With Eyes Adrift – a trio formed from the ashes of Nirvana, Sublime, and the Meat Puppets – Krist Novoselic gets back on the bus and searches for a direction with his own ragged glory.
Story by Charles R. Cross
Sitting in the living room of his southwestern Washington farm, Krist Novoselic looks every bit the country gentleman. His restored farmhouse sits in a pastoral valley on several hundred acres, a setting that looks like something from Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. Make no mistake about it, this is rock and roll country pie: the ancient-looking barn hides a recording studio, there’s a tour bus parked in the back pasture, and the stereo blasts squealing guitar and monster bass riffs with such a boom that the neighboring cows take notice.
The booming bass is courtesy of the debut disc from Eyes Adrift, the new trio Novoselic formed last year with guitarist Curt Kirkwood and drummer Bud Gaugh. This is a band with a pedigree if there ever was one: Novoselic was in Nirvana; Kirkwood is from the Meat Puppets; Gaugh was the drummer in Sublime. They came together when Novoselic saw one of Kirkwood’s solo shows and invited the guitarist back to the farm. That same week, Gaugh contacted Kirkwood and suggested forming a band. The three retreated to the studio, and Eyes Adrift were born.
Their self-titled album on SpinArt is both fresh sounding and familiar, mixing Kirkwood’s patented weirdness with Novoselic’s populist licks. Krist even wrote three of the songs and sings lead vocals on those numbers. “This one is a bit of a country stomper,” he says by way of introducing “Straight Ahead,” one of Kirkwood’s songs. It’s a description that few fans of Krist’s work with Nirvana would ever have expected to hear from his lips.
Speaking of Nirvana, Novoselic is newly at ease talking about his famous history. He’s presently working on both a Nirvana greatest-hits collection and a box set, hoping that his and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s battle with Courtney Love over control of the Nirvana back catalog will be settled soon. He even jokes about how he and Kirkwood are touring with several of the guitars that were featured on Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York Performance.
Forming Eyes Adrift seems to have given all three players a new attitude. “This is just plain rock and roll,” Novoselic says of the album, “But we know we all have a lot of baggage.” He jokes about how he enviously read a review of a recent Dave Matthews Band show. “All they talked about was his music, the show, what he played. I looked at that and said, “Why don’t we get this level of reportage? Why is our coverage, particularly from people who haven’t heard us yet, always about these past soap operas?”
Novoselic declares the soap operas are behind him. He’s touring in a bus again but says he couldn’t be happier. “I’ve played with a lot of good players over the years, but these guys are some of the best. Curt said it was providence that brought us together. He told me the other day, ‘God has a plan for you, Krist.’ Not that he’s religious, but I guess he’s right.”.
Guitar World: You might laugh at this but both your record and live show reminded me of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with their level of rawness mixed with fury.
Krist Novoselic: It’s funny you’d say that. Just the other day I pulled out this old cassette of Ragged Glory and I popped it into my cassette player and I was digging it. They were just a great rock and roll band, one that presents the song ahead of everything else – there’s no grand idea or concept behind it. I think that’s what we’re trying to do in Eyes Adrift. Our idea is simply to play the songs and to emphasize our musicianship.
GW: The band came together very quickly, the fact that you all came up with the idea simultaneously seems organic.
Krist: That’s exactly the word for it. It just kind of came together. We’re all players and musicians and we sure all get along good. We just clicked right off the bat. We started playing and then we almost immediately started recording. We first set up together in the studio and put these songs together pretty darn quick. We played them just a few times and then said, “Track it.” This was a really cheap record to make. We were all used to our roles in our other trios, so we knew how to do it.
GW: And like a Neil Young record, your album sounds both modern and nostalgic at the same time.
Krist: Stuart Sullivan, the producer, had recorded both the Meat Puppets and Sublime, so he knew what he was working with. We did all the tracks on a hard-disk recorder but we also used a lot of old compressors and tube stuff to rough it up. I like to balance analog and digital. We used some old amps – I used an old Ampeg flip-tip – and some old ribbon mics. We brought the finished tracks to John Plymale in North Carolina, and he mixed it and added sheen. Just a few years ago a record that sounds like this would have been impossible for this price.
GW: You wrote several of the songs on the record, and you sing on a few cuts, too, which is a change for you. How did that come about?
Krist: Most of the songs were Curt’s. I had a few that were kicking around; Curt, in contrast, had a whole bag of songs. But this is pretty new for me, both songwriting and singing. I wrote “Inquiring Minds,” “Dottie Dawn and Julie Jewel” and “Pasted,” which ends the record. “Pasted” was just a campfire, cowboy song that we turned into an extravaganza. We had three or four long jam sessions and using Pro Tools, we constructed it into a song.
GW: You could probably get the group on a jam-band tour because of that song.
Krist: We’ll go wherever it takes us. Yeah, that song is a journey. It goes on and on and on, but it deconstructs. In the past I didn’t sing, but it just felt right now, and the songs I wrote felt right too. “Inquiring Minds” is just another jaded tune, and sometimes I wonder if people are going to listen to this and say, “Just what the fuck is he thinking?”. Both “Dottie Dawn” and “Inquiring Minds” are about beauty queens, so I seemed to be on a beauty queen jag.
GW: Despite seeing you play a lot over the years, I only remember you singing on that snippet of “Come Together” from the start of Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings”.
Krist: It felt good to sing now, so I did. We’ll see how it progresses. I kind of discovered my voice for the first time, and the more I did it, the better it got. I’m just really happy, because I think we’re a great band, and I really like great bands. We remind me of a lot of bands from the late Sixties and early Seventies, a lot of country rock bands. We’re kind of country, kind of punk, and rock, and there’s even a bit of grunge in there. But my role is to just apply the skills I’ve learned over the years: you listen to the guitar, you listen to the vocal melodies, you listen to the rhythm, and you come up with something that helps you take the song somewhere.
GW: In your first post-Nirvana band, Sweet 75, you played guitar. Now you’re back on bass. Do you miss the guitar?
Krist: Curt is a phenomenal guitar player. He’s got this psychedelic thing going so his playing is dripping with these effects. Yet he plays a lot like Hendrix, where he mixes abstract effects with straightforward playing. My guitar playing was out in left field: I invented a whole new style. However, the consensus is “Krist, stick with the bass.”
GW: You recently went out to see Dave Grohl drum with Queens of the Stone Age. What was it like watching him in a different band?
Krist: Oh my God, I almost cried. And then I went to Portland to see them. This isn’t biased, because I love the man, but Dave is the best drummer in the world. He’s the best living drummer. Just watching him is a joy. Still, Bud’s a great drummer for Eyes Adrift. This is simply a really fun band to play with. I was a big fan of both these guys before we formed the group. I was blasting the Meat Puppets’ Up From the Sun* just this morning.
GW: You sound very happy.
Krist: I’m really happy, and things are going really good. I had a few years there where I was bumming out. Everyone in this band has been through the ringer, both professionally and personally, with relationships and tragedies, but nobody in our band is tripping. Our tour manager said we were the easiest band he’d every worked with. We’re all just grateful for what we’ve got. We’re pros, and we’re just glad to have an audience come out and see us.
*Note: The Meat Puppets record Up On the Sun was incorrectly referred to in this article as Up From the Sun.