Five Things We Learned From Steve Albini’s Ask Me Anything Reddit Chat

Steve Albini in Chicago, October 2007. Photo: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage

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Steve Albini — the cranky, quixotic,producer behind albums from Nirvana, the Pixies, Joanna Newsom, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and um, just about everyone else — took to Reddit this week for an “ask me anything” session. Albini’s an outspoken guy, and he’s usually all too happy to go on the record about everything from cooking to music piracy to whatever things he thinks suck this week. His time on Reddit didn’t disappoint – here’s five things we learned from ol’ Steve.

1. Joanna Newsom Smells Like Pine

When asked what Joanna Newsom smelled like (“Did she smell of pine,” the questioner asked), he responded, “Like somebody turned a hose on a mule and rubbed it with Vicks. And then snubbed a cigarette out in a nylon rug.” We’re going to assume he’s being facetious, though. She probably smells like pine.

2. A Steve Albini-produced AC/DC Record Would Blow Minds

Albini’s list of “any band/artist (past or present)” that he would love to work with included Neil Young (which would be fine), Patsy Cline (which would be impossible), and AC/DC, which would be amazing. It’s been decades since AC/DC made relevant music, but we’re betting this thing would be Johnny-Cash-meets-Rick-Rubin-level huge.

3. Voicemail, U.S. based pizza and Jazz: They all suck

Albini on voice mail: “I detest voice mail. Answer your goddamn phone or don’t have a phone. We have an answering machine at the studio for when everybody’s gone, but otherwise I answer the phone and I expect other people to. I detest the whole system of using the phone to manage/frustrate callers with menus and voice mail and all that. It’s a copout and it sucks and if you do that to people you’re an asshole. Answer your phone.”

Albini on pizza: “Not really into pizza in the US. I’ll make an exception for quality Italian-style wood oven places like Punch in Minneapolis. I’ll have a margherita at places like that or something simple like cheese, arugula and prosciutto. For regular American pizza I’ll eat whatever somebody else orders and offers me. Not picky.”

Albini on jazz: “[I]t sucks and I’m tired of hearing about it. Believe me I’ve tried. I just hate the parts I hate about it more than I like the little things there are to like. The batting average is just so low I can’t bear the dead time between highlights being filled with all that noodling. It’s vain music.”

4. He Regrets Calling the Pixies “Cows”

In 1991, writing in the zine Forced Exposure after producing Surfer Rosa, Albini described the album as, “A patchwork pinch loaf from a band who at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rocks,” and said of the band, “Never have I seen four cows more anxious to be led around by their nose rings.” The Albini of 2012 expressed an uncharacteristic emotion called “remorse” on Reddit over that statement. “I was mean writing about the Pixies in a Forced Exposure article,” he says. “I was being rude in an effort to be genuine and it comes off petulant. I regret that. The band didn’t deserve that, regardless what I thought of them.” That is as close to a mea culpa as Steve Albini is probably capable of coming.

5. Treating MP3s Like Physical Objects Is Just Absurd

“I reject the term ‘piracy.’ It’s people listening to music and sharing it with other people, and it’s good for musicians because it widens the audience for music,” he says, before turning his attention to his favorite punching bag, the recording industry. “The record industry doesn’t like trading music because they see it as lost sales, but that’s nonsense. Sales have declined because physical discs are no longer the distribution medium for mass-appeal pop music, and expecting people to treat files as physical objects to be inventoried and bought individually is absurd.” He goes on to gush about the impact this has had on live music attendance and the spike in ticket prices – which he’s in favor of – and generally approves of the direction of music for bands these days. Given what he wrote about in a famous essay that appeared in Maximum Rock N Roll in the ’90s, that’s probably to be expected.

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