.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
Nirvana taught me as a songwriter how to write a pop song but mix it with heavy noise and emotion. I also have a term i call “anti-cobain,” when referring to souless acts the music industry tries to push upon me and my musical friends.

5. Tiffany Lamson


What age did you first discover Nevermind?
In freshman year of high school so I guess around 14.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
I remember being infatuated with them: Dave’s drumming, Kurt’s lyrics… It was all a haze of obsessive emotions. I thought—these guys are fearless. I want to have that kind of empowerment.

6. Gil Landry

Old Crow Medicine Show

What age did you first discover Nevermind?

How did Nevermind impact your life?
I was in high school just north of Seattle. I remember going over to a friend Mo’s house where he and Tim & Phil Hanseroth (of Brandi Carlile now) were having band practice and they played “Smells like Teen Spirit.” I thought they’d written it and was blown away, I’d never heard a song remotely like it. I got a copy of Nevermind dubbed on cassette the next day and wore it out, learned every song! I’d moved a lot as a kid and Seattle at that time felt like a bit of an unknown outpost to the rest of the country and this album seemed to bring it front and center.

There was so much undefinable, raw, creative music in and around the city at that time from what I can remember and could explore of it at that age. It was strange, and vibrant, and suddenly it had dirtbag royalty. The fringe moved into the center and I recall it’s massive success gave a kind of validity and respect to all the thrift store, stoner, flannel, “ave. rat” existences. A defining anthem of the time of sorts. I also remember an increase in kids with thumbs holed green cardigans. I’d owned Bleach and had been listening to Mudhoney, Tad, the Melvins, etc… but Nevermind was an album that spoke so loud and clear sonically with it’s devil may care intangible lyrics and brilliant dynamics. It refined yet raw power.

7. Christian Zucconi


What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I was 14 when I discovered Nevermind.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
The first time I heard Nirvana I remember being caught off guard by how much I related to their sound, and how exciting that was to experience. The pain in Kurt’s voice and the way they exploded into their choruses made my stomach drop. I was suddenly alive—so I taught myself the guitar by learning Nirvana songs and then started writing my own—screaming my head off in my bedroom. It felt so good to feel something so real for the first time in my life.

8. Tony Ruland

The Lonely Forest

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I can still remember seeing the “smells like teen spirit” video for my first time in my grandmas basement on thanksgiving in ‘91. My cousins and I were immediately sucked in. We jumped off the coffee table threw pillows, etc… One of my fondest childhood memories.?
How did Nevermind impact your life?
Nevermind was the first record that was not given to me by my parents. It truly felt like mine. For me Nirvana will always embody what is pure and innocent about music. Just doing it because it makes you feel better, minus all of the other bullshit. To this day Nirvana is still my favorite band. They’re the reason I bought a guitar.

9. Kevin Devine

Kevin Devine & The Goddamn Band

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
12, 7th grade, October 1991.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
I don’t think I would have gotten involved with the kind of music I play now, or potentially with wanting to start a band at all, if it wasn’t for that record. It was the skeleton key.

10. Ward Hayden

Girls Guns & Glory

What age did you first discover Nevermind?

How did Nevermind impact your life?
I was obsessed with MTV at the time. Guns & Roses, and Motley Crue were my 2 favorite bands and I remember watching the Top 20 countdown and they featured “Smells like Teen Spirit” in the Buzz Bin.

Within a few months Nirvana was so popular they were teaching the “Come as You Are” guitar lick in my junior high school music class.

Since then I’ve owned at least 3 copies of Nevermind. Everytime I rediscover the album it’s shocking how many great songs are on there.

11. Dave Feddock


What age did you first discover Nevermind?
14 years old.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
I still think of Nevermind as a yardstick for what a really great album should be. Each song is a masterpiece unto itself but the album never sounds like a greatest hits compilation. It ebbs and flows through various moods and levels of intensity while maintaining a super high level of focus.

12. Van Pierszalowski


What age did you first discover Nevermind?
Age 9, rediscovered at Age 16.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
Nevermind was one of my very first CDs. I can still picture it in my little CD binder, along with Green Day’s Dookie, Weezer’s Blue Album, and some CD-Rs of Rancid and those Punk-O-Rama compilations. When I first got it, though, at age 9, it sort of faded into the background for me. I don’t think I really “got” it yet. I was attracted more to the brattiness of Billy Joe and Co. at that time, and couldn’t relate as well to to the intense emotional output of Nevermind. Later, when I was in high school, my pack of three friends and I all of a sudden became obsessed with Nirvana. I’m from a very small, and kind of cowboy-vibe town, so it wasn’t the most popular obsession, but that probably why we were so devoted. We started a band called Samsara (which is a pretty damn embarrassing play on the word “nirvana”), and watched the VHS of Live! Tonight! Sold Out! so much we wore it out completely. Nevermind was the album we’d always go back and forth on. We would love it, then hate it for a while, then love it again. But by the time we graduated, we had declared it, once and for all, The Greatest Album Of All Time. Throughout high school, though, it was the record that made me realize I HAD to play music. Thanks to that record, there was no other option.

13. David McMillin

Fort Frances

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
The ripe age of seven.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
I guess I discovered Nevermind twice.

My first experience with the record was in the second grade. My mom was a teacher at the community college in-town, and each day after school, I had to take the bus to wait for her to finish her class and take me home. I sat in the cafeteria which was always set on MTV, and at the time, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was in regular rotation. But, being far away from knowing anything about being a teenager, I didn’t get it at all. I remember wondering why those cheerleaders were a part of this loud rock song.

Fast-forward six years later, and a friend introduced me to the band’s Unplugged session via a VHS recording he had in his basement. I still wasn’t really familiar with the band, but there is one gripping moment in the video that plunged me head-first into Nirvana world, and it’s always stuck with me.

Just after Kurt shrieks the last “shiver” of their cover of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”, his blue eyes burst wide open in this chilling split-second stare, and his lungs let out a sigh of desperation. It’s a very special glimpse into how Kurt really felt. There are all kinds of reports from the period shortly before his death of whether or not he was happy, but the performance of that song shows that his genius and the massive commercial success of the album had paired together to form a weight that the man simply would never be able to carry.

After watching the Unplugged session, I religiously studied Nevermind. Toward the end of high school, I got to perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on stage at this big show that included a ton of students singing songs from around the musical spectrum – everything from Motown-era stuff to Nirvana. I remember dissecting the words again and again. What did it mean? What was the significance of a mosquito? How did the lights being off make everything safer?

My attempts at attaching the meaning to it never mattered. I remember just aiming to recreate Kurt’s growl, which made understanding the words a challenge anyway. It was a huge moment for me – I was 17. There were at least 1,000 people in the crowd, and I was nervous as hell. And then, I got on stage and the meaning came to life for me – the angst, the frustration, the meaninglessness of the pressures to adhere to some kind of societal norm. That song that I had seen in that cafeteria years ago that I didn’t understand had finally come to life for me.

Like many songwriters and performers, Nevermind’s personal and musical impact came years after Kurt died for me, but it’s one that I am constantly reminded of – the ability to communicate feelings and thoughts through sometimes indiscernible words and the energy to transform a three-piece into a deafening roar are two of the reasons that I will always turn to this record and other Nirvana records for inspiration.

14. Trevor Shelley-de Brauw


What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I was 13 years old watching MTV after school. I remember quite clearly seeing the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when it came out – it really resonated with me how their sound cut through all the other crap on the network at that time – they even made Guns N’ Roses (my favorite band at the time) sound tepid by comparison.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
It’s really difficult to quantify. I quickly transitioned from being a Nirvana fan to being too punk to listen to grunge because it was “commercial”. Interestingly, what was key to that transition was the issue of Rolling Stone with Nirvana on the cover. There was a full page Fugazi live review in there that REALLY captured my imagination and before long I was stocking up on all their records, Minor Threat, other Dischord acts, etc. Those records jumpstarted my punk career, giving my horrendous guitar playing an outlet in the form of the multitude of punk bands I would go on to form during high school. It’s easy to imagine that without Nirvana acting as my personal gatekeeper to punk that I might have lost interest in playing guitar since I had no natural talent; perhaps I would not have gone on to throw away my college education making a psuedo-career out of my semi-professional band. All pure conjecture, of course.

15. Marissa Nadler

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I was 10 when it came out. My older brother had the cassette tape and I loved it. The raw sounds was a rush of adrenaline through the saccharine bullshit that was on the radio at the time. (and unfortunately still is) Just to paint the picture, although “rape me” is off In Utero, not Nevermind, I recall one of the first times I slow danced with a boy to be at a Bar Mitzvah was to this song. Nevertheless, Nevermind really connected with me. It’s sense of melody is stunning. The cover art and accompanying videos. It was the golden age of MTV and that generation finally had a hero. The imagery on the record is amazing. It’s a perfect record.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
It felt like my generation finally had it’s own music, and “Come As You Are” as the anthem (or “Smells Like Teen Spirit”). I grew up prior to that listening to the classic rock of my parents. With grunge, and more specifically, Nevermind, a generation was defined. My favorite songs off the record are “On A Plain” and “Something In The Way”. I love the MTV unplugged live versions of these songs as well, when they cover The Meat Puppets. I also discovered Leonard Cohen through the song “Pennyroyal Tea,” again not off Nevermind. Kurt Cobain committed suicide on my birthday when I was 12. It was something I will never forget and really affected me.

16. Carter Tanton

What age did you first discover Nevermind?

How did Nevermind impact your life?

We know Kurt felt somewhat ashamed of the production on the record. Still, when I listen to it these days, aside from maybe a hair too much chorus effect on the guitars (but is there such a thing really?), all i hear is very loud guitars, even louder drums and some of the most oddly musical bass lines put to tape in the 90’s. I think what he was really embarrassed about was how perfect the record sounded. I love Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re living All Over Me with near equal passion but those drums are flat and its overall mix is not as happening as Nevermind’s. I mean, listen to the first few seconds of “On A Plain” to hear that instant before the wall of guitars enter. It’s huge. Loveless huge. It didn’t sound like an SST or SUB POP record. On Nevermind, Nirvana fought fire with fire. To spare a generation of kids from cock rock and power ballads, they slicked up their sound, doubled the vocals, tuned the drums and even used the vocal melody of “Teen Spirit” for the guitar solo. Nothing to be ashamed of…

17. Marcus Joons


What age did you first discover Nevermind?
It was the very first record I bought with my own money. I guess I was 8 or 9 and I got it in
the most boring mall you can imagine in the small town in the Swedish countryside where I grew up. To be honest I kinda hate the iconization of rock records but when it comes to Nevermind it feels OK. I never fell for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (and it still feels like an anthem for dudes who loved and maybe still love Beavis & Butthead), but all the other tracks blew me away and it made me want to dress how I felt instead of what my mum had prepared for me.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
There’s so much LIFE in there. Just so much FEELINGS. And FREEDOM.
This, those feelings, is pretty much exactly where I wanna go with our music even though it never ever will sound like Nirvana. Oh, and I forgot their COURAGE. They dared to challenge themselves and to do that famous MTV Unplugged where Kurt Cobain-far away from the myth, the drugs, the grunge, the Courtney Love etc.—just showed what an incredible SONGWRITER he was.

18. Nate Dykstra

Hunting Club

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
First discovered Nevermind at the age of 11 thanks to some good friends’ recommendations.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
Nevermind had a truly amazing impact on me not only musically, but also personally. It’s truly the first album that made me enjoy and appreciate music beyond late 80’s and early 90’s hip-hop. It was the first guitar and live drum driven record that really resonated with me. This lead me to want to pick up the guitar for the first time, which eventually lead to me joining some friends in my first band at the age of 13. This has obviously lead to me continuing to play music and in bands to this day. Also, those friends I first played with back then are still some of my best friends to this day. I truly owe a lot of this to falling in love with Nirvana’s Nevermind.

19. Jerry DePizzo


What age did you first discover Nevermind?
As a teenager.

“The first record I ever bought was Nevermind and it defined my adolescence. It flipped a switch inside of me. I remember watching “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV and thinking “this is what I want to be.” I took all of my dad’s flannel shirts, bought a pair of Doc Martens, and attempted several times, all failures mind you, to dye my hair with Kool-Aid. I mowed a lot of lawns and flipped about a million burgers to buy a Fender Mustang like Cobain, and with it, I learned every part of every song—-on bass and drums too. For me, Nirvana was three guys that could have lived down the street from me making music and literally turning popular music on its side. They unseated the “King of Pop!” What more can you say? Nirvana is my Beatles and I still want to be Dave Grohl when I grow up.”

20. Jeff Gitelman

The Stepkids

What age did you first discover Nevermind?
I first fell in love with Nevermind at age 10.

How did Nevermind impact your life?
It was songwriting that was comparable to The Beatles, but for my generation. Plus the avant-garde element was really appealing… There were lots of big songs on that album, it feels like every song was a single just like a Beatles album.