The History of Grunge Rock and Post Grunge Rock
The 1990s are an era markedly known as much for the early explosion of Grunge music, mostly rooted in and related to the Northwestern music scene popularized by Washington and burgeoning independent record labels such as Sub Pop. Nearly every era has a distinct sound to its music: the sunshine bubblegum pop rock of the 1960s, the drug fueled/jam centric hard rock of the 1970s, or the synthesizer heaviness of the 1980s. In addition to the 1990s leading to a revolution of nearly every genre having at least one hit song, if not a hit band itself, the decade is still largely known (if not for the brief flash of Britpop or Teen Bands/Girl Singers that started in 1997 and transitioned into the early 00’s) as being the birth era of Grunge.
This is ignoring the prototype bands that were making headway as early as 1984 and 1985 in the Northwest. Bands like The Melvins whom issued their first EP in 1986, Green River whom released the album Come on Down in 1985, and a compilation entitled Deep Six that also featured the band Malfunkshun came out in 1986. The Grunge Era was well on its way to making a statement prior to the 1990s and even by the late 1980s from 1987-1989; bands were releasing material that owed a heavier debt to the sludgy origins of the musical style. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, and Skin Yard were all releasing material around that time period and even better, the bands were constantly in flux in terms of echoing their influences and musical tastes just like nearly any media made up genre. Nirvana were more punk, Soundgarden more a debt to the hard rock of the 1970s, and bands like The Screaming Trees were more laid back and dabbled more towards psychedelic rock. Even bands that were not really tied into the scene, such as Alice in Chains whom owed a heavy debt to pure metal, started getting thrown around as Grunge as a result of a single year in music history.
Then came 1991 and a nuclear bomb went off. The year started off slowly with releases from The Screaming Trees (Uncle Anesthesia) and Augusts’ 1000 Smiling Knuckles by Skin Yard and Ten by Pearl Jam but September changed everything with Nirvana’s release of Nevermind, a hard rock punk pop gem that slaughtered everything in its path and trampled over anything remotely resembling the metallic hard rock of the 1980s era. Almost immediately every major label saw dollar signs and started snatching up any Northwest band they could figuratively (and in some cases literally) get their hands on. Bands like Mudhoney went from Sub Pop to Reprise, Nirvana had jumped to Geffen, Soundgarden had jumped to A&M in 1990, and even The Melvins signed with Atlantic for 1993’s release Houdini.
An interesting twist developed as a result of the Grunge scene as well, which was the massive transitioning and carryover of various members from one group to another and the intrinsic ties that knitted the bands and community even tighter together. Dave Grohl formed the Foo Fighters out of the ashes of Nirvana’s demise and included guitarist Pat Smear. The end of Green River led to the formation of Mudhoney by Mark Arm & Steve Turner along with both Jeff Ament & Stone Gossard briefly combining for Mother Love Bone before Pearl Jam came about. Jason Everman briefly expanded Nirvana to a foursome before landing with Soundgarden. Matt Cameron went from Skin Yard to Soundgarden. It seemed like the bands in the Grunge scene were an ever changing, evolving mass of bodies with instruments attached to their forms and as bands exchanged one member for another, the sounds and playing seemed to vary album by album when riffing through the back catalogues.
On top of the blossoming Grunge scene in the early 1990’s came the heavily female-centric movement of Riot Grrrl, another media labeled genre that helped further continue Nirvana’s more hard rock, pop rock punk hybridization that had helped make Nevermind a massive success. Bands like Bikini Kill, The Gits, Sleater-Kinney, and L7 helped really usher in an era that has continued to persevere despite largely being underground in the modern day. Later bands such as Hole and Veruca Salt, much like their male counterparts, found their bands being thrown under the catch all umbrella label simply due to circumstance or band aesthetics.
1994 started to see the movement slide, especially after the sudden suicide of Nirvana’s lead singer, Kurt Cobain. What are forgotten is that even in the middle of the 1990’s in between Nirvana’s death and the sudden upstarts trying to carry on the Grunge torch the media and especially big music companies were still salivating over the prospect of the Grunge scene itself and even started pushing and expanding the music into unconventional areas to create hit superstars. Bands such as The Cranberries dipped their toes into the murk of the Grunge river with the song Zombie off their 1994 album No Need to Argue.
A lot of the bands that came along in the middle 1990’s often were derisively put down by fan purists of the Grunge movement as being bands that merely were following the leader in terms of the Northwest Grunge scene and the heavy reliance on the basics of the Grunge music technicalities such as down tuned guitars or utilizing certain producers who helped define the scene early on. This was mostly ignoring the fact that several of these bands had formed and even released material at the height of the Grunge explosion of the early 1990’s but there is still a stigma attached to them as being Grunge Lite and riding the coattails of a successful genre to make themselves millions while card carrying members never quite profited the same way. Not helped was the fact that these bands continued to try and push the genre through the mid 1990s as British Pop and then Boy Bands started infiltrating the tops of the pop music charts. The stigma and movement coined a new term: Post-Grunge mainly aimed at the intervening years after Cobain’s death and the crawl of Grunge dominating the charts.
The following bands were all seen as copycatting their way to success
– Stone Temple Pilots despite releasing Core in September of 1992 and then Purple in 1994.
– Candlebox also rode to fame in 1993 with their self-titled debut album but failed to cultivate success with their 1995 release, Lucy.
– Collective Soul like Candlebox rode to fame with their debut in 1994, Hints, Allegations & Things Left Unsaid before following that up with their self-titled release in 1995.
– Bush released Sixteen Stone in 1994 and followed that up with Razorblade Suitcase in 1996.
– Silverchair were one of the latest bands to adopt the Grunge style releasing Frogstomp in June, 1995 and following that up with Freak Show in 1997.
It seemed like the middle years of 1993 through 1996 were a cavalcade of mid level hard rock bands trapping themselves in the Grunge circuit in an effort to get themselves over with the audience and atop the rock charts. Just like the original Grunge era, the quality of the bands wildly varied and ended up including Blind Melon (2 releases in 1992 and 1995 before the death of lead singer Shannon Hoon), Gumball (broke out in 1993 with Super Tasty but only released 1 more album in 1994), Paw (2 releases in 1993 and 1995), and Everclear (major label release of Sparkle and Fade in 1995 before breaking through in 1997).
In an interesting case, as the genre itself was largely given a burial by the late 1990s, bands started to pop up that were only clearly influenced by (in some cases blatantly) Kurt Cobain’s vocal style but carried with them remnants of the forgotten & shoved aside Grunge movement. Bands like Nickelback rode The State in 2000 and in particular Silver Side Up released in 2001 to success. Seether churned out their debut album, Disclaimer to moderate success in August of 2002. Creed were one of the initial pioneers breaking through after the release of My Own Prison in 1997 and the massively popular Human Clay in 1999.
While Cobain’s suicide was a massive blow in 1994, it is pretty clear that the remnants of Grunge remained at least through the early 2000’s and even can be felt through the artistic styles of music performers such as Jack White of The White Stripes. The Billboard charts may proclaim that Grunge largely died and got buried by 1997 at the very latest in terms of windows but such claims are largely reactionary to trying to time stamp the genre with a Dead on Arrival Toe Tag as bands were still capitalizing on the sound, several to millions of dollars, and bands such as Foo Fighters and Silverchair and Stone Temple Pilots continued to breed success via the genre even as the underbelly supporting groups quickly faded out of existence.
Credit to Michaellavine.com for the feature image.