ATP Music Festival, May 2007
July 22, 1962 |
|Genres||Noise rock, post-hardcore, punk rock, alternative rock, math rock|
|Occupations||Recording engineer, musician, producer, singer-songwriter|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass, drums|
|Labels||Touch and Go|
|Associated acts||Big Black, Rapeman, Flour, Shellac|
Steven Frank "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 currently a member of Shellac. He is the founder, owner, and engineer of Electrical Audio, a recording studio complex located in Chicago, and has worked with musical acts such as Sparklehorse, Nirvana, The Stooges, Slint, Pixies, Failure, Jawbreaker, Manic Street Preachers, Cheap Trick, Neurosis, PJ Harvey, The Jesus Lizard, Om, Whitehouse, Bush, mclusky, Electrelane, Joanna Newsom, Thom Bowden and Scrawl, among others.
Albini was born in Pasadena, California, the son of Gina (Martinelli) and Frank Addison Albini, a wildlife researcher. In his youth, Albini's family moved often, before settling in Missoula, Montana in 1974. The activities of bored teenagers in rural Missoula later provided much inspiration for Albini-penned songs. While recovering from a broken leg, Albini began playing bass guitar. According to Thrill Jockey's Looking for a Thrill, Albini was exposed to punk rock by a schoolmate and subsequently bought every Ramones recording available.
He took bass lessons in high school for one week and started playing in bands. He played with drummer Joey Cregg, son of former Mayor Bill Cregg, in the punk band Just Ducky, which quickly disbanded. While growing up in Montana, he 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, Fugazi and Killing Joke.
After high school, Albini moved to Evanston, Illinois, to attend college at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. In the Chicago area, Albini was active as a writer in local zines such as Matter (and later the Boston zine Forced Exposure), covering the then-nascent punk rock scene, gaining a reputation for iconoclasm and outspokenness that continues to this day. Around this time he began recording musicians.
As an artist
Big Black (1982–1987)
In 1982, Albini formed Big Black, and recorded the Lungs EP. Jeff Pezzati and Santiago Durango of Chicago band Naked Raygun joined shortly thereafter, and the trio (along with a drum machine credited as "Roland") released two more EPs: Bulldozer (1983) and Racer-X (1984). Pezzati was later replaced on bass by Dave Riley, with whom the group recorded two sparse albums: Atomizer (1986) and Songs About Fucking (1987), as well as the Headache EP (1987), and two 7" releases: Heartbeat and He's a Whore/The Model. Influenced by PiL, The Birthday Party, Killing Joke, Wire and Gang of Four, they gained a reputation for confrontation, sarcasm and abrasiveness, breaking up in 1987 on the eve of the release of their second album.
Albini went on to form the controversially named Rapeman in 1988, with former members of Scratch Acid, Rey Washam (later of Didjits), and David Wm. Sims (later of The Jesus Lizard). They broke up after the release of two 7"s (one on the Sub Pop Singles Club), one EP, Budd, and an album, Two Nuns and a Pack Mule (1988).
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, Uranus and The Bird is the Most Popular Finger. Those were followed by four studio albums: At Action Park (1994), Terraform (1998), 1000 Hurts (2000) and Excellent Italian Greyhound (2007). All were released, as before, on vinyl, as well as CD.
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, or to be credited as a recording engineer if the record company insists on any credit at all.
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.
Unlike any other engineer/record producer with his experience and prominence, Albini does not receive royalties for anything he records or mixes; rather he charges a flat daily fee when recording at his own facility, described by Michael Azerrad (Azerrad, 2001) as among the most affordable for a world-class recording studio. In fact, Albini initially charged only for his time, allowing free use of his studio to friends or musicians he respected who were willing to engineer their own recording sessions and purchase their own magnetic tape (Azerrad, 2001). When recording elsewhere, Albini uses an admittedly arbitrary sliding scale:
|“||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 estimates that he has engineered the recording of 1,500 to 2,000 albums, mostly by rather obscure musicians. More prominent artists that Albini has worked with include Nirvana, Pixies, The Breeders, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Helmet, Chevelle, Robert Plant, Fred Schneider, The Stooges, Mogwai, The Jesus Lizard, Owls, Don Caballero, PJ Harvey, Manic Street Preachers, Jarvis Cocker, The Cribs, The Fleshtones, The Wedding Present, Bush, Joanna Newsom, Nina Nastasia, The Frames, Jawbreaker, The Membranes, Superchunk, Low, Dirty Three, Cheap Trick, Motorpsycho, Slint, mclusky, Labradford, Veruca Salt, Zao, Neurosis, The Auteurs and Cloud Nothings. He has also shown interest in recording modern hardcore bands such as California's Trash Talk and Amsterdam's Vitamin X.
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." (Young, 2004).
Nevertheless, albums recorded by Albini bear a distinctive sonic signature. In Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad describes Albini's work on Pixies' Surfer Rosa, but the description applies to many of Albini's efforts: "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." (Azerrad, 344) Another Albini trademark is his habit of generally keeping vocals "low in the mix," or much less prominent than is usual in rock music. This is said to have been a point of contention by the label during the recording of Nirvana's In Utero (Cameron, 2001).
On 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 (see multi-track recording for more information). However, Albini prefers to record "live in the studio" as much as possible: the musicians perform together as a group in the same room. Albini places particular importance on the selection and use of microphones in achieving a desired sound, including painstaking placement of different microphones at certain points around a room to best capture ambience and other qualities.
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.—Forced Exposure essay, 1986
Albini is famous (or notorious) in the indie world as an opinionated pundit on the music industry and on trends in indie music, beginning with his earliest writing for zines such as Matter and Forced Exposure, to his commentary on the poor ethics of big record labels, and how their practices filter through to the independent labels. He has been a strong supporter of labels who have tried to break the mold, especially Touch and Go Records, with whom all of his bands have released recordings. He 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 of the LP Atomizer and the EP Headache was released under the title The Rich Man's 8-Track Tape, further making his opinion of the format abundantly clear. Albini has recently succumbed to technological pressure of modern recording as his Electrical Audio Studios has installed their first digital setup for recording, although Electrical Audio engineer Greg Norman has stated that Albini refuses to use or even talk about the digital setup at the studios.
- American Men & Women of Science. 2009. ISBN 9781414433011.
- Shatkin, Elina (2012-01-24). "Steve Albini Has A Food Blog". Blogs.laweekly.com. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
- Bush, John. "Biography: Steve Albini". Allmusic. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
- Azerrad, 2001.
- see The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing, Penguin Books, 1996.
- Tingen, Paul (September 2005). "Steve Albini". Sound on Sound. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
- see The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing. 1996. Penguin Books. p. 410
- View The Point #1 EPK, starring Albini, Chevelle and Fred Armisen. 1999. Squint Entertainment.
- As reprinted on sleeve notes of the Big Black album Sound of Impact. Dementlieu.
- Albini, Steve (1993). "The Problem with Music". The Baffler (5) (Chicago: Thomas Frank). ISSN 1059-9789. OCLC 24838556. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28, also archived from the dead Baffler site. (Reprinted in Maximum RocknRoll #133 (June 1994) and later various websites.)
- Michael Azerrad, 2001. Our Band Could Be Your Life. Little Brown, ISBN 0-316-78753-1.
- Andrew Young, 2004. Albini laments age of over-production. MTSU Sidelines Online. Article based on a lecture Albini gave to the Audio Engineering Society at Middle Tennessee State University.
- Albini, 1983. Steve Albini. Matter, Vol. 1, No. 1, January 1983; the first press for Albini's Big Black.
- Keith Cameron, 2001. "This Is Pop". MOJO magazine, Issue 90, May 2001.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Steve Albini.|
- Electrical Audio Albini's studio in Chicago
- Three Pandering Sluts the 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.
- Audio interview on public radio program The Sound of Young America
- Steve Albini - Sound Engineer Extraordinaire Article about Steve Albini in Sound On Sound magazine
- "The Hard Golden Tone of Shellac: An Interview with Steve Albini" 1994 article reprinted in 2008 by Crawdaddy!
- Steve Albini answers questions about bands and music on a poker forum, July 2007
- "I'll Rap Your head With A Rachet" Letter written by Steve Albini to Nirvana in 1992, outlining his working philosophy.