Nirvana was an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987. It was founded by singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. Drummer Dave Grohl joined the band in 1990. Nirvana went through a succession of drummers, the longest-lasting and best-known being Grohl. Though often referred to as a grunge band, the style of their music incorporated elements of punk rock, heavy metal, and indie rock. They became one of the most successful bands of the early 1990s, with their 1991 album Nevermind which topped different charts worldwide.
Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first year of eligibility in 2014. Cobain and Novoselic met while attending Aberdeen High, although they never connected, according to Cobain. The pair eventually became friends while frequenting the practice space of the Melvins. Cobain wanted to form a band with Novoselic, but Novoselic did not respond for a long period of time. In persuading Novoselic to form a band, Cobain gave him a tape of his project Fecal Matter. Three years after the two first met, Novoselic notified Cobain that he had finally listened to the Fecal Matter demo and suggested they start a group; Cobain agreed and immediately started writing songs for their new band.
The pair recruited Bob McFadden on drums, but after just a month McFadden quit to join the Navy. They then recruited Aaron Burckhard. The three practiced material from Cobain’s Fecal Matter demo tape as well as covers of Led Zeppelin, the Ramones, and Alex Harvey. After a month and a half, Burckhard quit and moved back to California. Novoselic and Cobain were devastated, as they had been really excited about the chance to have a band together.
Cobain and Novoselic placed an advertisement for a drummer in Seattle music publication The Rocket, which attracted the attention of Chad Channing. Channing joined Nirvana in early 1989, bringing with him drummer Shelli Dilly, who only lasted two weeks due to creative differences. Nirvana released its first single,”Love Buzz”, on Sub Pop in late 1988. Chad Channing’s departure led to the recruitment of Dylan Carlson of the band Earth.
Nirvana began work on its debut album, Bleach, in early 1989, with Channing still on drums. Producer Butch Vig was recruited to record Nirvana’s first album for a reported $600. Cobain and Novoselic were stunned by Vig’s sonic experimentation, which greatly enhanced the power of their songs; Cobain later said that Vig ” brought out empowerments we didn’t know we had.” Although the majority of the album was recorded in Seattle, a handful of tracks were recorded in Los Angeles with Vig after the majority of recording had been completed. The Los Angeles sessions proved to be difficult, as the band was homesick and Vig’s perfectionism led to several arguments. After being satisfied with the album’s sound, Sub Pop released Bleach in June 1989.
In early 1990, Nirvana began work on its second album, Nevermind. The album was written and demoed much quicker than Bleach, due in part to Cobain suffering from writer’s block during the majority of the recording process. Vig was again recruited to produce, and his experience with mainstream rock acts helped mold some of the more radio-friendly tracks on Nevermind. As the album neared completion, DGC Records president Gary Gersh visited Seattle to hear a selection of songs from the record; he later offered Nirvana a $250,000 advance to sign with DGC. Nevermind was finally completed in August 1991 and released two months later.
Nirvana’s first single from Nevermind, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, was released in September 1991; the song’s success was unforeseen by the band or DGC. It became an anthem for teenage rebellion and helped make Nevermind a surprise success: it reached number six on the Billboard 200 chart and eventually sold over 30 million copies worldwide. The album’s popularity brought increased attention to the underground grunge and punk rock scenes from which Nirvana had emerged, with many of the genre’s leading bands suddenly finding themselves exposed to a mainstream audience. In December 1991, Cobain travelled to London to perform “Lithium” on Top of the Pops with Novoselic, Grohl, and Pat Smear (who had recently joined the band as a second guitarist). The band’s performance was considered one of the most important moments in alternative rock music history, as it helped to break down the barriers between underground rock and the mainstream.
With Nevermind’s unexpected success came increased pressure on Cobain. He began struggling with heroin addiction and chronic health problems, leading him to frequently miss touring and promotional commitments. In early 1992, Nirvana embarked on a European tour, its first since Bleach had been released. The tour was a success, but Cobain was often uncommunicative and withdrawn when he wasn’t performing. His health deteriorated further due to his heavy drug use, and he was often too ill to perform. In March 1994, after a tour of Australia and New Zealand, Cobain was rushed to a hospital in Rome after overdosing on champagne and Rohypnol. Upon returning to the United States, he entered into a brief period of sobriety. However, his addiction soon returned, and he continued to struggle with it for the remainder of his life.
On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle; he had died of a shotgun wound to the head three days earlier. The autopsy revealed that Cobain had ingested large amounts of heroin shortly before his death; however, it is unclear whether this played a role in his suicide or not. His death was officially ruled a suicide, but many conspiracy theories have surfaced in the years since his death. Cobain’s suicide left Novoselic and Grohl devastated; the two later founded the rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.
Nirvana has been cited as a major influence by a number of artists and bands. The band’s music has inspired artists across multiple genres, including hip hop, metal, and indie rock. Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, with both Cobain and Novoselic being posthumously inducted. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Nirvana at number 27 on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. Cobain and Novoselic were ranked at number 3 on Gibson’s “Top 50 Guitarists of All Time” list, and Grohl was ranked at number 9 on Drum! magazine’s “50 Greatest Drummers of All Time” list. Nirvana has sold over 25 million records in the United States alone, and over 75 million records worldwide.
Nirvana was a highly influential grunge rock band that achieved massive mainstream success in the early 1990s. The band was formed in 1987 by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, with drummer Dave Grohl joining soon after. Nirvana released its debut album Bleach in 1989, but it was the release of 1991’s Nevermind that catapulted the band to global superstardom. Nevermind featured the hit single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which became an anthem for the 1990s generation. The album was a massive commercial success, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and eventually selling over 30 million copies worldwide.