When Dave Grohl joined Nirvana in 1990, replacing their previous drummer Chad Channing, he ended up recording two of alternative rock’s most coveted albums – Nevermind and In Utero. When Grohl’s hardcore punk band Scream broke up, he was introduced to Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic by the Melvins’ vocalist Buzz Osborne. “We knew in two minutes that he was the right drummer,” recalled Novoselic.
After the release of 1989’s Bleach, Nirvana signed to DGC Records the following year and began working on their first major label album Nevermind. The band’s second effort was an instant hit, establishing Nirvana as the voice of disaffected youth across the world. By the end of 1991, the album was shifting 400,000 copies a week in the US alone -remaining one of the biggest-selling albums to date. The band helped to popularise alternative rock and end the dominance of hair metal bands such as Bon Jovi and Kiss.
Although Nirvana’s label wanted another album completed by the Christmas period of 1992, the band could not provide one due to the band members living in different locations and Cobain expecting the birth of his daughter Frances Bean with his wife, Courtney Love. Instead, a compilation album, Incesticide, was released. By early 1993, the band were on their way to release what would become their final studio album, In Utero. Produced by former Big Black frontman Steve Albini, who was also behind two of Cobain’s favourite records, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa and The Breeders’ Pod, In Utero was wildly different from Nevermind.
In Paul Brannigan’s biography, This Is A Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl, the drummer shared, “Nevermind and In Utero are two totally different albums. Nevermind was intentional, as much as any revisionists might say it was a contrived version of Nirvana, it wasn’t: we went down there to make that record, we rehearsed hours and hours and hours, day after day, to get to Nevermind. But In Utero was so different. There was no laboured process, it was just… bleurgh… it just came out, like a purge, and it was so pure and natural.”
He continued, “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*cking do now!’” However, because of the memories associated with creating In Utero, which was released just seven months before Cobain took his own life, Grohl finds the album “hard […] 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,” Grohl confessed. “It’s funny: I spend a lot of my time planning things to come, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking back on things I’ve done. But In Utero, man, what a trip.”
He also referred to the album as “f*cking dark,” stating, “it’s definitely an accurate representation of the time.” Grohl continued, “I hear songs on the radio every once in a while, and I like the sonic difference of hearing ‘All Apologies’ or ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ come on in the middle of a bunch of compressed, Pro-Tooled modern rock radio music, because it stands out, but lyrically and conceptually it’s not something that I like to revisit too often.”
Yet, he explained, “maybe what I love the most about that album is the sound of urgency, and the sound of the three of us in a room playing.” Since its release, In Utero, which reached number one in various countries, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.