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"At Night, The Disco Goddess": Why Nirvana Songs Make For Killer House Music

L-R: Cain McKnight & Jonathan Hay (background)

Photo courtesy of R.U.S.H. Music

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"At Night, The Disco Goddess": Why Nirvana Songs Make For Killer House Music

By now, almost everything Kurt Cobain sang or uttered has been dissected and monetized. But his values and raw compositional abilities are still worth exploring, as 'Come As You Are: Nirvana Reimagined As House & Techno' attests

GRAMMYs/Jul 2, 2021 - 12:33 am

Now that Kurt Cobain has been dead roughly as long as he was alive, what's left to absorb about him? Every utterance has been picked to the bone; his thrift-shop MTV Unplugged sweater commands real-estate prices; his doomed visage is now an NFT. But talk of drugs, guns and dying young obfuscates the most interesting things about Nirvana: Their melodic gifts, moral compass and chemistry as a band. And that's where producers Jonathan Hay and Cain McKnight come in.

"When you dive into it, you can tell the band was so tight. You can feel the core values that he had," Hay tells GRAMMY.com. "The more you dig deeper into Nirvana, you see their messages and beliefs and everything else. I think this will be cool to bring people into that awareness. There's more here than people know about."

To this end, Hay and McKnight spearheaded Come As You Are: Nirvana Reimagined As House &Techno, a compilation transmuting Nirvana songs from "Sliver" to "All Apologies" to "You Know You're Right"  into electronic music. The 27-track collection—one track for each year of his life—arrives via R.U.S.H. Music on July 30.

If the genre pairing seems random at first, it's not. First, Kurt Cobain's Beatles-level gifts as a singer, songwriter and melodist mean the songs maintain their integrity in any idiom. Second, Cobain was a fierce supporter of queer culture, which is part and parcel of dance music.

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Outside of the early Nirvana track "Hairspray Queen," which contains references to a "disco goddess," Cobain mentioned dance and electronic music very little. That said, he said plenty about homophobia and elevating what we now call LGBTQ+ voices.

He spraypainted the provocative phrase "God is gay;" he wore dresses in public; he journaled that while he wasn't gay, he wished he was, just to "piss off homophobes." "If you're a sexist, racist, homophobe, or basically an asshole, don't buy the CD," Cobain wrote in the liner notes to 1993's In Utero. "I don't care if you like me, I hate you." 

"He was a supporter of LGBTQ+ when it wasn't politically correct to be so," Hay explains. "He's about love and positivity, which is what house music is all about. So, it just made sense for us."

The road to Nirvana Reimagined was paved by Hay's, producer Mike Smith's, and saxophonist Benny Reid's jazz-inspired remix of Eric B. and Rakim's "Follow the Leader" back in 2019. As with the Nirvana project, the point was never to shoehorn a prestige artist into a random genre, but to get at the less-understood essence of their spirit. "Jazz was the flow of my youth," Rakim told Billboard that year, and Eric B. concurred: "I'm from Queens, so I'm automatically a Louis Armstrong guy."

In order to successfully repurpose well-worn Nirvana songs for the dancefloor, the pair went with Cobain's MO as a songwriter: Melody is king. "Kurt's focus was the melody," Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl once told VH1. "He used to say that the music comes first and the lyrics come second."

To this end, Hay initially wanted Nirvana Reimagined to be instrumental—until Cain reminded him how important Cobain's vocal melodies were. By not messing with Cobain's majestic harmonic concepts—which he arrived at by his ears alone—they propel these house tracks authentically and believably.

Come As You Are features a gaggle of musician's musicians, like Fishbone bassist John Norwood Fisher, GRAMMY-winning trumpeter/producer Maurice "Mobetta" Brown, Pink Floyd saxophonist Scott Page, J Patt of The Knocks and the drummer/producer Andy Kravitz.

In line with the LGBTQ+ slant, the producers are putting their money where their mouth is, donating a share of the proceeds to GLAAD and the Recording Academy's non-profit for musicians in crisis, MusiCares. Overall, the pair hopes to financially support this cluster of marginalized communities while bringing house music listeners into Nirvana's fanbase—and vice versa.

And while a fair amount of tomb-raiding has occurred on Cobain's behalf—Nirvana Reimagined is one of a few tributes that align with his principles. Back in 2014, the surviving members of the band played at St. Vitus in Brooklyn with a succession of female lead singers, from Joan Jett to St. Vincent—which Cobain, an ardent feminist, arguably would have loved.

Now, we have this unconventional, electronic tribute, presenting Cobain in a context that few would think of, but which makes perfect sense in retrospect. The disco goddess is dead. Long live the disco goddess.

Nirvana's Era-Defining 'Nevermind': For The Record

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"

 

Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Janet Jackson

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry

Selections by Albert King, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Jackson Browne, Pat Metheny, Kermit the Frog and others have also been marked for federal preservation

GRAMMYs/Mar 25, 2021 - 02:37 am

The Librarian of Congress Carla Haden has named 25 new inductees into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. They include Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” and more.

“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said in a statement. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”

The National Recording Preservation Board is an advisory board consisting of professional organizations and experts who aim to preserve important recorded sounds. The Recording Academy is involved on a voting level. The 25 new entries bring the number of musical titles on the registry to 575; the entire sound collection includes nearly 3 million titles. Check out the full list of new inductees below:

National Recording Registry Selections for 2020

  1. Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)

  2. “Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)

  3. “Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)

  4. “When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)

  5. Christmas Eve Broadcast--Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)

  6. “The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945

  7. “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)

  8. “Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)  

  9. Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)

  10. “Aida” — Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962) (album)

  11. “Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)

  12. “Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)

  13. “Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)

  14. “The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)

  15. “Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)

  16. “Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)

  17. “Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)

  18. “The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)

  19. “Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)

  20. “Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)

  21. “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)

  22. “Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)

  23. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)

  24. “Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)

  25. “This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Why Dead Poet Society's Jack Underkofler Has The "Least Picky" Backstage Rider

Jack Underkofler

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Why Dead Poet Society's Jack Underkofler Has The "Least Picky" Backstage Rider

In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, learn why Dead Poet Society lead singer Jack Underkofler is committed to having the world's most reasonable backstage rider

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2021 - 12:26 am

Some artists make larger-than-life demands on their tour riders—hence the classic urban legend about Van Halen requiring the removal of brown M&Ms. 

For their part, Dead Poet Society have decided to take the opposite tack, as their lead singer, Jack Underkofler, attests in the below clip.

In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, learn why Dead Poet Society's Underkofler is committed to having the world's most reasonable backstage rider—including one ordinary pillow to nap on.

Check out the cheeky clip above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

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