Steve Albini at the ATP Music Festival in 2007
|Birth name||Steven Frank Albini|
July 22, 1962 |
|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Genres||Noise rock, post-hardcore, punk rock, alternative rock, math rock|
|Occupation(s)||Recording engineer, musician, producer, singer-songwriter, music journalist|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass, drums|
|Labels||Touch and Go|
|Associated acts||Big Black, Rapeman, Flour, Shellac, Pigface|
|Travis Bean TB500|
Steve Albini (pronounced //; born July 22, 1962) is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, record producer, audio engineer and music journalist. He was a member of Big Black, Rapeman and Flour, and is a member of Shellac. He is the founder, owner and engineer of Electrical Audio, a recording studio complex located in Chicago, United States (U.S.). In March 2004, Albini said that the number of albums he had worked on was "probably as many as 1500."
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Electrical Audio Studio
- 4 Perspectives
- 5 Other activities
- 6 Personal life
- 7 Works or publications
- 8 Notes and references
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Albini was born in Pasadena, California, U.S.—the son of Gina Albini (née Martinelli) and Frank Addison Albini, a wildlife researcher—and has a brother and sister. In his youth, Albini's family moved often, before settling in Missoula, Montana, U.S. in 1974. Albini said in 2007 that growing up in Montana, where he identified a progressive mindset due to its status as a "college town", affected his taste:
Montana has a kind of an open attitude about experience. It's a big empty place so everybody is expected to...figure out how things work. It's not a particularly controlled environment. I think that anybody that's comfortable in Montana is comfortable with a certain degree of uncertainty about what's going to happen and about what's permissible.
While recovering from a broken leg, Albini began playing bass guitar and participated in bass lessons in high school for one week. According to Thrill Jockey's Looking for a Thrill, Albini was exposed to punk rock by a schoolmate on a field trip when he was 14 or 15, and subsequently bought every Ramones recording available to him.
While growing up in Montana, Albini became a fan of bands such as The Stooges, the Ramones, Television, Suicide, Wire, The Fall, The Velvet Underground, Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk, The Birthday Party, Pere Ubu, Public Image Ltd, Rudimentary Peni, and Killing Joke.
After graduating from Hellgate High School, Albini moved to Evanston, Illinois, to attend college at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University (NU), where he attained a degree in Journalism. Albini said he studied painting in college with the late Ed Paschke, someone he calls a brilliant educator and "one of the only people in college who actually taught me anything."
In the Chicago area, Albini was active as a writer in local zines such as Matter, covering the then-nascent punk rock scene, and gained a reputation for the iconoclastic nature of his articles. At around the same time, he began recording musicians and engineered his first album in 1981. According to Albini, he maintained a "straight job" for five years until 1987, working in a photography studio as a photograph retouch artist.
Prior to formation of his first prominent band Big Black, Albini played in bands, such as the Montana punk band "Just Ducky," a Chicago band called "Small Irregular Pieces of Aluminum" and another band that record label Touch and Go/Quarterstick Records explained "he [Albini] is paying us not to mention."
Big Black (1982–1987)
In 1982 Albini formed Big Black while he was a student at NU and recorded Lungs, the band's debut EP, on Ruthless Records. Albini played all of the instruments on Lungs, except the saxophone parts, played by friend John Bohnen, and the drums. The Bulldozer (1983) EP was then released on both Ruthless and Fever Records.
Jeff Pezzati and Santiago Durango, of Chicago band Naked Raygun, and live drummer Pat Byrne joined shortly thereafter, and the band—along with a drum machine credited as "Roland"—released the EP Racer-X in 1984 after touring and signing a new contract with the Homestead Records business.
Pezzati commenced recording the "Il Duce" 7-inch single with the band, but returned to his original band before it was completed. Pezzati was replaced on bass by Dave Riley, with whom the group recorded its debut full-length album, Atomizer (1986). The "Il Duce" recording was eventually finished with Riley as bassist and the band also released The Hammer Party album while signed to Homestead, which was a compilation of the Lungs and Bulldozer EPs.
Big Black left the Homestead label for Touch and Go Records in late 1985/early 1986 and recorded the Headache EP and the 7-inch single, Heartbeat between June and August 1986—both were released the following year. Also in 1986, a live album entitled Sound of Impact was released on the Not/Blast First label and features a booklet of Albini's writing on the band:
I don't give two splats of an old negro junkie's vomit for your politico-philosophical treatises, kiddies. I like noise. I like big-ass vicious noise that makes my head spin. I wanna feel it whipping through me like a fucking jolt. We're so dilapidated and crushed by our pathetic existence we need it like a fix ... Big Black is a way to get the old blood to boiling without having to buttfuck and garrotte little boys, or hang around slaughterhouses. It's as simple as that. I want to push myself, the music, the audience and everything involved as close to the precipice as possible. Although I'm kinda worried about what we'll find there. All the coolest pioneers of this noise spirit seem to have made the trip to the extreme, been unable, or unwilling, to push on, and tossed in the towel. SPK and PiL on Elektra Records, for Christ's sweet little boy buttfuck murder's sakes. Alan Vega making a disco 12" with Ministry backing him up. The Stranglers using string sections. Colin Newman putting a kibosh on a Wire reunion because his fucking guru told him to leave music forever. Hüsker Dü sounding like Buffalo Springfield, Bad Company, King Crimson and Hüsker Dü, all on the same record. Is there something out there that signals, "Hey, that's enough. You've pushed the boundaries far enough. Time to go home and suck for a while." I want to find out. If Big Black suck in a year's time, you can assume there is. And I'd like to apologize in advance for any 12" scratch/dub/breakdance remixes we might make.
The booklet also provided an insight into the band's influences, as Albini cited bands such as the Ramones, The Birthday Party, the Stooges, Minor Threat, Whitehouse, Pere Ubu, Throbbing Gristle, Skrewdriver, the Ex, Minimal Man, U.S. Chaos, Gang Green and Bad Brains.
In 1987 the band released their second studio album Songs About Fucking, as well as the He's a Whore / The Model 7-inch single, both on Touch and Go. Following a period of extensive touring in 1987 in support of Songs About Fucking, Big Black eventually disbanded shortly afterwards. Durango enrolled in law school and was successful in becoming a practicing lawyer.
Touch and Go released a Big Black live album and video, Pigpile, in 1992 that consisted mostly of recordings from their final tour in 1987. Pigpile was also released in Japan, Australia and Germany. Touch and Go states on its website in May 2014: "Someday, we might release the video on DVD. Until then, please don’t ask us about it."
Albini went on to form the controversially named Rapeman in 1987—the band consisted of Albini (vocals, guitar), Rey Washam (drums), and David Wm. Sims The band was named after a popular Japanese comic book that garnered Albini and Washam's interests. They broke up after the release of two 7-inch singles—"Hated Chinee b/w Marmoset" (1988) and "Inki's Butt Crack b/w Song Number One" (1989), one EP titled Budd (1988) and the Two Nuns and a Pack Mule album, also released in 1988 on Touch and Go.
Albini formed Shellac in 1992. With bandmates Bob Weston (formerly of Volcano Suns), and Todd Trainer (of Rifle Sport, Breaking Circus and Brick Layer Cake), they initially released three EPs: The Rude Gesture: A Pictorial History (1993), Uranus (1993) and The Bird Is the Most Popular Finger (1994)—the first two EP releases were on Touch and Go, while the third EP was a Drag City label release.
Two years after formation, the Japanese label NUX Organization released a Japan-exclusive live album in CD format titled ライヴイン東京—an English-language reference to the name Shellac cannot be found anywhere on the CD product, which was not available outside of Japan. The live album was followed by four studio albums: At Action Park (1994), Terraform (1998), 1000 Hurts (2000) and Excellent Italian Greyhound (2007). With the exception of At Action Park, all of Shellac's studio albums were released on vinyl as well as CD.
In a 2013 interview, Albini revealed that a fifth studio album will be released by Touch and Go and will be titled Dude Incredible. Albini explained that "a couple of songs on the album" have not been part of their live setlist, "so if people have been seeing us play for the past couple of years they will have heard the bulk of the record at the live shows." When asked about any surprises on the album, Albini replied: "Well we all sing simultaneously, that’s pretty rare. We don’t do that very often, in fact I can’t remember ever having done that before."
Albini explained in 2010 that Shellac had made a decision early in their existence that they would not play at festivals and this position was articulated to All Tomorrow's Parties (ATP) festival organizer Barry Hogan during the preparation stage of the inaugural ATP event. However, Scottish band Mogwai managed to convince Albini at the time that they were ATP curators and the band was very impressed by the experience: "They (ATP) completely changed the festival game. Now the whole world has to operate under the knowledge that there are these cool, curated festivals where everyone is treated well and the experience is a generally pleasant one."
As of 2008, Albini is most active as a record producer; however, he dislikes the term and prefers to receive no credit on album sleeves or notes. When he is credited, he prefers the term "recording engineer."
Albini estimated that he has engineered the recording of 1,500 albums, mostly by obscure musicians, in 2004. More prominent artists that Albini has worked with include: Foxy Shazam, Nirvana, Pixies, The Breeders, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, The Jesus Lizard, Don Caballero, PJ Harvey, The Wedding Present, Joanna Newsom, Superchunk, Low, Dirty Three, Jawbreaker, Neurosis, Cloud Nothings, Bush, Chevelle, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Helmet, Fred Schneider, The Stooges, Owls, Manic Street Preachers, Jarvis Cocker, The Cribs, The Fleshtones, Nina Nastasia, The Frames, The Membranes, Cheap Trick, Motorpsycho, Slint, mclusky, Labradford, Veruca Salt, Zao, and The Auteurs.
Albini has stated his priorities in the production realm: "the fact that I have long standing relationships with people I’ve worked with over the years is much more important to me than any particular record. I don’t work on records that are hits and I don’t work on records that win awards; I just try to do as good a job as I can and make sure the band for whom I’m making the record gets every penny of their money’s worth out of me." Following the 2013 release of Schneider's album Just ... Fred, The Vinyl District's Joseph Neff wrote: "The reality is that when enlisted by the big leagues, Albini took his job just as seriously as when he was assisting on the debut recording from a bunch of aspiring unknowns."
Albini's openness toward working with any artist, regardless of their popularity, was reaffirmed in October 2014 when he said in an Uncut interview that he would produce another album with Page and Plant "in a heartbeat." Furthermore, Stereogum's Tom Breihan wrote in 2012: "And even though he’s [Albini] been an outspoken opponent of the major-label system (and of other underground-rock heroes), he’s known to work with just about anyone who requests his service".
In Albini's opinion, putting producers in charge of recording sessions often destroys records, while the role of the recording engineer is to solve problems in capturing the sound of the musicians, not to threaten the artists' control over their product. In 2004 Albini summarized his opinions about record producers:
"It always offended me when I was in the studio and the engineer or the assumed producer for the session would start bossing the band around. That always seemed like a horrible insult to me. The band was paying money for the privilege of being in a recording studio, and normally when you pay for something, you get to say how it's done. So, I made up my mind when I started engineering professionally that I wasn't going to behave like that."
Albini's recordings have been analyzed by writers such as Michael Azerrad, who is also a musician. In Azerrad's 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, Azerrad describes Albini's work on the Pixies album Surfer Rosa: "The recordings were both very basic and very exacting: Albini used few special effects; got an aggressive, often violent guitar sound; and made sure the rhythm section slammed as one.":344
On Nirvana's In Utero, one can find a typical example of Albini's recording practices. Common practice in popular music is to record each instrument on a separate track at different times, and then blend the different recordings together at a later time as part of a process that is known as multi-track recording. However, Albini prefers to record "live in the studio" as much as possible: the musicians perform together as a group in the same recording space. Albini also places particular importance on the selection and use of microphones in achieving a desired sound—including the painstaking placement of different microphones at certain points around a room to best capture ambience and other qualities.
A key influence on Albini was producer John Loder, who came to prominence in the late 1970s with a reputation for recording albums quickly and inexpensively, but nonetheless with distinctive qualities and a sensitivity towards a band's sound and aesthetic.
Albini has mentioned an admiration for Alan Lomax in particular before. "There was a guy who was really important to me when I first started making records—Iain Burgess. He was an English engineer who lived in Chicago. He eventually opened a studio in France called Black Box. It was really a terrific studio. He died a few years ago, but his bedside manner, for lack of a better word, was really fantastic."
There's another engineer, a guy that was a supremely good technical engineer and also sort of prided himself on being a sharp businessman—that was John Loder. He ran Southern Studios in London, which later became Southern the record label and SRD the distribution company. But when he was just an engineer, just making records, he made some astonishing, really great-sounding punk-rock records for almost no money with almost no resources. Big Black made a record with him when he was deeply embroiled in the business part of making Southern into a big company. He had complete command of his equipment, but he never made the equipment the focus of the attention. I was just really impressed with how he was able to take the scrappiest, crudest sounds and assemble them in a way that made them not just listenable but really an exciting representation of what was happening.
As for peers who make great sounding records, Albini likes Bob Weston. Also Brian Paulson, from North Carolina, but came up in the Minneapolis punk-rock scene. And Matt Barnhart from Texas.
On Chicago: "The thing that’s unique to Chicago that people who don’t live here won’t understand is the amount of ball-breaking that is done among very close friends. I think that it’s built into the music scene here. In Chicago people display their affection for each other by the amount of abuse and ball-breaking that they do among their closest friends. When someone is really riding you about the way you look, or behave, or any sensitive personal thing in your life in Chicago that person can very likely be a close friend rather than an enemy carping at you from the outside. There’s a sort of enforced humility here, which means that nobody ever really gets bigger than their britches and if they do everybody else will let them know about it. It keeps the mood very light and low key and you don’t end up developing divas in Chicago. In Chicago you end up with a bunch of people who are working on something trying to make a difference and do something solid, but the focus is never on the personalities."
Albini's work on Nirvana's final studio album In Utero received a very large magnitude of media attention and, in the prelude to the release of the 20th anniversary deluxe edition in September 2013, a press release stated that "Steve Albini's recording laid bare every primal nuance of the most confrontational yet vulnerable material Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl would ever record." Following the 1993 release of the original album, Rolling Stone writer David Fricke stated that the album "is a lot of things—brilliant, corrosive, enraged and thoughtful, most of them all at once. But more than anything, it's a triumph of the will."
Albini has been asked about the challenges that accompanied the recording and release of In Utero, but has clarified that the record label was responsible for the difficulties that marred the trajectory of the album. In his 2004 talk to MTSU students, Albini explained:
The recording sessions themselves were "totally normal, it was just like any other record I've ever done. We go to the studio, we make the record, they're happy with it, they go home. After that, when the record label finally heard it, that's when it started. That's when the record label started to try and influence the band, and started to call me names. It didn't affect me on a personal level … but it did begin an ugly period when I almost went bankrupt.
Albini's 2004 statement was reaffirmed in August 2013, in the month prior to the release of the anniversary edition, when Albini stated that "the people who gave me a hard time on the initial release of that record were not in the band ... I never had any qualms with them [Nirvana] and they never expressed any reservations to me about the job I did or the way I handled things with the band." Albini further explained that for the remastered deluxe edition, the role of the record label "was purely advisory" and proposed that "record labels now realize that they’re not that good at telling musicians how to conduct their business. Record labels are just trying to stay afloat."
Released on September 24, 2013, the deluxe reissue was mastered into copper discs, using a process called Direct Metal Mastering, and Albini explained that the method "gives you better immediate fidelity." He also referred to the conflict with the record label during the original recording process as "old injuries" and said that he found it "gratifying" that his amenable relationship with Novoselic and Grohl remains intact. In conclusion, Albini asserted to prospective buyers of the remastered version of In Utero:
I can say that if you get the new deluxe edition double 12-inch 45 vinyl version of Nirvana’s In Utero that is as good as records can be made. You literally can’t do anything more to ensure fidelity on a record than all the steps that we took for that record. It was cut from the original master tapes, it was cut directly into copper, the whole thing was overseen by the guy who was in the room at the time the record was being mixed. Everything about it was done in the best possible way that we could conceive in order to give people the purest, most accurate, best fidelity listening experience that they could have with that album.
Electrical Audio Studio
Albini bought Electrical Audio, his personal recording studio, in 1995. The impetus for the move to his own studio was the lack of privacy for Albini and his wife. His former studio was in their house, a typical Chicago bungalow, with "a front room with a swinging door that goes between the bathroom and kitchen. There will be a bedroom off the kitchen and two bedrooms off from there." Albini said that the "whole house had been taken over by the studio. The basement was the playing area, the attic was the control room, the front bedroom was the business office and the back bedroom was the repair shop and tape storage. So, in terms of privacy, we had the bedroom that we slept in. That was it. There were people there every day. There was literally no privacy."
Albini said he "got a total steal on the building and I borrowed money to do construction. Then I borrowed a bunch more money to finish construction; at which point I sold my house. The deepest hole was very close to a million dollars. It sounds insane, but when you think about it people were spending that kind of money just on a house. Here, I've got this massive building with two studios and a bunch of employees."
Before Electrical Audio, Albini had a studio in the basement of another personal residence. Musician Robbie Fulks recalls the hassle of "running up two flights of stairs all the time from the tracking room" to where Albini was.
Albini does not receive royalties for anything he records or mixes at his own facility, unlike many other engineer/record producers with his experience and prominence. At Electrical Audio in 2004, Albini earned a daily fee of US$350 for engineering work, and drew a salary of US$24,000 a year. Azerrad referred to Albini's rates in 2001 as among the most affordable for a world-class recording studio. Following the completion of the studio's construction, Albini initially charged only for his time, allowing his friends or musicians he respected—who were willing to engineer their own recording sessions and purchase their own magnetic tape—to use his studio free-of-charge.
In a 1991 edition of Forced Exposure (#17), in an article called "They Don't Call Him The Martin Hannett Of The '90s For Nothing"—part of the Eyewitness Record Reviews section of the publication—Albini disclosed his approach to fees for the musicians he worked with at the time:
I charge whatever the hell I feel like at the moment, based on the client's ability to pay, how nice the band members are, the size and directly proportional gullibility of the record company, and whether or not they got the rock.
Albini's opinions on the music industry, as well as on trends in indie music, have received considerable exposure. His earliest writing was for zines such as Matter and Forced Exposure, and he later wrote a significant article on the conduct of major record labels for the art and criticism journal The Baffler in 1994. In an April 29, 2014 article for "digitally native news outlet" Quartz, writer John McDuling referred to the Baffler article as a "seminal essay."
In the 1994 article, Albini was severely critical of the manner in which major labels were treating musicians, opening the article with an explanation that he always envisages "a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit" when bands told him that they were signing a contract with one of the corporate music companies, while "a faceless industry lackey at the other end" awaits the band with the recording contract and a pen. The Baffler piece is divided into three sections—"I. A&R Scouts," "II. What I Hate about Recording" and "III. There’s This Band"—while Albini concludes with a "balance sheet" that provides a financial breakdown of an unnamed band's experience that, according to Albini, "are representative of amounts that appear in record contracts daily."
In the 1994 article, Albini named young A&R scouts that he perceived with disdain at the time, claiming that they each had an "underground rock credibility flag" to wave: Lyle Preslar, former guitarist for Minor Threat; Terry Tolkin, former New York, U.S. independent booking agent and assistant manager at Touch and Go; Al Smith, former soundman at the New York, U.S. CBGB club; and Mike Gitter, former editor of XXX fanzine. He further explained that when he hears producers and engineers use "meaningless" word like "Punchy,” “Warm,” “Groove,” “Vibe,” “Feel,” he feels he needs to "throttle somebody." The article's final balance sheet provides the following data that related to a real-life example of a band working with a major label on a single studio album (figures are in US$):
Record company: $710,000
Previous label: $50,000
Band member net income each: $4,031.25
Albini's subsequent analysis is scathing:
The band is now 1/4 of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month. The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never “recouped,” the band will have no leverage, and will oblige.
At the 2004 Tennessee, U.S., university presentation, Albini reaffirmed his perspective on major labels, explaining that he was opposed to any form of human exploitation. At that stage in his production/engineering career, Albini stated that he had worked with "six or eight that would fall into the category of major releases by major record labels." Albini said to the MTSU students that on occasions in which he has worked with a major label band, "they and I both know that they're not getting a fair shake. And all I can do is have sympathy for them." In response to a student's question, Albini also revealed his experience with financial matters: "Dealing with indie labels is much, much easier than dealing with major labels. Indie labels pay their bills, major labels don't … When you're dealing with major labels, it's vitally important to get the money before you do anything else."
Albini also shared his perspective of the music industry during his 2007 interview:
The big institutional record labels and pretty much the whole infrastructure of the professional mainstream music business is collapsing ... Radio doesn't matter anymore ... The retail sales of physical CDs are declining. Music is proliferating in a million different free exposure markets. It is becoming easier and easier for bands to access those audiences on their own with no administrative interference from anybody.
He elaborated further three years later in a 2010 interview with GQ magazine, stating" "This is a terrific time to be in a band ... I know quite a few bands that have been able to establish themselves internationally based on nothing other their web presence. It's [the Internet] an incredible tool." However, during the 2010 interview, Albini also conveys an understanding of the seductive nature of the music industry for young, unknown artists:
If I had been approached by a big record label when I was eighteen years old, after I had just made my first demo ... I have no doubt whatsoever I would have signed the first thing anybody waggled in front of my nose. I can't fault someone who operates out of ignorance and gets involved with a corrupt industry. They literally don't know any better. I can fault the people who put them in that position—agents, lawyers, music business professionals who put him in a position of signing away the next twenty years of his life. But the kid who's in those circumstances, I can't really cast any judgment.
In a 2013 interview with poker magazine Bluff, Albini encapsulated what is most meaningful for him musically:
The music that matters to me the most is the music that is the most satisfying to the people that made it and most stimulating to the people that bond with them through it. The music that is evidence of a kind of mania, where you can tell people making the music are obsessed with this enterprise ... They do it in a way that is uniquely theirs. I find that as a satisfying way to think of music, not a popularity contest like a beauty pageant — more like how over the long haul a writer’s value will get recognized.
In September 2013, 19 years after his Baffler essay, Albini expressed support and considerable praise for independent music label Touch and Go Records in an interview with the "Chicagoist" website, stating:
We’ve just been dealing with Corey [Rusk] and Touch and Go for so long it’s really integral to the way we’ve conceived of the band. Touch and Go started out as a small, entrepreneurial record label and it gradually became a really important fixture in the independent music scene doing manufacturing and production for a lot of other labels ... We’re looking for a record label that doesn’t have 900 employees ... A place where if you want to get a question answered you can call the guy who runs the whole show and he’ll answer it for you. That’s the kind of record label that we’re most comfortable working with anyway. Touch and Go is a fantastic, small record label ...
Albini made no mention of Touch and Go Records' Tolkin, who he criticized in the Baffler essay, and conveyed great admiration for the independent record label that he praised for returning to its original ethos.
Albini then conducted an interview with the online Quartz publication in April 2014 and said: "The single best thing that has happened in my lifetime in music, after punk rock, is being able to share music, globally for free." In the Quartz piece, Albini labeled record labels as "irrelevant" and redefined music as "an environment, or atmospheric element," rather than a commodity, in which "democracy" exists for bands and consumers "only bother with music they like." Albini explained that he is also by the ability of bands to "have a worldwide audience ... with no corporate participation," a situation that he described as "tremendous." In terms of music publishing, Albini described the facet of the industry as a racket and expressed no sympathy for its demise, as it "never operated for the benefit of songwriters." Albini concluded: "On balance, the things that have happened because of the internet have been tremendously good for bands and audiences, but really bad for businesses that are not part of that network, the people who are siphoning money out. I don’t give a fuck about those people."
Albini was asked about file sharing again in June 2014 and he clarified that, while he doesn't believe that the technological development is the "best thing" for the music industry, he does not identify with the music industry. Instead, Albini considers "the community, the band, the musician" as his peers, and is pleased that musicians can "get their music out to the world at no cost instantly".
In November 2014, Albini delivered the keynote speech at the Face the Music conference in Melbourne, Australia, where he discussed the evolution of the music scene and industry since he started making music in the late 1970s. He described the pre-internet corporate music industry as "a system that ensured waste by rewarding the most profligate spendthrifts in a system specifically engineered to waste the band’s money," which aimed to perpetuate its structures and business arrangements while preventing bands (except for "monumental stars") from earning a living. He contrasted it with the independent scene, which encouraged resourcefulness and established an alternative network of clubs, promoters, fanzines, DJs and labels, and allowed musicians to make a reasonable income due to the system's greater efficiency.
As part of the Face the Music speech, Albini noted that both the corporate and independent industry models had been damaged by internet file sharing; however, he praised the spread of free music as being a "fantastic development," which allowed previously ignored music and bands to find an audience (citing the protopunk band Death as one example); the use of the internet as a distribution channel for music to be heard worldwide; and the increasing affordability of recording equipment, all of which allow bands to circumvent the traditional recording industry. Albini also argued that the increased availability of recorded music stimulates demand for live music, thereby boosting bands' income.
While in Australia in November 2014, Albini also spoke with national radio station Double J, which described him as a "bona fide music industry legend". In addition to asserting that music will always be made due to its role in human expression, Albini explained that, while the state of the music industry is healthy in his view, the industry of music journalism is in crisis. Albini used the example of the media spotlight that he received after he made comments about Amanda Palmer's Kickstarter campaign, stating: "I don’t think I was wrong but I also don’t think that it was that big of a deal." Albini described the music media as "superficial" and composed of "copy paste bullshit."
Albini is a supporter of analog recording over digital, as can be evidenced by a 1987 quote on the back cover of the CD version of Big Black's Songs About Fucking: "The future belongs to the analog loyalists. Fuck digital." A CD issue, consisting of the full-length album Atomizer and the EP Headache, was released under the title The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape, providing Albini with another outlet for his support of analog. In a September 2013 interview, Albini again reaffirmed his preference for analog over digital, insisting that his choice is not because he is "some kind of a nutball," or because he wants to be "recalcitrant or reactionary." Albini clarified to interviewer Jessica Mlinaric:
I genuinely think that making records on tape is the best long-term solution for creating a survivable master tape, and I have yet to encounter any limitations on the medium that would make me regret making records on tape. So I carry on doing it, I know there aren’t many people that do but those of us that do understand that there are practical and long-term reasons why recording on tape is the best way to make a permanent record for a band.
Albini also spoke about his recording, production and engineering roles with artists in 2007, including a belief that most "decent records are made in, if not complete disregard ... significant disregard, for everybody who isn't in the band ... If they tried to dumb it down for other people it wouldn't be as awesome because it wouldn't be as complete an exposure of their mania." Furthermore, Albini explained a "fundamental distinction" between his approach to record production and the mindset adopted by major label producers, who he labeled the "administrative end of the music business." Albini described delusional characters who are self-professed "geniuses" who think they will "sculpt sensations" out of the "raw material" provided by the bands they work with. Albini subsequently distinguished himself: "Whereas I, as a music fan, and as someone who has been in bands, I think the bands are awesome; and, the music they make: the more genuine it is to the way that their internal logic is—the more awesome it is—the more my relationship with them is complete."
Albini commenced writing a cooking and food blog, titled "Mariobatalivoice: What I made Heather for dinner.", in March 2011. In the "About Me" section on the home page of the blog, Albini explains, "We're not ninjas. Also, some of this food may not turn out that great, so replicating it would be pointless. I have also successfully cooked for our cats." As of May 17, 2014, the last post on the blog is dated December 10, 2013 and is titled, "I Know How Alexander Graham Bell Felt." A May 2011 Pitchfork article explained, "If you're looking about anecdotes about recording PJ Harvey's Rid of Me or classic Albini rants against the major label system, you will be disappointed," but the writer, Tom Breihan, described Albini as "a hell of a writer."
Albini is an avid poker player and ranked in 12th-place at the 2013 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Seniors Championship. He said he was "taught poker by my great-grandmother when I was 6 or 7 years old, she taught us to play poker using novelty toothpicks that had different colored crinklers at the top.” His love of poker comes from his family: "My family is a card playing family ... The games we played as a family were cribbage, pinochle and poker. My father was a bridge master who played tournament bridge when he was younger. Basically since a teenager, I’ve had a home poker game or private game where I could play for amusement.”
Albini further explained that, while he takes the game seriously, he is "not particularly competitive, and "only play tournaments when I’m out for the WSOP.” Albini expressed an appreciation for the "less macho" attitudes that exist in the game and was opposed to "assholes that try to dominate the table or are King Shit of their local card room. It just galls me and makes me think less of all the people that do it.”
Albini also expressed an enjoyment of poker from an "anthropological" viewpoint that also connected the game to his culinary pursuits: “The poker culture has spread and developed its own poker vernacular, where the Italian style of check-raising is different from the French style of check-raising ... It’s interesting; it’s like seeing differences in regional cuisine, or accents and dialects. I enjoy that as an anthropological experience. It seems like I know more how poker works around the world having the opportunities I’ve had.” According to the August 2013 Bluff magazine interview, while Albini is part of a close friendship clique in the poker world, his musical and poker lives progress separately of each other.
In addition to his appearance at MTSU, Albini regularly engages in public-speaking appointments for the audio industry. John Arnold, the student chair of the Audio Engineering Society (AES), who organized Albini's attendance at MTSU, explained a straightforward process in regard to finalizing the booking: "I cold-called him. I picked up the phone, dialed his number, and he said he'd be into it. Four months later, we picked a date. He was really cool about it, he was excited about coming." In 2004 Albini was always responsible for dealing with bands directly at Electrical Audio and also answered the phone in the studio.
Albini is married to film director Heather Whinna, and they both work and live in Chicago, U.S. Albini is Italian American and part of his family comes from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.
Albini's right leg is slightly deformed, as he was in a car accident at the age of 18; he explained in 2000, "so my right leg was rebuilt. There's a big piece of steel in there, and my right foot sticks off to the side slightly. Occasionally, when the weather changes, it hurts like old people." In 2010 he revealed that he is not an avid consumer of media and watches a lot of cat videos on YouTube, while avoiding films: "I don't really like movies. I don't rate movies as an art form. If somebody asked me to describe our culture, I would fail."
Albini called himself an atheist in a 2011 interview, explaining: "You could say that I’m agnostic, but that’s just a certain kind of atheist ... I can’t say with absolute certainty that there is nothing beyond the material world, but there’s no reason for me to think there is. If I were a gambling man I would put all my money on there not being anything other than this universe."
In late 2013, Albini conveyed his vocational satisfaction, developed over his life thus far: "I don’t really have any super great expectations for anything, but I enjoy my job. I enjoy coming in every day and making records. It’s a really good way to spend my time." He also identified the Stooges album Fun House as "a very special record for me."
Works or publications
- "I'll Rap Your head With A Rachet" Letter written by Steve Albini to Nirvana in 1992, outlining his working philosophy
- "The Problem With Music" by Steve Albini. Excerpt from The Baffler, Number 5, 1993. Negativeland
- "Three Pandering Sluts and Their Music Press Stooge: The Great Steve Albini Letters-to-the-Editor Debate" Transcript of a stormy exchange from 1994 provoked in the letters page of the Chicago Reader, where Albini accuses music critic Bill Wyman of being a recording industry stooge
- "Ask a music scene micro celebrity" Steve Albini answers questions about bands and music on a poker forum, The 2+2 Forums, July 7, 2007
- Recording Josephine (2009) - Magnolia Electric Company at Electrical Audio, a 70-minute documentary by Ben Schreiner on the making of the album, Josephine by Magnolia Electric Company, engineered by Albini
- "I am Steve Albini, ask me anything" reddit IAmA, May 8, 2012
Notes and references
- Bush, John. "Biography: Steve Albini". AllMusic. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- Young, Andrew (March 12, 2004). "Steve Albini" (Originally published in MTSU Sidelines, March 16th, 2004. This is the unedited final draft of the story, with unpublished material.). Lecture at Middle Tennessee State University. Retrieved 11 January 2014. "Records became more and more produced, and more and more layers of more abstract sounds were added"
- Thorn, Jesse (December 6, 2007). "Podcast: Live in Chicago: Steve Albini" (podcast). Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- Albini, Steve (May 30, 2011). "Strozzapreti-Gemelli with Tomato, Shallot and Mint" (blog). Mario Batali Voice. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Kovacs Henderson, Andrea (2009). American men & women of science : a biographical directory of today's leaders in physical, biological, and related sciences (eBook, biography) (26th ed.). Detroit: Gale. p. 71. ISBN 9781414457260. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Shatkin, Elina (2012-01-24). "Steve Albini Has A Food Blog". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
- "Looking for a Thrill : An Anthology of Inspiration". Thrill Jockey. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- Azerrad, Michael (2001). Our band could be your life : scenes from the American indie underground 1981-1991 (1. ed. ed.). Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316063791. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- "Staff & Friends - Steve Albini". Electrical Audio. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- Carlson, Jen (September 28, 2011). "Nirvana Producer Steve Albini Tells Us How He Really Feels About NYC". Gothamist. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- Margasak, Peter (January 6, 2014). "Artist on Artist: Robbie Fulks talks to Steve Albini". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
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- Cress, Jim (January 1, 1983). "Big Black: No Grey" (Matter (zine)). Dementlieu. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2014. "Taken from Matter, Vol. 1, No. 1, January 1983. Possibly the first print Big Black received?"
- "Big Black: Singles & EPs". Big Black on Discogs. Discogs. 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
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- Ryan Dombal (6 March 2009). "Jarvis Cocker Returns With Steve Albini-Produced LP". Pitchfork. Pitchfork Media, Inc. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Ryan Bassil (24 February 2012). "The Cribs: The new record addresses a lot of unexorcised demons". The Independent. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- John D. Luerssen (3 February 2014). "Fleshtones Celebrate 'Hipster Heaven' - Song Premiere". Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- "Nina Nastasia Once Again Pairs Up with Steve Albini for New Album". Exclaim.ca. Exclaim.ca. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
- Joe Tangari (29 January 2002). "The Frames For the Birds". Pitchfork. Pitchfork Media, Inc. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
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- Steve Albini (1994). "The Problem With Music". The Baffler No. 5. The Baffler Foundation Inc. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- "Welcome to Quartz". Quartz. 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- John McDuling (29 April 2014). "‘The Problem With Music’ has been solved by the internet". Quartz. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Oresteen, Paul (August 2013). "No gold records, no gold bracelets: From Post Hardcore to Post Flop, Steve Albini is just playing to play". BLUFF Magazine. Bluff Holding Company. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Albini, Steve (17 November 2014). "Steve Albini on the surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry – in full". theguardian.com. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
- Myf Warhurst (13 November 2014). "Steve Albini thinks the music industry is fine, but journalism is in trouble". Double J. ABC. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
- Steve Albini (10 December 2013). "I Know How Alexander Graham Bell Felt". Mariobatalivoice. Google Inc. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Tom Breihan (13 May 2011). "Steve Albini Has a Blog About Cooking". Pitchfork. Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Gillette, Amelie (June 14, 2000). "Steve Albini". A.V. Club. Onion Inc. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- Ryan Kohls: "I was wondering, is there a spiritual or religious side to Steve Albini?" Steve Albini: "No, not at all. I’m an atheist. You could say that I’m agnostic, but that’s just a certain kind of atheist (laughs). An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in a supernatural, and that’s me. I can’t say with absolute certainty that there is nothing beyond the material world, but there’s no reason for me to think there is. If I were a gambling man I would put all my money on there not being anything other than this universe." Ryan Kohls, Steve Albini, Jun 3, 2011.
- Wyman, Bill (1994). "Three Pandering Sluts and Their Music Press Stooge: The Great Steve Albini Letters-to-the-Editor Debate". Chicago Reader (Hitsville). Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- Lavery, Lisa (January 10, 2014). "A Quietus Interview: Great Records Will Find An Audience: Steve Albini On Jason Molina". The Quietus. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
- Azerrad, Michael. Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2001. ISBN 9780316063791
- Cameron, Keith. "This Is Pop," MOJO magazine, Issue 90, May 2001.
- King, Braden. Looking for a Thrill: An Anthology of Inspiration. Chicago, IL: Thrill Jockey, 2005. (DVD) UPC 790377010091
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