Steve Albini, 1962-2024: Reflections On The Man I Met

Steve Albini
Steve Albini taught me two important lessons that will forever stay with me. The first pertains to audio; the recording of drums, the dedication required to become a master craftsman, to hone your skill in uncompromising fashion, not to expect or accept less of yourself in your pursuit of that which you know to be possible, not to parrot “received wisdom”, but to verify what you have learned through experiment, practice, experiment, practice, rinse, repeat. Hard work, studiousness and humility are the light that illuminates your path, the perpetual traveller, armed with the empiricist’s guide to boundary pushing.
For a few years in the mid-late 90s, “Steve Albini” was the disembodied name that arose in my mind only occasionally, when studying the sleeve of the album which remains to this day at my absolute apex of visceral, abrasive sonic excellence; Nirvana’s In Utero. I loved it then and I love it now. Primal, minimalist and ambient, it was the perfect marriage of band and sound. That such an artistic artefact should exist — an album featuring Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Steve Albini — is a cosmic phenomenon in which one stands humbled at the fleeting alignment of stars. But back then, all I knew of its production, aside from how unlike anything else it sounded, was crystallised by those modest few words inside the sleeve: “Recorded by Steve Albini”. Some time around the start of 2001, a friend of mine, as hungry for weird, abrasive, guitar-driven rock music as I was, brought a recently purchased CD over to my house, telling me “this is by the Nirvana guy — the one from In Utero”. I was of course intrigued. We sat rolling a joint on my bed while it played. It began:

Shellac of Noth America. Catalogue number TG211 CD. Audio compact disc. 44.1 kilohertz sample rate. 16-bit word length. Samples represented in 2’s-complement binary. 8 to 14 expansion. Set reproducer for reference level. 1000 Hurts.

As unusual an intro to an album as that was, the following two and a half minutes signified the beginning of a consciousness shift in my perception of recorded music. It took some time to fully realise what was taking place.

Shellac – Prayer To God

To the one true God above, here is my prayer
Not the first you’ve heard, but the first I wrote
Not the first, but the others were a long time ago
There are two people here, and I want you to kill them

Her, she can go quietly, by disease or a blow
To the base of her neck, where her necklaces close
Where her garments come together, where I used to lay my face
That’s where you aught to kill her, in that particular place

Him, just fucking kill him, I don’t care if it hurts
Yes I do, I want it to, fucking kill him but first
Make him cry like a woman, no particular woman
Let him hold out, hope that, someone or other might come

Then fucking kill him, fucking kill him
Kill him already, kill him

Fucking kill him, fucking kill him
Kill him already, kill him

Fucking kill him, fucking kill him
Kill him already, kill him

Just fucking kill him, fucking kill him
Fucking kill him already, kill him

Ah, fucking kill him, fucking kill him
Kill him already, kill him

Kill him already, kill him already
Kill him, fucking kill him

Just fucking kill him, fucking kill him
Kill him already, kill him

Fucking kill him, kill him
Fucking kill him already, kill him

Kill him, fucking kill him
Kill him, just fucking kill him

Kill him already, kill him already
Kill him

Amen

The content of that music was difficult to process, and for a while I thought it was an absurdist joke. Laughing between ourselves over the next week or two, we dumbly sang the words “kill him, fucking kill him, fucking kill him…” in inane fashion, without proper recognition that what we had heard was, in fact, a work of artistic genius. I’m not sure exactly when the penny dropped, but I do remember, some years later, hearing Albini recount in an interview that, upon hearing the Ramones for the first time, he felt it was either the stupidest thing he’d ever heard, or the most awesome, eventually realising it was in fact the latter. One hopes that he would feel some semblance of emotion in the knowledge that, through a process of musical Darwinism, he had repeated that experience for a new generation.
In 2002 I met Genti, an Albanian co-student at Northbrook College in Worthing, where we were both studying Music Production. We were introduced by a mutual friend via an after-hours jam session. Walking into the small practice room, I was far too shy to offer anything in the way of verbal communication, instead managing only a silent raise of the hand before stepping into position behind an awaiting drum kit. Genti hammered out angular, Baltic-flavoured riffs from his Ibanez guitar, while I followed his weird rhythmic patterns, pounding the drums hard, mirroring what he was playing as closely as I could. We would jam the same thing round and round for 10… 20… 30 minutes at a time, throwing in small improvisations and chasing each other’s dynamics wherever the mood took us. It was a beautiful moment of musical synergy – the first of many. Our mutual friend tried in vain to follow along, but when he gave up and wandered off, leaving the bass propped up against his vacant chair, Genti and I barely noticed. Over the following months we made a habit of staying late and jamming our weird, two-piece Anglo/Balkan jams, before retiring to my car for spliffs and mix tapes, discovering a shared love of brash, abrasive noise rock, and excitedly hoovering up the new influences we bestowed upon each other. It must have been the very first time that we sat in my tiny Rover Metro, in a small car park in Worthing, that I ventured; “Do you know Shellac?” “Yeah man, of course!” I was surprised. They seemed like such an obscurity that I was sure my new Albanian friend must be thinking of a different band. “Really?” I replied. “Steve Albini? You know him?” “Yeah man, I love that Crow track. Fucking wicked.” And so we sat in my car, hot-boxed by weed smoke, eyes drooping down our faces with the song “Crow” from the album “At Action Park” pounding loudly out of my shitty speakers. The sight from outside must have been a delight. I remember Genti going “Ahh, those fucking toms, man” as his head collapsed into the headrest. This new discovery of our mutual love for an obscure band from Chicago formed the cornerstone of our burgeoning musical relationship.

Shellac – Crow


The first time I met Steve Albini was in 2002, at the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival in Camber Sands, UK. The dichotomy between Pontins — the grim, English, seaside holiday resort that played host to the festival — and its captive audience of elitist, anti-mainstream, alt-rock stoners was visible on the confused faces of any staff unfortunate enough to have been rota’d into working it. Shellac curated the 3-day event, and played every morning in the smaller of the two indoor venues, in order to incentivise hungover festival hobbits to actually get out of bed and watch the lesser-known bands playing throughout the day. It worked. I was there, every morning, to watch every Shellac gig. I’ll always remember the atmosphere of pensive foreboding created by their performance of the song “Didn’t We Deserve A Look At The Way You Really Are?” in that darkened hall, early in the morning. It was surreal. Listen to it. Close your eyes. Relinquish expectation. It is a beautiful meditation.

Shellac – Didn’t We Deserve A Look At The Way You Really Are?

My friends and I had bought our tickets the day they went on sale, a diligence eventually repaid by the realisation that Albini’s chalet was just a few doors down from ours. We could see him through the window when we walked past, which we repeatedly did, unsubtly side-eyeing as we went, trying to catch a glimpse of our bespectacled hero. It was a matter of inevitability when, in the midst of a late-night drug and alcohol indulgence at our place, one of our new friends suggested I knock on Steve’s door and give him a CD of my music, which we had just been listening to. It seemed like an opportunity not to be missed, despite the fact that the benefit of doing so couldn’t be directly identified. And so, my friend and I, both high on a cocktail of MDMA and alcohol, looking like a pair of complete twats, him in his chef whites and hair tied up in bunches, and me in pyjamas, painted fingernails and eyes like saucers, walked nervously to Albini’s front door, at 2am. I knocked. He answered. Two idiots stood at the door. “Hi Steve… um… we’re from the room just over there and I was just walking by, and… um… well, I saw you through the window, and… well…” “Were we making too much noise?” he said. “Oh God, no! Not at all! I just… I mean… I saw you here, and I hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to give you this…” I handed over my CD, with its handwritten cover. I don’t remember much of a follow-up conversation. Steve looked bemused at the two inebriated adolescents in front of him, but nevertheless accepted my gift, shook us both by the hand, and thanked us. When the door closed we made our way back to our chalet, deeming the experience something like a small success, slightly dying inside from the trauma of actually going through with it, but returning to our party as newly formed heroes, regaling our friends with tales of our travels, to cries of “what was he like?” and “I can’t believe you fucking did it!” Neither could I.
The second time I met him was on February 26th, 2007. Two years prior, In 2005, after a disappointing recording session in which our studio engineer failed rather spectacularly to achieve our much-requested Steve Albini drum sound, a thought struck me. “Is it actually possible to get Albini to record us? I mean… how much does that cost? Is that a thing?” It turned out it was a thing. Steve ran Electrical Audio, an analogue recording studio in Chicago, and on their website was a session calculator, which allowed you to tot up the cost of a session with the man himself. I plumbed in a few numbers, and, to my surprise, found that it actually wasn’t prohibitively expensive. Within a week we had set up a savings account, regularly fed by every spare penny we could get our hands on. Over the course of two years we would save enough to fly to Chicago and spend five days with Steve at his studio. It was almost unbelievable; the man who recorded my favourite album by my favourite band would also be recording us! In fact, for a while I had a hard time believing that something wouldn’t fuck it up for us. Surely something this good couldn’t really happen? But it did happen. And the fact that it happened is a testament to the quality about Steve Albini that fans well-versed in his anti-corporate rhetoric know to be true; he was a staunch defender of independent artists, and championed their plight for creative freedom in a world that values the pursuit of money above all else. Steve’s 1993 essay “The Problem With Music” documents the exploitative business practices behind a typical major-label record contract in excruciating detail, and wherever Steve saw corporate greed, his Eye of Sauron would pierce down from behind his round-framed glasses to exact rhetorical lashings in the unique way that only his acid tongue could. Steve’s ire was a sight to behold, and to have him on your side was to be allied with a fearless warrior against the forces of commercialisation and conformity.
Orchid Trip + Steve Albini
In his famous letter to Nirvana from 1993, gearing up for their collaboration on the band’s third studio album, he writes:

I’m only interested in working on records that legitimately reflect the band’s own perception of their music and existence. If you will commit yourselves to that as a tenet of the recording methodology, then I will bust my ass for you. I’ll work circles around you. I’ll rap your head with a ratchet.

As he was in prose, so he was in life. The only reason that regular Joes like us, from the arse-end of nowhere, could even entertain the notion of working with an engineer of his calibre, many high-profile albums deep into his professional career, was because he intentionally made it possible for us to do so. His entire business model centred around the notion that you didn’t have to be a privileged member of some elite class to afford his services. Independent artists were not to be shut out of the arena for their lack of market potential, but welcomed in, adorned with fluffy coffees and never told to keep their feet off the furniture. He lived by his principles, and was true to his word, and to aspiring noise-makers like us, those words were gospel. Over the ensuing years I hungrily consumed every word of his I could find, whether in print or on YouTube videos. I wrote essays about him for my Music Production degree, and as I began developing my own career as a sound engineer, I modelled my practices on all that I had learned from him. His various lectures about his approach to recording resonated strongly with me, and I easily adopted many of his principles when approaching my recording sessions, out of an obvious necessity to respect the artistic vision of those for whom I was being hired to work. Again, from his letter to Nirvana:

Most contemporary engineers and producers see a record as a “project,” and the band as only one element of the project. Further, they consider the recordings to be a controlled layering of specific sounds, each of which is under complete control from the moment the note is conceived through the final mix. If the band gets pushed around in the process of making a record, so be it; as long as the “project” meets with the approval of the fellow in control.

My approach is exactly the opposite.

I consider the band the most important thing, as the creative entity that spawned both the band’s personality and style and as the social entity that exists 24 hours out of each day. I do not consider it my place to tell you what to do or how to play. I’m quite willing to let my opinions be heard… but if the band decides to pursue something, I’ll see that it gets done.

I like to leave room for accidents or chaos. Making a seamless record, where every note and syllable is in place and every bass drum is identical, is no trick. Any idiot with the patience and the budget to allow such foolishness can do it. I prefer to work on records that aspire to greater things, like originality, personality and enthusiasm.

In embodying these principles, Steve Albini demonstrated an unwavering dedication to the artistic vision of the bands he worked with, and his refusal to compromise on integrity set a standard that continues to inspire independent artists and producers alike. Through his candid writings, cast-iron work ethic, and steadfast commitment to artistic freedom, he leaves behind a legacy that transcends the music he worked on, exacting a profound influence via the power of authenticity, resilience, and the pursuit of artistic excellence.
Early in 2007, After a long flight from London, me, Genti and our bass player, Edi, were welcomed into an innocuous-looking square building residing on an innocuous-looking road in Northwest Chicago. As I sit here typing this, the smell of that building comes vividly gushing back to me, a smell permeated by the ever-present aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Since then, every time that smell has entered my nostrils, I found myself immediately transported back to the kitchen of Electrical Audio. Being led past a laundry area in which a pair of Steve’s ripped jeans lay strewn across a washing basket, we were given a mini-tour of the building, culminating in our delivery into the lounge area where we found Steve parading around the living room in a pair of jumping stilts, casually chatting to staff as if such a thing was entirely normal. It was, in fact, mental. Apparently they were a birthday gift. We peered on from the background, a bit too frightened for formal introductions and not wanting to disturb whatever goings-on appeared to be going on. It had been a long day, and we retired to our bedrooms. Before our session began we had a couple of days to acclimatise to the time difference and the below freezing temperatures of February in Chicago. We kicked around the studio, busying ourselves with nothing in particular. Steve was occasionally present, mostly sat on the sofa playing online poker, but despite the amusement of our initial encounter, casual interaction with him seemed oddly difficult. Any attempt to engage him was met with blunt dismissal; one-word answers, a frosty demeanour, and a clear sense that he would rather not be bothered by us. It was… uncomfortable. We chatted freely and easily to other staff at the studio about music, bands, distortion pedals, the weather. They couldn’t have been nicer. But Steve… well, not so much. We felt like we were treading on eggshells whenever he was present, and for a starstruck young band from the UK, this felt unsettling. When the session actually began, Steve slipped into professional mode and his demeanour softened enough for us to get to work. For the first day or two we were all still a little afraid of our own voices, and sensed a kind of distance from him that was difficult to interpret. He would engage us in small bouts of light chit-chat here and there, but an undercurrent of tension remained present, and it was difficult to know if this was a product of our nerves or his general manner. Genti was mostly untroubled, and the bulldozer of his unflappable idiocy saw that his confidence to be himself around Steve grew by the day, despite the slight standoffishness we still sensed. In fact it was often very funny to watch the immovable object of Steve’s stoic grumpiness meet the unstoppable force of Genti’s enthusiastic stupidity. Gems such as “Steve… Hey Steve… I can rap in Italian! Are you jealous?”… “Even if I was capable of jealousy, I still wouldn’t care.” — will always stay with me. The grainy footage of Genti in a sombrero air-guitaring around the control room is a testament to his boundless resilience, yet, for me, as the more shy and easily intimidated of the group, the palpable sense of distance between us and Steve remained a persistent inhibition that I struggled to overcome. I always found him to be curiously unapproachable, never totally confident that anything I had to say was of any interest to him. “Steve, what’s your opinion on double-tracking guitars?” “I have no opinion about that.” “Oh. Okay.” Such bluntness was counterposed by his capacity to be extremely funny, and often very silly. I’ll always remember with enormous fondness his skill at diffusing band tensions; making us laugh by scooting his chair across the control room and flapping his hands like a retarded bird. But still I felt that there was an invisible barrier keeping our interactions firmly within the realm of professional courtesy. Even during lighter moments, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was part of Steve’s professional persona to keep people at arm’s length, a quality that left me yearning for a deeper connection which was never forthcoming. Our time at Electrical Audio came to an end, leaving us with a mix of pride and unease. We were so thrilled to have had the opportunity to go there and work with Steve, but the experience was somehow tainted by this strange sense of detachment from him. This was reinforced one month later when we went to see Shellac play in London. At the end of the show, spotting Genti from the stage, Steve reached into his pocket and revealed the Albanian coin that Genti had given him in the studio as a token of thanks at the end of our session. On the face of it, this was a really heart-warming gesture, reflective of the kind of camaraderie that we had hoped for. We waited around after the gig to catch Steve one more time and exchange a few words, but he never re-emerged. Eventually we called to Todd Trainer, Shellac’s drummer, who duly led us backstage to find Steve sitting in a room casually chatting to PJ Harvey. Several other people were milling around. Expecting to have a little friendly after-show banter, in fact Steve barely acknowledged us, and more or less completely blanked us. It was very uncomfortable. After a while, having said very little and feeling very embarrassed, we got up and left.
Two years later, in the summer of 2009, having completed my degree in Music Production, I returned to Electrical Audio for three months to undertake an internship, and experience life on the other side of the mixing desk. This would be my third encounter with Steve. Upon meeting him again, one of the first things I did was to give him a copy of our completed album, which we had been labouring over for the two years since our session with him ended. Fishing it nervously out of my bag, I said “Steve, this is for you from all of us. I wanted to thank you again for your work on it.” He accepted the gift with a strained “thank you”, and the forced enthusiasm of a man clearly struggling to give a shit about the gesture he was being required to participate in. It was a strange encounter, and not the most positive omen for the subsequent three months. My summer at Electrical Audio was characterised largely by my engagement in domestic duties such as cleaning the kitchen, emptying bins and making fluffy coffees for clients. I have accrued any number of amusing vacuum cleaner-related anecdotes from my time as an intern at that studio, but any hopes that I would receive first-hand tutelage on calibrating tape machines from the master himself were quickly swept away along with the detritus on the kitchen floor. Any recording experience that I could glean was mainly done by specific arrangement with other members of staff. Maybe I was naive to expect otherwise. Maybe I should have been grateful just to be there. And I was! But, years later, when I returned to the studio to make my video “Recording Drums With Steve Albini”, I was not surprised to be taken aside by another young intern – an American College kid, slightly shy, but curious about my history with the studio – and nervously asked, “When you interned here… did you find Steve… kind of weird? I mean… I thought I’d be learning about tape machines and microphones, but all I’m doing is cleaning the kitchen. I’m finding it really hard to talk to him.” We chatted for about half an hour, and I reassured him that his experience was not unique to him; “it’s hard being a shy person around Steve”, I said. “He doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence.” During my internship there were a number of incidents in which I felt the sharp end of Steve’s disregard for my plight as an anxious student feeling uncomfortable and out of his depth, and his absolute indifference to my attempts to strike up any kind of conversation with him. To do so was often met with a retort like “everything you’re saying makes perfect sense to me”, before turning his attention back to his laptop. A regular staple involves him telling Nina Nastasia on the phone that he “has to go and yell at someone”, before embarrassing me in front of several bystanders. The internship did nothing to assuage the growing cognitive dissonance in my regard for Steve Albini. I often felt like I was encountering a contradiction between the perception of him as a bastion of empathetic humility, railing against exploitation and degradation, and the odd, joyless contempt he would exhibit in real-life interactions, where the opportunity to affect a positive impact on someone’s state of mind was manifest, right in front of him, but shirked for a kind of intellectual peacocking that seemed unkind, or disrespectful to the sensitivities of the person in question. It is important to reiterate that in 2009 I was very shy, and very anxious, particularly at the prospect of being on my own in a new place, away from my girlfriend and out of my comfort zone for three months, and so I was already primed to feel intimidated by the whole experience. However, at no point was this feeling alleviated by Steve, who maintained such a caustic aloofness that I sometimes found myself crying and wishing I could go home. The same cannot be said for other members of staff, or even Steve’s bandmates, whenever I encountered them, who couldn’t have been nicer. They took a genuine interest in me as a person, shared stories of times they had visited Brighton, asked me about my family, showed me things of interest, and kept in touch long after I had returned home. These small expressions of personal connection were my oxygen at a time when I felt asphyxiated by insecurity and homesickness, but they were never forthcoming from Steve.
Electrical Audio Staff + James Gasson

When I returned to Electrical Audio for the final time in 2017, it was as much a personal journey that I had to make for myself as it was an effort to reinforce my understanding of how to achieve that amazing drum sound, and to make my little video about it. I knew I needed to go back, one final time, and look Steve in the eye. This visit felt like closing a chapter that had remained unfinished. My previous experience had left a lasting impression, and I needed to confront those lingering feelings of inadequacy and fear. As I walked through the familiar doors of the studio, memories of my internship flooded back. But this time I was armed with years of experience, and a sense of confidence that had been hard-won through a path that I had been treading at my own studio back home. As I awaited the beginning of our two-day drum session, a mix of emotions swirled within me, marked largely by intense anxiety at the thought of confronting him again. I introduced myself, reminding him of my internship years ago. He remembered. Discussing the techniques and nuances that create the distinctive sound I admired so much was enlightening. This time, our conversation was on more equal footing. I wasn’t the anxious intern seeking approval; I was a fellow professional, eager to learn and share insights. While Steve’s manner remained brusque, this time I felt pride in the persistence and passion that had brought me back, all these years later. In the end, making the video and revisiting the studio wasn’t just about capturing that iconic sound. It was about facing my fears, reclaiming my narrative, and validating my journey. As I packed up my equipment and prepared to leave, I felt a sense of closure. The chapter was finally complete, and I walked away with not just technical knowledge, but a deeper understanding of myself and the resilience it takes to pursue one’s dreams.
Steve Albini & James Gasson

In the years since, I have grappled with conflicting feelings about Steve Albini, ultimately coming to view him as something of a contradiction. Though I remain a strong admirer of his work, his approach and his razor-sharp intellect, I am also troubled by his stubbornly myopic perspectives on that which he so articulately pronounces. I found this deeply at odds with his apparent commitment to scientific empiricism and rationality. It’s this tension between his reputation as a rational thinker and some of his more dogmatic views, combined with my personal experiences with him, that has led me to somewhat reassess my perception of him. While I continued to admire his talent and his uncompromising dedication to his craft, I came to recognise that even the most brilliant minds are not immune to biases or blind spots. Steve liked to frame his arguments as existing in a paradigm of ideological warfare. Us versus them. You’re either an ally or you’re an enemy. This was a mentality that seemed to permeate much of his discourse, and his art seemed well served by it. But for me, as I became more aware of moral philosophy as an intellectual discipline, as I absorbed more and more perspectives from a diverse range of vantage points, and as I became more awakened to the necessity of debate as the lynchpin of scientific inquiry, I began to feel that the arguments put forth by Albini on many issues were not only overly simplistic but also often needlessly divisive. While his passion and conviction are admirable, I couldn’t help but feel that his black-and-white world-view failed to fully appreciate the complexities and nuances inherent in many social, cultural, and political issues. Take for example his famous email to London-based EDM producer, Oscar Powell, in 2015, who reached out seeking permission to use a vocal sample from Big Black for an upcoming single on his label, XL Recordings. Powell expressed deep admiration for Big Black’s music, sharing links to some of his previous tracks. This was Steve’s reply:

Hey Oscar.

Sounds like you’ve got a cool thing set up for yourself. I am absolutely the wrong audience for this kind of music. I’ve always detested mechanized dance music, its stupid simplicity, the clubs where it was played, the people who went to those clubs, the drugs they took, the shit they liked to talk about, the clothes they wore, the battles they fought amongst each other…

Basically all of it: 100 percent hated every scrap.

The electronic music I liked was radical and different, shit like the White Noise, Xenakis, Suicide, Kraftwerk, and the earliest stuff form Cabaret Voltaire, SPK and DAF. When that scene and those people got co-opted by dance/club music I felt like we’d lost a war. I detest club culture as deeply as I detest anything on earth.

So I am against what you’re into, and an enemy of where you come from but I have no problem with what you’re doing. I haven’t bothered listening to the links, mainly because I’m in a hotel with crappy internet at the moment but also because it probably wouldn’t be to my taste and that wouldn’t help either of us.

In other words, you’re welcome to do whatever you like with whatever of mine you’ve gotten your hands on. Don’t care. Enjoy yourself.

Steve

The contradiction persists; he gives with one hand, and takes with the other. Some view this email as exemplary of Albini’s generous spirit. For me, it typifies his brand of self-important grandstanding, expressing a dismissive attitude towards Powell’s work which contradicts his professed commitment to empowering the disenfranchised. By refusing to engage with Powell’s music in a meaningful way, Albini perpetuates a hierarchical dynamic where his own preferences and opinions hold sway over others’. This not only undermines the principles of artistic freedom and expression but also undermines his credibility as an advocate for marginalised voices. Albini’s tendency to dismiss opposing viewpoints without engaging in substantive dialogue feels counterproductive to the pursuit of truth and understanding. Instead of fostering constructive discourse, his rhetoric often seemed designed to shut down dissent and reinforce echo chambers, epitomising his confrontational style and binary thinking. This kind of behaviour reflects a lack of wisdom and emotional intelligence; rather than recognising the value in diverse perspectives and experiences, his rigid stance too easily belittles others’ musical tastes and cultural affiliations, disempowering other artists, and overlooking the inherent complexity of human nature and the richness of human experience. This fails to strike me as indicative of an enlightened state of mind, but rather a manifestation of egotism; the world viewed through a prism of self-righteous anger which would see him often standing at the sidelines of morally complex issues, titillated by his own capacity for throwing scatological insults in the direction of his imagined enemies. As I reflected on my own experiences and observations, I realised that my admiration for Albini’s technical prowess and artistic integrity was tempered by a growing discomfort with his absolutist approach to certain topics, combined with a curious lack of empathy that seemed to be at odds with his perception of himself. It became increasingly clear to me that intellectual humility and openness to differing perspectives are essential components of true rationality and empiricism. And so I write this rather lengthy article in order to make sense of these contradictory feelings with which I have grappled over the years, for a man I have so admired but often found so puzzling. I have immense gratitude that he so freely volunteered his time and knowledge, as he did for me in 2017, as well as in occasional emails about technical concerns over the years. Many in his position would not be so generous. But nested within his enthusiasm for rehearsing reams of technical insight to anyone that asked for it, was a curious lack of interpersonal connection where he seemed to revel in making others feel inferior, thus negating his much advertised powers of superior empathy. I am left saddened that I didn’t know him better in order that I could make more sense of that. That said, I will always be grateful to Steve, and indeed to everyone at Electrical Audio, for their invaluable contributions to music, and for the knowledge and inspiration they have shared with countless artists, myself included. Despite any reservations I may have about his rhetoric, I recognise the profound impact that Steve Albini has had. The world is undoubtedly a lesser place without him. My interactions with him and my study of his work have served as catalysts for personal growth and critical reflection; they have prompted me to question my own assumptions, biases, and communication styles, encouraging me to strive for greater empathy, nuance, and openness in my interactions with others. This is the second important lesson that he taught me.

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I am James Gasson, music warrior. With my mighty skills of imperfect objectivity and excellent tea making, I am on a mission to encourage critical thinking whilst trying to avoid tripping over stuff. Fancy chatting about audio, drum recording, life, the universe, and/or everything? Drop me a line!

3 Responses

  1. What a beautiful, raw honest tribute! – A profound gift here…one in which you have emerged and grown so deeply..oxygenating deeper states of mind..thus nurturing ethical intelligence, integrity..courage, humility and understanding. – letting all of these experiences move through you over the years! The shadow sides..hiding in the caves and crevices, always essential for real creativity. You held that vision.. The Third Circle of Reciprocity! – deep bow for this. Deep bow to him, the fragrance of freedom was found x

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