Words By: Jeanette LeBlanc
Photography by: Unknown
Rock music has had many different influences over the years. There was the influence of Jazz music which led to Blues-Rock/Folk-Rock, to the 1970’s Rock and Roll and Psychedelic Rock which brought the world to the 1980’s Glam Rock, Soft Rock, Hard-Rock, Punk-Rock and eventually Heavy-Metal. After these exciting and memorable eras of influential music, the early 1990’s brought a whole new type of music to the stage and it came with a lot more than just that- Grunge music brought its own methods and its own attitude that has forever changed the way we know rock music. Grunge changed the emotion in a singer’s voice from formal to raspy and full of angst, it opened our ears to the many heart-breaks and mental disorders the world suffers from, it created a distorted energy filled sound that will forever remind the world of its troubled and reckless ways. There are reasons behind every band’s sound and personality and many of them lead back to the grunge era, where did it come from? Who created it? And what has the music industry become today because of it? The music community will be forever grateful for the expression that has come from it- grunge.
The grunge music scene originated in Seattle giving it another title people referred to as “The Seattle Sound” and turned the city into a place that Rolling Stone magazine called “The New Liverpool”. grunge music started in the mid 1980’s, and was influenced by punk and metal. The sound of grunge music generally contains distorted guitars, distressed sounding vocals and a highly dynamic tone by going from soft and loving to hard and hateful, and back again. The term “grunge” came from Mark Arm the vocalist of grunge band Mudhoney; he used it to describe the sound of their band as “Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure shit!” which then stuck and became a new hype.Grunge created a new sound that spoke out to angry and depressed teens. People felt that they could relate to the lyrics and the everyday hateful-heartbreak that they contained. This is something that has continued in music post-grunge with no one being afraid to approach depressing hateful lyrics the way famous vocalist Kurt Cobain from Nirvana did. Kurt Cobain was famous for writing songs titled “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die” and “Negative Creep” which are titles that were not normal during that era and allowed distraught teens to embellish in the music and use it as their way of coping with disorders like depression and anxiety, it allowed them to feel that they were not alone during hard times. Grunge concerts consisted of bands playing the same way they would at a bar, the shows always lacked theatrics and flashy lighting and were full of enthusiastic teens who just wanted to let loose. The Fashion Industry marketed these teens and soon every fashion distributor was releasing “Grunge fashion” which mainly consisted of ripped-up jeans and over-sized flannels, overpriced beanies, and an unmaintained look which was influenced by Kurt Cobain’s lack of cleanliness- basically the opposite of the 80’s over the top glam look.
The grunge era was formed by many strong and now famous influential musicians. Soundgarden was the first grunge band to sign with a record label in 1989 when they teamed up with A&M Records. Their first release however was mainly discovered after 1990’s breakout and soon to be one of the most influential bands of all time, Nirvana- signed with Geffen Records in the beginning of that year. Upon their signing, Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was released in September 1991 and sold 400 000 copies a week until Christmas where it then over-ruled Michael Jackson on the top 200 Billboard thanks to their single “Smells like Teen Spirit”. “Smells like Teen Spirit” was constantly played on MTV and dubbed “The Anthem for Apathetic Kids”, the song uses a verse-chorus form which creates a loud and quiet dynamic and to this day it has become one of the greatest rock songs of all time. During this same time Pearl Jam had just released their album “Ten” causing them to become another one of the key bands of this era. Pearl Jam became famous not only for their unique and engaging sound but also for the bands unwillingness to abide by traditional music industry practices by refusing to make music videos and being involved in a highly publicised boycott of Ticketmaster which prevented the band from playing shows that the company was involved in- fortunately this attitude just caused their fans to appreciate them even more as well as influence other bands to pursue the “reacting and rebelling against the state of society” attitude that became the grunge era. By 1992 bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains were all ruling the top 200 Billboard. These bands rapidly changed the rock music scene away from the popular glam metal bands like KISS and Twisted Sister and more towards this new radical and emotional obsession.
Grunge, like many other music era’s remained for the decade and then began to change. The fall of grunge is also referred to by others as a “new born” grunge and is now known as Post-Grunge consisting of bands like Candle-box, Three Doors Down, Goo Goo Dolls, Puddle of Mudd, Stone Temple Pilots and Bush; these bands lacked the originality of Grunge music and instead were influenced by the sound. Most Post-Grunge music contains mid-tempo songs with high levels of power-chord energy. These bands became popular on the radio in the late 90’s after most popular grunge bands either broke up or disappeared, starting with Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994, followed by Pearl Jam’s Ticketmaster boycott, then Soundgarden breaking up in 1997 due to creative direction disagreements, which was then followed by the death of Alice in Chains singer Laynes Staley who died from a heroin overdose in 2002. Fortunately however, most band members from previous grunge bands have carried on the grunge persona to influence the way that alternative-rock sounds today, the singer of Soundgarden Chris Cornell is now in a band called Audioslave who on their own have a very unique post-grunge inspired sound unlike any other. Dave Grohl who was previously the drummer of Nirvana and one of the most famous of all previous “grungers” has been involved in other projects such as Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails (who helped influence the industrial scene) and Foo Fighters containing Pat Smear, previous guitarist of Nirvana. Not only are all of Grohls’ bands very famous but they are all extremely unique sounding. While listening to the Foo Fighters it is very easy to tell where Grohl’s influences originated from by the similarities between his and Kurt Cobain’s deep, passionate, raspy sounds and the distorted yet clean tone of the songs. Foo Fighters also write a lot of catchy songs similar to Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” that Grohl says he tried to write to the beat of the crowd and by imagining the fans jumping up and down to the songs. Foo Fighters also contain a lot of stop-start parts to their songs as well as soft-hard dynamics which originated mainly from grunge music. Foo Fighters have even recently collaborated with Butch Vig who produced Nirvana’s record breaking “Nevermind” album. Pearl Jam also remains famous and they continue to influence the industry. To date Pearl Jam has sold 31.5 million records in the US and an estimated 60 million worldwide, while they still manage to sell out major venues around the world. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder has a grungy vocal talent that has influenced many bands including Scott Stapp from Creed who went on to influence other bands like Nickleback and Hinder.
Grunge music will always be popular, whether it’s playing on an I-Pod, the radio, in a movie, or by some cover band at a bar- it will always be enjoyed. Generations have learnt a lot about self-expression and self-healing through grunge music and it has continued to live on through its fans and producers. It hides behind every band’s power-chords and distortion pedals. It provokes bands to fight back against the music system and have the “screw society” attitude they’ve always looked up to. It coaches teens through their angst and battles against growing up and it brings back memories of a legend that had yet to be discovered. Grunge music has always been and always will be appreciated and influential towards many more generations to come.