Producer Jack Endino Recalls Recording Nirvana, Soundgarden
Born and raised in Seattle, Endino grew up playing and recording music in the garages and basements of his hometown. His band, Skin Yard, appeared on what is widely regarded as one of the first grunge releases, the 1986 C/Z Records compilation album "Deep Six," but it was as a producer that Endino made his mark, and in many ways, defined the scene's sound. Working out of Reciprocal Recording, he produced such influential projects as Green River's "Dry As a Bone" (Homestead, 1986), Soundgarden's "Screaming Life" EP (Sub Pop, 1987), Mudhoney's "Superfuzz Bigmuff" (Sub Pop, 1988) and Nirvana's debut, "Bleach" (Sub Pop, 1989). He still lives and works in Seattle today.
"It was clear from the get-go that recording was where the money was going to come from, not the playing, because none of the bands I was in were particularly commercial [laughs]. But of course, none of that early grunge stuff was commercially oriented. I remember bringing my 4-track over to Chris Cornell's living room when I did a Soundgarden demo for five bucks an hour in like 1985 [laughs].
I didn't actually have management until 1992 because that was the year grunge exploded, and I started getting phone calls from A&R people wanting to know, "Hey, Jack, you heard any good bands in Seattle lately?" That was the year that everybody wanted to sign a Seattle band. Sandy Robertson started managing me in '92, so my first real [money] gigs were then. I did a Gruntruck record for Roadrunner and then a record for a band named Curbdog in England. That was how the '90s went. Strange jobs would pop up in strange places and I'd be like, "Yup. I'm out of here."
Before "Nevermind" came out, my momentum as a record producer was set. I was getting all kinds of business just from being the guy in the engine room of grunge. [When it came out] "Bleach" didn't exactly turn the world upside down. It was just another indie record on my discography. Mudhoney had already done quite a bit better at that point. So people knew me as the guy who recorded [Mudhoney's 1988 single] "Touch Me I'm Sick" until "Nevermind" came out in late '91 and turned the game upside down. And then suddenly everybody knew me as the guy who recorded "Bleach," which was strange at the time. I'm just glad that record sounds as good as it does considering we spent about three days making it.
Most bands should not sign with a major label. There's very few that should. There's only a few that made any sort of success with the major-label business model--that was basically Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana and to a much lesser extent Screaming Trees. Others would have done better making good money headlining clubs.
The methodology of making major-label records in the U.S. is not an efficient one. A band gets signed and they don't make a record for two years. They don't get much money and they have no momentum. It happened to Babes in Toyland, it happened to the Fluid when they signed to Hollywood Records. This was why Soundgarden insisted on making [its 1988 debut, Ultramega OK] with SST even after they had started talking with A&M about making a major-label record. Part of the whole point for them was, "We don't want to drop off the face of the Earth while it takes two years to make a record." It was brilliant of them.