Steve Albini, former frontman of Big black, current frontman of Shellac and engineer on Nirvana’s In Utero and The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, has never been supportive of the mainstream music industry. His main source of income remains his day job at his Electrical Audio recording studio in chicago and his band’s live performance are particularly rare. When GQ sat down with him at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in upstate New York, he made some valid observations about the existence of a “perversion of normal ethical standards” in the music industry regarding a sort of arrogance and entitlement that emerges as the industry becomes more removed from regular life. But he also made some harsh comments about artists who moved on to major labels, even those he considers his friends, like Sonic Youth.
When asked about his opinion on Sonic Youth’s conscious decision to move to Geffen in 1991, he very bluntly replied that he thought they “should be embarrassed about it.” He blames them for giving “credibility to some of the nonsense notions that hover around the star-making machinery” and sees their decision as “a sellout and a corruption of a perfectly valid, well-oiled music scene.” And the bashing doesn’t end there: he goes to call that decision “crass,” he says that as a consequence of their transfer to Geffen, music culture was “kind of empty and ugly and was generally a kind of bad influence.” No word on their return to the indie labels after their 2008 departure from Geffen to Matador.
The Q&A session also included his perspective on the state of the music industry now, which he finds exciting because of the endless possibilities available to bands to reach out to the world independently. He enjoys that our new habit of sharing the music through sites like YouTube and torrents is motivated by pure enjoyment, not the desire to make profit off of it, “which is the only reason the mainstream industry would do something” according to him.
Still, the article ends on a high note, after an especially GQ oriented question about fashion. Albini answers by saying, “I would like the fashion industry to collapse. I think it plays to the most superficial, most insecure parts of human nature. I hope GQ as a magazine fails. I hope that all of these people who make a living by looking pretty are eventually made destitute or forced to do something of substance. At least pornography has a function.”
It seems Albini is never out of brutal comments, but after all this slamming of mainstream culture, it’s important to notice that he had his own part in it, as some of his most noted work, Nirvana’s In Utero and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, were both released on major labels. Food for thought? You can read the entire interview HERE to get the full picture.