The Untold Truth Of Nirvana's Krist Novoselic

It wasn't just his large, lanky frame (6 foot, 7 inches), signature hip sway on stage, goofy comments in interviews, or growling but jaunty bass guitar prowess. It was clear that from the time Nirvana emerged on the rock scene and through their efforts popularizing grunge as the definitive guitar sound of the '90s, Krist Novoselic was a unique individual with strong creative leanings that stretched beyond plucking four thick bass strings.

Novoselic was one of the chief members of Nirvana, a founding member of the iconic Seattle-adjacent, punk-oriented group, with singer/songwriter/guitarist Kurt Cobain who picked up Dave Grohl as their fifth and ultimately permanent drummer. (In 2008, he told EMP/SFM that he never broke the habit of looking for left-handed guitars for Cobain when he's in music shops; they were band partners for a long and formative time, after all.) 

Novoselic's contribution to one of the most influential rock bands in history is only one of his feats, though. He's extremely politically active, he's well-traveled, he's well-read, and he still makes a lot of music, living a full and fascinating life. Here's a look into the life of iconic bassist Krist Novoselic

Krist Novoselic was in Nirvana before it was Nirvana

Krist Novoselic spent the bulk of 1980 in Croatia, at the time part of Yugoslavia and his parents' place of origin. While there, according to AllMusic, he discovered bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, and endeavoring to really get into the punk rock sound, he saved up money and bought a guitar when he returned to the United States. As a teenager in the mid-1980s and living in Aberdeen, Washington, he met a fellow musician named Kurt Cobain, introduced by Novoselic's little brother. They had a lot of friends in common, but bonded over their common love for punk rock, particularly for local band the Melvins.

According to Michael Azerrad's "Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana," Cobain persisted in asking Novoselic to form a band with him, but the latter wasn't interested. He finally acquiesced, but nothing became serious, it was just for fun, until Cobain and Novoselic learned that the Melvins could command $80 for a gig. Big money to them in those days, the duo formed a band called the Sellouts, and they played Creedence Clearwater Revival covers. After going through some changes in terms of sound, approach, and names, that project would evolve into Nirvana.

He changed his name

Krist Novoselic hasn't always been "Krist Novoselic." Born into a Croatian-American family in California in 1965, his first name is a slightly anglicized spelling of the traditional Croatian name Krste, and it's one he shares with his father and great-uncle. (That name means "blessed," but ironically is pronounced like "cursed.") "So they put an 'i' in there and made it Krist, which is a form of Chris," Novoselic told the Plitvice Times, explaining how in the early days of Nirvana, he publicly performed under the name Chris Novoselic.

But once the band got famous and popular, Novoselic changed his name back to the previous, less Americanized spelling. "I changed back to Krist after I got my passport and started touring with Nirvana," Novoselic explained. "And people would look at my passport and be like, 'That's your name? Why don't you just go back to that? It's kind of cool.' So I just decided to do that," he said, and he's gone by Krist, privately and professionally, ever since.

He really hurt himself on stage

MTV likes to market its annual Video Music Awards as one of the most unpredictable and dangerous nights of the year, an event where the music industry's current best and brightest come out to perform, receive trophies, and act up for the live television cameras. Nirvana happily obliged that vibe at the 1992 Video Music Awards, bringing a tough, gritty, and frenetic punk-inspired style to the proceedings. 

Toward the end of Nirvana's rendition of their hit "Lithium," bassist Krist Novoselic tossed his instrument high into the air, a bit that was a common — if hazardous — element of his usual stage antics, according to drummer Dave Grohl on "Dennis Miller Live." Usually, he caught it, but not that night. In front of a packed theater and on live TV, Novoselic bobbled the catch, and the bass came down on his face. The blow knocked him to the ground and left him dazed and hobbling around the stage. 

Grohl was too busy playing the drums to know what was going on, but when he got backstage, there was a fervor over Novoselic's condition, hearing a rumor that he'd knocked himself out. "I could picture him like in the fetal position in a broom closet with a huge lump on his head, and I run into this one room and I opened the door and there's Krist with this huge lump on his head drinking champagne with Brian May from Queen," Grohl recalled.

Krist Novoselic could have been a Foo Fighter

After the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, Nirvana immediately broke up. Surviving members, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic, laid low for a while, focusing on their personal lives instead of trying to figure out their next musical moves. "Krist and I kept in touch, and we would get together and talk, make sure we were each doing OK," Grohl told Rolling Stone (via Foo Archive). 

About a year after the dissolution of Nirvana, Grohl launched his follow-up band, Foo Fighters, and in assembling the group, he reached out to occasional Nirvana second guitarist Pat Smear to participate. Grohl also gave serious consideration to adding Novoselic to the first Foo Fighters lineup. "We talked about it, and then it just didn't happen," Grohl said of creating a new band that would consist almost entirely of former Nirvana members. "For Krist and I, it would have felt really natural and really great, but for everyone else, it would have been weird," Grohl said. "I really would have been under the microscope." 

Novoselic didn't join Foo Fighters, and Grohl brought in Nate Mendel, formerly of Sunny Day Real Estate.

He's an active indie rocker

As far as former members of Nirvana making music goes, Dave Grohl has been the most prominent, fronting Foo Fighters through a dozen albums. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic has also released a slew of music over the decades, almost all of it with low-key bands and indie rock collectives. 

Novoselic has been a member of five bands post-Nirvana, firstly Sweet 75. According to AllMusic, the project formed out of a collaboration between street singer Yva Las Vegas (discovered by Novoselic's then-spouse performing near Pike Street Market in Seattle) and Novoselic; a plan for the latter to produce an album for the former turned into a group, with Las Vegas singing and playing bass and Novoselic playing 12-string guitar. Sweet 75 released a sole album in 1997. By 2001, Novoselic had moved on to Eyes Adrift, a super-trio that also included Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets and former Sublime drummer Bug Gaugh, per Rolling Stone. Eyes Adrift also recorded just one record.

According to LA Weekly, Novoselic spent part of the mid-2000s as a replacement member in Flipper, an experimental and influential San Francisco punk band that he'd loved as a teenager. His next project was another supergroup, Filthy Friends, which included members of the Fastbacks, Sleater-Kinney, and R.E.M, per Northwest Music Scene. Most recently, Novoselic devotes his energies to Giants in the Trees, a band he formed near his home in rural Washington state which plays "forest grunge," as Novoselic told Portland Monthly.

Krist Novoselic squeezes in a lot of music

Krist Novoselic is among the most notable and successful bass players in rock history. And yet he's been known to play other instruments, too, particularly the accordion, seldom used in contemporary hard rock, grunge, or punk, and with all the bellows squeezing and synchronized key pushing, is very different from Novoselic's primary instrument. 

In addition to playing the low-end, four-string guitar offshoot, Novoselic has played accordion on occasion in Nirvana, such as during the band's "MTV Unplugged" episode (later released as the album "MTV Unplugged in New York," on "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam," a cover of a song by the Vaselines. In 2012, Novoselic reprised his accordion duties onstage with the Vaselines at a show in Scotland, per The Hollywood Reporter. In 2014 his organization, FairVote, released a video of Novoselic playing a medley of Beatles songs on the accordion, and he's trotted out the instrument for guest performances on the Melvins' album "Basses Loaded" on "Wasting Light," recorded by Foo Fighters, his old Nirvana bandmate Dave Grohl's band.

Nirvana often reunites

While Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic mutually decided against the latter joining the former's band Foo Fighters, the two musicians have reunited in a professional sense. Novoselic contributed to the 2011 Foo Fighters album "Wasting Light," and according to NME, the duo collaborated with Paul McCartney for a 2012 benefit concert, and they all recorded the single "Cut Me Some Slack" together. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, a reconstituted Nirvana performed, with guests like Kim Gordon, Annie Clark, and Joan Jett stepping in for the late Kurt Cobain, alongside Grohl and Novoselic.

Beyond those scarce appearances, the members of Nirvana still get together privately to just play music together, nearly 30 years after the official dissolution of the group. "Every once in a while, me and Krist and Dave get together and we do play as if we're Nirvana," late-period Nirvana second guitarist Pat Smear said on "The Howard Stern Show" in 2021. "If we're in the same town together, or whatever, we'll get together and jam." There even exist a few recorded (but unreleased) tracks by the quasi-Nirvana assemblage.

Krist Novoselic is on a lot of committees

Not long after the end of Nirvana in the mid-1990s, Krist Novoselic dived headlong into his other passion besides music: politics and community organization. In 1995, he founded and served as president of JAMPAC, or the Joint Artists and Musicians Political Action Committee. "It's a political advocacy group for musicians, fans, people who work within the music industry," Novoselic told MTV News. Counting among its supporters who helped raise funds and awareness for economic and social issues facing musicians — particularly music labeling and censorship — in the U.S. and Europe were Pearl Jam, Sky Cries Mary, Bjork, and Foo Fighters.

In 2005, Novoselic joined the board of directors of FairVote, an electoral reform organization that seeks to make democratic voting in the U.S. more open, more accessible, and more reflective of the population's beliefs by way of widespread adoption of the ranked-choice election style. Novoselic became the organization's chair in 2008.

He writes passionately about politics

In 2004, Krist Novoselic published his first book, one reflective and explicitly about what he learned about governance and politics after focusing on those subjects in the decade after his run as Nirvana's bassist came to an end. "Of Grunge and Government: Let's Fix This Broken Democracy!," according to the New York Times, is part memoir of Novoselic's musical and non-musical adult life, while honing in on what reforms and changes need to happen in the United States in the 21st century to ensure fair, legitimate, and sensible election results. He's especially into the idea of instant runoff elections, finding like-minded cohorts at organizations like the Grange or the Elks, and harnessing the energy generated by protests into crafting legislation and governmental policies.

Novoselic continued to write about political matters as a columnist and blogger for Seattle Weekly, an alternative newspaper, from 2007 to 2012. He also contributes think-pieces to online, contemporary outlets, such as Democracy SOS.

He's left of the right and right of the left

Krist Novoselic has actively involved himself in politics, both at a national level with his advocacy and electoral reform organizations, and locally in his home community in Washington state. But his actual ideologies are complicated, well entrenched since his days growing up on the west coast in the 1980s, but also ever evolving. "I was politicized in high school. I had an open mind and didn't really care for Reagan. I cut my teeth on radical punk rock," Novoselic told Rolling Stone. "Those were the few anti-Reagan voices at the time, especially if you were in Aberdeen and were 18 years old."

Thus long associated with liberal causes and viewpoints, it was confusing to some fans when, in 2020, Novoselic expressed support for President Donald Trump and his outspoken behavior during the Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests following the death of George Floyd. "Trump knocked it out of the park with this speech," Novoselic wrote on Facebook (via NME) of the president considering using the U.S. Armed Forces to quell those protests. "Most Americans want peace in their communities and President Trump spoke to this desire." Two days later, Novoselic clarified his remarks, identifying himself "as an avowed independent" who doesn't support any particular candidate or party. "And it feels insane to have to say this, but I don't support fascism, and I don't support an authoritarian state."

Krist Novoselic is a man of many loves and a love of the land

At his core, it would seem that Krist Novoselic is as much of a family man who loves to work at his home, on his home, as much as he is a musician and political scientist. In the early days of Nirvana, according to The Olympian, Novoselic married rock photographer Shelli Dilley, who he'd been dating since high school. The couple divorced in 1999, and a few years later, Novoselic married artist Darbury Ayn Stenderu, with whom he's had a couple of children. According to the Seattle Times, he and Stenderu settled into a compound in Deep River, in rural, sparsely populated Wahkiakum County in southwest Washington state. The location allows the musician to pursue one of his major interests, flying a small airplane.

He converted an abandoned creamery near his working farm into a recording studio, not far from his stable of animals, which includes a horse, an alpaca, and a goat. Novoselic is a leader in the local farm-based economy and community, a member of the Grays River Grange fraternal organization and later its elected master, leading meetings and organizing service projects.

Is Krist Novoselic actually Andy Kaufman?

According to the New York Times, performance artist and experimental comedian Andy Kaufman privately told friends, family, and colleagues that he planned to one day fake his own death and re-emerge later, having staged the ultimate put-on. By all accounts, Kaufman died of cancer in 1984 (per The Hollywood Reporter), leaving behind decades of rumor and speculation that the comedian staged his demise and will one day publicly emerge; even his brother, Michael Kaufman, believes it, claiming that the "Taxi" star was alive and well (as of 2013) and wished to escape fame. 

Others think that Kaufman still walks among the world, more or less in full view, under a different identity. Could Kaufman, for example, have changed his name to "Krist Novoselic" and played bass in Nirvana? As one Twitter user points out, the two men bear a striking resemblance, and a Nirvana-era concert review in Circus (via Nirvana Club) pointed it out too, suggesting that Novoselic looked "like Andy Kaufman reincarnated."

It's a theory that even Novoselic himself entertained and at least jokingly perpetuated. In a profile by Jim DeRogatis (via livenirvana!), the author observes Novoselic attempting to gain entry to a New York nightclub by claiming, "I'm Andy Kaufman! I was in 'Taxi'!"