How Nirvana made ‘Bleach’ on the cheap

Nirvana announced themselves ambitiously in 1989 with their debut album, Bleach. Compared to other classic debuts, the Seattle grunge outfit didn’t have industry backing and were forced to use their own industrial intuitions to make their album a reality.

Kurt Cobain’s entire lifestyle was designed to fund his music career during this period of his life. For a short time, Cobain worked as a janitor at his old school, Aberdeen High School. During the same period, he also rented a flat on N. Michigan Street, a crucial location in the history of Nirvana.

Jack Endino might not be as famous as Cobain, Kurt Novoselic or Chad Channing, but he was integral during the early chapter of the band. At the time, he was an influential figure in the local Seattle scene who worked with upcoming bands and gave them a helping hand as a producer.

Without Endino’s guidance, Nirvana may have never arrived at the point they eventually did. He had the studio and tools to enable Cobain to fulfil his dreams. There was no long-drawn-out process, and the tracks were ready to be thrashed out by the band in a single afternoon.

In a conversation with The Skinny in 2009, Endino recalled: “I just got a phone call out of nowhere, the circumstances were that Kurt Cobain wanted to do some recording in Seattle; he noticed that everybody else was recording with me so called me up. He says ‘Hi, my name’s Kurt, I’ve got some songs I want to record, the band doesn’t have a name yet and we’ve got the drummer from The Melvins helping us out just for the session, we want to come up and do an afternoon, record some songs really fast.’”

He added: “What gave it credibility for me was that they had Dale Crover helping them out, which assured me that it must at least be pretty good (and it was). So I said ‘yeah, OK’. So Kurt, Krist and Dale walked in the door one day in January 1988 and recorded 10 songs in one afternoon.”

The strength of that demo was enough to secure them a deal with Sub Pop, and two tracks even made it onto the final edition of Bleach. In total, for the entirety of their sessions, Endino charged Nirvana just $606.17 for 30 hours of studio time, according to the book, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana by Michael Azerrad. On his website, Endino described the book as “the only Nirvana book worth the paper it’s printed on that was written while Kurt was alive is Azzerrad’s”.

Before Nevermind alerted a new audience to Nirvana, Bleach was a cult classic that had sold circa 25,000 copies, but it was far from a best-seller. However, following their break-out hit, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, suddenly troves of people visited their early work for the first time and uncovered this gem which cost less than $1000 to make.

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