Paul McCartney: “Somebody whispered to me ‘That’s Nirvana. You’re Kurt.’ I couldn’t believe it”

Paul McCartney, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl perform live at Safeco Field on July 19, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.
(Image credit: Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images)

It’s impossible to deny the sea-change brought about by Nirvana’s Nevermind. Even if grunge lasted no longer than vocalist Kurt Cobain himself, who drew a line under his career in the most permanent way possible in April 1994. The album's enormous presence also drew attention to the melodic pick playing of bassist Krist Novoselic, which cried out to be mixed high in any given Nirvana song. "I was really fortunate that I got to work with Kurt: he was such a talented songwriter and he had a real ear for a hook, so as far as I was concerned playing bass with him was super-easy."

Cobain once described his songwriting as a combination of his favorite influences – the Beatles and Black Sabbath – and purportedly asked engineers to make him sound like John Lennon. All of which made Paul McCartney a pretty solid choice to front a Nirvana reunion at a charity concert at Madison Square Garden in December 2012.

Speaking from the stage before introducing Dave Grohl, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic, McCartney said: “So recently, some guys asked me to go and jam with them. So I showed up ready to jam, and these guys kept saying they hadn't played together for years. The penny finally dropped and I finally understood that I was in the middle of a Nirvana reunion.”

The Nirvana bandmates performed Cut Me Some Slack – the original song they had recorded for Grohl’s Sound City documentary. So what was it like collaborating with a living legend? “Incredible,” said Novoselic. “Dave had sent me an email asking if I wanted to record with Paul McCartney in L.A., and I said, 'Dude, I’ll walk there from Washington if I have to.' So I flew down and we were standing around figuring out what to do, and I kept thinking, please don’t make me play bass guitar, please don’t make me play bass. That’s like being asked to do karate with Bruce Lee – you’re going to get your ass kicked. 'Yep, I’m going boxing. Who’s your sparring partner? Muhammad Ali. Good luck with that!'” 

“So of course he asked me to play bass. Paul had this slide guitar that he was playing, and Dave was playing drums, but it wasn’t working for us. Then I realized we were playing in D, so I did the old grunge trick and I drop-tuned my bass to D. I played some riffs, and boom! Paul got into it, Pat Smear was feeling it, and Dave laid down some serious grooves. Then Paul shot me a riff and I shot him a riff and everything started clicking perfectly. We had the old band back together, and we had this cool left-handed guitarist, who was actually Paul McCartney, and he was doing vocals. I had to pinch myself. We ended up winning a Grammy for that song, too.”

Paul McCartney, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl accept award onstage during the 56th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

(Image credit: Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Cut Me Some Slack was an immediate hit with critics and won a Grammy award for Best Rock Song in 2014. “There was speculation that Nirvana was reuniting, with Paul taking over for Kurt, but it was just fun,” says Krist. “He said he liked my basslines. Paul McCartney said that! You can put that in a pull quote.”

Cut Me Some Slack appears on Sound City - Real to Reel and is available to download from Amazon.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.