3 Steve Albini

Steve Albini

Infobox musical artist
Name = Steve Albini

Img_capt = ATP Music Festival, May 2007
Img_size =
Landscape =
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name =
Alias =
Born = Birth date and age|1962|7|22|mf=y Pasadena, California
Died =
Instrument = Vocals Guitar
Bass Drum machine
Genre = Indie rock
Noise rock
Occupation = Recording Engineer Musician
Years_active =
Label =
Associated_acts = Big Black Rapeman Shellac
Notable_instruments =

Steven Frank Albini (born July 22, 1962) is an American audio engineer, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and music journalist. He was a member of Big Black, Rapeman, and is currently a member of Shellac. He is founder, owner, and engineer of Electrical Audio, a recording studio complex located in Chicago.

Early life

In his youth, Albini's family moved often, before settling in Missoula, Montana in 1974. The activities of bored teenagers in rural Missoula provided much inspiration for later Albini-penned songs. While recovering from a broken leg, Albini began playing bass guitar. According to Thrill Jockey's "Looking for a Thrill", Albini first became exposed to punk rock by a schoolmate on a bus and proceeded to purchase 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 only found a few bands he deemed worthy of listening to, including: The Stooges, the Ramones, Television, Suicide, Wire, The Birthday Party, Public Image Ltd. and Killing Joke.

After high school, Albini moved to Evanston, Illinois, to attend college at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Whilst at college, Albini took a job in a sausage factory. 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 groups.

As an artist

Big Black (1982-1987)

In 1982 Albini formed Big Black, and recorded the "Lungs" EP. Jeff Pezzati (Naked Raygun) and Santiago Durango 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 (band), 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.

Rapeman (1987-1988)

Albini went on to form the controversially titled 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 one EP, "Budd", and an album, "Two Nuns and a Pack Mule" (1988). They also had a 7" on the Sub Pop Singles Club.

Shellac (1992-present)

Albini formed Shellac in 1992. With fellow bandmates Bob Weston (formerly of Volcano Suns), and Todd Trainer (of Rifle Sport, Breaking Circus and Brick Layer Cake), they initially released three EPs: "", "Uranus" and "The Bird is the Most Popular Finger". Those were followed by four angular, minimalist and typically cranky 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.

Recording work

:"See List of Steve Albini's recording projects for a chronological list of Albini's recording work"

He is currently most active as a record producer, but he dislikes the term and prefers to be credited as "recording engineer" if the record company insists on any credit at all; however, Albini prefers receiving no credit. [see "The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing", Penguin Books, 1996.]

A key influence on Albini was producer John Loder, who came to prominence in the late '70s with a reputation for recording albums quickly and inexpensively, but nonetheless with distinctive qualities and a sensitivity towards a band's sound and aesthetic. [http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep05/articles/albini.htm]

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 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 the record company, and whether or not they got the rock ... anybody on a major label gets fucked wholedong outright, figuing they're never going to get paid anyway. [see "The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing". 1996. Penguin Books. p. 410]

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 Pixies, Nirvana, Superchunk, PJ Harvey, Mono, Om, Bush, Joanna Newsom, Nina Nastasia, Jawbreaker, Low, Dirty Three, Cheap Trick, Slint, Page and Plant, Neurosis, and The Stooges.

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 regarding 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.


Additionally, he 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 Studios has installed their first digital set up for recording.


Albini is the subject of a tribute of sorts in the song "Steve Albini," by Los Angeles-area indie rock band The Black Watch, on their "Seven Rollercoasters" EP (1997). The Great Plains song "Letter to a Fanzine" (1986), cataloging 1980s college rock fanboy obsessions, includes the spoken line "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Steve Albini". Also, a song titled "Steve Albini's Blues" appears on the album "Didn't it Rain" (2002).

Although not a tribute, Albini is mentioned several times as being "in collusion with Virgin Trains" on The Fall's track "50 Year Old Man" from the album "Imperial Wax Solvent".


* Albini, 1993. [http://www.negativland.com/albini.html "The problem with music"] . In "The Baffler", vol. 5 and reprinted both in "Maximum RocknRoll" #133 and in Downhill Battle (en español) [http://downhillbattle.org/?p=471] . Commonly circulated with the title "Some of your friends are [probably] already this fucked," after the title of MR #133, and the last line of the piece.
* Michael Azerrad, 2001. "Our Band Could Be Your Life". Little Brown, ISBN 0-316-78753-1.
* Andrew Young, 2004. [http://inmyroom.org/writing/albini.html 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. [http://www.dementlieu.com/~obik/bigblack/matter01.html] 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.

External links

* [http://www.chicagoreader.com/hitsville/pander.html 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.
* [http://www.maximumfun.org/blog/2007/12/podcast-live-in-chicago-steve-albini.html Audio interview] on public radio program The Sound of Young America
* [http://www.vacant.org.uk/interviews/albini.html An interview] in which Albini outlines his criteria for accepting offers to record musicians.
* [http://www.wnur.org WNUR 89.3 FM] the radio station Albini worked at during his time as a student at Northwestern University.
* [http://www.mtsu.edu/~nadam/downloads/Stevealbiniweb.html Lecture at Middle Tennessee State University] video of Steve Albini giving lecture to Middle Tennessee State University audio class
* [http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep05/articles/albini.htm Steve Albini - Sound Engineer Extraordinaire] Article about Steve Albini in Sound On Sound magazine
* [http://crawdaddy.wolfgangsvault.com/Article.aspx?id=4858 "The Hard Golden Tone of Shellac: An Interview with Steve Albini"] 1994 article reprinted in 2008 by "Crawdaddy!"
* [http://www.mercenary.com/probwitmusby.html] The Problem With Music, an essay by Steve Albini

NAME=Albini, Steve
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American record engineer
DATE OF BIRTH=July 22 1962
PLACE OF BIRTH=Pasadena, California

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