Krist Novoselic,
The TVD Interview

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | On the evening of March 9, we ventured to a charming area of Takoma Park, Md., to the equally charming restaurant Republic, where we had the honor of speaking with former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic—himself a charming man.

Novoselic was at Republic to talk about FairVote, an organization chaired by Novoselic (an Independent voter) that educates and empowers Americans to remove the structural barriers to achieving a representative democracy that respects every vote and every voice in every election. Half of the proceeds from the evening at Republic went to the FairVote organization.

Novoselic started off the intimate evening with witty banter and the importance of being involved with FairVote. Afterwards, the capacity crowd was treated to an accordion rendition of Lorde’s “Royals,” the accordion on loan from local music shop House of Musical Traditions.

Before the festivities, we sat outside on Republic’s heated patio to discuss Novoselic’s political activism, online streaming, and of course vinyl.

Before you were involved with FairVote, you supported the creation of the Joint Artists and Musicians Political Action Committee (JAMPAC). Is that what started your political activism career?

Yes, that’s my story. I got involved in these music issues in Washington State, where Seattle music was taking the world by storm but our own state legislator was trying to pass censorship bills. City Council created anti-music ordinances like the Teen Dance Ordinance and other weird laws from overreaching legislators. I started to learn about the political system; it was my civic education. I worked to break these barriers down, but I didn’t do it by myself, I worked with a large group of people.

Through that, I learned about the barriers that exist in political participation, where political insiders circled the wagons making rules to benefit themselves. I wanted to get involved and discovered this group called FairVote, formerly the Center for Voting and Democracy, who proposed proportional and rank choice voting to give voters more choice and more power. That’s been my gig since then.

FairVote is a non-partisan, Independent, not Conservative or Liberal. It’s for people from all walks of life, of all ages, having an opportunity to participate. The reforms we proposed have a long history in the United Sates rooted in the Voting Rights act. You have this proportional voting rights system where a political or ethnic minority can have a chance to have a voice. We were just involved with a Voting Rights Act in California where Latinos felt misrepresented or excluded in their district. We worked to propose a voting system to give more power to those voters.

If you feel excluded from politics, and you want to have more power or more choices, go to FairVote.org to find out ways to make democracy more inclusive for all people.

There are many young people in certain cultures in the United Sates for whom voting is never a topic of conversation. It isn’t something that is culturally important. Do you think that more grass-roots efforts would help to create an awareness to tell people why they should vote?

Yes, especially if it is an uncompetitive or uncontested election. The problem is that young people are cynical, which can become its own barrier. I can ask people to go and vote, but if there is no one to vote for, that is a problem, especially if it is uncontested. I think there is something wrong with that, and more awareness could help in that area.

What was your first experience with vinyl?

I started out with 8-track tapes when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I made the transition to vinyl in my late teens, early twenties. I still have all of the records I bought as a teenager. There was this record store in Aberdeen called Dill’s Second Hand Store—it had hundreds of thousands of records. But you could also buy tools there; they had chainsaws, and a giant bear trap that was about three feet wide, which was pretty sad. That’s where I’d buy my records; it was one dollar for a single record, and two dollars for double vinyl. I’d go in there once a week to see what their new scores were.

I got a Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland on Polydor with the Euro cover for like two bucks. I still have that record; it’s in perfect shape. Or I’d go to Salvation Army and buy records there. Someone must have served overseas in Germany or the UK because I got a Beatles Rubber Soul record on Parlophone, Mamas and Papas… I’ll buy anything, but I don’t like to spend too much money—I want that thrill of the score. Its one thing to go and spend a hundred bucks on a record, and it’s another thing to find a Jefferson Airplane Surrealistic Pillow on a Greek pressing, you know; it’s fun. I have a Spanish pressing of Iggy Pop Solider —Iggy is spelled “Yggy”…It’s cool.

I comb the bins. I really like political records. One time I was at this loading dock, and someone threw away this Golda Meir record—she was the Prime Minister of Israel. This record was printed by a Jewish community in the United Sates that was supportive of her. So yeah, I have a Golda Meir record, a Lyndon Johnson record. I really like obscure political records. I even have a Lee Harvey Oswald.

What is the Lee Harvey Oswald record like?

It’s like anti-communist propaganda. There’s a grainy recording of him saying, “I am a Marxist,” and that is what it says on the cover. I don’t know if you listen to these records; I listen to them once just to hear what it says, but it’s more like an artifact. That dude was a nut, and someone exploited him with this record to make a political statement.

People used vinyl as a form of political propaganda. Commissars from far-out provinces would go to Moscow, and Joseph Stalin would send them back home with a new Victrola and pressings of his speeches. These commissars would go back to their rural lands, like Uzbekistan or somewhere, and show off their new technology, and that’s how these speeches would spread across the land. It was part of his mind control, and he used technology to do it.

There’s an old photo of Hitler in front of a Victrola—people associate it with music, but in reality he was probably listening to his own political speeches.

Hitler was the first to use a condenser mic. Before he came to power, people were used to these transmissions with these little thin-sounding voices. When Hitler was broadcasting with his condenser mic, he had a rich, booming sound. It was considered a phenomenon, which could have been a part of his appeal.

Vinyl record sales have grown over the years. Why do you think that is?

I think people want that warm sound. I think it has to do with MP3s and how lousy they sound, but I’ve never been a partisan to digital versus analog. I like the analog sound, and it’s warm, but I think you can also get a warm sound on high-definition digital if you put it through nice analog equipment, warm it up with a preamplifier.

As far as pressings of vinyl go, it’s cool. People put out records, but they’re basically for geeks like me who want to own the vinyl. Sometimes, I will buy a new vinyl record, and it’s just a horrible pressing. The attitude is that a band will put out just a few pressings as a cool thing to do, but there was no time put into the test pressings. In the last few years we did Nirvana vinyl. I’d listen to the test pressings, and we sent some of them back. I listened with Jack Endino who recorded the first Nirvana record, and Jack was like, “turn the volume down, and that will bring the low-end out because you won’t have those tight grooves.”

I also give people advice on how to buy a used record: You can take the record out of its sleeve and it looks clean with no scratches, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good record; it can be worn out. The way to find that out is to listen to the last song on the record. If it’s fuzzy, that means it’s worn out because the grooves are tighter towards the inside of the record. The record spins faster as it gets towards the center so all of the grooves are compressed, and they tend to wear out and start sounding fuzzy. “How to Buy a Used Record” by Krist Novoselic… (laughs)

What is your take on streaming services like Spotify?

I’ve never been on Spotify; I don’t even know what it is. I don’t know a lot about it, but I am for intellectual property. I use iTunes because I have an iPad where I can buy the music. I don’t see the distinction between real property and intellectual property—it’s all property. Content like music gives all these devices/gizmos something to do.

Intellectual property rights allow content producers to be compensated because they are creating something of real value. It gives all these apps and appliances something to do. I just don’t see the distinction. Apple could make billions of dollars on an iPad or iPod or whatever because they have a right and should have a right to the property by selling these items. The critics of music property never established the line of where real property and intellectual property ends. It seems like it is always music that people go after because people love music.

It’s up to the artist—if I want to sell 8 -track tapes on the corner for one hundred bucks a piece, that should be my right because they shouldn’t make being a dipshit illegal—maybe someone will buy it, right? But if I want to give my music away free, that’s my right too.

A lot of artists have chosen to give music away, tour, and sell t-shirts or tchotchkes whatever works for you man! If that is what people want to do, I understand that argument. It can cost thousands of dollars to fill up your iPod with music, so there is that argument to be made too. I think it will all work out as long we keep that notion of intellectual property rights for music producers intact—these technological issues will smooth out.

What is a bummer is that you buy these MP3s that are 99 cents, but they don’t sound that good. I am an audiophile, so I want something to sound good; maybe there is a new format coming down the pipeline. You can buy a Neil Young CD, and it comes with a music DVD, which is basically a high-resolution version of the record. I got an Emerson Lake and Palmer reissue on CD and DVD in high-definition, and it sounds really good.

I just try and find a reasonable path. When you start taking intellectual property rights away from artists, that is just wrong. That’s some kind of Stalinism or Maoism, and I can’t support that.

For more information on FairVote, please visit their website.

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