Upcoming Record Store Day release Whatever Nevermind brings together over a dozen of heavy music's best bands, like Torche, Kylesa, Cave In, Boris and Nothing, to tackle the tunes of Nirvana. Michigan-based post-hardcore band La Dispute contributes a live version of the Nevermind cut "Polly," keeping it brief and to the point—it even clocks in at 30 seconds shorter than the original version.
We talked to La Dispute bassist Adam Vass about how the band chose the track, how they decided how much or how little to alter the song's components, and what Krist Novoselic means to him as a bass player. Whatever Nevermind will be released Saturday, April 18 on Robotic Empire.
AllMusic: Can you remember when Nirvana clicked for you?
Adam Vass: I have that memory still. My birthday’s April 8, and that was the day Kurt’s body was found after he died, so I remember, even as a child, that being on the news on my birthday, it was everywhere, and when you’re a kid that’s a day that’s important to you. So I’ve had a weird affiliation from a super young age, I think it was my sixth birthday when he died. I wasn't familiar with their music yet, so it wasn't until fifth grade and I was just starting to listen to music, I got the Nirvana live record, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, I think I got it for a quarter at a garage sale, and I listened to it all the time. I didn't really understand the importance of it, it was my first exposure to the band, I didn't have any of their studio records, I just had this live album. I was super into it, and it was like nothing I’d been exposed to. I can remember listening to that all the time, and from that, getting into alternative music, Green Day, some entry-level alternative music, but Nirvana was always one of the foundations of my musical taste.
AllMusic: From an early age, did you know that they were important or were they just another band?
Vass: I was more of a product of what came after, which was more bands that were derivative of Nirvana, what people would call butt-rock now, a lot of bands scrambling in the early and mid 90s to find that relevancy that Nirvana just organically had, and for the most part, those bands suck. It was cool to see, once I grew up enough to understand it, the impact that they had on regular culture, not just alternative culture, but they kind of transcended it.
AllMusic: How did the band pick "Polly"?
Vass: We had the option to do whatever Nirvana track we wanted, and it was daunting, because they have such a long list of really cool songs, and there was the initial struggle of deciding between a more popular song or a deeper cut that someone who only listens to the radio wouldn't have heard, and there are so many songs, and so many of them are good, we decided that “Polly” was the average between a deep cut and a popular radio song. And it’s a pretty heavy song, thematically, which is something that our band is no stranger to dealing with, and with “Polly” being about a kidnapping and molestation, it was maybe a little bit farther than where we usually go, but we wanted to pick a song we could make a bit more vibe-y. The initial track is dark, and we tried to give a bit more life to it, which was a fun experiment.
AllMusic: How do you decide how much or little to change the original arrangement?
Vass: It’s hard, you don’t want to remove it so far from the source material to where it isn't identifiable anymore, but at the same time if we were to just have played it the way it was on the record, it wouldn't have been as good as the original version, and it would have felt wrong, like we were abusing the opportunity. I like to think that we found happy ground in between those two extremes, and we changed it a little bit, but just enough to make it something special for us but still stay true to the original track.
AllMusic: How did Krist Novoselic impact you as a bass player?
Vass: There’s a ton of influence from him, I remember when I first bought a bass for like 80 dollars on eBay and was trying to figure out how it worked without lessons or being taught at all, I would download Nirvana videos from Kazaa and I’d watch how he played, and I would eventually graduate from that to looking up tabs online, and most of the formative time of my bass playing was spent studying him specifically, between him and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, because every kid that wanted to play bass was a worshiper of Flea, so those styles ended up being how I figured out my own style. When we do soundchecks, our guitar player and myself will bust out a Nirvana song, just because it’s so ingrained in our brains at this point, it’s second nature to just start playing it on accident.
The “I don’t care” attitude was very liberating in learning how to play, I was less caught up in what was right and what was wrong, and I was focused on what I thought worked and what felt right. I think that’s a philosophy that they were very strongly a part of. I also think that his tones, how dirty and obscure it all was to me at the time, it’s still with me, I like to play pretty heavily-distorted, even when our guitars are playing soft, clean parts. I think that dichotomy is something I picked up from Novoselic and Nirvana.
AllMusic: Did you start slinging your bass lower after watching him play?
Vass: Oh yeah. All my guitar straps were always the lowest they would go. I heard that he’d tie a pillowcase to the end of his guitar strap so that he could go even lower. I never got that extreme with it. I still play pretty low.
Whatever Nevermind can be picked up on Record Store Day or ordered via iTunes.
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