Steve Albini is back for another Shellac attack
What does a kick-ass record producer do in his time off? Well, if he’s Steve Albini, he plays in his own band – and every second is pure pleasure
Steve Albini plays guitar and sings in the band Shellac. He’s also a renowned recording engineer, helping to commit albums such as Nirvana’s In Utero, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, PJ Harvey’s Rid Of Me and thousands more to tape. He lives and works in Chicago.
You intentionally don’t pursue Shellac as a full-time thing. How do you think that benefits the band?
Well I think it has definitely added to the longevity of the band, the fact that we’re not in a pressure-cooker environment, constantly working on stuff and constantly reminding each other what our limitations are and what our minor irritations are.
I love Bob and Todd like brothers and I love every minute I get to spend with them, but if it was a constant thing, if we had to be around each other all the time and if we were always working on the band, I’m absolutely certain I would come to resent it the way I resent my job. I think the fact the band is episodic means we can enjoy it completely and every second we get to spend working on the band is a pure pleasure.
I read that the new Shellac album is going to be called Dude, Incredible. How did you come up with such a great title?
In any group of people, you end up getting stuck in these kinds of conversational loops where certain phrases or things come up again and again.
It just seemed for a while there that was a very satisfying way to resolve any question of quality. Like, how was breakfast? Dude, incredible. You know? It was weird. It’s weird how those things develop but I find it quite satisfying to sort of pay respect to those little conversational quirks.
Contrary to standard industry practice, your tours and releases happen independently of each other. Is there a reason, other than time constraints, for doing it that way?
Well there’s no rationale for correlating them. The only reason tours and records were kind of synchronised in the past was because there was a marketing cycle and the initial promotional push for a record. All those commercial concerns, to me, seemed to muddy the interface between a band and its audience and really those are the only people I give a shit about in the relationship. So we decided a long time ago that we would decouple those.
The way we’ve done it has sort of gradually become the norm for bands as the concept of a physical release of a record and the promotional strategy associated with that has all fallen by the wayside. Now bands tour when they want to tour and they put out records when they want to put out records. If they want to release and there’s no time to do a physical release, it doesn’t matter, they just stick it on YouTube. I think that shit is awesome, I really like that.
Bands have the possibility to be a lot more free and to take more risks that way too, when there’s little or no money involved.
I think people need to get over their obsession with capitalism in every enterprise. Music is not primarily a capitalist enterprise, it’s primarily a creative enterprise. Some money changes hands here and there but, in the same way that people were fucking long before there was a porn industry, people were playing music long before there was a music industry.
The music industry is an appendage on the cultural appreciation of music and musicians certainly don’t give a fuck if the music industry survives in its present form or its prior form.
You came up in the Chicago hardcore scene of the 1980s, has that time had an impact on the way you’ve pursued a life in music since that time?
Oh absolutely. Learning how to be a self-reliant, independent band. Being able to book your own shows, take care of your own finances, record your own records, press your own records up, print your own handbills, and all that sort of stuff. Learning how to do all that definitely ingrained in me that taking care of your own business is the most efficient way to do it and make sure that it’s done right and you don’t blow all your money stupidly.
It was a formative experience for me, living through the crucible of the music scene and I made friendships during that period that are still as close as any I’ve ever had.
Shellac of North America play in Whelan’s of Wexford Street in Dublin on November 20th. Dude, Incredible will be released by Touch & Go Records in 2014