Following the release of their album ‘Nevermind’ in September 1991 Nirvana had seen their popularity go through the roof in an extraordinary story that has since been retold many times. The tail end of 1991 saw the band embark on exhaustive tours in the US and Europe culminating in a New Year’s Eve show with Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers in California. The band were given New Year’s Day off, but the following day saw them playing again in Salem, Oregon, after which they would finally have a week off before they were due to fly out to New York for several TV appearances.
The day after the Salem show Dave Grohl returned home to Seattle and wasted no time in heading to the studio basement in the house he now shared with Barrett Jones. “The explosion of my real band kept me pretty busy for a while, but I always managed to bring along a guitar so that I could write songs to record upon returning home,” explained Grohl. “The 8-track studio was in the basement, at our disposal anytime we came up with an idea”. Four songs were tracked on this cold January day, starting out with a very short effort given the title ‘Rent (Jerky Boys)’. The track was a fast-paced punk song that as well as Grohl’s vocals featured overdubbed audio from Jerky Boys, a comedy duo from New York City most well-known for prank phone calls. “We were on tour when that Jerky Boys thing came out. Someone gave us a cassette of it,” Grohl said of the unusual addition.
Next came the very first recording of the song ‘Floaty’. As with many of Grohl’s other songs, this initial version was already fully structured and didn’t change significantly in later re-recordings. Vocals were also largely unchanged, the main difference in this first version being rather feminine sounding “Ooh ooh” harmonies on the chorus, not replicated in the later recordings.
‘Alone + Easy Target’ was the next track put to tape for the first time. Once again, the structure of the song was already fully formed at this stage, and except for a few minor lyrical changes, the song was ultimately the finished article at this stage.
At some point during the day, Dave telephoned Kurt Cobain and mentioned that he was in the studio recording. Cobain was staying in a nearby Seattle hotel and asked Grohl to bring over a cassette so he could hear the songs. “I went over to his hotel and I played him ‘Alone + Easy Target’. He was sitting in the bathtub with a Walkman on, listening to the song, and when the tape ended, he took the headphones off and kissed me!” Grohl remembered of the experience.
Clearly impressed with what he heard Cobain would tell Grohl he was happy to have another songwriter in the band. However, due to modesty from Grohl and apparent nervousness from Cobain to ask about modifying the song, Nirvana would never record ‘Alone + Easy Target’. They would, though, play parts of the song during soundchecks on several occasions according to Grohl.
The final song to be recorded on this day was titled 'Empty Handed', a short, frantic punk track that Grohl later described as “an experiment in singing, guitar playing, and recording.” Speaking in 2015 Grohl said that many of the songs recorded during this era were “an experiment for fun” and a lot of these experiments, like ‘Empty Handed’, had been forgotten. When listening to them again for the first time in over twenty years Grohl noted that several songs he had “no recollection of, which is weird. It's almost like seeing a snapshot of yourself, passed-out drunk at a party. You're listening to a song like, 'Oh, my God, what was I thinking?”