Did you know that Nirvana's third studio album, In Utero, almost had a completely different title? Or why producer Steve Albini insist that he take 0% of the album's royalty sales? Why did Kurt agree to change a song title to satisfy major retail stores when he was always so against the corporate music industry? Stick around as we answer these questions and more, on...
10 Fun Facts About In Utero by Nirvana
10 Things You Didn't Know About Nirvana In Utero
1. First Take
Kurt Cobain sang most of the lyrics on In Utero
in one take and the entire album was produced in only 14 days because
Nirvana wanted to release something raw and spontaneous as a follow up
to their polished and pre-meditated album Nevermind. The band also
elected to work with producer Steve Albini because Cobain was a fan of
the primitive sound on Albini produced albums such as Surfer Rosa by the
Pixies or Pod by The Breeders.
As Albini himself explains:
"The bulk of the record Kurt sang in one sitting. He sat with this broken acoustic guitar on his lap and had me play the songs back to him and he would strum along on this acoustic guitar and sing the songs. That was exactly the way he wanted to present it." - Albini, Steve Albini On Working With Nirvana On In Utero, Rob Lang, Music Radar (Aug 26, 2021)
Drummer David Grohl would also explain that In Utero can be difficult for him to listen to, due to the raw and personal nature of the album:
“Obviously In Utero was a direct response to the success and sound of Nevermind. We just pushed ourselves in the other direction, like, “Oh really, that's what you like? Well, here's what we're going to f****** do now!” But it is a hard album for me to listen to from front to back. Because it's so real, and because it's such an accurate representation of the band at the time, it brings back other memories, it kinda makes my skin crawl... I don't spend a lot of time thinking back on things I've done. But In Utero, man, what a trip." - Grohl, Steve Albini On Working With Nirvana On In Utero, Rob Lang, Music Radar (Aug 26, 2021)
2. The Simon Ritchie Band
Nirvana and producer Steve Albini wanted to record In Utero in a place where they wouldn't be surrounded by screaming fans trying to intrude on their workspace or be tempted by nearby "shenanigans." Even going so far as to book the studio under a fake name to avoid anybody leaking the news that a major rock band was going to be recording their next album in the area.
“It was far enough away from anybody that the band knew socially, and we wouldn’t have a f****** TV crew out front every day or any drug dealers trying to do business... We had to make sure that word didn’t get out... I booked the studio on my account under the pseudonym the ‘Simon Ritchie Band,’ which was of course Sid Vicious’ real name...
Until the flight cases started arriving... nobody knew. The cases had Nirvana spray-painted on the side of them, but until that happened, even the people who owned the studio didn’t know that Nirvana was going to be recording there.” - Albini, Steve Albini Discusses Working With Nirvana..., Sam Armstrong, Udiscovermusic (May 25, 2023)
Steve Albini refused to take a percentage of
the album royalties, electing to work only for a flat fee. Ok, so that
fee was $100,000 dollars which is no small amount to an average person.
But considering that the album would go on to sell well over 15 million
copies, $100k is chump change compared to what he could have collected
with even a mere 1% cut. Albini felt that it would be
unethical to demand a percentage of royalties from the band, especially
considering that Nirvana intended to produce a "minimalistic" album with
very little input from anyone who wasn't named Kurt, David, or Krist.
Even going so far as to say “I think paying a royalty to a producer or engineer is ethically indefensible” in a four page proposal he sent to the band when requesting to work on the album.
As the producer himself explains:
4. Kurt The Fan Boy
Have you ever loved an artist so much that you saved a treasured memento of theirs like a guitar pick, a set-list from a concert, or an autographed poster for years and years and years? Well, Kurt Cobain did, and he brought his treasured memento to the studio one day to share with In Utero producer Steve Albini.
As Steve explains:
"When my band Big Black did a farewell tour years before the In Utero sessions, the final show was in some industrial space in Seattle... It was in a weird building with a makeshift stage. It was a cool gig and at end we smashed up all of our gear. I distinctively recall some kid asking me if he could take a piece of my guitar off the stage and me saying ‘go ahead its garbage now.’
“Many years later when we were working on In Utero at the studio in Minnesota, Kurt showed me this little piece of this guitar that he had saved. He had brought it with him after all those years. He had been that kid.” - Albini, Steve Albini Discusses Working With Nirvana..., Sam Armstrong, Udiscovermusic (May 25, 2023)
5. Scentless Apprentice
Have you ever met a man who had no scent? Well, meet Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the main character of Patrick Suskind's Purfume. A novel that Kurt Cobain enjoyed so much that he wrote a song about it. The book centers on a strange figure, an odorless man who serves as a perfumer's assistant and has a sadistic hobby of killing virgins in order to steal their scent.
Hence the lyrics:
"His smell smelled like no other
He was born scentless and senseless
He was born a scentless apprentice"
6. Waif Me
As one might imagine, large corporate retail chains
were quite unhappy with the idea of stocking an album with offensive
titles and pictures of unborn babies on the cover art. So they initially
refused to stock Nirvana's third studio album, In Utero until the band
agreed to change at least one offensive song title to "Waif Me" as well
as removing the unwanted imagery from the artwork. The actual lyrics
themselves were not changed at all, just the title of the song on the
7. Unwilling Role Model
It's no secret that Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain was uncomfortable with the level of fame that Nirvana had reached. However, the moody singer did have moments of gratitude regarding the impact his music had on the younger generation.
As he told Spin in 1993:
really miss being able to blend in with people... It’s just been lately
that I could even handle being recognized... One guy came up, smacked
me on the back, and said, ‘Hey, man, you got a good thing going, just
get rid of your pissy attitude. Get off the drugs and just f****** go
for it man...
There were these, like, ten-year-old kids at a Butthole Surfers concert. They had green hair, they were skater punks who had made their own T-shirts with their favorite bands written on them. I could tell we had some kind of impact on them, and so had punk rock, because they didn’t want autographs. They just wanted to shake our hands and say thanks. I get a thrill meeting kids who are into alternative music. To be that advanced at that age makes me so envious.”- Cobain, The 1993 'In Utero' Cover Story..., Darcey Steinke, Spin (Sep 19, 2013)
8. Forgot About Smear
Legendary guitarist Pat Smear has had a storied and bittersweet career. He was a member of LA hardcore punk act The Germs until singer Darby Crash passed away at the young age of 22. He joined Nirvana during the In Utero era just in time to witness the downward spiral of Kurt Cobain who would pass away at the age of 27. He would also be a member of Foo Fighters at the time of drummer Taylor Hawkins' passing.
Speaking of his experience when joining Nirvana, he was scheduled to join them for a big upcoming performance on Saturday Night Live. However, he felt as if the band might have forgotten about him until he received an 11th hour phone call right before they were about to perform.
As he explains:
“I was just sitting around at home waiting and thinking ‘shouldn’t I be there?... it was funny, it really added to my nerves.” - Smear, Remembering In Utero With Nirvana's "Fourth Member"..., Dan Wilkinson, Vice (Sep 9, 2013) - https://www.vice.com/en/article/6xz9ka/remembering-in-utero-with-nirvanas-fourth-member-pat-smear
9. Shhh... Do You Wanna Get Sued?
Kurt Cobain originally wanted to call Nirvana's third studio album I Hate Myself and I Want to Die. However, bandmates encouraged him to reconsider changing the title to something less likely to get the band sued. So Kurt borrowed the "motherly" phrase In Utero from a poem written by his wife Courtney Love. Nevermind the irony of "borrowing" a title from a person like Courtney Love in order to *not* get sued, but anyway...
regards to the morbidly depressing original title, Kurt described it as
self-deprecating humor when he spoke with Rolling Stone in a 1994
“As literal as a joke can be. Nothing more than a joke. And that had a
bit to do with why we decided to take it off. We knew people wouldn’t
get it; they’d take it too seriously. It was totally satirical, making
fun of ourselves. I’m thought of as this pissy, complaining, freaked–out
schizophrenic who wants to **** himself all the time... And I thought it was a funny title. I wanted
it to be the title of the album for a long time. But I knew the majority
of the people wouldn’t understand it... That pretty much defines our band. It’s both those contradictions. It’s satirical, and it’s serious at the same time.” - Cobain, Success
Doesn't Suck, David Fricke, Rolling Stone (Jan 27, 1994) -
10. See The Angel
The iconic imagery on the cover of Nirvana's In Utero is a result of Kurt Cobain's childhood interest in human anatomy. Ancient rock legend says that the young singer once received a "Visible Man" anatomical model kit. As an adult, this fixation drove Kurt to scour a Minneapolis medical store in search of a Transparent Anatomical Manikin, known as TAM for short. A human sized and anatomically correct model of a female human body, which Kurt decided to add angel wings to. Many more medical props that Kurt discovered at the medical store would also be used in the collage photograph on the back of the album cover.
As Kurt told MuchMusic in 1993:
“I guess I
secretly want to be a doctor or something... I’ve always liked anatomy… And since I’ve become a big rockstar and
made a bunch of money, I found this place in the Mall of America in
Minneapolis that sells nothing but medical stuff... It was like a dream come true.”-
Cobain, Much: Our Last Time w/ Kurt Cobain (1993), MuchMusic, accessed
through YouTube (Aug 11, 2014) -
Steve Albini Discusses Working With Nirvana..., Sam Armstrong,
Udiscovermusic (May 25, 2023) -
Steve Albini On Working With Nirvana On In Utero, Rob Lang, Music Radar
(Aug 26, 2021) -