Nirvana’s Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic Talk to Conan O’Brien About the Band’s Dizzying Rise to the Top

Surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic are set to appear on the Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast next week in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the band’s final album, In Utero. In an advance clip premiered at Billboard, Grohl and Novoselic (along with In Utero producer/engineer Steve Albini) chatted with O’Brien about the band’s dizzying rise following the release of their second studio album, Nevermind, in 1991.

O’Brien began the conversation by recalling how there was just a three-day window between the September 1993 release of In Utero and the debut of his show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien. “I remembered the music on the album — because I was such a huge fan — being background music to the terror and the weirdness of me starting a late night show from complete obscurity in 1993,” he said.

Grohl responded by saying how “similar” that sounded to the sudden success of Nirvana. “When the band became popular in 1991, we were so young,” he said, noting that he was “21 or 22” when Nevermind dropped, while Noveselic was around 25 and the late Kurt Cobain was 24. “We were kids and so when you talk about the amount of time that’s gone by, to me it’s not even so much about the years. It’s about the experiences that just kind of led, one after another, going from three kids that were basically living or touring out of a van to then becoming a huge band.”

He continued by saying their follow-up, In Utero, was “sort of the uncomfortable soundtrack” to their transition in 16 months from being unknown to “living in a different world.” For perspective, Novoselic revealed that Geffen Records initially only printed 50,000 CDs for Nevermind. O’Brien chimed in with an anecdote about talking to someone who worked at the label when the album blew up, who said that Geffen actually had to stop printing copies of albums by all of its other artists in order to keep up with the demand.

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Novoselic added that the three-year window between the release of Nevermind and Cobain’s death “felt like it was 10 years.” Albini weighed in with his perspective, saying Nirvana went from being “couch surfers to being the biggest band ever in the world” in about 18 months.

The discussion took a bit of a turn when O’Brien speculated that Nirvana’s “fame, money, success” was at odds with the “punk ethos” from which they came. Albini disagreed and clarified that punks don’t necessarily think success is “bad and evil.” He went on to say that he had never “genuinely” experienced that in the punk scene except for those who were coming from a place of jealousy, adding that most Nirvana fans actually wanted the band to become “successful and self-sustaining and be loved.”

Level-headed as always, Grohl reined in the conversation by sharing how he didn’t feel “personally conflicted” by Nirvana’s success. “Before we made the record Nevermind, we were pretty much living in squalor,” he said. “I was living with Kurt in this tiny little apartment and there were just corn dog sticks and cigarettes all over the place. I would have done anything to have my own apartment and to be able to do that through making music.”

He went on to explain that though the transition to success was sudden, he didn’t have $1 million in his bank account overnight. Instead, his per diem went up to $15 per day, affording him two packs of cigarettes. Grohl added that he didn’t feel “conflicted or any guilt or shame” in being able to pay off his mother’s house or buy her a car.

“I think the reason why I didn’t feel personally conflicted was because I knew the band hadn’t done anything outside of our true selves to get there,” he concluded. “We just did the thing that we did, and then it happened.”

The full episode of Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend with Grohl, Novoselic, and Albini drops on Monday, October 23rd. Check out the preview below.

Later this month, Grohl’s current band, Foo Fighters, is set to appear on Saturday Night Live for the ninth time. They recently announced a run of US stadium shows taking place in 2024, supporting their latest album, But Here We Are. Grab tickets here.