On October 16th, I had a chance to watch Shellac in my home town of Missoula, MT. This was the second time I’ve seen Shellac, the first in 1996. The first show was a very influential one for me – being it was the first time I’ve ever seen a Travis Bean guitar in person, which led me on a strange quest in itself, but that’s a different story. And it was also the first time I’ve ever seen Steve Albini play guitar in the flesh.
For me, Steve Albini, has been a big part of my musical growth. I remember growing up in Kalispell and going to high school. Being in high school and hating everything around me, I was very much interested in heavier music. At that time, I was in a more ‘metal’ world, but I was craving something different and punk/thrash/goth/industrial was really calling me, and I started to sway in that direction.
Around this time (1987/1988) I was getting into freestyle bike riding (flatland riding) and two friends and myself drove a couple of hours to Helena to see the Schwinn Freestyle team do a demo at a bike store there. After the show we went to a local record store and wanted to buy something new. Back then, anything cool was in the import section, so we randomly picked a cassette. My good friend picked up Big Black’s Headache EP. For the rest of the trip we would listen to that tape. It blew our minds. So the quest started for Big Black. We drove to Missoula and hit another store and picked up Big Black’s Atomizer. This was my introduction to Steve Albini.
I’m not sure how much longer after this, maybe a year or two, maybe even longer, I was shocked to discover that Steve Albini was actually from Montana. He actually went to high school in Missoula. I was absolutely amazed that someone actually left Montana and started something amazing. Granted there are a few notables from the state, especially since then, but back in the 80s, it was mind blowing. For those of you that don’t know Montana to well. It’s the 4th largest state in geographic size, and still doesn’t have a million people living in the state.
When I discovered Big Black, they’ve already broken up. Classic situation, just when you find something cool, it’s was already over. But regardless I was extremely proud of Albini… you know, state pride and all. Next came Rapeman. That was good and is an excellent bridge from Big Black to Shellac. When Shellac formed, I was excited and was hoping to catch something live.
Around this time is when Albini was starting to get some serious notariety for his work as a recording engineer with his studio Electrical Audio. I admired his ‘non-producer’ approach, viewing himself as a engineer to capture the best sound from the instrument vs. shaping or influencing a song like a producer would. For a time in the early 2000s I co-owned a recording studio with Jimmy (the guitarist that does demos here on EffectsBay) and we really adopted that philosophy as well. Just stick a mic in front of the cab and capture the sound. Let the band dictate process, speed and quality.
I also admire his working man approach to shows, to money, to royalties. A guy that believes in a hand shake.. and not screwing people in general. That really reminds me of classic Montana sensibility. Do a job and do it well.
I’ve spoken with Albini a few times and I always shake his hand and say thanks for everything. I know it’s just another day doing what he does, but it really meant a lot to me growing up, and still does.
So for those that aren’t familiar with Shellac. Shellac is a hard to describe. They’re a three piece with a very aggressive guitar and bass tone, and when I say aggressive, I’m not talking distortion or speed. I’m talking very intense tone with abrasion and tension. They play in odd time signatures and are unique in a world where uniqueness is rare in music.
Steve Albini and bassist Bob Weston play Travis Bean guitar/bass. These are aluminum necked guitars built in the mid to late 70s and have a very balanced frequency response and are known for their sustain since the neck is one piece from headstock to bridge. Albini, also plays with metal picks and has an interesting technique of bending the neck for additional effect to his tone.
The show in Missoula was fantastic. It was a small venue (Shellac prefers smaller venues) and to see a band like Shellac in a venue like this is, is similar to watching a band in your basement. Albini’s mom and I believe his brother were in attendance at the show, which was cool. It was interesting to see him talk about Missoula during the set and even mentioned the high school he attended in the song The End of Radio.
It was a great show, and if you have a chance to check them out during this tour, I would highly recommend it! They’re currently playing the Western states now. Click here for current tour dates.