Steve Albini Interview Part 1 [Listen 43:28] – Doing stuff to amuse Steve Albini and myself S03 Ep05
Special Guest: Steve Albini is famous for his distinctive style, the music he has been a part of, and his anti-producer producing philosophy. His work speaks for itself, recording bands like Nirvana, the Pixies, Superchunk, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Helmet, PJ Harvey, Cheap Trick, Bonny “Prince” Billy, Jarvis Cocker, Sparklehorse and believe me when I say the list could go on. He has been a member of the bands Big Black, Rapeman, and Shellac. I first came across Steve Albini's name from reading Nirvana interviews around the time Nirvana was releasing their masterpiece “In Utero.” In those interviews, Kurt Cobain talked about how he wanted to follow up their mega-hit album “Nevermind” with the producer who recorded his favourite albums like “Surfa Rosa” by the Pixies and “Pod” by the Breeders. Albini’s style of engineering and producing has been described as “hands off,” or minimalist in its approach. He also is a person who prefers not to receive credit on the albums he has worked on, stating that he doesn't think it's right to be paid in perpetuity for something he took part in for only one day. Albini is also known for his integrity to the music, and has gained fame not only in music he put out but for his reasonable recording rates (charging affordable flat rates regardless of the bands' fame). He's clearly music fan and I am thrilled to have Steve Albini on the show.
In this interview, Steve Albini and I talk about his unique and controversial recording philosophies, Cheap Trick and recording “Special One” , “Rockford”, and rerecording “In Color”, The Pixies and some interesting lessons he learned recording Surfer Rosa, he reflects on PJ Harvey and her career and we finish off talking about working with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse just before his tragic and untimely death.
Bonus Guest: Brett Anderson (of The Stripminers and The Donnas) - has teamed up with Paul Stinson (The Radishes), DJ Bonebrake (X, The Knitters), Scrote (Daniel Johnston, Puscifer), Holland Greco (Anais Mitchell, The Peak Show) and Brett Simons (Brian Wilson, Melissa Etheridge) to form her latest side-project “The Stripminers.” Frail Hope Ranch is the second album of The Stripminers and finds the band in an Americana/Folk Revival mood for this release. Although this is a huge departure from The Donnas for Anderson, the album itself will no doubt be loved by many of her fans and gain new ones of those who are into the genre. In this interview I ask Brett Anderson about how the band came together, and address the ongoing question if Paul Stinson and her are an item. We break down some of the tracks and talk about her love of the Majestic Theatre in Detroit.
Listen to get A Free Copy of ” Frail Hope Ranch” by The Stripminers*
Listen to the end of this podcast to hear how you can get a copy of the limited edition“Frail Hope Ranch” on White Vinyl.
Albini: Abrasive Humanist or Punk
To say that Steve Albini is not your usual producer falls way short of the mark. He actually refuses to be called "producer" but rather prefers to say that he "engineers" music. To be certain, he's an iconoclast. His iconoclastic way of being was developed early on at one particular time when he said that he had an enlightening moment when he realized that he could and simply wouldn't care about what people thought of him. Obviously, it's something he's laid the foundation of his life on and continues through to this day. It's served him to some degree; his name is well known, and carries with it his distinctive sound, not to mention notoriety of his personality, but of course his boldness also has brought him infamy and could have as easily destroyed everything he's tried to build for himself.
He alienated himself in the production world early on for posting an article declaring and describing his hatred for the music industry (the link is posted below.) He has stated since that the industry just isn't the same anymore; he described that the industry just doesn't have the stranglehold on artists that it used to have and cannot exploit to the measure it once did.
His outspokenness and behaviour has earned him quite some ill repute throughout the years and began early on during his early 20's playing in bands. Attention was brought largely on the topics that his band sang about; wife beating, animal slaughter, child abuse, not to mention titling one of his bands, "Rapeman." He was labelled a misogynist and masochist in an era that was used to upheaval and shock: the Punk era. He stirred a fervour to such a a degree that groups would protest outside his shows, and at times he received death threats. Many people I'm sure would simply not believe that today he's married, loves to cook, and says that he likes to watch cute kitten videos. Yet, speak to the man and he'll speak with absolute candour.
That's another area that separates Albini from the crowd: how he deals with the people in general and conducts his business, apparently he answers his own phone and he refuses to record no one. He does not charge exorbitant fees, but an affordable rate, nor does he treat a band the way a producer usually does in the studio, nor expects the same rewards afterward. He refuses to accept royalty fees. And this is something he's held to, not just as some wishful thinking young idealist, but he continues to operate in the same fashion to this day when he could easily charge much more.
Albini says that it's from being part of a band that gives him his understanding and appreciation of bands but in my research of his background, I uncovered something I can't say for certain helped shape Albini's approach, but it's certainly telling of the man to have made an impression. He said that something about John Peel had an impact on him; about how Mr. Peel views people's work when they sent him a record. Mr. Peel said that he understood that for someone to send him their record, they must have felt passionately about it, and if the music didn't strike him, then the fault was with him, that he simply didn't get it, not that the fault was in the music, and for someone with as much knowledge and influence as Mr. Peel to have such humility had an impact on Albini, he stated. This may have influenced the way Albini views a band. He sees the band, as he states, more in the light as a social entity or family with tight relationships, and in that relationship, for him to offer his opinion as a producer, or audio engineer would only be an ignorant one. And understands with this insight, for him to act as a producer who places himself above a band would be foolish. Weather or not John Peel was the influence that led to his approach, Albini says he sees himself in more of a peer relationship and allows the band to make the decisions and to shape the recording of their album the way they (the band) see fit.
One thing that Albini doesn't negotiate is that he records in all analogue. Ask him about drum machines and autotune, and you'll get an interesting opinion, and one full of passion, although, through the test of time, proves to be the accurate one. Really with a little forethought, it's should be quite clear: what's taken for convenience's sake, or for an easy hook is the quickest and easiest way to date and cheapen the music. Although, he knows that a lot of music that sells is just that: cheap and popular. And he hates it. He has said the same about the intention for which music is made. If it's done for some other motive, that destroys the quality. When Albini was asked the reason why Nirvana sounds as good today as they did when they were making their music, he replies that it's because they were genuine.
So say what you want about the man, he's offended many, and will continue to do so. His position is that your opinion of him doesn't matter. But he may be one of the best things that happened to music.
- Guthrie Alan Corwin
Links, disclaimers, and everything else:
The Problem With Music by Steve Albini
*Details of how to enter draw for The Stripminers album at the end of the podcast (answer skill testing question). Shipping not included.
John McLaughlin “Now Here This” Interview Part 2 [Listen 28:44] – Sitting in the control room with Teo Macero and John McLaughlin S03 Ep04 (Part 2 of 2)
Special Guest: John McLaughlin: McLaughlin started his career off as a 19 year old trailblazing guitar master, blowing away audiences just as the British blues was exploding on the scene. Bands like Cream and the Yardbirds were just starting to take shape, and guitarists like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix were just starting out and hoping to cut their teeth. My next guest had a different calling, going on a different tangent and taking his sound away from the blues-rock world of guitar hooks and classic rock solos and instead schooling himself on some of the most beautiful but also technically challenging music styles known in music. He delved into playing styles like flamenco guitar with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia; world music with people like Carlos Santana and Trilok Gurtu, and straight ahead jazz with too many jazz legends to mention. John McLaughlin was a major player in helping take jazz on one of most extreme and interesting rides ever with the sub-genre 'jazz fusion.' He is so highly respected that Miles Davis immortalized him in two songs, one of them on his landmark album, Bitches Brew, with the honorarily titled "John McLaughlin." Currently, McLaughlin and his band, The 4th Dimension, have a brand new album out called “Now Here This” an album about which McLaughlin has been quoted as saying “It’s the best thing I ever did, from the beginning until today.” In this podcast we talk about the elder blues statesman Alexis Korner and his effect on the British Blues world, John McLaughlin's days with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce previous to the formation of their band Cream, we also get into anecdotes with Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, the album Emergency!, Tony Williams, Larry Young, Joey DeFrancesco, Elvin Jones, John Mayall and finish off with the story of how Miles Davis came to write the song titled "John McLaughlin."
Going Thru a Miles Davis collection
Getting into Miles Davis' music for the first time can be a daunting undertaking. First off, he released many records, and many of them groundbreaking. He also changed his style quite dramatically at different time periods in his career, so where to start, and what to look for can be a little overwhelming. Of course, there are the albums that must be in the collection which are well known and loved by everyone and need to be there to say that they're into Miles Davis, according to aficionados. Then there are albums that are not necessarily must-haves but come down to being just as good, or very close to just as good, and ones that the neophyte would do better to try after they've gained some familiarity into his music. Of course, it can all come down to a matter of opinion, but take the advice from those who have gone through it and are willing to impart what they've found.
For those who get it in their blood, rich appreciation takes hold, it gets to be a hunger, and later, after having spent hours upon hours savouring every nuance and note, the albums get to be second nature and fans couldn't imagine being without the albums in their collection. For the music fan, it truly becomes a thing of beauty. But for the beginner, all these different albums and musical periods can be hard to sort through. The good news is, that for those starting out, Davis may be the most accessible jazz artist – easier to get into than later period John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy or say Ornette Coleman.
For myself, I have never come across a Miles Davis record that I didn’t like.
Here is a small sample of Davis albums. Though most fans categorize Davis’ collection according to time periods; I personally separate Davis’ playing into tempos to put on according to my mood. I have sorted this list with both categorizations in mind. If you're new to it, try it out; I hope it broadens your horizon.
Generally Davis’ playing during this period tends to be of a quick and agile straight ahead jazz. All of it is pretty accessible and sound like “Jazz” in a traditional sense.
Birth of Cool (Released in 1957) (Tempo : Mid-slow)
This is Miles Davis in a big band setting and is notable for among other things, one being the first time he worked with arranger Gil Evans. Though released in 1957, the recordings themselves actually date from 1949 and 1950. This pivotal album was Miles Davis’ first big change to the jazz world – ushering in the switch from Bebop Jazz, playing with Charlie Parker in these years, to what became to be known as “cool jazz" (in no small part because of this monumental album.) In short, a great album that goes well with any occasion.
'Round About Midnight (Released in 1957) (Tempo: mixed - Slow and Quick tracks)
A phenomenal record. After recording for smaller labels like Prestige, Davis decided to move to Columbia Records to record ‘Round About Midnight (his first album in a long career with the label). Considered his first great quintet, the album has John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. They really clicked on this album.
Bags Groove (1957) (Tempo: Mid to Quick)
Although this it a lot of people’s favourite record; I personally just put this record on when I feel like changing it up and listen to a Miles Davis record I haven’t heard in a while. The players on this album are an all-star roster playing at their best.
Milestones (1958) (Tempo: Quick)
Another straight ahead jazz style record and one that I reach for more often than any other of this time period; in short one of his best.
Ascenseur Pour L’echafaud (1958) (Tempo: Very slow)
This has to be one of Davis' easiest records to listen to, and one that gets frequent play. While touring Europe, Davis decided to record a soundtrack (Ascenseur Pour L’echafaud) – it doesn’t have any star players on it apart from Davis himself, but it's a great album. It has a cool minimalist quality to it. The only problem with this record is that it’s hard to find. Get it if you see it.
Generally marked by his work with Gil Evans; these are some of his most loved and sought after records.
Kind of Blue (1959) (Tempo: Mid)
Maybe the most loved Jazz record of all time. For me what differentiates this from his other records is the inclusion of Bill Evans. Not to say that Evans was the star, but I just think that he mixed really well with Davis, John Coltrane and the rest of the band.
Sketches of Spain (1960) (Tempo: Low to Mid)
A great collaboration between Gil Evans and Miles Davis that is set to Spanish folk tunes; a much loved Miles Davis record. Although I rarely put it on myself.
At Carnegie Hall (1961) (Tempo: Quick)
Having heard Kind of Blue so often, it took me a while to get into the rendition of “So What” and the other classic tunes that Davis plays with orchestration. If you find you have the same difficulty, my advice is to not give up on it; you will most likely fall in love with it after some time.
This album rings in his second great quintet and consists of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Each member of this band have gone on to change jazz in their own unique way.
Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965) (Tempo: Quick and Agile)
Recorded at a club called Plugged Nickel in Chicago 1965; this stuff is legendary. I play this a lot.
For some, this was where jazz stopped being jazz and turned into a free-for-all with musicians focused only onto what they were doing individually. I think less people hold this opinion in general these days; that said, this stuff isn't for everyone. Miles Davis was one of the first to plug in and has some of the most extreme examples of "Jazz-Fusion."
In a Silent Way (1969) (Tempo: Ultra slow)
Albums don`t come any better than this one. The first record that John McLaughlin played on – this record is one of the most relaxing and awe-inspiring records in my collection.
Bitches Brew (1970) (Tempo: Slow to Mid)
This is where the rubber hits the road as far as electric instruments and jazz being combined. This is a record that I didn't originally warm up to but is now one of my favorite albums of all time. If I had one complaint it would be that the `Complete Bitches Brew` needs to be easier to find and cost much less on vinyl.
Post Retirement Period
After releasing "On the Corner," Davis called it quits (for five years). After reading his autobiography, I think this wasn't the healthiest move on his part. Luckily, he released some stuff from the vaults during this time period and eventually came out of retirement. Though he didn't bring out any career changing albums, for me, he still brought out some good stuff.
Agharta (1975) (Tempo: Funky/Crazy)
Recorded February 1, 1975 in Japan, Agharta (the afternoon set) was part of a two part live release (the evening set was also released; called Pangaea). Davis has never been more crazy, wild or unapologetically funky than he was here. In fact, he was so wild that critics at the time were accusing him of not acting his age and borrowing too much from Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and James Brown. What do critics know. On this album, the band is absolutely stellar and the music is totally moving. Although it's definitely not the album to start with. Not for a gentle immersion anyway.
Tutu (1986) (Tempo: Mellow/Smooth with an 80's flair)
Once you get past the dated 80’s drum machines and synthesizers sounds and settle into what's being played, you will realize that this is a great record. No, this is not as good as “In a Silent Way” or “Kind of Blue,” but it's still a great Miles Davis record.
-- Jason Hoffer
Next week: Steve Albini
Plus a bonus interview with Brett Anderson (of the Stripminers and the Donnas)
John McLaughlin “Now Here This” Interview [Listen 23:36] – Being happy and proud of what I do S03 Ep04 (Part 1 of 2)
Special Guests: John McLaughlin: McLaughlin started his career off as a 19 year old trailblazing guitar master, blowing away audiences just as the British blues was exploding on the scene. Bands like Cream and the Yardbirds were just starting to take shape, and guitarists like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix were just starting out and hoping to cut their teeth. My next guest had a different calling, going on a different tangent and taking his sound away from the blues-rock world of guitar hooks and classic rock solos and instead schooling himself on some of the most beautiful but also technically challenging music styles known to music. He delved into playing styles like: flamenco guitar with Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia; world music with people like Carlos Santana and Trilok Gurtu, and straight ahead jazz with too many jazz legends to mention. John McLaughlin was a major player in helping take jazz on one of most extreme and fun rides ever with the sub-genre 'jazz fusion." He is so respected that Miles Davis immortalized him in two songs, one of them on his landmark album, Bitches Brew, the honorary titled "John McLaughlin." Currently, McLaughlin and his band, The 4th Dimension have a brand new album out called “Now Here This” - an album about which McLaughlin has been quoted as saying “It’s the best thing I ever did, from the beginning until today.” In this podcast John McLaughlin and I talk about about the atmosphere in the studio while recording the songs: "Echoes From Then," "Take It or Leave It," "Guitar Love," and "Not Here Not There." You can hear the excitement in John McLaughlin’s voice when talking about this new album and the band he has put together.
Jazz guitarists you should know
Besides John McLaughlin, we wanted to showcase some of the other guitar legends in jazz to give you an introduction and give you some pretty pictures to look at. But besides that, look into the music they've done. Give them a listen. These guys are pioneers in the field and have pushed the frontiers of music beyond conception. While we can't cover every guitarist that should be mentioned, which often leads to objections and bitterness from fans, take note of the ones listed here, and wait for the rest to be mentioned in a later episode.
Innovative and constantly pushing the boundaries, he takes a unique approach to his music and believes music is a ways to peace.
Innovative primarily in sound and always challenging himself Metheny has evolved into new forms and a passionate fan-base. I recommend starting off with his album "We Live Here."
One of the first jazz guitarists to use an electric guitar, he influenced many others. Phenomenal skills, he apparently could match Django Reinhardt note for note.
Nicknamed "The Octopus" for his incredibly large hands and clean playing style. He only started playing guitar at age 21, but soon was playing guitar professionally. Known for only playing publicly very rarely.
Said to be the best guitar players Joey DeFancesco played with. Benson was a child prodigy, and can play a multitude of styles. He possesses impeccable technique, and can mimic his heroes perfectly at will.
A jazz guitarist of a different vein, this jazz fusion guitarist is known to have influenced players like: Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, and even Frank Zappa. Like John McLaughlin, Holdsworth played with drumming legend Tony Williams.
Django Reinhardt deserves all the prestige placed on him. After he injured his hand in a fire, he developed a new way of playing to accommodate losing the use of his last two fingers. He's influenced multitudes of guitarists, and cemented his place as one of the greatest.
Considered by many to be the greatest Jazz guitarist of them all. Like Django Reinhardt, he is the high-watermark by which all guitarists are measured.
A sleeping giant of sorts in the guitar world, Joe Pass broke away from drug addiction and prison culture to become one of the most respected guitarists of all time.
Playing with people like Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Ike Quebec, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Smith, Paul Chambers, and Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Burrell may have played on more of the best loved jazz albums than anyone else.
One of the world's most admired and respected guitarists living today. His style focuses more on the music rather than showing off guitar chops. He has been able to revitalize the bebop movement and make it current. One of the best for certain, and with a good helping of integrity.
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