Pop and soul singer Rozzi just dropped a new album, Berry (Deluxe), which features collaborations with PJ Morton and Nile Rodgers and an incredible cover of Alanis Morissette’s “One Hand in My Pocket.”
I sat down to an interview with the very talented vocalist, songwriter, and producer to ask her questions about the new album and her creative process.
How was your show in LA? It was your first show for this new album?
Yes, it was really great. It was really fun. I get so nervous—always—but particularly for these headline shows, I’ve been really nervous. And I’m nervous for New York. But it felt really good to do the first one and it went really well.
How did it feel to play these songs live? Was it the first time you played some of those songs live?
Some of them. The thing that’s funny about this deluxe release is it’s very slowly been coming out for a while now. Like, the first half of the album came out in early 2021. The second half came out earlier this year. And so I am very aware that for many of my listeners, most of these songs are not new. There’s four new ones. But for me, it’s really the final culmination.
First of all, of the whole experience of releasing this very personal body of work of a certain era of my life, but also, finally all the songs will be together as I designed them to be. And in the order I designed them to be. And artistically it’s really satisfying for me to be officially released in the way I always wanted it to be from an artistic point of view rather than just a marketing point of view. So a lot of the songs, people know. But there are four new ones that have been really fun to start sharing and singing live.
I was going to ask how you order your songs. So instead of thinking of them as singles, it seems they’re all part of one piece.
It seems like there’s an overall story or theme. So how do you put them together?
The thing is, I write such dangerously personal lyrics. That’s the only way I know how. I’ve tried not to write that way and I have such a hard time. Like, the muses don’t listen to me, or I don’t listen to them, I guess, when it’s not very personal. So, for me, they’re always bodies of work.
The idea that I could release singles—it’s just very tricky for me emotionally because I feel like these songs are written from a phase in my life. There’s a clear connection from my point of view, and I think you can hear that as well. There’s a perspective shift from my last album Bad Together to this one. It shows the growth that we all go through. Mine just happens to be captured in these songs. It’s really coming from a personal place. It’s not like the album is a concept album. There’s multiple different relationships I’m talking about over a fairly long stretch of time, but it’s also the time I was producing them and working on them.
It’s a personal choice the way they all go together. And then the order is just vibe. You know, whatever feels best.
I read that during the pandemic you’re been writing more on the piano?
Is that your primary instrument to write songs on? What’s your songwriting process?
I write all my lyrics first. My morning routine is that I write poems or concepts or do some journaling. So the first thing is always the words. I have written songs at the piano, but I’m usually a collaborator. My preferred way to write is I bring in the lyrics, often finished lyrics, into a room with another writer, and then we’ll usually jam. They’ll play an instrument and I’ll start to sing my lyrics along to whatever they’re playing.
But since the pandemic, now I can play shows more comfortably on the piano. I used to feel really insecure about that. Covid really forced me to practice so much and now I’m more confident. I have written on the piano before, but for some reason, with another person playing an instrument, it really sparks new ideas for me and keeps it fresh, so I prefer to write that way.
How do you choose your collaborators? What makes a good musical partner?
That’s a great question. There’s an “it” factor. It’s kind of like dating, you know, like you can’t always explain it, like, why you click with someone. I think like a lot of artists, I have my specificities. I have a heavy dose of control freak. I like someone who lets me lead and lets me execute the vision that I have, but I’m really dependent and crave collaboration. So it’s kind of this healthy balance between someone who recognizes I have a vision and can understand where I need to take the lead, and kind of do exactly what I hear, while still having the confidence and the creativity on their own to bring something new to the table. That might sound like they’re contradicting each other, but I’ve happened to have met people like this.
I don’t have that many people who I have songwriting connections with, but the people I do, I write with over and over again because they have that balance. They can’t be afraid of me, but they also need to be very respectful of the fact that these songs are coming from such a personal place. I’ve been fortunate enough to get in a room with a lot of unbelievably talented people who know how to do that which is why I cling to them.
Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet you’d love to work with?
Yes! There’s this country writing trio. Lori McKenna, who’s a legendary country writer, and Liz Rose, and Hillary Lindsey.
I’ve written with Liz. I love Liz so much. She’s one of my favorite collaborators in Nashville. This trio of women are just really talented lyricists. Their melodies are beautiful. They have that thing like I was talking about where they have strong convictions, but they write deeply personal, intimate songs. I get the feeling that I’d be intimidated because they’re so cool, but I’d feel safe with them. That’s what my gut tells me.
Speaking of personal songs, the song “Mad Man” seems to be coming from some personal experiences. What is your relationship with anger as a woman and in the music industry and has it changed over time?
Great question. I wrote “Mad Man” with Liz Rose, by the way.
And with Jamie Kenney in Nashville.
I always call that my Aries rising song. [laughs] I’m an Aries rising. I think I have a healthy relationship with anger. I’m angry when it’s due. I assume that a lot of women in every field, but I know a lot of women in the music industry can relate to that frustration and are due that anger because like a lot of other places, we’re not always taken seriously.
I have this experience of being in the music industry where sometimes these very powerful men who seem to feel like their validation of me is everything I’ve been waiting for. And it’s not really. First of all, I’m an artist because I’m an artist. I make this music because I need to and a lot of my fans are women because I write about experiences from a female point of view.
It’s frustrating because I’ve worked with a lot of men who felt they had a sense of ownership over my artistry. While I’m not going to say that it didn’t sometimes serve me—I learned a lot and I grew a lot—ultimately, it wasn’t theirs to own. And I haven’t had that experience with working with women. And this is my personal experience.
I’m sure that can be frustrating.
So you’re releasing this album now. Are you going to tour?
I’m unclear, honestly. That’s why I wanted to do these big release shows. I’m going to be home for all of December, for the first time in a long time. And I’m going to be writing every single day. I already know what album I want to make next.
I’m sure I’ll be playing shows in the new year, but because of how slowly this entire album has been released, I’m already so ready for what’s next that I’m a little more excited about that at the moment.
How is your new stuff that you’re working on right now going to be different from this current album? Are there different styles you’d like to explore?
Yes! I haven’t talked about this yet. My whole life I’ve had people tell me when they see me live, they’ll say “I didn’t really get it until I saw you live.” Or “You’re so much better live.” I’ve heard that so many times. And it’s always a compliment and I appreciate it and I’m very proud of my live show. I get what people are saying.
I’ve kind of hit this wall where I want to make an album that sounds just like my live show. I want to see if I can create this experience people tell me they have at my live shows on the record. So I want to record…I’m writing a bunch of songs now and making demos. Once we go into record, my vision and my hope and my dream is to record virtually the whole thing live. Drums in one booth, bass in another booth, keys and whatever in another booth, and then me, so I can sing along with everybody singing at once. Like, you know, old school, like Aretha Franklin style. And if we want to add stuff in post to make it more modern sounding–cool—but we can capture the foundation of the song as if it was live.
That sounds really awesome. And that’d probably really serve your songs really well, like the ones that have the soul and R&B influence.
Yeah, for me, getting older feels a lot like getting closer and closer to my younger self. Like the more I mature and get comfortable with myself, the more I can get closer to my roots so I feel like that’s where I’m headed. I’m slowly making my way back to like when I was in high school and I was in a soul band playing Tower of Power songs. I want to make a true soul record next.
That sounds so cool. So you’ve been working professionally for a little more than a decade, right? How do you think the music industry’s changed in the past decade and how do you think you’ve changed?
In the industry… first of all…social media was there when I started but not like it is now. It’s noisier than ever but there’s more opportunities for good stuff to get heard. I think even when I was signed, the emphasis on radio was bigger than it is now, I think. Not that radio isn’t still a factor, but it’s not like it was. I think that’s interesting. Obviously, like playlisting is everything now.
I think I’ve changed a lot. Like I said, I just keep getting closer and closer to myself. I’ve always been very ambitious. I know what I wanted to be from a very young age. I have an amazing family but no one’s an artist so I didn’t have role models or people who understood how it worked so I really had to learn firsthand how to be an artist and how it works and how to be professional.
Early on in my career I might have let my ambition win, like, I’d try to get something or get somewhere no matter the cost. But now, for me, it’s all about the creativity and being authentic and true to myself. That’s all I really care about. And I find that it leads me to much more success anyway. That’s been happening for a while, but not I’m so solid on that that I feel really confident, like, I’m going to make a live sounding album, you know?
I feel like the only thing I have to listen to is my gut, really. And I know how to listen to my gut and that takes some time as a person. Once you cross thirty, it gets a little easier.
Excellent. And how do you feed your creativity?
I always say there are two things. I get up and try to write every day just to keep the muscle going, and like, really getting out of my comfort zone and doing stuff that scares the shit out of me. Whether that be some social thing where I don’t know anyone or taking an acting class. I try to find ways to stretch myself in my personal life because I write such personal songs.
Awesome, is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
Well, I’d like to talk about the Alanis cover, which is a single from this album, “Hand in My Pocket.” I’m obsessed with Alanis Morissette. If I think I write personal songs, I learned it from her. She’s one of my heroes.
My good friend Bryn Bliska, who’s the keyboardist for Jacob Collier, and they’re on tour right now—she played piano and produced it. India Carney, an amazing background vocalist, arranged the background vocals. I recorded it live with Bryn in my house a few months ago. It’s a very personal, organic, intimate take on one of my favorite, classic songs.
I’ve known Mossy Ross for a long time, first as the drummer for the Brooklyn-based psychedelic rock band, Lord Classic. But after a long pandemic (like, really long and it’s not even over), I wanted to catch up with her and chat about her band Nuclear Family Fantasy which she fronts on bass. They just released a new, mostly electronic album Leavin’ This Place, a departure from the power trio’s usual straight-ahead rock sound. What remains the same, however, are the scathing lyrics delivered in Ross’s defiant alto voice.
Ross started writing the songs on Leavin’ This Place in 2018 and had planned to record it live in the studio in 2020, but the pandemic threw a wrench into that plan. So she started exploring how to produce and record at home, and laid down some tracks.
“I got bored one day,” Ross says, “and I’d always wanted to add more texture and dynamics to the songs because I wanted them to have a pretty quality instead of just being straight-up rock. I figured I would try some melodies, and then I ended up doing the whole thing.”
She experimented with synth, drum machines, and keyboards and then passed the tracks to producer and musician Kelsey Warren of Blak Emoji. Ross credits him with sticking with the theme she wanted, while helping to smooth out her rookie mistakes.
Nuclear Family Fantasy performing in 2021 (photo by Kate Hoos)
“He produced the hell out of it,” Ross laughs. “We got all these other sounds. And that was unthinkable to me to do anything electronic because when I first started playing in bands in 2006, everybody was using GarageBand, everybody was using laptops for their shows, and my bandmates at the time were super analog and that influenced me. And now I have such a great appreciation for being able to be inventive with sounds and things like that. But that being said, the next album is going to be a three-piece with my new bandmates.”
Ross says her new bandmates, guitarist Roni Corcos and drummer Chayse Schutter, have done a fantastic job interpreting the electronic album for a live show.
“If I had recorded the album with them and have them do what they do, I would have given them songwriting credit,” Ross says. “Chayse has written some great beats and Roni does a really cool job of adding texture but also doing some of the things that were done on keyboards on the album. So she knows when to do what. It’s really cool. It’s a really cool sound.”
Even though the sound of the album is different from the live show, Ross hopes that fans will like both. She says she enjoyed playing with dynamics and layering simple melodies which you can hear on the album.
“I really like dynamics because my songs are really simple when it comes to melody and the structure,” Ross says. “Or not the structure so much, but sometimes I play the same notes, or the same bar, the whole way through. Adding pauses or adding bigger sounds is what keeps it interesting, which is what I think I’ve taken from classical music. One of the things I love about classical is there’s a theme. Like Chopin starts with a simple theme and then just goes crazy with it.”
Nuclear Family Fantasy performing in 2022 (photo by Caroline Schutter)
I asked her what it was like to switch from being behind a drum kit in Lord Classic to fronting her own band on bass and vocals, as well as being the principal songwriter.
“I never thought about it, but I guess the transition was pretty embarrassing in many ways!” She laughs. “I learned a lot, and I think as long as you learn, it has to be a good decision. It’s definitely been empowering in many ways. It was a great outlet for me, you know. Bass is hard, because I love to dance and move when I play, but I can’t—I gotta be in front of the mic. I chipped my tooth many times on the microphone. There was a lot of learning that goes along with it, like plugging things in; I never had to do that, and that’s a learning process. What hole does the cable go into? What amp am I plugging into? Especially being a woman, you don’t want to look stupid. You want to know what you’re talking about when it comes to tech stuff.”
One of the reasons Ross named her band Nuclear Family Fantasy is because she chafed at “traditional” gender roles when she was growing up in the South where she was raised as a Baptist. She says she’s been working on changing the mindset that was deeply ingrained in her at a young age.
“I think when you’re conditioned since childhood to believe a certain thing, you don’t even know how much you’re being conditioned until you realize it,” Ross muses. “Then you’re like ‘oh’ and you realize you have to do all this de-conditioning.”
You can definitely see how she’s working through it in the lyrics in “Storm Before the Calm” and “Too Good For Me.”
“There’s so much shit that’s wrong with the world and I like to write stuff that draws attention to it,” Ross says. “My main thing with music, or any art form for that matter, is I think that it’s meant to connect people and it’s meant to hopefully share some sort of message.”
See Ross with Nuclear Family Fantasy this summer in and around Brooklyn so we can all work through our shit together.
While the past two years haven’t been easy for most of us, some musicians have found that it was the perfect time to hole up and get creative. And with the magic of the world wide web, even bandmates on opposite coasts can collaborate remotely.
That was the case for new band Sub*T, which formed in a mosh pit in the summer of 2019. Grace Bennett and Jade Alcantara decided they wanted to climb out of the pit and make their way to the stage. They just had to write some songs first. Oh, and they had to learn how to play guitar.
Grace went back to Brooklyn and Jade went back to Oakland and they sat down with their guitars and started writing. During the lockdown, they shared files back and forth and their particular sound was born. Taking cues from Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, and other 90s alt-rock women, they crafted infectious, driving songs with layered vocals and crunchy guitars.
After months of writing, they recorded and released their first singles “Boxing Day” and “Too Soon Too Long” earlier this year. Then they converged in Nashville and recorded more tracks with Alicia Bognanno of Bully. The duo released their four-song EP So Green on Nov. 19 and will play their very first live performance Nov. 21 at Elsewhere in Brooklyn.
Alcantara and Bennett sat down with Full Time Aesthetic to share how it’s been going.
Sub*T (photo by Kenzie Davis)
You say you have a lot of 90s influences. What is it about the sounds and culture of that era that speak to you?
We are really inspired by the 90’s. For us the music has a sense of nostalgia that we really associate with our music and lyrics that we really love. I think it’s also because it’s kind of this era that can’t and has not been replicated since. We just want to create music that makes us feel the way the music we love so much made when we first heard it. Also, so many bands with women… especially when it comes to singing style we always felt really inspired by their vocal delivery.
What was it like recording with Alicia Bognanno in Nashville? Why do you think she was the right producer for you?
It was a completely comfortable, vulnerable, empowering situation. We have been a huge fan of hers and we really admire how different she is and how she has always followed her own path when it comes to her musical sound. She also knew exactly what we wanted this EP to be as soon as she heard the demos. We recorded it in her house with her dogs, her snacks, her books and gear and we felt really at home. It was really special and we feel so lucky to have had that experience.
Sub*T (photo by Kenzie Davis)
What new sounds did you explore with Alicia?
Alicia has a ton of experience with producing, engineering and performing live so we really got to play with guitar tones in a way that we hadn’t before. We also had some inspirational songs that she could really help us channel when it came to how we recorded. There was even some pre-work we did where she even helped me (Jade) explore new things with my vocal delivery and timing. It was so much fun and we can’t wait to hopefully do it again to see how else we can explore these things.
You’ve said that you both share a strong vision for Sub*T and want to remain a duo. Can you tell us a little more about that?
I think we both realize how lucky we are to have found each other. And how hard it is to completely trust and believe in someone else. Especially because we are both extremely stubborn and really have a vision for what we want. Alicia also gave us so much perspective on this. We write our lyrics and arrange our music and even do our own visuals. We are really passionate about having really fun and stand up people around us, but we know at the core we are always Sub*T.
You have your first live performance coming up this week! How do you think performing live is going to affect your songwriting moving forward?
Absolutely. We are shocked at how good it sounds to hear our songs live. We want to have a huge presence as a live band so we are really figuring out what works. Right now we have been rehearsing with one of our best friends playing drums and another friend playing bass. It’s also really cool to just note things that are slowly evolving as we play them. When we recorded, you know, we didn’t always think about having to sing and play at the same time…or how we would reproduce the sounds on the EP. But we’re so excited to keep writing songs to play live. We actually just wrote a new song for the live show because we really had a vision for how it would feel to perform it.
How are visual art and aesthetics important to you?
This is really 50% of Sub*T. We’re both visual artists. Grace is really good at editing and creating videos. We both love collaging and Jade is constantly in Photoshop making new things. We love that we can incorporate that into our music and will always do that in the future.
“Table For Four” artwork
Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to try?
We really want to go on tour. We want to travel so much and meet new people. We have a zine coming out soon to go with our EP.
What advice do you have for any aspiring or emerging musicians out there?
Honestly just do whatever sounds good to you. It can be scary knowing nothing. But if you just start, it can and will happen. That’s what we did!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We have two shows coming up! And we can’t wait to keep making music.
So Green is out now on all major streaming platforms
Multi-instrumentalist Peter David Connelly began recording Without Love for college credit at the famously non-traditional Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. But like so many things, the project was interrupted in March 2020 by the pandemic. He had a decision to make—DIY or die. Okay, not literally die, but he would have had to abandon the project or do it on his own without access to the college’s state-of-the-art equipment. And so, with a portable Tascam in the back room of a used clothing store, he embraced the warm and intimate music he could create in solitude.
Check out the new video for “Someone To Hang On To” directed by Jolie Maya-Altshuler and the Q&A with Connelly below.
What was it like to have your recording sessions interrupted by the pandemic and what was the decision like to work on your own? What was that transition like?
I knew that I was going to be working on my own for the majority of the record anyway, but it was very frustrating that I wasn’t able to do more on campus. The only performances that I got at Evergreen were the drums on “Slow Goodbye” and the lead vocal on three songs, and everything else was done in my apartment or my rehearsal space. The other effect of the pandemic was that I had less guest appearances than I had initially planned, especially vocals. But hopefully that can be rectified next time around.
Did you have much experience with home recording and producing?
Oh definitely, although my skill set as an engineer is rather limited. Sometimes I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because so many modern records have this normalcy to the way they sound that I don’t care for. I want to improve my skills, but I don’t want to learn the rule book. I’m more interested in doing odd things like the end of “Thought Maybe I’d Place My Soul to the Devil,” with four distorted drum sets bashing away like crazy.
Which instruments are you most comfortable with? Did you learn to play a new instrument or did you try new techniques while recording this album?
For the most part I’m a drummer, and that’s always the instrument I’ve been the most comfortable with. I didn’t really learn a new instrument, but there are always unusual recording concepts that I try to achieve, like the two out-of-sync drum machines in “Fingerprinted,” or the twin guitar leads that close the record. Also if you listen really closely you can hear my cat meow at the very end—that was a happy accident.
Winona the cat
Was the pandemic a more creative time for you? I’ve heard mixed things from different artists about how they experienced the pandemic.
It certainly was—I haven’t written a song since I got vaccinated! I’ve noticed that I get a big burst of songwriting activity every time something shocking or frightening happens, and Covid was and remains very shocking and frightening. There were also several songs I wrote around the beginning of the pandemic that I didn’t put on the record, for one reason or another.
I understand what you mean! Can you tell me about the recording of “Someone to Hang On To?”
That one took forever! I must have done ten separate sessions over the course of the whole record just trying to get a rhythm track I liked, and “Someone To Hang On To” was one of the first songs attempted but one of the last completed. Every time I thought that I had a good take it ended up too fast, or I didn’t like the feel, or the drum sound wasn’t right. But I’m glad it took so long, because the final version sounds much better rehearsed than it would have been otherwise.
Did you play all the instruments on “Someone To Hang On To?” With backing vocals by Giselle Gabrielle?
Yes, that’s correct. I rehearsed it with an outside guitar player and bass player, but because of the pandemic I ended up playing those parts myself. That ended up being true of most of the album, actually.
Can you tell me a little about creating the music video?
That was really Jolie’s project more than mine—some of the footage I wasn’t even present for, and I haven’t even met the majority of the people in the video. My main contribution was that I wanted to be seen playing the Glockenspiel part in a variety of bizarre places, like those shots on the beach.
Do you have any performances planned?
I had a couple last month but there’s nothing else set up at the moment. I’m not comfortable inviting people to an indoor concert where they don’t have to show proof of vaccination, so touring isn’t really possible right now. I plan on doing at least a West Coast tour in Spring 2022.
How do you perform these songs live since you play most of the instruments on the recording?
I’ve played some of them at shows, but a few of the tracks were so spontaneous that I would have to relearn them—I would have no clue how to play “Before College,” for example. The plan is to get a rhythm section and I’ll play piano, but some of the songs wouldn’t work with drums at all. I never think about these things when I’m recording. I never see myself onstage delivering the material until it actually happens.
What are you studying in college and what do you hope to do with your degree?
That’s a good question. Although I’m enjoying my time at Evergreen, I have no idea how it’s going to prepare me for the job market (shudder). All I want to do is keep making pop records.
What is the scene in Olympia like these days? Do you have a close-knit group of people to collaborate with?
It’s taken a big hit due to the pandemic, like I’m sure most places have, but there are always a few cool bands around. There’s a band called Thin Veil whose record I play over and over. Cold Sweats is an exciting, New York Dolls-style rock ‘n’ roll band. Jessie Branch has the sickest set of pipes Olympia has ever heard. And Table Sugar was my absolute favorite, but I think they’re over now.
Did music venues and record shops in your area survive the pandemic?
The one record store survived. Maybe half of the venues did. But Olympia has always put on a lot of house shows, so proper venues aren’t really the only option. Hopefully there will be more of those once people start becoming more comfortable indoors.
What’s next for you creatively?
I really want to make a double record, since I was a teenager that’s been a real ambition of mine. Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything? has always been a template for the double album I aspire to, but it would require an enormously prolific period for me songwriting-wise to make a record that could even potentially hold a listener’s interest for 80 or 90 minutes. I also want to make the process of songwriting more loose, and not think about verses and choruses as much. More instrumental passages, and more weirdness. Pop music is often so sterile these days, especially guitar-oriented bands. I don’t ever want to do anything that negates my identity as a fucking weirdo.
After the wild and excessive 1980s filled with loud clothing, crimped hair, and cheesy metal, things started going in an entirely different direction in the dawning of the ’90s. Suddenly from sleepy, rainy Seattle came this heavy music with a dismissive attitude and slacker aesthetic. People started wearing flannels and stopped washing their hair. Grunge had arrived.
On September 24, 1991, Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, dropped which fully cemented grunge in mainstream culture. Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic recorded an album with producer Butch Vig that proved to be both commercially successful and an inspiration to multiple generations of musicians. As the band’s debut on a major label (Geffen Records subsidiary DGC), the album went on to “dethrone the King of Pop” in January 1992 when it reached number one on the Billboard charts taking the spot away from Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.
It seems every musician and fan I know had a Nirvana moment. Here’s mine: I was 13 and helping my best friend babysit. She pulled out this cassette with a baby floating in a very blue swimming pool. “You have to listen to this.” When she pressed play, my earholes were filled with the most perfect aural concoction that gave voice to my newly acquired teen angst.
Nevermind on cassette
For the thirty year anniversary of that groundbreaking album I spoke with a slew of musicians who also had their Nirvana moment.
Both the song and video captured the essence of Gen X life, I think
– Taína Cojoba
“My friend got the single of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and he played it for me over the phone. And even hearing it through the phone blew me away,” said Jason Caperton, guitarist in The Library.
As of today, thirty years later, the anthemic song has over a billion streams on Spotify, a platform that didn’t even exist in the ’90s.
Taína Cojoba, vocalist and bassist for Invading Species, remembers moshing to the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with her brother back in Puerto Rico when it came out. “I likely would have never admitted this back then,” she laughed. “In the 1990s I was staunchly anti commercial music (DIY or die!), so Nirvana was more of a guilty pleasure for me. I liked it because it was dark and sarcastic—not your common commercial love song by pretty people. Both the song and video captured the essence of Gen X life, I think.”
Still frame from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video
For those of us who felt like outsiders or misfits, music helped get us through it. Especially when that music was delivered in a delicious snarl with bouts of raspy screaming.
Something about the songs and Kurt’s tortured voice really resonated with me at a time when I felt like I really didn’t fit in with the world at all
– Tania Cross
“I’m so happy, ‘cause today I found my friends, they’re in my head. I’m so ugly, that’s okay, ‘cause so are you, we broke our mirrors,” Cobain sang in “Lithium.” And we listened. And listened. And…
“I think I was either in 7th or 8th grade when I first heard the Bleach record,” said Tania Cross, a Brooklyn-based artist and bass player. “Back then all we did was traffic in over-dubbed tapes and I have no clue who turned me on to it, but I never stopped listening. Something about the songs and Kurt’s tortured voice really resonated with me at a time when I felt like I really didn’t fit in with the world at all—this would have been 1990 or 1991. I was very much a pubescent teenage girl stuck in Catholic school and Nirvana was sort of my gateway drug into riot grrrl music, which got me through high school and the fuck out of my home town. I had a dual cassette recorder that I kept on my bed under my pillow and I would listen relentlessly with my ear on the speaker, trying to decipher lyrics and figure out this new music from the West coast and my mom would barge in my room and scream at me for it—very Twisted Sister style!”
Cross went on to say that she feels so lucky to have seen Nirvana live during the InUtero tour in 1993.
“The band were these regular humans in front of me playing in this wild fantasy world with all of their own vulnerabilities and torn sweaters, and directing the crowd to treat each other with respect and dignity. I’m pretty sure I probably cried—I was 14—but it definitely was a game changer of a performance,” Cross reminisced.
Steve Myers, vocalist for Mighty Fine, said he saw the hype build up over time. “In college I was working at a record store named Paradise in Baton Rouge the first time I heard of Nirvana. Around the time I was hired, the indie record snob kids were all about Bleach and the buzz was at a slow and steady build. I remember the record being sloppy but relatable and, dare I say, a little funky for a hard rock/punk record. The band stood out to me partly because you could see the changing of the guard coming. Nirvana was relatable, knew how to pay homage to what came before, all while making their music seem new, rebellious, melodic and cool all at the same time which is hard. Then sprinkle a little indie rock attitude and the world goes boom. It reminded me of when RUN DMC made dressing like Grandmaster Flash a thing of the past seemingly overnight.”
I respect Cobain’s courage in expressing the dissonances and conflicts that exist beneath our relationships and identities
– Amy Klein
Amy Klein, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, said Nirvana’s music helped her process deeper emotions she didn’t know how to express.
“I remember the first time I heard Nirvana on the boombox in my older sister’s room. I felt the wildness of the music, how it raged against conformity, without having any of those words. Still a kid, I felt the feelings within Cobain’s guttural snarl, heard him protest against the superficial surfaces of easy sentiments. I lived in suburbia, and Nirvana opened a door for me to an alternative understanding of that white picket-fence culture. Songs such as ‘Polly,’ ‘Rape Me,’ and ‘Heart Shaped Box’ gave voice to the violence and the trauma which lived within us. I was almost afraid to listen to those songs because I knew that darkness felt real—and was part of me. Today I respect Cobain’s courage in expressing the dissonances and conflicts that exist beneath our relationships and identities. Nothing about Nirvana is ever easy or expected,” Klein said.
We can’t talk about Nirvana without talking about that very sad day in April 1994 that Kurt Cobain passed away by suicide at the age of 27, leaving behind wife Courtney Love and their baby Frances Bean Cobain. Most Gen Xers and older millennials remember the moment they found out about his death. For me, I was in the backseat of my father’s car with two friends on the way to see a movie in Myrtle Beach. We had the radio tuned to the alternative rock station and that’s when the DJ broke the news. My friend Adam began sobbing and my other friend and I were just stunned. It felt like one of our own friends had died.
Jamie Frey, vocalist for NO ICE, said Cobain’s body was found on the day of his 8th birthday although he wasn’t entirely aware who Nirvana was at the time. It was later that he began listening to them, first on the radio, and later when he was able to buy his own CDs.
“I can safely say that you’d hear a song from Nevermind just about every hour of radio programming. In that alternative format, Nirvana was The Beatles or Pink Floyd. Totally ubiquitous. I started picking my own CDs and eventually I bought the one with the baby on the cover and listened to it 8,000 times,” Frey said. “I feel like I can recount every second of the album in my head perfectly, I’ve heard it so many times. It is the sound of a breakthrough of a young rock band to a young rock fan, and like most rockers my age, it is an essential part of their origin story. Now, at 35, I’ll take Hole’s Live Through This any day of the week, but as an adolescent boy it was a whole new universe to me.”
Kurt Cobain’s relationship with Hole’s front woman Courtney Love was also part of his mythos. I vividly remember staring for what felt like hours at the photo of Cobain and Love on the cover of Sassy Magazine. While Love has been vilified and even accused of murdering her husband, it seems to me that they were both people battling addiction and various physical and mental problems. The month before Cobain died, he had gotten out of rehab. He also suffered from depression, chronic bronchitis, and an undiagnosed stomach condition that caused him intense pain.
But in the short amount of time he had on Earth, he touched countless fans leaving a legacy that we’ll be talking about decades to come.
“To this day Nirvana has always stayed with me,” said Tania Cross. “I still listen to them regularly. I do wonder what records could have been made if Kurt hadn’t died, but I’ve never begrudged him for leaving when he did. I’m forever grateful for all the other bands he turned me on to through covers and interviews and his enthusiasm and love of music.”