Soundgarden Guitarist Recalls First Reaction to Hearing Nirvana, Explains Why He Wasn’t Impressed

The way grunge changed rock music is unprecedented. Not only was it a completely different direction compared to the spandex and hairspray-driven meaningless party anthems of the 1980s, but the movement completely trumped everything that rock music was during the decade. Nirvana and Soundgarden played a huge part in this process.

But if we were to go back to the late 1980s, Nirvana was still in its early formative stages. They were known to limited audiences, or grunge OGs so to speak. At that point, Soundgarden was a bigger name with more success, at least among rock fans.

Nirvana - Paper Cuts [Rough Demo]

In a recent chat with Rick Beato, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil recalled Nirvana’s earliest days and hearing some of the early demos of Kurt Cobain’s legendary band before they made it big. And, as he explained, he wasn’t exactly impressed by it. The material in question was one of Nirvana’s early demos, stuff they did before the debut album “Bleach.”

It was producer Jack Endino, or “the godfather of grunge,” who enthusiastically played the demo to Kim. Soundgarden guitarist recalled (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“I went to visit Jack [Endino], and he played me this cassette of this band that he had just recorded that he was really stoked on, and [was] speaking very highly of…

“So I sat in his bedroom, listening to this cassette of this band [Endino] just recorded, Nirvana.”

“Honestly, I remember kind of debating it with Jack. The vocals struck me, and Jack’s like, ‘This is a great singer,’ and I was like, ‘Ehh’. I wasn’t really into the songs, but this was pre-‘Bleach.‘ This was, like, really early.

“At the time, I was like, ‘Ehh.’ He kept saying, ‘These guys are great, listen to the vocals.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, the vocals are great, but I’m a guitarist.’

“And even though we had a great singer in our band, I would focus on the riffs and the songs. And no matter how often people told me that Chris [Cornell] was a great singer, or people told me that Kurt [Cobain] was a great singer, it’s just like ‘Oh but I’m not hearing any cool riffs’ [laughs].

“But Jack was really stoked. He was telling everyone he met this great new band from Aberdeen called Nirvana.”

Nonetheless, Kim’s opinion changed as time went on. Particularly, this happened when Nirvana got signed to Sub Pop to record their debut record. He added:

“And then of course by the time they start recording with Sub Pop, I’m like, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ And I think I heard Bleach before it came out because I dropped by the Sub Pop offices and I thought, ‘This is insane!’ [laughs]”

Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg (Kim Thayil – Fabrik Hamburg 2018 02), P.B. Rage (Nirvana around 1992)