The Grunge Goldrush
January 12, 2018 8:52 AM   Subscribe

The Grunge Goldrush "Everyone was a little shocked. Everything got really easy because it was this economy — Nirvana became an economy."
posted by OmieWise (43 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh man, harsh realm! So full of lamestains!
posted by chavenet at 9:03 AM on January 12 [14 favorites]


I'm glad to hear Daniel Johnston is a rich man.
posted by bdc34 at 9:08 AM on January 12 [10 favorites]


The weirdest part of this article for me is actually the leading picture of Jawbox. I saw Jawbox literally dozens of times, and hung around with people in that scene quite a lot. I didn't recognize that the picture was them the first five times it came across my Twitter timeline until I clicked through and read the caption. Major label styling is weird.
posted by OmieWise at 9:15 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


This sort of thing makes me think of something John Roderick said when he guested on MBMBaM. A listener was asking something about how to get involved in a musical scene, and Roderick responded that by the time you've heard of a scene, it's already closed to new members, effectively. They come about organically and then hit a productive peak. They're not consciously planned or designed. Just do your thing, challenge yourself, and work around other creative people and let things happen naturally.

Which, of course, is easy to say as a life-long successful professional musician than someone on the outside looking in. But nineties alt-rock after grunge can really be divided into those who were challenging themselves and trying new things (Radiohead, Belly, the Flaming Lips) and those who were chasing grunge for a paycheck long after it had lost meaning (Silverchair, Candlebox, etc.)
posted by Navelgazer at 9:17 AM on January 12 [11 favorites]


Basically, there's no amount of money that can fake being genuine.
posted by adept256 at 9:20 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


The money being discussed actually seems a bit smaller than I'd have thought, honestly. A couple hundred thousand split and taxed doesn't go too far. Although publishing, as mentioned, is another beast.

Incidentally, I don't remember the Jawbox single at all, although I think I was firmly into 120 Minutes territory at the time.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:21 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


My friends and I were basically the customers of this gold rush. Many of the bands mentioned were a part of our interest. A friend of mine went on to become a big Helmet and Tool fan. I remember hearing Jawbox. For all our 'coolness' we were sure sucked in by the marketing.
We did follow the local scene and participated in the homegrown music/style culture, but I had no idea there was such a push for Nirvana-likes. Who knew I was such a sell-out. :D
posted by hot_monster at 9:27 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


However, it refreshing to know who to blame for Hootie and the Blowfish. THANKS NIRVANA!
posted by hot_monster at 9:30 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


The members of Royal Trux retained their business manager, made sound investments — and live off the money to this day.

1. Some millennial person, taking a break from their twee-drone or bluegrass-shoegaze or Afro-kawaii project, just read that and punched a wall.
2. Given rumors about them from back in the day, I'm happy to learn they didn't spend it on drugs.
3. I want to know if any no-hit-wonder rappers managed the same trick.
posted by box at 9:40 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


Basically, there's no amount of money that can fake being genuine.

At that time, I had a friend who was working for MCA's distribution company. He told me that the label's wildest dreams for Nevermind had been that it would sell as well as the last Sonic Youth record - maybe 100,000 units shifted? So of course, after the jackpot was hit, the labels all then set out in search of "the next Nirvana".
posted by thelonius at 9:47 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Which, of course, is easy to say as a life-long successful professional musician than someone on the outside looking in. But nineties alt-rock after grunge can really be divided into those who were challenging themselves and trying new things (Radiohead, Belly, the Flaming Lips) and those who were chasing grunge for a paycheck long after it had lost meaning (Silverchair, Candlebox, etc.)

The Smashing Pumpkins were never Grunge, but Corgan was (and still is) obsessed with each of his albums sounding noticeably different than the previous album, and he's still stubbornly sticking to his guns 20+ years after his commercial peak.
posted by Beholder at 9:57 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


This new, grunge-centric economy instantly destroyed the careers of hair-metal stars, from Poison to Bon Jovi. "I remember distinctly watching one A&R woman hiding in an office because BulletBoys showed up and she wanted to drop them — and this was a band that, one or two years earlier, was selling a ton of records..."

My favorite part about the ascension of grunge was reading countless magazine quotes from befuddled butt rockers crying about how nobody buys their records anymore because the industry was only pushing ugly, depressing bands and no longer cared about photogenic bands with cool hair who made "fun" music about chicks and partying.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:08 AM on January 12 [7 favorites]


My favorite part specifically was Bon Jovi cutting his hair, because, y'know, that's the direction he was going in anyhow.
posted by adept256 at 10:10 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


My favorite part about the ascension of grunge was reading countless magazine quotes from befuddled butt rockers crying about how nobody buys their records anymore because the industry was only pushing ugly, depressing bands and no longer cared about photogenic bands with cool hair who made "fun" music about chicks and partying.

Poison and Motley Crue probably hurt themselves more than Grunge ever could have, same with G&R. All three bands would have self destructed even if Nirvana had never happened.
posted by Beholder at 10:22 AM on January 12 [9 favorites]


I remember reading an interview with Ween where they said they only got a major-label record deal because of this... which really didn't work out too well for Elektra or Ween.

''On Elektra our best-selling record sold 200,000 copies or more,'' Mr. Melchiondo said. ''But we still owe all this money to the label. Then we sold just five or ten thousand CD's through our Web site and raised $100,000 to make our new album.''

Mr. Melchiondo, haha.
posted by Huck500 at 10:26 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Five Seconds Of Summer are some kind of neo-grunge/angstmope-rock boy band, right?
posted by acb at 10:27 AM on January 12


Barocas went to film school and became a writer, director and musician.

Now that is shade.
posted by acb at 10:32 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I've never forgotten about the murder of Mia Zapata. It was so sad and scary.

Grunge hit for me when I was starting high school so of course all the boys I knew in bands wanted to sound like Nirvana. This is not me trying to score hipster points, but I never really got into them. I was still big into UK Madchester stuff and goth. I do have a better appreciation for Nirvana now that I'm older and well away from saturation point. I still remember the day my then-high school boyfriend called me in tears about the death of Kurt Cobain.
posted by Kitteh at 11:00 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


it refreshing to know who to blame for Hootie and the Blowfish. THANKS NIRVANA!

I like imagining that Hootie's early demos were all songs about dismembered baby dolls and venereal diseases and orchids.
posted by Beardman at 11:24 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


When I first started hearing about Macklemore, my reaction was “this is the Hootie and the Blowfish of today”. Not because of their sound (I didn't know the sound of either act; my guess would have been that Hootie were somewhere in the space between Pearl Jam, white ska bands and the Friends theme), but because the patterns of mentions and references for both bands in media/discussion were similar.
posted by acb at 11:53 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


Hootie and the Blowfish of today”. Not because of their sound (I didn't know the sound of either act; my guess would have been that Hootie were somewhere in the space between Pearl Jam, white ska bands and the Friends theme)

Hootie sounded like The Eagles, easy country rock. I think that is as safe a bet as you can make as an A&R man.

FTA:
its genteel success opened a new lane, of softer pop and rock, with zero ear-shredding guitars. It pointed the way to the boy bands and Britneys who would dominate the final, pre-Napster, super-rich days of the business.
No, that type of music never went away and was just as popular then as now.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:04 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


Also, in my opinion it's mostly false that grunge killed hair metal. Bon Jovi had a hit in 1993 (Bed of Roses) as did Aerosmith (Cryin' and Crazy) and Ugly Kid Joe (cover of Cats in the Cradle). In my opinion, it was the growing popularity of rap, which was tougher, the partying was more 'true' to kids, and took the Hispanics, outcast whites, and blacks which believe it or not in 1988 were still listening to rock music pretty heavily.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:11 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]


There was certainly some precedent for this phenomenon in the late '80s when "modern rock" became a thing, thanks to 120 Minutes and Post-Modern MTV. Indie stalwarts like Husker Du and Robyn Hitchcock and Camper Van Beethoven and the Replacements and the Mekons and Swans and Sonic Youth and They Might Be Giants had all become major-label properties in the preceding years. So although I, as a teenage music fan, still performed the requisite adolescent male record-geek rituals over "selling out", by Nirvana's time I had also become somewhat immune to the label shock of flipping over Revered Indie Band's latest release to find a Big Six logo in the corner.

Even by that metric, though, the mid-'90s were a real bizarro fever dream. The Meat Puppets (like Flaming Lips) were ever-so-gradually oozing in a friendlier direction by then, and Jawbox were unexpected because of their affiliation with the Dischord scene ... but Daniel Johnston? The Butthole Surfers? Cop Shoot Cop? Foetus? The Raincoats? (Thank you, Kurt, for that, at least.) And leaving aside the veterans, I would get piles and piles and piles of the crappiest new bands to review. I distinctly remember these two being the last straw for me. I gave up 'zine publishing and went off to make my own music after that, because it was just too depressing feeling like such a negative Nancy about everyone else's all the time.

But, y'know. Those were different times. There are ways in which the music industry's subsequent atomization has been better and worse for bands. If you'd like to know the state of the union, I highly recommend Kill Rock Stars/Portia Sabin's podcast, The Future of What. And for a Seattle-centric filmed perspective on the FPP, go back and watch the documentary Hype!
posted by mykescipark at 12:56 PM on January 12 [10 favorites]


Also, in my opinion it's mostly false that grunge killed hair metal.

Something killed cock rock around this time; I'm certain grunge helped. I recall lineups at record stores for the Use Your Illusion record release. Shit like that never happened again for our feather-haired friends.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 1:56 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


1. Trailer to Hype!, don't know if it's available streaming, but WELL WORTH WATCHING. (see 20+ year interviews here)

2. It's been mentioned above, but the sheer diversity of music sucked into the wake of Nirvana was something I had no idea was not normal until years later.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:59 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


... by the time you've heard of a scene, it's already closed to new members, effectively.

It follows that the greatest band ever broke-up before their first rehearsal.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:11 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


In fact we did.
posted by 7segment at 2:26 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]




I second all the recommendations for the movie Hype! It has amazing camcorder footage of the first live performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit.
posted by jonp72 at 3:57 PM on January 12


I was living in Melbourne, Australia and going to a suburban university when grunge/“alternative” hit. The first sign of it was a change in outer-suburban gig flyers. One moment, they were full of metal bands with names like “Necrosis”, “Necrotomy” or similar, many with logo stylisations ripped off from Metallica/Anthrax/Megadeth and the like, and the next, that was all out the window, replaced with bands consisting of two or more words run together, a la local grunge heroes Silverchair. There were a lot of bands in the suburbs with such names*, doing the grunge sound, and, on the radio, the rock that wasn't veteran rockers singing jaunty cars-and-girls ditties was all 3-chord grunge bands. And bands whose music didn't sound sloppy and pissed-off dropped out of sight.

Eventually, it spread beyond music, until in 1997, the local retail consortium Coles Myer were talking about turning a disused building in the centre of Melbourne into a 4-story “grunge mall” offering a somewhat mainstream idea of “grunge” to teenage GenXers (“In music, grunge Is Faith No More, silverchalr and Nirvana, and In clothes It's sports shoes, flannel shirts, and Rip Curl baggy shorts. They are Gen X, they are slackers, some eat burgers, others are determinedly vegetarian. They ride skateboards, enjoy body piercing, tattoos and video game consoles and hang around the malls In canvas sports shoes”); it seems to have petered out before anything happened with this.

* At about the same time, the local Kentucky Fried Chicken chain had a promotional tie-in for one of the Batman films, and were advertising a “Batman Bucket” on their signs. Passing one on the bus, it occurred to me that “Batmanbucket” would have been an excellent name for a grunge/alternative band.
posted by acb at 5:27 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Probably the most cringe worthy post Grunge desperation move was Journey's comeback album. I never listened to it, but the promo photos are hilarious.
posted by Beholder at 5:56 PM on January 12


I've said this before, but regardless of what you think of Nirvana's music (I still like much of it), Kurt Cobain was an absolute hero for his efforts to publicize obscure and, to be honest, bizarre bands. I remember talking about Flipper in middle school. Can you imagine such a world?!
posted by kevinbelt at 6:20 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


I've said this before, but regardless of what you think of Nirvana's music (I still like much of it), Kurt Cobain was an absolute hero for his efforts to publicize obscure and, to be honest, bizarre bands. I remember talking about Flipper in middle school. Can you imagine such a world?!

There will never be another John Lennon. There will never be another Kurt Cobain. I scoffed at that comparison when news broke of his suicide, but I believe it now. Almost twenty five years gone, and he still hasn't been replaced. The void is still there.
posted by Beholder at 7:06 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Thanks to age and geography, this article mentions a lot of bands that were my scene. Saw Nirvana, Royal Trux, Steel Pole Bathtub, Meat Puppets even Green Day and Primus before signing. Seems like Jawbox was well after, but that might be geography too. Weird to hear the record executives’ perspective on all this. I think it’s true that by the time the bands are signed the scene is closed, and actually the scene is probably over. I recall people in Olympia specifically attributing the longevity of their scene to the fact that none of their bands broke big, or moved elsewhere before breaking. DIY was certainly a thing back then, but with the availability of cheap sophisticated home recording equipment and instant distribution, I actually wonder if “scenes” are still a thing. I’m an old now and although I have friends still throwing their own shindigs and running performance spaces, it feels different than back in the day when everyone in town went to go check out this new Smashing Pumpkins band whose EP got played on KALX or that Superchunk who toured with REM.

Anyway, big record companies and their money kill scenes and I’m happy to have not thought of them in a long time.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:28 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I actually do remember seeing this on MTV back in the day. I can't have dreamt it, could I? Jawbox, Savory
posted by jonp72 at 8:51 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I'd like to defend Silverchair a little--they made an album with Van Dyke Parks, which is more than a little stretch.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:30 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I will say that Kurt Cobain was a much better person than he got credit for in my social milieu at the time. I remember the very day he died, and all the important people in my circle making fun of our peers who were upset. (I mean, not to their faces, but rather unfeeling things were said in private.) Cobain was viewed as this utter sell-out, his music as mediocre and unacceptably palatable to people with no taste, his decision to interact with the mainstream world either stupid or wrong. I mean, he was an utter joke, far more than Courtney Love. One of the bands in my social circle had a song making fun of Nirvana - and they by no means had a lot of songs.

In retrospect, I still think that it was a huge mistake for both him and Courtney Love to develop major label careers, but that's basically for social reasons, since it seems pretty clear that the pressures of being famous (as opposed to being popular in a smaller, tightly-knit scene) were super bad for both of them.

But on balance, he did try very hard to live his beliefs about feminism and vaguely lefty stuff, and he did try very hard to use his success to promote other people, and while that didn't, like, bring the revolution, it does seem to have been helpful to a lot of people. I've never really been into "grunge" and I don't really like Nirvana (it was all riot grrl, seventies punk and art rock for me back then) but we could have been both more realistic and more compassionate at the time.

Another memory of my time in that particular social circle was the gleeful cackling over River Phoenix's death - like literally chortling and thinking it was great because some cheesy rich actor was dead - and how this set of people couldn't understand that I wasn't a fan of River Phoenix (which, being a fan of a mainstream star was totally ludicrous and unacceptable so they made fun of me on that presupposition) but still found the chortling ghoulish and inhumane. I lost a lot of status with that group over that issue, and was treated increasingly badly until I found other friends. (I add that these were college students, not kids.)

For me so much of the grunge era is bound up in how I had my first real social circle after a godawful adolescence, and I managed to pick a bunch of really, really terrible people. They were all artists and very smart, and with one exception had about as much moral sense as you could fit in a teacup.
posted by Frowner at 6:22 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]


More than million dollars to sign Royal Trux? Yes, the music industry is a very different place now.

> My favorite part about the ascension of grunge was reading countless magazine quotes from befuddled butt rockers crying about how nobody buys their records anymore because the industry was only pushing ugly, depressing bands and no longer cared about photogenic bands with cool hair who made "fun" music about chicks and partying.

And then all of that was repeated in reverse when The Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys hit big in 1997.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:45 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I remember the very day he died, and all the important people in my circle making fun of our peers who were upset.

That happened at my high school in December 1980, as well.
posted by thelonius at 7:08 AM on January 13


I will defend Silverchair a lot. Neon Ballroom is a fantastic album.

Promotion didn't introduce me to Jawbox, so reading that my musical tastes after Nirvana in the 90s were the result of manipulation is a bit insulting. The Crow was the THE fucking movie for 90s kids. The soundtrack was full of amazing tracks from bands that we didn't know shit about. Helmet was one of them. This doesn't sound like "November Rain". This is fucking awesome. What other bands kick ass like this? Jawbox. What other bands kick ass like Pantera and The Jesus and Mary Chain? Primus. The Prodigy. No one was marketing Sepultura and Ministry to anyone, but we found them. MTV and the radio wanted us to like Alanis Morrisette. We didn't like RATM because Sony wanted us to. No one could literally say "fuck you" better than RATM. Sony didn't blow out the minds of 90s kids, Tom Morello did.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:58 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]


In 1992, having just just graduated from Brigham Young University, I was walking across the student apartment complex parking lot, wearing ripped jeans with white long johns underneath. My Elder's Quorum president (a Mormon calling) saw me and said, "Hey, nice pants!" I shouted back defiantly, "It's GRUNGE."

We were both chasing a girl named Heather, and it was a contest between my alt-awareness and his good lucks and money. In true sitcom fashion, the winner of that battle was a third party who came out of nowhere but was younger and wealthier than both of us.

Aside from demonstrating my complete and total dorkiness, this anecdote also reveals how far the tentacles of grunge had slithered at this point, having reached deep into the heart of Mormonism.
posted by mecran01 at 10:59 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


I saw "Hype" in Seattle when it first came out, and I found it interesting and goofy and charming but also really sad. Seattle kind of lost its innocence during those years, and there was a lot of collateral damage.
posted by baseballpajamas at 3:44 PM on January 13


I saw jawbox twice before the signed to a major label, first opening for fugazi and then on a solo tour in a crappy bar in the middle of nowhere college town I lived. They were exhausted, playing to idiots like me and I could see why they would take a chance at something different. I wanted to apologize to them for having to play in this dive to a bunch of kids that didn't understand or appreciate them. Sadly their major label adventures didn't turn out much better for them.
posted by Perfectibilist at 3:38 PM on January 14


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