Dave Grohl was a lot of things in Nirvana: drummer, backing vocalist, and troublemaker in crime alongside Kurt Cobain — but he was very rarely a songwriter. This was a conscious decision on his part: when you have someone like Cobain in the band, how are your songs going to match up?
“Long before then I’d been recording songs on my own and never letting anyone hear them, because I didn’t really think they were that good. I didn’t like my voice,” Grohl told CBS Sunday Morning back in 2018. “I didn’t think I was a songwriter. And I was in a band with one of the greatest songwriters of our generation, so I didn’t really want to rock the boat.”
Grohl did squeak in a few songwriting credits during his tenure in the band. The royalties from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ alone, which credit all three band members, could probably last him the rest of his life. But Grohl also got a credit on ‘Endless, Nameless’, the jam that ends Nevermind, plus the In Utero bonus track ‘Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip’ and the ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ B-side ‘Marigold’, the only Nirvana song that featured Grohl on lead vocals.
But it was another In Utero song that Grohl began to take his first steps towards asserting himself as a songwriter and composer within the band: ‘Scentless Apprentice’. On top of the iconic opening drum figure, Grohl also wrote the main riff of the song. Cobain wasn’t initially a fan but wound up feeling bad for his bandmate.
“It was such a cliché grunge Tad riff that I was reluctant to even jam on it,” Cobain told Michael Azerrad in the 1993. “But I decided to write a song with that just to make [Grohl] feel better, to tell you the truth, and it turned out really cool. I think most of the reason that song sounds good is because of the singing style and the guitar parts I do over the top of the basic rhythm. But hell, that was great.”
The bone-crushing riff and drum combo might have been old hat to Cobain, but it makes an immediate impact when heard for the first, fifth, and even hundredth listen. Grohl was bolstered by the acceptance of ‘Scentless Apprentice’ and prepared to bring in a couple of additional songs for the band to take on next, including early versions of future Foo Fighters songs ‘Alone + Easy Target’, ‘Big Me’, ‘February Stars’, and ‘Exhausted’.
Unfortunately, Cobain died before that track could be made under the Nirvana name, but it remains a fascinating “what if?” scenario to hear those songs sung by Cobain.
Check out ‘Scentless Apprentice’ down below.