Nirvana ‘bootlegged’ themselves, Butch Vig says of famous demos released in 1990

“I hadn’t finished, I hadn’t really mixed it, and yeah, they’re out there.”

Kurt Cobain

Frank Micelotta Archive/ Getty Images

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Nevermind producer Butch Vig has revealed the story behind the famous bootlegs of Nirvana’s first recordings with him.

In a new interview on Rick Beato’s YouTube channel, Vig shared that Nirvana had come to him in the spring of 1990 to record an album for Sub Pop Records. “This is before Dave Grohl was in the band, Chad was on drums,” Vig said, explaining that the group had scheduled seven days to record, eventually putting down six or seven tracks.

“Then they did an impromptu show in [Smart Studios in] Madison at Bunky’s Pizza Parlour downstairs for like 75 people,” Vig reminisced. “Kurt [Cobain] completely blew his voice out. He screamed so hard that he couldn’t talk after the show. We went into the studio the next day and his voice was shot. and I’m like, ok, we can’t do any more vocals.”

Kurt did not want to track any more songs without being able to sing, Vig said, leading to the suggestion that the band return to the studio once they had concluded their upcoming six-week-long tour of the Midwest. “Jonathan Poneman flew in, from Sub Pop, and I played him some of the rough mixes,” Vig said, describing the executive as “overjoyed”. Poneman agreed to let the band return in late summer for another week of recording, and Vig sat down to produce basic mixes of the tracks that were already recorded, which included Sappy, an early version of Polly, an early version of In Bloom, Dive In Me, which became a B-side, and a Velvet Underground cover.

Vig continued, “I sent a cassette to the band, and I sent a copy – it was made on quarter-inch tape at the time – over to SubPop. But unbeknownst to me, Kurt and Krist made 100 copies of the cassette and gave it to all their friends. They bootlegged themselves! They gave it away to everybody. All of a sudden, everybody in the music business keeps giving it to people, and people are like ‘Have you heard this new Nirvana tape?'”

“I hadn’t finished, I hadn’t really mixed it, and yeah, they’re out there.”

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