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The Story Behind Nirvana’s Era-Defining Anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as Told by Producer Butch Vig

The Nevermind producer gives an insider's look at one of the most iconic tracks in music history

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story behind the song nirvana smells like teen spirit butch vig podcast
The Story Behind Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Butch Vig, photos by Bo Vig and courtesy of DGC Records

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    Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is much more than a song. It was — and remains — one of music’s defining moments of the modern era and continues to find itself on virtually every all-time “best of” lists. (Same goes for the album it comes from, Nevermind, which ranked Top 10 on Consequence’s Greatest Albums of All Time list.) When released in 1991, “Spirit” transformed more than our airwaves — it transformed culture and society itself as it blasted onto the scene and thrust grunge into the mainstream. Those relentless drums that open the track, so loudly played by David Grohl that no mics were needed in the studio; that defining guitar thrash and indelible raging voice of Kurt Cobain, who barely took more than three takes; and of course, that mesmerizing music video that played in an endless loop on MTV.

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    And the man behind it all in the studio was legendary producer Butch Vig. As one of Vig’s first high profile gigs, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” transformed him as much as it did Nirvana. He went on to produce some of the most iconic albums of the time, including those by Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth. And oh yes, Vig also found time to start Garbage, collecting and endless string of hits of his own. (That band’s Shirley Manson was a recent guest on The Story Behind the Song.)

    In this latest episode, Vig joins host Peter Csathy to discuss how he helped Nirvana catch magic in a bottle with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” revealing what it was like working with Cobain in studio. It’s a rare and fascinating discussion on one of the most monumental releases in music history with one of the few people in the room when it was made.

    Later in the episode, Vig also discuss his recent work with Garbage and Silversun Pickups, two other recent guests on TSBTS.

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    Listen to Butch Vig reveal the history of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” above, or watch a segment of the chat below. Then, make sure you like, review, and subscribe to The Story Behind the Song to keep up with all the new episodes in the new year. You can also follow the Consequence Podcast Network for updates on all our series, and check out host Peter Csathy on Twitter @pcsathy and at Creative Media.

    Nevermind fans can also see the iconic artwork represented in Legends merch collection on the Consequence Shop, including T-shirts, tote bags, and posters. Check it out now, or by using the Buy Now buttons ahead.

    If you’re having trouble seeing the player below, watch via YouTube.

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