Dive was among the songs recorded at Smart in 1990 for an album was planned to come out on Sub Pop. A few years later, after the wild success of Nevermind, it came out on Incesticide. In retrospect, I wish I had paid more attention, and taken a few pictures. But I didn’t - at the time, 1990, it was just another cool band coming in, Nirvana from Seattle. Butch asked me if I could help out for the first couple of days of recording. Looking back, it’s easy to describe my involvement - I was an assistant engineer. At the time, though, I was just helping out. Things were very informal at Smart. The traditional pecking order in which an assistant wouldn’t dare express an opinion didn’t apply. So I might listen to the drums on playback and ask Butch if I could move the mics a bit, and he was always very cool about it, and generally said sure, go for it. If it sounded better, great, if not, We’d try something else.
Butch was a mentor for sure, although not in a heavy-handed way. It was all by example. I watched him work, and saw - heard - how all the elements had to come together. With drums, for example, I’d watch him put on new heads, listen to him tune the snare, the toms, the kick, tweak the mic placements, put a touch of dbx 160 on the snare to make it pop, and then to somehow instill confidence in the drummer, so that they would generally play beyond their usual abilities. He was always very low-key and unpretentious, but there was a charisma too. It was there long before things really took off. I think that’s probably been a big asset. He could hear where he wanted to take things, and he would just bring everyone along…
Here’s what I remember about Kurt. He was very quiet, even a bit withdrawn. Perfectly nice, though. When we were setting up, I walked into one of the booths while he was dialing in his guitar sound. I saw he had a Sunn solid state amp, and I thought to myself - a transistor guitar amp! how can I convince him to try my killer Marshall? Hmmm… he’s a punk guy, and punkers tend to hate Marshalls…what to say?
“So Kurt, how do you like the Sunn Amp?”
“It sounds good, I’m pretty happy with it.”
“Cool. Well, I have a really sweet old Marshall head, and a 4x12 with greenbacks in it. I know a lot of people aren’t into Marshalls these days, but this one sounds killer. You’re welcome to use it if you like.”
He was looking at me very suspiciously at this point.
“No - I don’t want to do that.”
That was that - he used the Sunn. I think the band was in the studio for a week or less. I hung out upstairs in the lounge with Krist and Chad a fair amount. I think we talked mostly about politics and bands.
Like I said, I wish I had paid more attention. I was certainly not expecting things to turn out the way they did.