When Nirvana entered the studio on January 30th, 1994, the trio were unaware it would be their final session. Despite Kurt Cobain’s health dramatically declining and the band being in an unhealthy place due to the intensity of their newfound fame, they were not to know ‘You Know You’re Right’ would be their final completed song.
Ahead of their European tour, Nirvana retreated to Robert Lang Studios in Seattle with producer Adam Kasper for three days. However, their planned session time immediately started on the wrong foot as Cobain didn’t turn up on the first two days, which should have set alarm bells ringing in his bandmate’s heads. Instead, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic were left to attempt to make material for Nirvana without the presence of their frontman.
“There was some word that hopefully Kurt would show up on Friday,” studio owner Robert Lang told MOJO in 2004. “But I don’t think they were really stressed about it. And they believed if he wasn’t coming Saturday, he’d definitely be there Sunday. I thought it was a little odd that Kurt wasn’t there, but Krist and Dave just went about their business and kept focused on what they were doing.”
When Cobain finally showed up, he didn’t bring any gear with him and had to borrow equipment from the studio’s guitar technician. To the surprise of Novoselic, and Grohl, Cobain was receptive to their ideas, and the trio began work on ‘You Know You’re Right’, which initially had the working title of ‘Kurt’s Tune #1’.
Studio time was finite because of the impending European tour, which would drag the band further apart. As a result, they thrashed out three takes of the track. After taking a short break to eat pizza, Cobain added his vocals before exiting. Grohl and Novoselic recorded six more songs during the session, but the singer only lent his voice to ‘You Know You’re Right’.
For Grohl, the song remains an emotional sore and a painful reminder of a traumatic time in his life. Speaking to The Guardian in 2019 about the track, he commented: “I listened to it for the first time in 10 years [recently]. Oh God, it’s hard to listen to. It was not a pleasant time for the band. Kurt was unwell. Then he was well. Then he was unwell. The last year of the band was tough. By the time we got to Europe, I remember it being cold. It was the first time I felt depression. There was one day where I couldn’t get out of bed. I started to question why we were even there.”
The meaning of the track has changed over time for Grohl since Cobain’s death, who added: “You look back on [the song] and you read it through a different lens. Lyrically, it’s heartbreaking. He was in a place we may not have recognised. Musically, there’s something cathartic. You know, I miss his voice. I miss him. I don’t think he was comfortable in the place that he was at the time. I don’t know if anybody was. But his experience was much different. I used to think it sounded like he was singing the chorus. Now I listen to it and it’s like he’s wailing.”
For many years, ‘You Know You’re Right’ remained on the back-burner and wasn’t released until its inclusion on Nirvana’s Greatest Hits in 2002. Listen to Cobain’s pain-filled vocals on the track below.