Interview: Sub Pop’s Bruce Pavitt on Kurt Cobain and ‘Experiencing Nirvana’


Story by Anne Erickson

Bruce Pavitt chats about his new book, ‘Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe,’ and being at the vanguard of Seattle’s Sub Pop Records

Bruce Pavitt was at the forefront of one of alternative rock’s most influential waves. In the mid-1980s, Pavitt and partner Jonathan Poneman founded the independent record label Sub Pop Records to highlight some of Seattle’s loudest and most passionate voices. Sub Pop went on to release early albums from Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden and other Seattle sound breakout bands.

In Pavitt’s new book, “Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe,” out now from Bazillion Points Publishing, he opens up about his experience working with Nirvana during the band’s 1989 tour of Europe and the group’s appearance at the Lame Fest Sub Pop U.K. Showcase in London with Mudhoney.

Pavitt checked in with Audio Ink Radio to discuss the early days of Sub Pop and being at the genesis of alternative music’s mainstream breakthrough.

What gave you the idea to put together a book featuring all these treasured Nirvana stories and photos?

I felt it was about time to share some stories. After all, I had a front row seat to one of the most amazing explosions in rock history! Once the photos were correctly pieced together in chronological order, the story wrote itself. It’s an unusual photo book, in that it lays out a narrative. Thankfully for Nirvana fans, that narrative just happened to document the very week that Nirvana officially transitioned to international stars.

At what moment did you realize Nirvana were going to blow up big– real big?

The moment Nirvana’s opening performance at Sub Pop’s Lamefest U.K. show was finished. After that epic spectacle, they would never again have to open another show.

When you think about Kurt Cobain, what memories come to mind?

Great early shows. Kurt crowd surfing while playing guitar at the The Vogue (Seattle) with only 100 people in the audience, opening for the Flaming Lips on April 26, 1989. Many good talks about indie records. In July of 1990, I visited him in Olympia for an afternoon. He raved about the Pixies, while I turned him on to Daniel Johnston and the Shaggs. He was a true student of indie music.

Did you know when you first met Cobain that he was troubled?

No. Moody perhaps, but not troubled. I first met Kurt and his girlfriend Tracy Marander the fall of 1987 in Olympia. Although he was quiet and low key, I could tell that he was sensitive and creative. Shy.

What Sub Pop release do you think never got its proper spotlight?

“8-Way Santa” by Tad; it’s a classic.

What would you look for in Sub Pop bands during the label’s genesis?

Spirit, personality, a sense of humor. A great live show was fundamental. The live shows helped Seattle successfully gain international attention. I think “Experiencing Nirvana” successfully captures the energy of those shows.

What do you think will be the next movement of real rock music? Because, really, many of the bands being labeled “rock” these days are far from rock, in my opinion.

Real rock has everything to do with taking risks. Check out Metz (Sub Pop band from Toronto). They rock.

Courtesy photo



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