Steve Albini is famous--well, sort of. He's the guy who recorded Nirvana's In Utero and the Pixies' Surfer Rosa, not to mention over 1,000 other albums. He owns a recording studio called Electrical Audio in Chicago. A barrage of fanboys await any and all Albini output. He has a band, too. They're called Shellac, and they're pretty great.
On the phone in his venerable Chicago studio, Albini's pretty plainspoken about what Shellac will do to plan for its rare upcoming tour: "We're going to rehearse once."
That's feasible enough for a band like Shellac, a typically atypical trio. After all, Albini is a guy who likens MySpace--now the main promotional vehicle of nearly every band--to frivolous '90s fad Pogs, and his band is notorious for playing 9 a.m. breakfast shows, whiffle-ball tournaments or on river boats. They teach fans to expect the unexpected. If that means watching Albini, bassist Bob Weston, drummer Todd Trainer and David Yow (of the Jesus Lizard) perform an entire set as the Sex Pistols, then so be it. No matter the surprises, though: Any Shellac show is rare because its members are all employed. It has been years since the band has played the Triangle, and it may be several more before it happens again.
This tour wasn't set up to promote a new album, though the band is hoping to get their new full-length, Excellent Italian Greyhound, out by 2007. The album is finished, mastered and awaiting manufacturing, and like their most recent accomplishment, 2000's 1000 Hurts, the vinyl version will be accompanied by a CD. "The cost of manufacturing a CD is roughly equivalent to the cost of printing a label for a record, so screw it, throw one in there," says Albini, who has established himself as an industry maverick through his strict analog use and his benchmark anti-major label essay, "The Problem with Music."
Albini says the new record isn't a great departure for the band: "If you're familiar with our band, I think you'll understand this record pretty quickly. We didn't set out to shock anybody or shatter any expectations. We just made another record that we like." Like most of the band's output, Greyhound will be released on Touch & Go Records, the same Chicago-based label that released Stella, the latest record from Shellac tourmates Uzeda. It's the first record the Italian band has made in eight years, and Albini traveled to Senigallia to engineer (he refuses the word produce) it.
In fact, Uzeda and Shellac stop in Chicago together on Sept. 9 to play Touch & Go's 25th anniversary festival alongside seminal T&G acts like Man or Astro-Man?, Negative Approach, Pegboy, Killdozer, and Albini's own mangled drum-machine rock group, Big Black. Albini suggested that Big Black, which broke up in 1987, play the festival, but he's quick to point out that this isn't a reunion tour.
"We've already been offered reunion money, but no, we're just doing it to show our appreciation for everything Corey [Rusk, the label's owner] has done for us over the years. It's sort of to show our solidarity with Touch & Go as a community," says Albini.
While it's often speculated that other recent reunions from important indie rock bands like Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. and Gorilla Biscuits were only ploys to help their strapped-for-funds members, Albini wants no part of that. In fact, he even shot for a reunion of Rapeman, his equally amazing band between Big Black and Shellac. The band's other members refused.
Even without a Rapeman reunion, fans at the Touch & Go festival can still hope to hear classic verses like "I think I fucked your girlfriend once. Maybe twice, I don't remember. Then I fucked all your friends' girlfriends. Now they hate you," or non-metaphorical rants about squirrels and acorns. Wait, Steve will probably fling them at the Cradle, too, right?
Shellac plays the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro on Wednesday, Aug. 30 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. Uzeda opens.