I’m never in any bass magazines!” snickers Krist Novoselic, legend for an entire generation of grunge fans. Why should this be, we ask ourselves? Perhaps it’s because his old band Nirvana have been defunct since 1994, when the singer Kurt Cobain ended his life in tragic circumstances—or maybe it’s because Novoselic is best known these days not for his bass playing, but for his political writings and activism.
Gibson have recently unveiled Novoselic’s new RD bass, a tasty, retro-looking instrument, and unlike so many signature models, it seems that it didn’t take too many prototypes to complete. As the man himself tells us, “It didn’t take long to do, because it’s just a reproduction of an RD with a new look. They built them in the Seventies, and now you can buy a new one. What I did was, I shipped my standard RD to Gibson in Tennessee and said, ‘I really like this thing, but the pickups are kinda dull’ so they put a new Seymour Duncan Hot Stack on there. They made the headstock elongated and the fretboard is made of sustainable wood, too. I played it—and they nailed it first time.”
What we at BP find hard to believe is that no bass manufacturer has offered Novoselic a signature model before, even though his old band’s biggest albums—Nevermind and In Utero—had made him a household name by the mid-Nineties. “No, I’ve never been asked!” he confirms. “I was blown away when Gibson approached me, because I really loved that bass. Even if they’d just reissued it rather than made one for me, I would have bought one. You can’t even find these old basses on eBay: They go really fast on there, for like 2500 bucks. You can buy this new RD and keep it your whole life, it’s like a member of the family. You don’t have to bid on eBay for one, and it doesn’t have someone’s sweat all over it!”
Novoselic was also known back in the Nirvana days for playing a Gibson Ripper, a hefty instrument to say the least. “I’m six foot seven,” he explains, “which is lucky, because it’s a big bass. Check one out when you go to a music store. Try it on, because it’s big and heavy, it’s a big gun, but it’s got that sustain that I really like. You just let the note ring. That’s probably why I stuck with Gibson basses the whole way through, because they’re so dense. I played a blonde Ripper on Nevermind. I had two that got stolen, actually: The blonde one sounded different from my other black one. You just gotta try them out and see what works for you.”
Anyone familiar with Nirvana’s albums, or even solely with Nevermind—their biggest seller by some distance—will know that Novoselic made a point of laying down simple, catchy, effective bass parts with a tone to die for. Those bass-lines have influenced a whole host of players, he tells us: “I’ve learned that countless people have learned to play bass from listening to those records. They’re always coming up to me and saying ‘Those records taught me how to play’. They’re simple, melodic lines, which is what you need when you’re starting out.”
Does he listen back to his old recordings and cringe, or do those bass parts still sound good all these years later? “Oh, I’m happy with them, there’s no cringeing there at all. We were a collaboration: Dave [Grohl, drums, now of the Foo Fighters] and Kurt had to like the bass parts too. So it’s all great. They came together really well. I still approach bass playing with the idea of ‘What does the song need?’ Like, if it’s a heavy, dark, grinding song, or a pop song that needs some melody, or whatever.
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