StreeXB Global Talent SearchDon’t take Fecal Matter too literally

Many stars start from somewhere, including superstar Kurt Cobain.

He started with Fecal Matter. And no, that’s not something that happens in the morning in the bathroom, this was actually a band name.

And now we can read the full story about the short-lived punk-rock band.

His blazing path to super-stardom as the singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter of Nirvana was still several years away. Kurt Cobain actually had a band before Nirvana and you would never be able to get it out of your head. I mean, Fecal Matter just screams attention if you ask me. You wouldn’t mistake it for any other band. However, this was a part of what built Cobain today. It’s a part of him and his history.

Read the full story of Kurt Cobain’s restless teenage years and his journey.

In December 1985, Mari Earl agreed to let her nephew – her sister’s kid, an 18-year-old punk rocker, high-school dropout and sometime vagrant who, as a musician herself, she’d always had a soft spot for – use her home in suburban Burien, Washington to record a demo with his new band. It wasn’t the first time Kurt Cobain had used his aunt’s house as a recording studio. Four years earlier, he’d recorded a number of songs there under the name Organised Confusion, using wooden spoons and a suitcase for percussion instead of Earl’s drum machine because he wanted his music to be ‘pure’. That session – full of distorted guitars, heavy bass and “occasional bloodcurdling screams” – had been noisy. This one, lasting two days, took the biscuit.

“They set up in my music room and they’d just crank it up!” Earl later remembered. “It was loud. They would put down the music tracks first, then he’d put the headphones on and all you could hear was Kurt Cobain’s voice screaming through the house! It was pretty wild. My husband and I, we’d just look at each other and smile and go, ‘You think we should close the window so the neighbours don’t hear? So they don’t think we’re beating him or something?'”

What the neighbours would have heard was Fecal Matter, Kurt Cobain’s first real band, who, despite their fleeting existence, have gone on to attain near-mythical status among Nirvana fans. The racket they committed to tape over the course of those two days – a demo album titled ‘Illiteracy Will Prevail’ – became the holy grail for Cobain completists: after details of the album were mentioned in Michael Azerrad’s 1993 biography Come As You Are, fake versions of the songs were widely circulated from 1997 onwards but the real things didn’t start trickling out until 2005. Further tracks appeared in 2006 and 2007, though some have been mislabelled and others are incomplete.


At the time of the recording, Fecal Matter was comprised only of Kurt and Melvins’ Dale Crover (by that point, the pair had ditched their original drummer, Greg Hokanson), but fellow Melvins Mike Dillard and Buzz Osborne later joined the group, albeit briefly. There is, however, some confusion as to the group’s live history. Cobain biographer Charles R Cross states that the band fizzled out before playing a single gig; others maintain that the original lineup – Cobain on guitar and vocals, Crover on bass and Hokanson on drums – managed one show in December 1985, supporting The Melvins at the Spot Tavern in Moclips, a remote beach resort on the Pacific Coast. In any case, Fecal Matter came to an ignominious end sometime in mid-1986: according to Buzz Osborne, “Kurt got disgusted with it because I wouldn’t buy a bass system and so he said that I wasn’t dedicated enough.”

This was a fate met by most of Kurt Cobain’s early bands, who tended to be short-lived and largely undocumented. They exist only as footnotes in a larger story: there’s The Sellouts, the Creedence Clearwater Revival covers band that disbanded when he physically attacked the bassist; Brown Towel, who – thanks to a misspelled poster for one of their (very) few gigs – have gone down in history as ‘Brown Cow’; The Stiff Woodies, a Melvins side-project he was briefly involved in, and a few others (Skid Row, Throat Oysters, Ted Ed Fred, etc) that were early Nirvana lineups in all but name. Fecal Matter, though, are more significant. For one thing, the ‘Illiteracy Will Prevail’ tape was what convinced Krist Novoselic of Cobain’s talent, and it marks the first-known appearance of a couple of tracks (‘Spank Thru’ and ‘Downer’) that would later be recorded by Nirvana. For another, unlike his subsequent bands, Fecal Matter’s recordings have survived, and people can actually listen to and analyse them for themselves. Most importantly – and to use an obvious metaphor – Fecal Matter were the fertiliser that Nirvana would sprout from, and ‘Illiteracy Will Prevail’ provides a musical document – crude though it may be – of Kurt Cobain’s adolescent concerns and his development as a songwriter.

StreeXB extends special thanks to NME for this latest article about the late Kurt Cobain. To see the full article, click here.

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