The Jury: the story of the Cobain/Lanegan collaboration that could have been

Back before either was a household name, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan were working on music together. This collaboration ended after a few songs, however

Can you imagine an album of original songs featuring both Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees? Or even just an EP of cover songs by Cobain and Lanegan?

They were both in the works at one point in time, but neither of them ever got anywhere close to complete. Back in 1989, when both Cobain’s Nirvana and Lanegan’s Screaming Trees were still establishing their own bands, they attempted a project together. Unfortunately, it was never to be.

Let’s take a look at the album that never was, from the Lanegan/Cobain collaboration called “The Jury.”

After the first Nirvana U.S. tour, Cobain and Lanegan began discussions on a side project. “Mark and Kurt got together,” says Endino. "I think they got drunk together, or really stoned, and wrote a bunch of songs, and got all excited and told Jonathan [Poneman, co-founder of Sub Pop Records], ‘Hey we want to do an album together!’”1

Jack Endino

They then scheduled a session at Reciprocal Recording with Jack Endino to record these new songs for a potential Sub Pop release. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel filled out the band lineup. The group was named “The Jury” at Pickerel’s suggestion, over Kurt Cobain’s preference of “Lithium”. Endino listed the artist as “Screaming Nirvana” on the session’s paperwork.2

The original goal of recording original songs was abandoned by the time the two collaborators got to the studio. “When they showed up, they said, ‘Well, we tried writing some songs, but we didn’t record them and we forgot ‘em all. So we’re going to do some Lead Belly songs instead.”3

Both Cobain and Lanegan held a high regard for Lead Belly (born Huddie William Ledbetter), an American folk and blues musician. “He was someone that Kurt and I both enjoyed listening to, and we’d listen together,” Lanegan says.4

Recorded Songs of The Jury

"Where Did you Sleep Last Night"
Lanegan on vocals. On the Mark Lanegan album, The Winding Sheet

"Grey Goose"
Instrumental. On the Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out

"Ain't It a Shame"
Cobain on vocals. On the Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out

"They Hung Him on a Cross"
Cobain on vocals. On the Nirvana box set, With the Lights Out

The first song the band recorded was “Where Did you Sleep Last Night” with Lanegan on lead vocals. “Grey Goose,” an instrumental, was the second track recorded. (Lanegan has noted that there was a song that he was supposed to sing, but didn’t. It’s likely that he’s referring to “Grey Goose.”) Then came “Ain’t It a Shame” and “They Hung Him on A Cross,” both with Cobain on vocals.

Despite the promising start, the project fizzled at this point.

“At the end of it we started to lose interest in it quickly, realizing it wasn’t as cool as the originals that we liked listening to,” Lanegan says. “We told Sub Pop that it probably wasn’t going to happen, and that’s when they suggested to me that I make a solo record.”5

Pickerel told Gillian Gaar that part of the problem was that neither Lanegan nor Cobain was comfortable taking the lead in the sessions. “They looked like junior high kids at a dance, a couple of wallflowers,” Pickerel says. “It was really frustrating. Neither one would take the initiative to make statements like, ‘I want to sing this song’ or ‘I think you’d be great for the first verse, why don’t I come in for the chorus, and I’ll take the second verse.’”6

And after the second session on August 28th, the project was abandoned.

“We certainly didn’t make a decision not to pursue it again, but everybody got really busy,” says Pickerel. “I really had high hopes for it; I wanted it to be a working band. But it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”

Only one of the songs from the sessions made it onto an album. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” was included on Lanegan’s first solo album, The Winding Sheet. The three remaining tracks did not see the light of day until the release of Nirvana’s B-sides collection, With the Lights Out, in 2004. All three tracks were given a proper mix by Endino for the release.

Despite the Jury’s meager output, the sessions proved to be highly important. When the Jury project fizzled, Sub Pop encouraged Lanegan to record his first solo album, The Winding Sheet. According to Lanegan, Sub Pop offered him more money than he had ever been offered before to make the album. It was also at this point where he began to take a more active role in songwriting. 7

I really had high hopes for it; I wanted it to be a working band. But it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.Mark Pickerel
drummer for The Jury sessions

Cobain would later perform “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” to close out Nirvana’s acclaimed MTV Unplugged performance in 1994. The song was selected partly as a tribute to Lanegan. “Kurt looked up to Lanegan,” says Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. “The Winding Sheet was a huge influence on our Unplugged thing.”8

Lanegan and Cobain would end up being two of the most influential voices in the northwest music scene. What could have been made if the two talented artists had committed to the project and took the songs to completion? What could have been made if they could have remembered their original songs? What could have been made if either Lanegan or Cobain would take the lead on the recording? What if the band had recorded a track featuring both Cobain and Lanegan?

It’s hard to believe that a collaboration between the two incredibly gifted artists would be anything less than amazing. Unfortunately, the four songs give only a hint of what could have been.

Ain’t it a shame?


  1. Gaar, Gillian. "Verse Chorus Verse: The Recording History of Nirvana." Goldmine: 14 February 1997
  2. Gaar, Gillian. "Mondo Nirvana!" Siffblog: 19 Dec 2004
  3. Nirvana, With the Lights Out box set liner notes
  4. House, Daniel. "An Interview with Mark Lanegan." 20 Sept 2009
  5. House, Daniel. "An Interview with Mark Lanegan." 20 Sept 2009
  6. Gaar, Gillian. "Mondo Nirvana!" Siffblog: 19 Dec 2004
  7. House, Daniel. "An Interview with Mark Lanegan." 20 Sept 2009
  8. Scagg, Austin. "On an Honor Roll: Dave Grohl looks back on his time in Nirvana and the hurricane that was Kurt Cobain." Rolling Stone: 14 July 2005

Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage is an exploration of the music scene centered around Seattle in the 80s and 90s. This project looks at all aspects of the rock scene, not just the part that became known as the "grunge explosion." Learn more about Northwest Passage