Sweetness in Seattle

Since the death of Kurt Cobain, Nirvana's former bass player Krist Novoselic has bided his time. Now he's back in the spotlight, with the post-grunge, latin-tinged, genre-hopping Sweet 75. Who said the party was over in Seattle? By James McNair

"You know," drawls Krist Novoselic, "people come here and say, `So how do you feel now that the Seattle scene is over?' That always amuses me, because as a musical town, Seattle's stronger than ever. There are still a lot of amazing collaborations going on, and people have moved beyond grunge to experiment with new sounds. Just because the media glare is off, it doesn't mean there's nothing happening."

It's been three years now since Novoselic's former band Nirvana dissolved abruptly. Singer Kurt Cobain's suicide stopped the alternative rock world in its tracks and, for a time, Novoselic devoted his energy to becoming more politically active and stopping drinking. Now he's making a comeback with Sweet 75, a gritty, inventive trio fronted by the Venezuelan-born singer Yva Las Vegas. Krist has switched from bass to 12-string acoustic and electric for this outfit, and Yva - who in her time has played everything from salsa to Afro-Cuban religious music - has brought a whole smorgasbord of influences to the band's eponymous debut album. Though the grunge legacy is still clearly audible, there's lots of latin brass and percussion on the record. There's also a country ditty dedicated to Dolly Parton, a track featuring trumpet legend Herb Alpert, and a version of the traditional Venezuelan folk-song "Cantos De Pilon". Suffice to say that Sweet 75 are the perfect example of the kind of genre-hopping, post-grungers that Novoselic alludes to above.

I meet Krist and Yva in Seattle's des res Capitol Hill neighbourhood. We have coffee at Krist's big purple house, then walk uphill through a nearby forest in the dappled sunshine. Yva points out a bluebird and Krist shows me the Douglas fir seedlings he's planted. We reach a plateau and sit down on a little marble bench to continue our chat. After a while, I feel relaxed enough to ask about Cobain. "When Kurt died, my wife and I had to build a fence around our old house to keep the reporters at bay," explains Krist. "We'd lost our friend, but our grief was compounded by this media thing. I'd walk into a 7-Eleven and see Kurt's face on a magazine cover, and I had to learn to deal with that."

It was on his birthday back in 1994, just a month or so after Cobain's death, that Krist first met Yva. Friends of his had seen her busking latin- influenced folk in Seattle's Pike Place market, and they booked her to play at a surprise party that Krist's wife had organised to try to cheer him up. He was suitably impressed by Yva's feisty vocals and, about a week later, he invited her back over to record some of her songs. "We got to know each other, one thing led to another, and we started writing together," he remembers. "At first, it was just acoustic stuff, but then we decided our mission was to rock!"

"Yeah, we had this ritual where we made an oath and drank chicken blood from a jewel-encrusted goblet," dead-pans Yva. "We wore capes and stuff, and we were playing Diamanda Galas and John Paul Jones in the background - perfect blood-drinking music!"

Though not a rags to riches story per se, Yva's sudden transition from street musician to signed artist took her somewhat by surprise. Did she feel intimidated at first, given Krist's illustrious past? "A bit," she laughs. "Obviously you're a little on edge when you meet someone and you know that they could be significant in your life. I eventually got over it, though, and actually sang in front of him in the studio."

"She knew I was famous for my mood-swings and moments of sheer, unadulterated brilliance, though," adds Krist drily. The pair are obviously totally at ease with each other, and switch in and out of this "double-act" mode throughout the interview. "It might sound unbelievable," continues Krist, "but it's only recently that either of us have thought of Sweet 75 in terms of Nirvana. I'm proud of what Nirvana achieved, but I was there at ground zero, and it wasn't all romantic and sexy. Besides, life goes on too, you know?"

They go on to explain how they developed Sweet 75's hybrid sound slowly, yet fanatically. Yva would hound Krist to rehearse for up to six hours a day, and they kept a comparatively low profile for a while, deciding not to put out any press-releases until they actually understood the nature of the beast they were creating. "What could we have said?" says Yva. "Nothing except Sweet 75 have written a couple of chords. They might be good or they might not - we'll just have to wait and see."

"But it was all so fresh and compelling", adds Krist. "I'd hardly ever played guitar before, let alone 12-string. Yva had played guitar for years, and here she was playing bass. Bill Rieflin, the drummer on the record, had played with Ministry for years, and here he was playing in a more open and free way. So we were all discovering our instruments and getting to know each other as people. It was a real healthy environment to work in."

Geffen records, Nirvana's old label, took on a nurturing role with the band. Initially, Krist and Yva wanted to put out a record last year, but the label advised them to spend another year writing and playing live. They weren't too happy about it at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, Krist acknowledges it was the correct decision, and that the band still have everything to prove. "When we tour now," he says, "we go out in a van as a support act and we stay in hotels where you're afraid to put your foot down on the rug. We just want to be judged on our own merit, so we're not walking around screaming for a French chef and bowls of M&Ms with all the blue ones taken out."

Sweet 75 plan to play their first British gigs in October, and one imagines that, on stage, the visual contrast between Krist and Yva will be striking. He's 6ft 7in and she's about 5ft 4in. Krist's hair is black and Yva's is fuchsia. "When we're plugged in and rockin' it out it's a good feeling," says Krist. "Yva and I are like Sonny and Cher."

"Yeah, I'm Sonny, and you're Cher," she laughs. Watch out for a latin- grunge version of "I Got You Babe" at a stadium near you soonn

Sweet 75's debut album, `Sweet 75', is out on Geffen on Tuesday

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk