SPIN’s August issue pays tribute to the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind, and as part of our package we tapped some of our favorite contemporary artists to cover the influential album’s 13 songs, in their original order. The download is called Newermind, and it’s our gift to you.
We were happy that two of Kurt Cobain’s personal faves — the Meat Puppets and the Vaselines, both of whom Nirvana famously covered during their MTV Unplugged taping — joined our effort. Below you’ll find the complete album tracklist, with reflections from each contributing artist.
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Band interviews by David Marchese
- MEAT PUPPETS
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
- One of two bands on this tribute to have been covered by Nirvana, the Meat Puppets chose to repay the compliment by tackling Nevermind‘s best-known song. “It wasn’t daunting,” says Curt Kirkwood, whose band is on tour in September. “‘Teen Spirit’ is just a few chords. It’s easy to play — slap some reverb on there and it’s good to go.” And anyway, he continues, “This was a cool, weird opportunity — like playing with Nirvana on MTV Unplugged — so we’re happy to take it.”
- BUTCH WALKER & THE BLACK WIDOWS
- “In Bloom”
- “I was in my late teens playing shitty glam metal when Nevermind came along and fucked all that up,” says the L.A.-based Walker — and he means that in a good way. “They saved my career. I got to try making different kinds of music.” Still, there’s a trace of a less-than-fashionable influence on this “In Bloom.” “We slipped some Yes into the guitar solo,” he admits. “It’s a tribute inside a tribute.”
- MIDNIGHT JUGGERNAUTS
- “Come As You Are”
- Even on the other side of the world, Nevermind‘s impact was immediate. After the album’s release, says Vincent Vendetta, frontman for the Melbourne dance-rockers, “all my school friends and I started playing Nirvana songs in our bands.” He even witnessed Nirvanamania firsthand. “The one time they came to Australia, I passed a record store where Kurt was being interviewed with a big crowd watching. It was hugely powerful for a ten-year-old to see.”
- TITUS ANDRONICUS
- “Nevermind is a rare thing,” posits main man Patrick Stickles. “Since indie-rock music is so diverse, there’s not always much common ground. But an album like this unites us across time, which is why I wanted to be faithful to the song we covered.” There’s also another, more fundamental reason. “The riff,” he says, “is bad-ass.” You can hear Titus Andronicus’ similarly incorrigible riffs this month at Lollapalooza.
- THE VASELINES
- After Kurt and Co. performed the Vaselines’ “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” on MTV Unplugged, the Scottish twee-poppers were “always being asked if we’d ever cover a Nirvana song,” explains singer-guitarist Eugene Kelly. “We’d always said no. We just didn’t think we could find a way to do it that wasn’t going to feel stupid.” Seventeen years later, they have. “Keep it sparse,” he says of their approach. “The more simple and naive the better.”
- AMANDA PALMER
- For alt-cabaret chanteuse Palmer, the genius of “Polly” has more to do with words than sounds. “It’s entirely possible that the production on Nevermindis going to feel dated in 50 years, if it doesn’t already,” she says. “The mystery in the lyrics to a song like ‘Polly’ is so profound. People will always be trying to make sense of what the fuck exactly Kurt was singing about. That’s what makes a song last.”
- SURFER BLOOD
- “Territorial Pissings”
- Even if, as singer-guitarist J.P. Pitts notes, “Kurt Cobain was dead before I could tie my shoes,” he’s had a complex relationship with Nevermind. “It was one of my favorite records. Then I went through a phase where I thought it was too ’90s.” Having come back around, Pitts found beauty in “the combination of perfect structures and weird, strange chords.”
- FOXY SHAZAM
- “Drain You”
- “I’m the Nirvana guy in the band,” boasts Daisy, bassist for the Cincinnati glam rockers. “Right away I knew ‘Drain You’ would be best for us. We’re more of a vocally oriented band than anything else, and the melody line lets us showcase that.” Well, that and “it would’ve been intimidating to do one of the big hits.” Instead, he says, five minutes after the band chose the song, “we were getting drunk and jamming out on it.”
- JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD
- “Lounge Act”
- Mayfield has a confession to make: “I found out about Nirvana through the Foo Fighters. I’m sure I’m not the only one who walked that discovery trail.” Her reason for picking “Lounge Act” is less contentious. “I love how the verse and chorus feel like they have no relationship to each other. It’s like two different songs.” Just don’t ask her to choose between them. “That’s like picking the coldest ice cube.”
- CHARLES BRADLEY & THE MENAHAN STREET BAND
- “Stay Away”
- The fact that Bradley is a 62-year-old soul shouter made this cover a particularly interesting one for Menahan majordomo Thomas Brenneck. “Charles is a very spiritual cat,” he says. “We couldn’t have him singing the line ‘God is gay.’ The rest of the song, Charles kills, but the lyrics are so different from what he normally sings. Hopefully, that tension made the song better.” Bradley is on the road in September.
- “On a Plain”
- This project literally could not have been complete without a last-second assist from Seattle’s own Michael Benjamin Lerner, filling in when one someone — no need to name names, so let’s just say it was Wavves — went AWOL. “Those songs are magical and kind of untouchable, says Lerner, who put out one of SPIN’s favorite albums of this year, 12 Desperate Straight Lines. “So this was a superfun challenge, plus I got to take my new studio for a test drive — I’d just moved and this was the first song I recorded there.” Win-win.
- JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD
- “Something in the Way”
- “The idea was to take the least heavy song on Nirvana’s least heavy album and give it the JEFF treatment — make it real doomy. That’s all we know how to do!” says guitarist Jake Orrall, who, with his drummer brother Jamin, make up the Nashville duo. They also initially recorded their version to cassette tape before digitizing it, for extra ’90s flavor. The band is on tour this month with Valient Thorr and Pentagram.
- “Endless Nameless”
- It may pop up ten minutes after “Something in the Way,” but the coruscating hidden track “Endless, Nameless” wasn’t an afterthought for EMA, who’s touring this fall. “I wasn’t interested in covering any of the other songs,” offers the fuzz-loving alt-rocker. “The statement this one makes is just so awesome. All that noise and abrasion was the band saying, ‘We’re still punk.’ I really wanted to try and capture that spirit.
BY SPIN STAFF
SPECIAL ISSUE: The 20th anniversary of the Album That Changed Everything.
Thirteen bands — from vets like the Vaselines to upstarts Surfer Blood — celebrate ‘Nevermind”s 20th anniversary.
The impressively hirsute MC — and former grill master — works his way out of the pit.
Unrepentantly rude and rocking six-piece finds its footing thanks to underage go-getter.
A random encounter in the Holy Land reinvigorates gloriously fuzzy guitar rockers.
Photographer Kirk Weddle reveals the alternate version, featuring a girl baby — whose identity remains a mystery!
As the ’90s rebel ethos took hold, ‘Nevermind’ spoke to hip-hop kids like the diary of a grungy thug lifer.
The Bauhaus frontman and goth-father on vampires, the Cure, and getting used jockstraps from fans.
The head Jick invites SPIN’s cameras inside his Portland, Oregon living room.
A dance-music hybrid bumps and shakes its way from Washington, D.C., to the world.