The upcoming Nirvana box set “With the Lights Out” features 18 previously unreleased audio tracks and four video clips from the archives of venerable indie label Sub Pop, to which the Kurt Cobain-led band was signed early in its career.
Included are three Leadbelly covers recorded in August 1989 at Seattle’s Reciprocal Studios, with assistance from Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan and then-Trees drummer Mark Pickerel. Cobain had designs on forming a group around these players, to be named Jury or Lithium, but it never materialized.
“When Lanegan was in the studio recording the [1990 album] “The Winding Sheet,” he was working with so many people,” Sub Pop general manager Megan Jasper tells Bilboard.com. “Kurt plays some music on that record. There were just people randomly coming into the studio. As musicians do, they’d end up goofing around and doing their own thing. In those sessions came those ‘Jury’ tracks, which have never been released. We’ve been sitting on those for a long, long time.”
Also featured on “With the Lights Out” are versions of the songs “Polly,” “Lithium” and “Aneurysm” that pre-date their appearances on Nirvana’s 1991 breakthrough, “Nevermind.”
“‘Nevermind’ was originally written as a Sub Pop record [before Nirvana signed to DGC],” Jasper points out. “So, we had demos with [early Nirvana member] Chad Channing playing drums and different versions of all of those songs. You might be able to find those in really crappy quality on the Internet. But we had no intention of doing anything with those to be honest, because legally, we just weren’t able to.”
As fans continue to clamor for unreleased material, Jasper admits Sub Pop’s contribution to “With the Lights Out” “is pretty much everything we have. Kurt used to just write stuff, this is even before [the band’s 1989 debut] “Bleach” came out, and send it over to Sub Pop. I think a lot of that stuff is lost, tucked away or not really in any condition to be out in the world. That said, you know the way artists work. You write songs and you toss them aside. There is probably stuff sitting out there somewhere, but it’s being held onto because it’s one of the few things people can have just for themselves.”
Sub Pop’s contribution to the project caps a banner year for the label, thanks to hit albums from the Shins, Iron & Wine and the Postal Service and the recent signings of veteran indie rock acts Sleater-Kinney and Low.
“We’ve had a great year, and for that to be the last thing we’re associated with is an incredible way to end 2004,” Jasper says.