Smells Like Centrist Spirit: Nirvana co-founder is forming a moderate political party in Washington state

click to enlarge Smells Like Centrist Spirit: Nirvana co-founder is forming a moderate political party in Washington state
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Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselić is (unwillingly) running for president.

Krist Novoselić, an activist and musician best known as the bassist who co-founded Nirvana with Kurt Cobain, is running for president of the United States.

He wishes he didn't have to.

What Novoselić really wants is for the Cascade Party of Washington, a new centrist political party he founded this year, to gain official recognition as a "minor political party" from the Washington Secretary of State's Office.

The minor party designation would make it easier for the Cascade Party to fundraise, organize and run candidates for local elected office. But to qualify as a minor party, Washington state law requires that political parties gather 1,000 signatures to put a candidate on the presidential ballot.

Novoselić thinks the rule is "bonkers."

The signatures have to be gathered at official party conventions. But luckily for Novoselić, music concerts technically count as conventions under state law. With that in mind, Novoselić formed the Bona Fide Band, which is playing a series of "conventions" across Washington to gather the necessary signatures.

"I can attract people with music, and so these conventions are just like concerts," Novoselić says. "That way we can have as much fun as possible."

One of the Cascade Party's concerts/conventions will be held at the Hill House Event Center in Spokane's Hillyard neighborhood on July 25. The Bona Fide Band will perform at the free show and Novoselić will help gather signatures and host a brief Q&A before the music.

Novoselić, 59, says the party has already gathered more than half of the required 1,000 signatures. He's asked the state to remove his name from the presidential ballot once he qualifies.

He hopes the Cascade Party will run candidates for local offices in upcoming elections.

"It seems like the center lane is open in politics, and there could be a realignment," Novoselić says.

The Cascade Party's website says it is a "centrist political association."

The draft party platform says members "appreciate and promote wealth creation and success" while also understanding that "government can prevent the abuses of capitalism." Its priorities include agriculture, judicial reform, conservation and health care.

Novoselić says the party is a fan of politicians like Seattle City Council President Sara Nelson, a newly elected moderate, and gubernatorial candidate Mark Mullet, a Democratic state senator who said in an interview with the Inlander earlier this year that he is "giving every voter a chance to not have to pick between the extreme left and the extreme right."

A centrist political ideology may seem like a departure from the edgy, punk-rock anarchism people often associate with Nirvana. The band's music wasn't really explicitly political, but there was often a radical undercurrent. During a 1991 concert at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle — one of the band's best live recorded performances — Cobain played a Fender Jaguar with a sticker that said "Vandalism: Beautiful as a rock in a cop's face."

"He had a bad experience with a cop," Novoselić explains. "That really affected him. The cop sicced [a] dog on him."

The Cascade Party, by contrast, lists "fund law enforcement" as a priority.

Novoselić's politics have long been hard to categorize. He started becoming politically active after Nirvana dissolved — forming a political action committee in 1995 to fight legislation attempting to restrict the sale of "erotic" music. He later became an advocate for electoral reform as the chair of FairVote, a nonprofit that advocates for ranked choice voting. He served as chairman of the Wahkiakum County Democrats for several years before breaking with the party in 2009. He later supported Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and was briefly involved in Andrew Yang's Forward Party.

Novoselić acknowledges that his politics have evolved over the years. There was a time when he would have supported decriminalizing all drugs. Not anymore. He talks about the tragedy of walking past people nodding out on the street, and how he believes progressive approaches like "harm reduction" and "housing first" haven't been effective. The draft Cascade Party platform supports requiring sobriety for access to public services.

"It's heartbreaking to see people like this, but what are we getting back?" Novoselić says. "I think it's fair to expect people [to be] like, 'Alright, we're going to help you, but you've got to be sober.' It's not a big ask."

Novoselić says an independent, DIY punk ethos still underpins his political work. The Cascade Party might be politically moderate, but it's still a scrappy, grassroots effort that exists outside the establishment.

Before Nirvana was big, Novoselić recalls a music scene in the 1980s where people made zines and organized their own house shows. It stuck with him.

"I guess that's just where I learned to do this stuff, and I just took it to politics," Novoselić says. "It's like, 'Folks, we just need to do it ourselves. We can't really depend on somebody to save us.'"

Social networking is a big part of Novoselić's vision for the Cascade Party. The party is built around HumHub, an open source social media platform that Novoselić believes can be used for a secure, more democratic type of political organizing. About 85 people have joined the party's HumHub server so far.

Novoselić hopes the party can combine social networking with a model of "old-fashioned political association where people are amplifying their needs and values." He views it as reviving an approach to volunteer community organization that used to be more common in American society.

Novoselić has released five albums since 2017. In addition to bass, he's been playing lots of accordion and exploring fingerstyle acoustic guitar influenced by folk musician John Fahey.

The new Bona Fide Band features Novoselić on bass, along with Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel and guitarist Kathy Moore. It also includes vocalists Jennifer Johnson and Jillian Raye, who are members of Novoselić's previous bands, Giants in the Trees and 3rd Secret.

The band's setlist includes covers of two songs Nirvana covered and helped popularize: "The Man Who Sold the World" by David Bowie and "Love Buzz," by Shocking Blue.

Novoselić's musical and political interests may have evolved over the years, but some things stay the same. He still prefers playing Gibson Thunderbirds — the same style of bass he played at countless iconic Nirvana shows. At a recent Bona Fide Band concert in Aberdeen (where he grew up starting in 1979), he ripped into the hypnotic bass line on "Love Buzz" with an aggressive picking style and the instrument strap hung below his waist in classic punk rock fashion.

"I like big basses," Novoselić says. "I'm 6-foot-7, so it just seems to work for me."

When told that taller candidates have historically had an advantage in presidential elections, Novoselić stresses that he really doesn't want to be president.

"I just want to start a party," Novoselić says. ♦

The Bona Fide Band • Fri, July 26 at 6 pm • Free • All ages • Hill House Event Center • 5201 N. Market St. • 509-856-8397

Moonshine Artisan Night Market & Moonlit Movies @ Commellini Estate

Wednesdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28
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Nate Sanford

Nate Sanford is a staff writer for the Inlander covering Spokane City Hall and a variety of other news. He joined the paper in 2022 after graduating from Western Washington University. You can reach him at [email protected]