Dave Grohl is a pretty good drummer. OK, maybe he’s a little bit more than a pretty good drummer. The modern incarnation of John Bonham has some of the most legendary drum patterns of all time, bringing his signature disco-inspired thump to songs like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ among scores of others. If you’re a drummer who picked up the sticks over the last 30 years, it’s almost impossible not to be influenced by Grohl.
It remains strange, then, that Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic just happened to stumble into getting Grohl behind the kit for Nirvana. Tensions between Cobain and Bleach-era drummer Chad Channing had been growing, and by the time major labels were beginning to hone in on Nirvana, Channing was out. At virtually the same time, Grohl’s Washington D.C. hardcore group Scream had suddenly broken up, leaving Grohl uncertain about what to do with his future.
Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins was a mutual friend, and Grohl’s entry into Nirvana had as much to do with mutual necessity as it did with musical correspondence. Grohl could have been just another run-of-the-mill rhythm player, just like the four previous drummers in Nirvana, and he still probably would have still gotten the job. He was young, he was willing to tour, and he was used to the destitute lifestyle that often surrounded underground musicians. He was the perfect fit before he even played a note.
Of course, Grohl just happened to also be one of the heaviest and most talented drummers of all time. When Nirvana signed to major label DGC and entered Sound City Studios with producer Butch Vig, Grohl had a pretty straightforward job.
Channing had already recorded demos on most of the song’s being used for the album, so Grohl just had to replicate the parts that Channing had already come up with. Inevitably, Grohl’s own ideas naturally began to filter in and refine the drum patterns into something more aggressive and accurate.
A song like ‘Breed’, with its manic tempo and breakneck intro, needed those exact qualities in order to work on record. Despite having difficulties fluctuating his time while recording ‘Lithium’, Grohl’s work on ‘Breed’ was metronomic.
After the blasting intro, Grohl hammers away and powers each new section with a monster snare drum fill. His mammoth flams and heavy tom hits in the song’s chorus could only be performed by Grohl, giving the song intense energy and tight arrangement that helped make Nirvana alternative rock’s first phenomenon.
Check out the isolated drums for ‘Breed’ down below.