Nirvana ‘In Utero’ Producer Reveals Song Mishap That Made It to Album – ‘It’s Bad Engineering on My Part’
Sometimes the imperfections remain and you can't imagine a song any differently. Such is the case for a Nirvana favorite, "Serve the Servants," with producer Steve Albini revealing his own error on the track that has remained all these years, with the band keeping it because they preferred their first take on the song.
During a recent appearance on the Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend podcast (as heard below), Albini revealed the production error which he feels may not have been caught by many fans. The revelation came up while O'Brien was speaking about Nirvana's preparation for the In Utero album, as they were ready to hit the ground running.
Bassist Krist Novoselic recalls, "The first song we did was 'Serve the Servants.' We'd met Steve and I remember Steve just sitting by that big Studer tape machine and he hits record and he's got his arms crossed and he's watching us and we knocked the song out in one take. Like, 'Oh, that was a keeper.'"
But was it really a keeper? Albini reveals one error within the track that almost derailed that initial performance.
"There's a thing, and so far none of the trainspotters have mentioned this, and I don't know if it's generally known. But there's a quiet bit of the song and then it kicks into full monty, and we had done a soundcheck of the instruments before they did the take, but the full monty was Kurt [Cobain] kicked in an overdrive pedal which he hadn't used in the soundcheck," recalls Albini.
"So when the first loud bit comes in, the guitars were pinning on the tape machine. Like he was about 6 db hotter than what was proper for the session," he adds. "So I immediately grabbed those channels and ratcheted them back. The first beat of the loud part, the tape machine is slightly overdriving and those channels are in the red, and it's bad engineering on my part. By the second or third beat, it's back to normal. But there is this moment, where it slightly exploded."
"Everybody heard it on playback and I mentioned it, and I said, 'You know there's an overload here on the first beat, cause I wasn't prepared for the overdrive, but I got it in line,' but everybody heard it on playback and were like, 'Yeah, that's fine.' And it's on the record now," says the producer.
Reflecting on that moment, Albini says, "That's the sort of thing when you're working in budget conditions and sort of grubby studio sessions, that shit happens all the time and you just live with it. But for a band of their stature and their resources to say, 'Hey, let's go ahead use the first take just because it sounds fine, we're not that picky,' I thought that was a remarkable display."
Take a listen and see if you catch it in the player below.
Nirvana, "Serve the Servants"
Albini joined Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic on the Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend podcast, which can be heard in full below. With it being the 30th anniversary of In Utero, not only are they making the interview rounds, but there's a new 30th anniversary collection celebrating the history of the album available.
Included in the 30th anniversary set are a new collection of b-sides and bonus tracks as well as two complete concerts from the In Utero touring cycle recorded in Los Angeles in 1993 and Seattle in 1994. You can order your 30th anniversary set in the platform of your choosing here.
Nirvana's Dave Grohl + Krist Novoselic + In Utero producer Steve Albini on the Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend podcast
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Gallery Credit: Lauryn Schaffner, Loudwire