Bass Players To Know: Krist Novoselic
“I dare you to learn this song. In fact, I double dare you to you learn this song!”
That’s what the little voice inside my head told me the first time I heard “Come As You Are” by Nirvana. I was a freshman in high school and had never touched a bass before. As I sat on the floor of my friend’s bedroom, listening to records in an attempt to make sense of our teenage angst and the world at large, this crazy voice told me what I had to do. I had to learn that song and, more specifically, I had to learn it on the bass. I very much dared myself to do it. The lick was hypnotic and melancholy, a repetitive beckoning for the listener to “come as you are” and embrace the sounds blasting from the speakers. While the name Krist Novoselic was, at that time, somewhat overshadowed by the entity known as Nirvana, his contributions to the world of rock are nothing short of legendary. His bass playing is energizing and authentic—simple when it needs to be, clever as it leads the listener through curious chord changes, and clearly designed to fit the attitude of the song. As a member of Nirvana and a multi-instrumentalist who continues to work with various bands, Novoselic is the latest Bass Player To Know.
So Who Is Krist Novoselic?
Born in 1965, Novoselic grew up in San Pedro, California as the eldest of three children to Croatian immigrants. As a teenager, his family moved to Aberdeen, Washington and Krist took an interest in hard rock and punk. While in high school, he met his younger brother’s friend, Kurt Cobain, and the two began playing music together. Cobain and Novoselic went through a series of drummers as they recorded their first trio album, Bleach (1989), and was finally introduced to Dave Grohl in 1990. Shortly after Grohl joined the band, Nirvana landed a record deal with DGC Records and went to LA to record Nevermind at Sound City Studios. After the release of Nevermind in 1991 and the success of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the band toured extensively and released two more records, Incesticide (1992) and In Utero (1993). Following the release of their MTV Unplugged session, they received a Grammy for “Best Alternative Music Performance,” in addition to multiple MTV Music Awards. After Cobain’s untimely death in 1994, Nirvana broke up and both Novoselic and Grohl moved on to other musical projects.
Since the mid-1990s, Novoselic has worked with a number of groups, including The No WTO Combo, Eyes Adrift, Flipper, and his current band, Giants In The Trees. He has maintained his relationship with Grohl, making guest appearances both live and in the studio with the Foo Fighters and working with Grohl and Sir Paul McCartney on the soundtrack to Sound City: Real to Reel. In addition to his musical endeavors, Krist has written numerous pieces for Seattle Weekly and has been politically active with the group JAMPAC (Joint Artists and Musicians Political Action Committee).
Let’s Talk Style
It’s safe to say that Novoselic deserves to be among the rock trio royalty. Let him sit beside Jack Bruce and Mike Dirnt, Noel Redding and Geddy Lee, Lemmy, and Sting. The trio setting is not for the faint of heart, rather it is for the players with attitude, attention to detail, and a clear understanding of the power of their notes. Within the context of Nirvana, Novoselic is the heavy-handed, big-bottomed anchor that emphasizes Grohl’s crash cymbal, reinforces Cobain’s chords, and induces hypnosis with his steady-handed bass lines. Master of the descending bass slide, he alerts the listener of a transition, a verse to a chorus, a quiet moment to a brutally aggressive musical outburst. His live tone is comparable to drinking mug of ginger tea. It is comforting and warm, a respite from the cold, but surprising assertive with a bite that hopefully will do your body good. He obviously has something to say and does so with a pick in his hand and an overdriven amp. His style is felt as much as it is heard, with the decision of when to or not to play adding as much character and dynamic movement as the notes that are played.
Where Can I Hear Him?
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana: From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah)
Dropping in with a descending slide, Novoselic mimics the opening riff before settling into the beautifully repetitive progression of the verse. Creating the bed for Cobain’s vocals and providing contrast to the high notes that ring out on guitar, the bass part locks in with Grohl’s drums in a way that inspires headbanging and the desire to rip holes in one’s jeans. Throughout the solo section, he manages to bring even greater intensity to the stage, supporting the melody with enough sensibility to take it down a notch for the final verse. This attention to dynamics and a keen understanding of how to embrace and execute a part solidifies him as not just an accompanist, but as an equal third.
“Lithium” (Nirvana: Nevermind)
This song is a lesson in presence, dynamics, and arrangement. It cycles through every possibility of the bass existing within the context of a power trio: it remains tacit at first, entering at the chorus like a wrecking ball. It takes a subtle approach to the second verse, adding enough bottom to support the changes and playing an inversion to provide contrast. It is the driving force of the bridge, with heavy root notes and groovy fills serving as a counterpoint to Cobain’s vocals. And finally, the third verse provides a moment of musical relief, with just the bass and drums backing up the vocals until the full band finishes out the song.
“Sliver” (Nirvana: Incesticide)
Novoselic opens the song with a blissfully perfect rock bass line: simple, grooving, and effortless. His performance is suddenly infused with adrenaline, the chorus opening up with heightened aggression and a significantly more overdriven tone. The two sections live in perfect contrast of one another, a subtle verse that tells a story and the response of the chorus, an angsty plea reinforced by amplification and attitude.
How about you? What’s your favorite tune or album with Krist Novoselic? Please share with us in the comments.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!