Supergroup rises from Nirvana
by Christine Laue
In the years since Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide, the two surviving band members have formed other bands. Dave Grohl switched from drums to become frontman of the Foo Fighters, and bassist Krist Novoselic launched his new project, Eyes Adrift, in late 2001.
While Eyes Adrift is just starting - it released its first CD Sept. 24 - the band is getting plenty of attention for its supergroup lineup. In addition to Novoselic on bass, Bud Gaugh, former drummer of Sublime, and Curt Kirkwood, former lead singer of the Meat Puppets, round out the group.
"When both Krist and Bud called me within a day of each other, I said (expletive)! This could be insane!" Kirkwood said.
That's been fans' reaction, too. Besides boasting the bassist for one of the 1990s' most famous bands, Eyes Adrift includes members who also produced big hits of the alternative-rock era - Sublime with songs such as "What I Got" and the Meat Puppets with "Backwater."
The members of Eyes Adrift are aware of the attention and expectations their histories bestow upon them, but Kirkwood, despite his band's success, claims he is the odd man out.
"Krist or Bud have been there where something they had has hit the ceiling. Once you've had that, I bet your confidence is different. I've just not had that. I wouldn't know," Kirkwood said from his Austin, Texas, home. "I had a big hit ("Backwater"), but people wouldn't know the band name. . . . I've always been more in a cult space."
One reason people might not know his band name, Kirkwood said, is timing.
"I put out my first major-label debut the same week (Nirvana's) 'Nevermind' came out," he said. "It went nowhere."
It's an ironic point, considering that the last song Cobain wrote hit airwaves in recent weeks, just as Kirkwood's newest project debuted.
"I'm used to getting my (butt) kicked by Nirvana," Kirkwood said.
The difference this time, however, is that the legal battle that had kept the Nirvana song from the public might shed light on Kirkwood's new band, as Novoselic talks about the dispute and answers questions about his latest work.
Of course, the biggest question always is "what does this supergroup sound like?"
The group combines rock, alternative country and folk. The album varies from song to song, with some aggressive guitar riffs and bass lines showing the Nirvana influence while cymbal splashes and other ska, reggae and Latin percussive elements show Sublime's. Kirkwood's contribution is possibly the most obvious of the three groups, with his subdued vocals tying the album together. Novoselic, however, takes lead vocals on three tracks - the scathing criticism of the media in "Inquiring Minds," the hoedown trot of "Dottie Dawn & Julie Jewel" and the long, psychedelic jam of "Pasted."
"I hear 'em. I hear 'em big time," Kirkwood said of the respective group's influences. "The bass is pretty obvious to me when I hear it. The drums - I mean it's kind of how I heard it before we started playing together, imagining it."
For a guy who launched his music career playing Kansas covers, the idea of making music with Nirvana's bassist and Sublime's drummer is still hard to grasp as a reality. Even so, the experience somehow has been one of the most natural for him.
"It's the easiest gig that I've had," Kirkwood, 43, said. "It's just so easy to do. In a good way. I like things to be easy so I can relax on stage."
Kirkwood had performed on stage with Nirvana long before Eyes Adrift. It was that experience, playing with Nirvana during taping of the MTV special "Unplugged" in 1993, where Novoselic and Kirkwood first met. Years later, Novoselic saw that Kirkwood was performing solo and called him to see if he would want to play together sometime. Gaugh also had seen that Kirkwood was performing solo and gave him a call just a few days after Novoselic's call.
Besides the chemistry the musicians immediately sparked, the three also shared similar but tragic experiences.
Kirkwood's brother Cris Kirkwood, also of the Meat Puppets, has struggled with addiction and lost his wife to an overdose. Sublime lead singer Brad Nowell died of an overdose, and Cobain battled addiction for years before shooting himself.
"Everybody who got popular . . . just dissolved," Curt Kirkwood said. "There's a bunch of us kind of recovering, like '. . . what was that?'
"We're not dopers. We don't have intravenous drug (stuff) going on, stuff that's going to cause a catastrophe," he said. "I think that's why we like each other."
The three also shared similar ideas and experiences about the music industry. They decided that instead of trying to get signed to a major label, they would put the album out on an independent label where they would be free from the pressures of re-creating grunge or being the next No Doubt.
"The industry is just too gimmicky right now," Kirkwood said.
So the band produced its self-titled album on SpinART, hired a company to market its first single, "Alaska," to radio and let their supergroup status work for them.
"Our whole thing is try to play the game without the big sponsorship," he said.
It's working. "We're getting a lot of attention for no money."
Kirkwood admits that like a hand to a flame, he reflexively pulls back from some attention, having seen what it can do to individuals. But, he adds, "I love success as much as the other guy. . . . I don't think it's gotten out of hand yet."
Eyes Adrift could have a hit at the same time Nirvana does, if the publicists can sell "Alaska" to radio.
"I absolutely don't believe they can do it without money," Kirkwood said, his pessimism returning. "God bless our little hearts."