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.
S01-Ep05 (1 of 4) getting into Brahm's skin with John Morris RussellSpecial Guest – Maestro John Morris Russell – Has spent ten amazing years as Music Director of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra; two time recipient of Ontario’s Lieutenant Governors Awards for the arts; nominated for both the Gemini Awards (2004) and the Juno Awards (2008). This internationally praised conductor is now (effective September 1 2011), heading to the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra to succeed the late Erich Kunzel. The Maestro and I sit down to discuss among other things, the Cincinnati Pops one of the oldest and respected symphonies in North America, Brahms Symphonies and what it means to be a conductor.
I Love Liner Notes
I love liner notes; I could read them all day long. I probably have read every inch of print of every record, CD, and cassette tape I have ever owned. It almost comes close to a ‘Rain Man’ syndrome with me. Even from childhood, I remember caring