What a way to herald in the new Millennium. On December 1, 1999, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic joined forces with Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, and Sweet 75 bassist Gina Mainwal to play an incendiary rock gig. It wasn't like any other gig any of the band members had played in the past. It was more like a soundtrack to history.
They billed themselves the No W.T.O. Combo and booked the concert at the Shoebox in Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization convention that was taking place. Insurrection was in the air all day long as picketers took to the streets, paralyzing downtown Seattle and preventing convention delegates from leaving their hotels. Policemen responded with force, brandishing their batons and firing pepper-spray, teargas canisters and rubber bullets into the crowd of protesters. Over 500 people were arrested in the melee, which was later dubbed the Battle of Seattle.
Despite the chaos and heavy police presence, hundreds of music fans still managed to scurry to the Shoebox to witness one of the greatest protest shows of the year. For those who missed the excitement, the show was taped and later mixed by Novoselic and grunge-lord Jack Endino. The resulting album, Live From the Battle in Seattle is brash, confrontational, politically motivating and as heartfelt as a Michael Moore film.
Sadly, The No W.T.O. Combo was a one shot deal, but that doesn't mean Novoselic is done fighting the power. His latest project, Intervision, is a political art/expression web program and Krist remains active in the struggle for the decriminalization of marijuana. He's also been pretty busy assembling tracks for an upcoming Nirvana box set. Guitar.com recently sat down with Novoselic to discuss Live from the Battle in Seattle and life after Nirvana.
Guitar.com: When did you first meet Jello Biafra?
Novoselic: Jello [Biafra] and I were doing this Spitfire tour together. We've been doing them since 1998. It's a spoken word thing -- kind of like Politically Incorrect, but more in a forum. The first Spitfire was with Woody Harrelson and [ex-MTV VJ] Kennedy and myself. And Rosie Perez, Perry Farrell and Michael Franti [from Spearhead] have done them. And you go to universities or clubs, wherever they book it and each person speaks for 20 minutes on an issue that's near and dear to them and then there's a Q&A.
Guitar.com: When was that?
Novoselic: It was October, 1998. And so, we were hanging out having these spirited political conversations as usual, and we were talking about the upcoming WTO Ministerial Meeting in Seattle. And Jello said, "Are any bands gonna play?" And I said, "To tell you the truth, I don't think so." And I told him, "Hey, I've been jamming with [Soundgarden guitarist] Kim Thayil and Gina Mainwal [from my band Sweet 75]. Why don't you come up and we'll put a band together and play a show in the middle of everything?" So we put the show together and there it was.
Guitar.com: There are two new songs on Live From the Battle in Seattle, "Electronic Plantation" and "New Feudalism"
Novoselic: Those are some songs that Jello Biafra had on these boombox cassettes. I don't know about the time those songs were written. But he was jamming with someone in Colorado or San Francisco, and I'm sure he was working on the lyrics right up to the show because they were really relevant for the situation.
Guitar.com: Did you expect there to be a riot?
Novoselic: No one knew what to expect, but it was anarchy in its full glorious responsibility and its full, terrible irresponsibility. It felt like being in the center of the world, and I felt like I was a witness to history and I knew that the whole world was watching on television. So, I could feel the collective consciousness of the world focused on this little strip of land called Seattle.
Guitar.com: Did you witness any incidents of police brutality?
Novoselic: When the police started their advance I left because I was like, "Well, you know, I'm playing a show and I gotta make it to the show. It was a really unpredictable atmosphere and once the teargas started to lob and the conduction grenades started to go off, I left.
Guitar.com: The album Battle in Seattle sounds ragged and combustive, but there's a pretty cool chemistry there.
Novoselic: Yeah, maybe some divine notion pushed Kim and Gina and I to get together and play. We haven't played since then. We were just jamming around. I was living in Seattle at the time, and I'd call up Kim and we'd play and I'd call up Gina and we'd jam with no real objective except to have fun and make noise and rock out. But then Jello came up and it all came together. We only rehearsed for three days.
Guitar.com: Was it a worthwhile experience?
Novoselic: Oh my gosh, yeah. I remember coming off that stage high as a kite from the energy. There was history in the air. Maybe there was the same feeling in Prague in 1968. But whenever history is in the making, there's some kind of intangible feeling. And to go up there and have the opportunity to play music - something we do best - and to tap into this energy was so reciprocal too. We were feeling it and the crowd was feeling it. So we were expressing the music, and then we were feeling the crow. I think that record just shreds.
Guitar.com: So, you'd been jamming with Kim for a while?
Novoselic: Yeah, just kind of screwing around about three days a week.
Guitar.com: Will anything evolve from it?
Novoselic: I don't think so. I moved out of Seattle, see. So, what came out of it was the No WTO Combo. But I'd sure like to play with Kim again. Never say never. I like hanging out with Kim, and I think we work well together. His playing and mine kind of compliment each other.
Guitar.com: What are you doing musically these days?
Novoselic: I'm not doing anything. I'm just kicking back and working on my garden. I'm doing this Fastband stuff for Intervision as much as I can.
Guitar.com: Tell us about that?
Novoselic: It's an exercise in decentralized information. What we're doing is using the Internet and this new technology to be artistic, journalistic and to have as much fun as possible. It's called Intervision, and it's spearheaded by Roderick Romero, who was the singer in Sky Cries Mary. He's doing most of it and I'm kind of popping in and out of it whenever I feel like it. He does more of these travelogue things and it's kind of like beat poetry. It's a perspective on art in different parts of the world - kind of a perspective on these micro-scenes, microcosms. Cities, countries, what's going on with music, film, art in general. It debuted June 4. And the first show is Live From the Battle of Seattle. It's a video I put together of the live show. And then of camcorder footage of myself walking around the streets. I described all the performance art demonstration, civil disobedience that was going on for those two days. Guitar.com: So, the first episode of Intervision is going to be a condemnation of the riots and a documentation of the anti NWO show?
Novoselic: Well, it's not like editorializing or a journalistic dialogue. It's more of a film, just seeing clips of different art and music. And a lot of it is spoken word. The second episode is Roderick and I in the streets of Hollywood basically ranting poems about Hollywood being the new Jerusalem and everyone searching for the new Messiah. It's kind of like we're calling it beat cinema.
Guitar.com: It sounds like something you'd see late at night on Manhattan Public Access TV.
Novoselic: See, that's what the Internet is gonna be. There's gonna be 100 million or so public access stations. A lot of times I call it public asses, too. (Laughs). It's about using this technology and this decentralized information. So instead of what's filtered through these big media companies to the masses - instead of the push, it's the pull. So, basically the Internet and Intervision is part of the whole pull thing. So if you think it's interesting you can come check it out. Every show is about four or five minutes long.
Guitar.com: Aren't you also working on a Nirvana box set?
Novoselic: Oh, it's coming. It's gonna come out in 2001. It will be for true fans, new fans, passive fans. My idea behind it is to make it an encyclopedia, where it's the mothership of Nirvana knowledge, and a documentation of a great band. We have hours and hours of stuff. It seems like every Nirvana live show was recorded in one way or another. There's hours of videotapes, outtakes everything.
Guitar.com: Will there be lots of previously unreleased material?
Novoselic: That and more. There's gonna be outtakes, live stuff. Stuff not available on bootlegs that's been under lock and key. We're kind of putting stuff through the sifter right now.
Guitar.com: Where are you living now?
Novoselic: In southwest Washington state near Aberdeen.
Guitar.com: Near your stomping grounds.
Novoselic: Exactly. I moved home. I just had some big changes in my life, and I wanted to take it easy. And Seattle isn't really crazy anymore. It's a big dot-com city. I don't know. I live out in the country now and it's quiet and it's a place where I can think a lot. I really like to write, so I can just relax and think about things and realize things and then try to express it on my computer.
Guitar.com: Are you gonna put out a book of your work?
Novoselic: Yeah, I think I got some stuff I want to do but I want to develop it more before I say anything. I have a new website now called www.murkyslough.com. What I've done with the website is totally deconstruct it. There's nothing that says, "Hey, this is Chris Novoselic's website. Welcome." I just try to make it art. And people can see it and read it and just get something from it. I wanted to stimulate thought instead of throwing things out or try to give a perspective. I just put stuff up and it's up for two or three weeks and I get tired of it, so I take it down and put something else up.
Guitar.com: You mentioned there have been some major changes in your life. Can you go into any of that?
Novoselic: Oh, I'd rather not. You know how life is. It all builds character though. "What doesn't break us will make us stronger." "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." What are the other ones. Oh, "Life is like photography, you have to process the negative for development." Maybe what I should do on my next website is have pictures of me walking down the beach and a silhouette with a sunset. And then in this beautiful typography have all those quotations, and then for the last one, "Aw, fuck it!"