As pretty much every facet of entertainment media is here to remind you, Nirvana's Nevermind is turning twenty on September 24. The landmark album will be reissued in October and is being celebrated with events ranging from a town hall Q&A session with Nirvana's surviving members to a concert where "Smells Like Teen Spirit" will be played 144 times in a row. St. Louis will get a more straightforward but no less awesome tribute to the record that ushered alt-rock into the mainstream: This Friday, Festus stoner rock trio Tok will perform the album in full (though the band had the copy without "Endless Nameless"). The group is full of devoted Nirvana fans; they previously covered Bleach in 2009 and their distorted sound owes something to the forefathers of grunge. RFT Music sat down with guitarist Bryan Basler, his bassist brother Matt Basler and drummer Mike Chrismer to discuss their history with Nevermind, how they plan to tackle it and why it might actually be a surf record.
Bob McMahon: What inspired you to commit to covering Nevermind in its entirety?
Bryan Basler: I don't know. I always liked it. I was ten years old when it came out and I was just learning how to play guitar at that time, and it was a pretty wild record. It's pretty crazy that it's been twenty years ago. So I just figured "Hell, probably everyone else is (covering the album)."
Mike Chrismer: Music's been missing that kind of sound for the last twenty years and maybe it's time to bring it back.
Bryan (talking about his response to Matt): That answer sucked! You'd better say something.
Matt Basler: Oh I don't know. It's the twentieth anniversary of the record coming out. We're just capitalizing (laughs).
Bryan, how did Kurt Cobain's guitar playing influence you? Your guitar work seems more technical than his, especially on your solos.
Bryan: He's one of my favorite guitar players. I guess I play a little more technical than that but at the end of the day I'm going to be listening to Nirvana instead of Yngwie Malmsteen.
Matt: I think what you do with your technical proficiency is more important than how much of it you have. It's the same thing he said. Mariah Carey's a great singer but I'm not going to sit around and listen to Mariah Carey.
Bryan: Plus, I still haven't figured (the album) all out yet, so what's that tell you?
But weren't you telling me earlier that you started rehearsing for this show late and making up for lost time now?
Matt: That's just how we do everything (laughs). It's always kind of a sprint at the end to cram in all the practice. I think we're all pretty familiar with the stuff, though. At one time or another I think we've played half of it at least, just "Hey, let's do that one this weekend." or whatever.
You also played Bleach all the way through for a show, right?
Matt: Yeah we did Bleach for... was that in anniversary of that?
Bryan: Yeah, it was! It was one of those undercover type of deals. It wasn't An Under Cover Weekend cause it wasn't at The Firebird. It was at the Crack Fox. They gave all these people albums that were released in 1989. And they were like "What do you want?" and that was definitely the best one available, so we did it.
Are you going to play the album as it was recorded or will you offer original interpretations of the songs?
Bryan: We're going to try to get it as true to what it is as possible.
Matt: I mean, maybe a different fill here or there. I guess it will kind of be like Tok playing "Nevermind." It's not a tribute band mentality, if it makes sense.
Bryan: Right, but I am going to bring out my Jaguar and my Univox Hi-Flier and I ordered an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone today. I'm not fooling around. I'm serious (laughs)!
Chrismer: I'm bringing out the old Tamas.
Bryan: Do it all the way or don't do it at all.
You have two singers in this band. Are you also going to split singing duties for this show?
Bryan and Matt: Yeah.
Matt: Even in that, not a whole lot of thought necessarily (laughs). It's just going back and forth. "You want to do this one?" "I don't know. Do you want to do this one?"
Bryan: Yeah, why do all the work? That's hard!
Is anyone doing the snippet of Youngbloods' "Get Together" that's in the intro to "Territorial Pissings?"
Bryan: I don't know, I don't think we'll... (Points to Chrismer) he'll do it.
Chrismer: Probably the drunk guy in the crowd (laughs).
Bryan: Yeah we'll let him do it. He says he's not (drunk), but he is.
Matt: I feel like that's when people cover that Pixies song and do that whole little banter thing before it. What is it, on "Surfer Rosa"? (Editor's note: The song is "Oh My Golly")
Bryan: Yeah, Kim Deal even said she thought that was stupid when people would do that.
Matt: I guess it's in my brain now that Krist Novoselic would say, "That's stupid that you would do that thing I did." What's your favorite song off of Nevermind?
(Everyone pauses and thinks)
Chrismer: I don't know. To be honest with you, I don't think I have a favorite song. I mean playing them all, learning them all over again, they're all really interesting.
Matt: Immediately, I would say "Drain You" has always been one of my favorites.
Bryan: I don't know, man. It's just one of those things where it's a whole album.
Chrismer: I like "Breed."
Matt: I remember when he died... (Bryan) had all the records and stuff and I wasn't old enough to care about anything. So when he died of course they're playing all his stuff and I remember going "Oh, he wrote that? That sucks!" and then they'd show another video and I'd be like "Oh, he wrote that? That sucks!" and that just kept going cause really on the radio they'd play like half that record.
Bryan: He meant that he's dead, not that the songs sucked.
Matt: (Laughs) Right. I didn't know who he was. I didn't have any connection to him and his songs.
Along those lines, what was your first experience with the album?
Bryan: I saw it probably on MTV at my aunt's house probably right around when "Teen Spirit" came out. I always remember watching MTV for a long time waiting for that video come up. I got the album when I turned eleven a few months later. This whole thing's got me thinking about what my first impressions of the album were, and for some reason I remember thinking that it was like surf music. And thinking about it now, that's a weird thing to think. But I could see where if you're eleven you see these pictures of water and shit and there's drum rolls all the time and all this distortion and if you're being totally objective about it and you're like "I'm going to go surfing." And you're like "What would surf music be?" That's probably what it would be.
Matt: The first thing I remember of knowing that was Nirvana... I don't remember the first time I heard "Nevermind" but I know that I was trying to play video games and (Bryan) was playing "Incesticide," and I was thinking, "This is crazy! This is just crazy! Turn this off! Make this go away so I can hear my video games." And I was wrong. And then when Kurt Cobain died and they were playing all that stuff and I was able to go "That's the guy who did that, that and that." And then I felt like an ass.
Chrismer: I was much older. I was in college at the time. The only things that were worth listening to were Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails and stuff like that. And then all the sudden Pearl Jam came. I read a write up on the Ten album so I bought it. It took me a while to get used to it. Then right at the same time you had Nevermind come out. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was just like "WHOA!" I knew that was the new coming of rock. I just needed something different than Nine Inch Nails at the time. At the time, that was rock. We went from wearing out Poison and the hair bands. They were just so burnt out and all the sudden you got something fresh. I remember it took a while to get used to Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana. But once it hooked you, it was over. That was the way to go.