In a clip from his Paramount+ series From Cradle to Stage, Grohl talked with Pharrell Williams about the inspiration for the drum beats on Nevermind.
Grohl first insisted that he’s “the most basic f**king drummer,” earning a raised eyebrow from Pharrell. The Foo Fighters frontman followed up by citing the unlikely source for the drumming that can be heard on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and other tracks.
“If you listen to Nevermind, the Nirvana record, I pulled so much stuff from The Gap Band and Cameo and [Chic’s] Tony Thompson on every one of those songs … all that [slaps his legs] … that’s old disco!” Grohl said.
Then clips of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and The Gap Band’s 1982 hit “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” were played back to back, and Pharrell had an epiphany: “Wow! How did I not hear that?”
“Nobody makes the connection,” Grohl replied, adding that he once told that to Tony Thompson himself at a barbecue. “I was like, ‘Man, I just want to thank you because I owe you so much I’ve been ripping you off my whole life.’ He goes, ‘I know.’”
Some parallels can be drawn from the catchy, bombastic style of drumming on Nevermind and the generally rhythm-centric disco and funk bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s. The most obvious shared trait is the use of instrumental drum breaks (a la the intro to “In Bloom”), where Grohl lays down highly memorable drum riffs rather than simply providing a static metronome with his kit.
Grohl’s love of disco is also on full display this summer. Foo Fighters recently announced an upcoming Record Store Day release as their disco alter-egos the Dee Gees. The Foos also debuted live as the Dee Gees at their sold-out Madison Square Garden show a couple weeks ago, covering the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing.”
Watch the clip of Grohl and Pharrell discussing the disco influences on Nevermind below.