Nirvana producer Butch Vig recently sat down with The Daily Beast for a retrospective interview on Nevermind in commemoration of the album’s 25th anniversary. Vig revealed several fascinating tidbits, including the inspiration for the album’s iconic single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
As the story goes, Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill bandmate of Kurt Cobain’s then-girlfriend Tobi Vail, wrote “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the wall of his motel room following a long night of drinking in August 1990. Supposedly, Cobain mistook the slogan to be associated with the Bikini Kill-led riot grrrl movement, when in fact Hanna was making a reference to the brand of women’s deodorant used by Vail and the mark she had left on her boyfriend. After the song’s release, when Cobain ultimately found out the true meaning of Hanna’s words, he was said to be “highly upset and very possibly humiliated.”
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Vig confirmed that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was indeed inspired by words written on Cobain’s wall. However, Vig disputed that he misinterpreted “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to mean something more consequential, explaining, “It didn’t really mean anything, he just thought it was stupid!” Vig also disputed the notion that many of the songs written on Nevermind were about Vail, adding, “That’s just a rumor. Each song had its own thing. Kurt borrowed references from all over the place.”
Vig also commented on the relationship between Cobain and Dave Grohl, saying, “Dave was a breath of fresh air because he had this goofy sense of humor. He was so young. He brought this great energy, sang a lot of the background vocals, and had this great voice. There really was no tension at all between Dave and Kurt. All we had to do was capture when Kurt was focused and there 100 percent.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Vig clarified Cobain’s participation in creating Hole’s definitive album Live Through This. Some fans have alleged Cobain wrote the entire thing himself, to which Vig responded, “I don’t know… I think Kurt might have helped [Courtney Love] with some of the music, but those are totally her words. And hey, if your husband is a great songwriter, why not get a little help?”
Vig also discussed more recent projects. He said Grohl and Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic had planned to record with Neil Young as part of their Grohl’s Sound City documentary project, but “Young had a book coming out so he was on a book tour, and Dave had to go interview him somewhere else.”
He and Grohl do plan to reconvene in the studio this fall, seemingly to work on songs Grohl has been writing. However, Vig said, “there are no plans for more [Foo Fighters],” and also added, “I know he talked about another Sonic Highways, but nothing’s coming to fruition yet.”