Steve Albini: Wikis


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Steve Albini

Background information
Born July 22, 1962 (1962-07-22) (age 47)
Pasadena, California
Genres Noise rock
Alternative rock
Occupations Recording engineer, musician
Instruments Vocals, guitar, bass guitar, drum machine
Associated acts Big Black

Steven Frank Albini (born July 22, 1962) is an American audio engineer, singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, 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 Nirvana among many other alternative acts. He was married on September 5, 2009 in Kaʻaʻawa, Hawaii[1]


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 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. 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 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, 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 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 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: 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.

Recording work

See List of Steve Albini's recording projects for a chronological list of Albini's recording work
Steve Albini on right, with Ani DiFranco and RZA at the The New Yorker festival in September 2005

As of 2008, Albini is most active as a record producer. He dislikes the term and prefers to receive no credit on album sleeves or notes,[2] 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 '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.[3]

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 ... anybody on a major label gets fucked wholedong outright, figuring they're never going to get paid anyway.[4]

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, The Breeders, Helmet, Robert Plant, Fred Schneider, The Stooges, Mogwai, The Jesus Lizard, Owls, Pixies, Don Caballero, PJ Harvey, Manic Street Preachers, Jarvis Cocker, The Fleshtones, The Wedding Present, Bush, Joanna Newsom, Nina Nastasia, The Frames, Jawbreaker, The Membranes, Superchunk, Low, Dirty Three, Cheap Trick, Slint, Zao and Neurosis. 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 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.


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.
Force Exposure essay, 1986[5]

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 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.


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 Songs: Ohia album Didn't it Rain (2002). Steve Albini was also canonized in two tracks by Wesley Willis, "Steve Albini" and "Steve Albini (Reprise)".

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. [6]

Albini's Electrical Audio is a sponsor for the Winnemac Electrons of the Chicago Metropolitan Baseball Association.

Northern Irish rock band Therapy? named an instrumental on their first demo tape Beefheart/Albini.


  1. ^
  2. ^ see The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing, Penguin Books, 1996.
  3. ^ Tingen, Paul. "Steve Albini: Sound Engineer Extraordinaire". Sound on Sound, September 2005
  4. ^ see The Penguin Book of Rock and Roll Writing. 1996. Penguin Books. p. 410
  5. ^ As reprinted on sleeve notes of the Big Black album Sound of Impact. Dementlieu.
  6. ^ See "50 Year Old Man",


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