Chris Harris has listened to a lot of albums in the past 20 years, but Nirvana’s grunge-rock masterpiece In Utero is one the local musician (Depth & Current) and producer (Hook Echo Sound in Norman) hasn’t been able to shake. When he and friend Mickey Reese (El Paso Hot Button) first discussed collaborating on a tribute project, it didn’t take long to settle on their favorite record from one of rock music’s saviors.
“I love all of the Nirvana stuff, but Mickey and I have always agreed that In Utero was the artistic peak of one of the best bands we’ll be fortunate enough to have witnessed in our lifetime,” Harris said. “It was honestly completely coincidental that we ended up doing this just prior to the 20th anniversary of the release. It was the third or fourth practice before we realized that the anniversary was approaching and we’d be ready just in time.”
Eric Nauni (Gentle Ghost) and Tommy McKenzie (Depth & Current) were asked to come aboard and gladly accepted the opportunity. Doll Steak — the name taken from the lyrics in “Milk It” — is their form of hero worship, not an effort to improve upon a modern classic.
“We’re not trying to reinterpret what I consider a pretty perfect album. I could probably come up with plenty of other ways to perform these songs, but I doubt I could come up with a better one,” Harris said. “I want to feel like I’m in that band, playing those songs. I got to see Nirvana one time, in Oklahoma City, on my 20th birthday; it was on the In Utero tour, just 4 months before [frontman] Kurt [Cobain]’s death, and it was the best show I’ve ever seen.”
In Utero, of course, was the followup to the unexpectedly successful Nevermind, which Harris thinks brought an authentic sense of danger and rebellion back into American music.
“If you look back at stuff like Bon Jovi, Skid Row and Poison, it was obviously directed at young audiences, but there was nothing about it that threatened the parents,” he said. “I mean, androgyny is about as dangerous as those bands got. Nirvana blew up because they were interesting and genuinely dangerous, and they also happened to have great songs. They represented a real alternative to what was huge at the time.”
Recorded and produced by Steve Albini, the album was plagued by controversy, deemed unreleasable by the band’s label, DGC Records, before ultimately being met with universal acclaim and selling over 3.5 million copies on the strength of singles “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Rape Me” and “All Apologies.”
Doll Steak hopes to do the album proud with performances Saturday at The Blue Note and Friday, Sept. 27, at Opolis in Norman, celebrating the impact the Seattle trio will forever have on music.
“We’re not just screwing around. We’re all busy with other projects and bands, but we have spent a lot of time working on this,” Harris said. “We really hope Nirvana fans will come out and enjoy what we’ve been working on.”
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