Nirvana was being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, but no one knew they'd also be performing!
Dave invited me to photograph the rehearsals and show. It was a small crew and I knew them all from working with Foo Fighters, but this definitely felt different.
It was the first time that Krist, Dave and Pat would play Nirvana songs together since Kurt died 20 years before, almost to the day. This was historic and we all knew it.
Once the room was set up, we stood back and waited to see what they'd play first. The anticipation was palpable.
Lithium! So many memories and emotions flooded my head and heart. I didn't even pick up my camera. When the song ended we looked at each other and exhaled, taking a second to let the moment sink in. Wow... wow! It was cool to realize that these seasoned pros who'd seen it all could still be taken aback. This was something special.
Later that day, before the guest singers started arriving I brought the guys to the roof to take a few for posterity. Looking through the viewfinder all I could think was “how the hell did I get here?”.
Joan Jett was the first to run through her songs with the band, then Kim Gordon. The next day we were joined by J Mascis, John J. McCauley, St. Vincent and Lorde.
Believe it or not the most special part of this trip had nothing to do with Nirvana (besides timing). Between the final rehearsal and the show I took off to Brooklyn to visit my Grandma, Roslyn. After my Dad passed away, she and I became a lot closer and I took every opportunity I could to see her. She was 97 and had just moved into assisted living after almost 40 years of independence, living on her own since losing her husband Jack.
She was never comfortable having her picture taken, so at most I would get one or two before she'd put her hand in front of her face. But for some reason this time she really enjoyed it.
We sat alone in the dining hall talking and drinking tea, and every once in a while I picked up my camera. It was by far my favourite visit with my Grandma. Sadly it was the last time I saw her, and I'm so thankful for the timing of this gig in New York. 🖤
Annie Clark aka St. Vincent was one of the singers performing with Nirvana at their Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction. Annie kicked ass on her three songs (Lithium, About A Girl, Heart Shaped Box) but it wasn't until I got home and listened to St. Vincent for the first time that realized her true genius.
Weeks later she blew my mind on SNL. When the show ended I went back and watched Birth In Reverse over and over and over.... and over again. It was the most mesmerizing SNL performance I'd ever seen. If you've never seen it (or even if you have) go watch it right now. Seriously.
A month later I saw St.Vincent at NXNE in Toronto and from the moment she hit the stage Annie Clark became my favourite performer to photograph. Every second was more captivating that the last. She immerses herself 100% into her performance and takes the audience with her.
My words definitely can't do her show justice, and quite honestly I'm not sure if my photos can either.
1-7: NXNE in Toronto. 8,9: Private Nirvana show at Saint Vitus Bar after the RRHOF induction ceremony. 10: Nirvana rehearsal.
What do these two bands have in common? A lot more than you think!
Aside from being two of my favourite bands of all time, scroll for some pretty cosmic synchronicity!
Faith No More has been one of my favourite bands since the first time I heard The Real Thing in high school. I was obsessed with them. Posters on my walls, t shirts, the whole deal. When I was 17 I travelled for half a day just to see them play for 30 minutes as an opening act.
In 2014 when I heard they were working on their first new record since 1997, I called their tour manager Moss to put my name in the hat and he told me to pitch some ideas. With the help of my best friend from high school Noel who's been a Faith No More fan as long as me, I came up with some concepts to send to Moss.
He got back to me with notes from the band. They liked some of the ideas and wrote down some of their own in point form. If you know Faith No More you'll understand why I loved all of them. Here are my two favourites:
“Devil Worshippers a la Rosemary’s Baby”, and “Bond tuxedos w champagne, man on leash”.
I hadn't been to San Francisco in years and wouldn't be flying in until the night before the shoot, so I relied heavily on Moss to round up costumes and props, and I hired my friend Benjamin in SF to assist.
For the satanic scene Bill Gould (bassist) suggested using the FNM star instead of a pentagram and offered to make it himself because he used to make the backdrops for their shows in the early days.
I got to the hotel pretty late and tried to relax but my anxiety kicked in real hard as soon as I went to bed. “What if they don't like me?” (these are actual thoughts that I had) “What if I don't sleep and I'm too tired and anxious to do my job?”, and worst of all “What if I fuck it up so badly that they have to reshoot with another photographer??”. Any of these outcomes would have devastated me.
When this level of self-doubt comes up and you're alone, it's hard to think rationally. But I tried. I kept reminding myself that they hired me because they like my work, I've been doing this for over 20 years, and everything is planned and ready to go. Ok, deep breath... that's better.
Nope! I jumped out of bed and paced around the room for a minute then straight to the bathroom to throw up.
Find out what happened next in Part 2!
I hardly slept but I got ready to face the day.
First up was the “Devil Worshippers” setup. I picked up the camera and talked them through the shot. Patton yelled “Rabin, shut up and take the fucking picture!” and I yelled back “Patton, don't fuck with me right now!”, which caught the others off guard because I don't think they knew that I'd known Patton for years and worked with him a bunch of times. It was a great icebreaker.
After getting the Bond-inspired tuxedos shot I gave a nod to the 007 For Your Eyes Only movie poster by shooting through the legs of the bondage man aka The Gimp.
Next up was the Grand Staircase at San Francisco City Hall. The Film Commission said we didn't need a permit if we were quick. Just don't block the stairs because it's a government workplace, and do it in the morning when it's less busy.
We didn't wrap at the studio until after 3pm but I really wanted this shot so we took our chances and drove down. Traffic was really bad because the Giants were in the World Series and they had a big screen set up to watch the game on the City Hall lawn.
They asked us to check in with security at the staff entrance. Shit... The Gimp! I can't remember exactly what we told the guards but they had a laugh and let us in.
We didn't waste any time because we took up the whole staircase and had a big light set up, and I expected to get asked to leave at any moment. I was surprised to see some employees waiting patiently to use the stairs instead of asking us to move. That's when I noticed there was a wedding reception on the 2nd floor. Because of the tuxedos people must have thought that I was the wedding photographer! Genius! That would buy us some time.
Once I got the shot, we brought in The Gimp. He kneeled on the steps at the end of a leash like Roddy's pet. Wedding photographer or not, I thought FOR SURE this wasn't going to fly in City Hall. But no one batted an eyelash. I love San Francisco.
Btw, did you spot Roddy's facial hair change? He casually shaved his beard between shots without telling anyone. The best.
Moss, I can't thank you enough for all the prep you did before I landed.
In 2014 I was informed that Refused were working on their first record since The Shape Of Punk To Come, released in 1998.
They gave me an address and said to go around back to find the recording studio. Seemed simple enough, but the address I went to was an ordinary house in a residential suburb of Los Angeles. Once I got to the end of driveway I could hear live music so I followed the sound. Past the backyard I saw a swimming pool and heard music coming from the pool house.
I waited til the music stopped then opened the door and there they were. It wasn't a pool house at all but a full-on recording studio.
It still feels surreal. Listening to new Refused music being made right in front of me. I sat in the room while Kristofer tracked the main guitar riff on Elektra, and stood inches away from Dennis while he sang 366.
I knew that they hadn't announced a new record publicly and that I'd have to keep it a secret, but for how long? Turns out six months! Torture.
One night after recording the guys planned to visit a friend and said we should do some photos at his house, so we piled into my rental car. Our freeway exit was closed for construction but no one told the Google Maps lady who lives in my phone. So we looped around and passed the same exit, like four times! Haha. The first three times were funny...
We shot in and around the house at night and had to get creative with lighting. The yellow photo is the band lined up against the garage with my car's headlights. My favourite is probably the silhouette of them in the window that I shot from the driveway.
So many great memories packed into three days! Thank you Refused for letting me witness the recording process and thank you Mike Mowery and Morgan Johansson for making it happen!
As I mentioned in a previous story (Billy Talent in 2005), Festival d'été de Québec (FEQ) is somewhat baffling to an artist who's never played it before. Québec City is relatively small and aside from this festival, a lot of big tours skip it altogether. So even huge bands like Queens Of The Stone Age who have toured the world, playing to thousands of fans every night are caught off guard by the absolute enormity of FEQ.
After sound check Josh Homme commented about how giant the field was and wondered how many people would show up. I told him to expect at least 60,000 to 70,000 people and he just laughed. I said I was serious but I know he didn't believe me.
Sure enough when they walked off stage Josh put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye and said “I know we're a big band... But what the fuck was that???” pointing back at the stage.
Seeing an artist's reaction right after playing FEQ for the first time has become one of my favourite things about being there.
The first photo is Josh with long-time friend and soundman, Hutch. I think that's Jon Theodore's hand sticking out of Hutch's hat. He was shooting hoops backstage with Alison Mosshart of The Kills.
In my Soundgarden story (2013) I talked about how rare it is to see a whole band grouped closely together when they're playing on a massive stage like this one. That's why I love the second to last photo where they're playing off each other like they were in a club.