Steve Albini Dead at 61

    Steve Albini – the frontman of Shellac and Big Black who also rerded classic albums by Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey, and countless others – has died. Pitchfork confirmed with Albini’s recording studio, Electric Audio, that he passed away of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.

    Born in Pasadena, California on July 22, 1961, Albini spent the majority of his teenage years in Missoula, Montana. He started playing bass guitar while recovering from a broken leg before switching over to guitar. He was introduced to the Ramones, which became his favorite band, by a schoolmate during a field trip when he was 14 or 15. “I was baffled and thrilled by music like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Pere Ubu, Devo, and all those contemporaneous, inspirational punk bands without wanting to try to mimic them,” he told the Quietus in 2017.

    After graduating high school, Albini enrolled at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he majored in journalism and minored in art. Immersing himself in Chicago’s s punk scene, he played in several local bands including Stations and Small Irregular Pieces of Aluminum. He also covered the nascent punk scene as a regular contributor to fanzines such as Forced Exposure and Matter.

    After borrowing a a four-track recording unit from a friend and taught himself to use it, Albini recorded his first EP, Lungs, in which he handled all the instruments except saxophone, and released it in 1982 under the moniker Big Black. The project would expand into a full band with guitarist Santiago Durango and bassist Jeff Pezzati — both of the Chicago punk outfit Naked Raygun — as well as drummer Roland TR-606, developing their abrasive sound over a series of EPs. With Dave Riley taking over on bass following Pezzati’s departure, Big Black released a pair of widely celebrated albums, 1985’s Atomizer and Songs About Fucking, before disbanding in 1987.

    Albini went on to form the band Rapeman, along wit Rey Washam on drums and David Wm. Sims on bass. After releasing two singles, 1988’s Budd EP, and the 1988 album Two Nuns and a Pack Mule, the band broke up in 1989. Albini later expressed regret over the band’s name, which was taken from a Japanese comic book, saying in 2014 interview: “I can’t defend that name, especially to someone who has a personal history that makes them particularly sensitive to it.”

    As an engineer – he didn’t like the term “producer” – Albini made a name for himself with his work on Pixies’ 1988 debut LP, Surfer Rosa, which showcased their trademark loud-quiet dynamic. Known for using analog production techniques that emphasize the raw energy of a live recording, Albini would go on to record the Breeders’ 1990 debut POD, Nirvana’s In Utero, and PJ Harvey’s 1993 album Rid of Me, as well as early albums by the Jesus Lizard, Slint, and Superchunk before opening his two-studio complex Electrical Audio in Chicago in 1997.

    Albini’s resume includes thousands of recordings that ranged beyond the noisy, confrontational work he became known for early on, including albums by Joanna Newsom, Low, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Manic Street Preachers, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dirty Three, Jawbreaker, Neurosis, Cloud Nothings, Bush, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, The Stooges, Manic Street Preachers, Jarvis Cocker, and many more.

    In 1992, Albini formed new band, Shellac, joined by drummer Todd Trainer and bassist Camilo Gonzalez. It was Albini’s longest-lived and most prolific musical outlet, issuing six studio albums between 1994 and 2014.

    Shellac was set to release their first album in a decade, To All Trains, next week.

    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis is a writer, journalist, and music editor at Our Culture. His work has also appeared in Pitchfork, GIGsoup, and other publications. He currently lives in Athens, Greece.

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