Melvins reveal why they fired Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain as their producer: ‘He was a mess’

(Image credit: David Corio/Redferns)

Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Melvins’ frontman Buzz Osborne may have been good pals since their teenage years growing up in small towns in Washington state, but their friendship was put under considerable strain when Cobain was drafted in to assist with the writing of Melvin’s major label debut, Houdiniand subsequently fired from the project, at Osborne’s insistence.

“He was a mess, drug-wise,” Osborne now admits, revealing why he canned his band’s most high-profile supporter, in a feature on the making of the album in the new issue of Metal Hammer.

The significance of Melvins in Nirvana’s story can hardly be overstated: Kurt Cobain first met his future bandmate Krist Novoselic at the Melvins’ practise in Aberdeen, Washington, and Cobain’s first band, Fecal Matter, featured Melvins drummer Dale Crover, with Osborne later signing up to play bass. When Cobain and Novoselic began jamming together, they retained Fecal Matter songs Downer and Spank Thru, which would later surface as Nirvana tracks. 

To Kurt Cobain’s credit, upon Nirvana’s breakthrough into the mainstream, he relentlessly championed Melvins as an on-going inspiration, and as major label talent scouts descended upon Seattle in search of ‘The New Nirvana’, it was no surprise that Osborne’s band were courted, with the group ultimately signing to Atlantic Records. “At that point, left-of-centre bands were getting signed because Nirvana and Soundgarden were selling tons of records,” Osborne tells Metal Hammer‘s Connie Gordon. “We didn’t think we’d sell millions of records: we figured that it was business as usual, that we’d do one record with Atlantic and move on.”

Atlantic were no doubt delighted when Cobain offered to make himself available to assist his friends with their first album for the label, as his endorsement would be a huge publicity coup. But within a matter of weeks, Osborne asked for Nirvana’s frontman, given a producer’s credit on the sessions, to be removed, as his escalating heroin use was becoming an unwelcome distraction.

“During the last part of him being there, he was a mess, drug-wise,” Osborne states. “I went to Atlantic, and said I couldn’t make it work with him. I had no interest in going public with Kurt’s problems - I didn’t feel it was anybody’s business - I just wanted him off the project, and that’s when we got [RATM producer] GGGarth Richardson .”

There would be no Nevermind-esque rise to superstardom for Melvins when Atlantic issued Houdini in September 1993, even with Kurt Cobain’s name attached to the album, and his guitar playing featuring on the song Sky Pup. But the moderate success of the collection kept Atlantic on board for two subsequent albums from Osborne’s group.

For the full story behind the album, pick up the new issue of Metal Hammer.

Metal Hammer 355

(Image credit: Future)
Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.