Music / Steve Albini

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"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."
Steve Albini

Steve Albini is a famous Alternative Rock musician and producer from Chicago by way of Montana. Some of the bands he's worked with include: Nirvana, The Pixies and The Breeders, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Helmet, Robert Plant, Fred Schneider, The Stooges, Mogwai, The Jesus Lizard, PJ Harvey, Manic Street Preachers, Screaming Females, Joanna Newsom, Low, Cheap Trick and Slint.

If you'd look up Invisible Producer in the dictionary, Steve Albini would probably be the first guy to come to mind. His style has such hallmarks as recording live with minimal overdubbing, using microphone placement to get some harsh guitar and drum sounds, keeping the vocals low in the mix, and completely averting Executive Meddling: he prefers to not be credited (if the company insists, he prefers the term "recording engineer"), doesn't collect royalties and lets the artist/band make all the creative decisions. Due to his stereotypical association with producing critically acclaimed harsh albums, there's a degree of surprise whenever he works with more "mellow" artists like Joanna Newsom and Nina Nastasia.

Albini is also famous for having a big mouth, being very liberal with throwing insults and nastiness around (ask The Pixies, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill and The Smashing Pumpkins about it sometime), harsh criticism of the music industry's practices, and being something of a Luddite: he refuses to record in anything but analog and back in The '80s he disparaged the CD as being "the rich man's eight-track tape". On the other hand, for several years he and his wife (along with others) have also functioned as something of a secret Santa to cash-strapped families in Chicago, distributing money, clothes and toys at Christmas. He also has a food blog. YMMV page here, indeed.

As a musician, Albini plays guitar, bass, sings and programs drum machines. He was a member of the following bands:
  • Big Black (198187), with guitarist Santiago Durango and bassists Jeff Pezzati and his replacement Dave Riley. Technically a Post-Hardcore/Noise Rock band, their use of a drum machine, distinctive "clanky" guitars and shouty, controversial lyrics made them a big influence on the Industrial Metal scene.
  • Rapeman (198789), another Post-Hardcore/Noise Rock band, with David Wm. Sims and Rey Washam of Scratch Acid on bass and drums. Named after a manga called The Rapeman, predictably attracted more attention and controversy for their name than their music.
  • Shellac (1992-present), a Noise Rock/Math Rock band with bassist Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer.

Famous albums he produced


Steve Albini provides examples of:

  • Brutal Honesty: Let's just say that he likes to speak his mind. Even about people he's worked with.
  • Caustic Critic: He once described the Pixies as "blandly entertaining college rock".
  • Celebrity Resemblance: Harry Potter looks like a younger version of him, right down to the glasses.
  • Credits Gag:
    • He had a habit of occasionally crediting his engineering to his cat, Fluss. The practice was retired after Fluss died in 2003.
    • Slint's Tweez has him credited under the name "Some Fuckin Derd Niffer".
  • Genre Adultery: What happens when he departs from his stereotypical production style and works with people like Joanna Newsom.
  • Insistent Terminology: He dislikes being called a "record producer" and prefers being credited as a "recording engineer." This is because he wants bands to have as much creative control over their own music as possible, so he offers minimal input, which is different from most music producers.
  • Invisible Producer: Trope Codifier. Best exemplified by the stories of recording Cloud Nothings' album Attack on Memory where the band states that Albini was hands off during the four days it took to record it, with him either blogging or playing Scrabble, and only interrupted when he heard something wrong.
    • When discussing his methods, he states how he reads "dry, uninteresting" things rather than listen with furious concentration because in his early days as a producer, focusing too hard on the music led him to twiddle with it unnecessarily
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The man is known for his vitriolic attacks on performers and the industry, but he genuinely wants the artists he works with to sound as good and have much control over their own music as possible. Also, he and his wife donate money, toys and clothes to poor Chicago families for Christmas.note 
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: He's famous among musicians for being accessible and easy to work with, despite his transgressive music.
  • New Technology Is Evil: Albini records exclusively in analog, and derided the CD as "the rich man's 8-track."
  • Perishing Alt Rock Voice: As part of his signature style and in his bands.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Albini's version of smiling is when his mouth forms a flat horizontal line.
  • Prank Call: After Jerry Garcia's death, somebody pranked Albini — who loathed hippies — by posting his phone number on fliers, asking for Deadheads to call in and relate their stories of how Garcia touched their lives.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Every aspect of his musical career.
  • Signature Style: Live recording to analog, microphone placement, vocals low in the mix.
  • Something Completely Different: Recorded with power electronics group Whitehouse; at first co-producing full records, later assisting in tape collages of interviews of abused children.

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