Interviewing Nirvana’s Chad Channing

Posted: November 20, 2011 in Other Key Interviews

I saw Chad play drums with his band Lamar back in 2007 (and he was impressive, by the way.)  I shook his hand afterwards, mumbling something brilliant like, “Good set.”  I looked him up after I got home and did the interview by phone a couple of months later.

Talking with Chad can be kind of touchy, given his dismissal from Nirvana prior to the band going nuclear.  Thus, broaching the subject of Kurt Cobain would require some deft handling.  As a result, I framed the interview in terms of “Chad growing up,” “Chad’s influences,” “Meeting Kurt and Krist,” and “Nirvana in Seattle.”

I was surprised to learn Chad had seen a number of Seattle shows years before he joined Nirvana.  He went to the notorious Gorilla Gardens.  He saw the Melvins.  He saw Soundgarden.  He even saw the U-Men play at a private party.

We spent most of the Nirvana time talking about 1988, the first year the band appeared in Seattle.  We chatted about early gigs at the Vogue and the Central, about Nirvana’s early sparsely attended shows, and about how the music community eventually embraced the band.  I also asked Chad about music that influenced Nirvana.  He acknowledged poppier groups like the Vasolines, that Kurt brought with him from Olympia, as well as his own background in speed metal.  Ultimately, though, Chad viewed Nirvana as a clean slate for all of its members.  “It was very fresh,” he recalls, “I think [more] influence might have [come] off of one another.”

That mindset, in Chad’s mind, went into the band’s songwriting approach as well.  “Kurt would be jammin’ on some kind of a riff,” Chad says, “maybe like when we’re doing a soundcheck or something like that, start playing some riff.  I’d go, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool.’  And I’ll start playing a sort of beat to it.  Krist would play around and we’d totally like get into it.  Just kind of make something of it.”

In 1989, following in Mudhoney’s footsteps, Nirvana and TAD toured Europe together.  Unlike most of the other musicians, Chad would take in the entire European experience, often arising early to walk the streets of a town to enjoy its charms.  “When you’re touring, sightseeing is not exactly something you have a whole lot of time to do,” he says.  “It’s just wherever you happen to have a day off.  It’s like, any chance I got, I’d try to get up early…and just spend a little time roaming around, just kind of checking stuff out.  And I really enjoyed that.

“It was sort of like a challenge to see if I could get up in the morning and order a cup of coffee and a pastry, in whatever [country] I was.”

We also talked about his role as a percussionist, which ended up in my blog piece called “Sympathy for the (Seattle) Drummer.”  Since Nirvana, Chad has played guitar and sang in his band Before Cars.  He thus has a unique perspective on the challenges confronting the drummer.  “Any guitar player should really spend at least some amount of time playing drums,” he offers, “even if they’ve never played before, or they’re not good.  Just take some time and try to learn a beat or something.  Just dabble into it a little bit.  You might even find you like it and end up becoming a fairly decent drummer by doing it, or at least, maybe get some idea of how difficult that job can be.”


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