Like home-grown tomatoes, longterm authenticity and music industry "space aliens"
Clambering over the sea wall, suddenly the sound of barking breaks over the rhythmic crash of lapping waves. Turning to watch a lady chase her two dogs into the surf, Steve Albini breaks out into a broad grin. “I love dogs,” he sighs wistfully, “I don’t think any other animal would be up for just heading into the woods and getting lost. Dogs are basically up for everything a human is but can just get there that little bit quicker.”
For a guy who’s notorious for being a hard case, this morning Albini is on charming form. Then again, I suppose Barcelona beach is a bit of a home from home for the Chicago native these days. Having played every edition of Primavera Sound since 2008, the festival just wouldn’t feel the same without his band cropping up somewhere (this year Primavera’s merch stall are selling T-shirts with the design ‘Shellac and 249 more’ on them). As we navigate the boulders, our conversation flips to Björk who played the main stage the night before. “If anything, she made me more of a fan,” he says as we dissect her headlining slot. “She doesn’t give a fuck about what anyone thinks, and I really respect that.”
Spend just ten minutes in his company and you’ll quickly see that the mythical version of Steve Albini and the real-life version of Steve Albini are about as far apart as you can get. As with all legends there’s a kernel of truth in there – he can be impressively outspoken and harshly blunt when he wants to be, but it comes more from the fact that the 55-year old cares passionately about music than him wanting to piss people off.
In spite of his work with Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac, Albini is arguably most famous for being the guy in the control room for ‘In Utero’, ‘Surfer Rosa’ and countless other alt. rock classics. For the past 40 years he’s been a staunch advocate and moral defender of DIY music and he’s happy to turn his fire on anything he perceives as bullshit, from Sonic Youth selling out to bands glad-handing suits at SXSW, and even joining Evelyn Morris of Listen to give a feminist critique of his own work. Put simply, Albini doesn’t respect images, artifice or anything that feels like music industry crap, and while he’s usually super polite, he’s never been afraid to call it as he sees it.