Over the past 20 years, chances are that Chicago musician Steve Albini has produced one of your favorite albums at his recording studio Electrical Audio. There’s also a chance that one of your favorite bands has been influenced by Albini’s work in either the ‘80s punk act Big Black or the current noise rock band Shellac. There’s a case to be made that Albini could very well be the most important living musician today when it comes to the impact he has had on independent music. Whether it’s the work he’s put into various albums or the material of the bands that he’s in, very few can match his resume. At The Met in Pawtucket this Friday, Shellac will be sharing the stage with indie rock artist Shannon Wright and Providence synth-noise makers Minibeast.
Ahead of the show, I had a chat with Albini about his opinion on today’s music industry, working on someone else’s album versus Shellac’s, his preference for recording with analog equipment, the bands and musicians he has worked with over the years and what his plans are for the future.
Rob Duguay: Over the years you’ve had an interesting outlook on music. You’ve been critical of the ways that major labels treat artists and you’ve taken a very anti-corporate stance on the music industry as a whole. Recently you’ve championed the internet for providing a way for bands and musicians to take out the middle man. Another topic that’s been discussed within the music community is streaming platforms like Spotify offering free listening to the consumer while the artist makes hardly anything off of the streams. What, in your opinion, is the most logical way to solve the problem that these platforms are causing?
Steve Albini: I think platforms like Spotify are a short-term bridge to a potential direct interface between bands and their audiences. At the moment, these services require a library of material, hosted by them, which they parcel out to their listeners. This has a number of inefficiencies that the internet, an engine that makes efficiency, will eventually iron out. If you had a means to play anything that’s currently resident on the internet, at any time on any device, then all you would need to make use of it would be a logic system that sorted the options for you. I believe both those developments are inevitable.
So my response to the inequities of the current streaming and download platforms is that I don’t worry about them because they’re like the minidisc. They won’t be here long because they’re nobody’s idea of perfect. I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the economics of the minidisc either.
RD: Being both a producer and a musician, do you ever find a contrast between the two? Would you manage a Shellac album differently than another band’s album or are you fairly methodical with all your projects?
SA: They are as different as running a restaurant kitchen and eating a nice meal. I enjoy Shellac for its own experiences, but what I do in the studio for another band is work. I’m trying to satisfy them and make a great record for them. In Shellac, we’re playing our own music to suit ourselves, and it’s a pure pleasure. The technical part of the recording would be similar, but that’s about it.
RD: It has been said that you hate using digital recording software. A lot of bands have been using analog to record lately. Do you think there will always be a place for analog recording equipment as more digital devices become available?
SA: I have written and spoken extensively about why I remain committed to analog recording, and it would take a lot of time to reiterate all of that here so I’m not going to. The short version is that digital recording leaves no permanent master for the historical future, and analog recording does. I have been informed by music made a long time ago, and I want my clients to have the potential to reach an audience far in the future, since lord knows they aren’t likely to make it big on their first attempt.
RD: Shellac describes themselves as a minimalist rock trio. What initially inspired this musical approach following what you did as part of Big Black?
SA: We are committed to a small set of core ideas, among them self-sufficiency, support of an independent community of musicians and minimalism. We are interested in seeing what we can wring out of the basic elements of our band, three people, three instruments and the time to use them. Given the range of sound and expression possible with each instrument, it should take the rest of our lives to exhaust the possibilities.
RD: You’ve worked with Nirvana on their final album In Utero, the Pixies on Surfer Rosa, Gogol Bordello with Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, The Breeders on numerous albums and even Iggy & The Stooges for their last album, The Weirdness, just to name a few. Out of everyone you’ve made a record with, are there any that stick out in your mind? If so, who? What was the experience like?
SA: I have developed long-term relationships and fast friendships with some of the people I’ve worked with and those relationships are much more important to me than the records we make along the way. I’ve worked on many recordings by Neurosis, Nina Nastasia, Silkworm, the Breeders and Will Oldham, and I treasure them all as friends.
RD: After the show at The Met on October 21, what do you have planned for the rest of the year? Are there any new projects that you’ll be working on?
SA: Shellac is working on new material, as always at a glacial pace. We have a tour of Europe planned for the spring. I’ll be working making records the rest of the time. Not much else to report. No cancer. No jail. Still got my teeth.
Buy tickets to Shellac, Shannon Wright & Minibeast @ The Met on October 21 here: etix.com/ticket/p/8651601/shellacshannon-wrightminibeast-pawtucket-the-met?cobrand=themetri; Electrical Audio’s website: electricalaudio.com; Shellac on Touch and Go Records’ Website: touchandgorecords.com/bands/band.php?id=22