R.I.P. Steve Albini

Music News
Dusty Henry
photo by Victoria Holt

Legendary recording engineer and musician Steve Albini has died of a heart attack. Pitchfork confirmed the news with staff at Albini’s recording studio Electronic Audio. He was 61. 

Albini, who preferred the label “recording engineer” over “producer,” has had a hand in some of the most influential records in underground rock music and far beyond. He worked behind the boards for records like Nirvana’s In Utero, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, The Breeders’ Pod, Joanna Newsom’s Ys, Songs:Ohia’s Magnolia Electric Co., among numerous others. Albini also played music in several of his own bands, including Big Black and Shellac. Shellac are set to release a new record, To All Trains, on May 17 and were set to tour behind the record as well. Both the tour and the album would be the band's first in a decade.

Though known for his sometimes cantankerous demeanor, Albini held strongly to his core values. He refused to take royalties on albums he worked on – a rare stance in the music industry. In a letter to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain when the band inquired about collaboarting with him on In Utero, Albini famously wrote, “I would like to be paid like a plumber: I do the job and you pay me what it's worth.”  When working with artists, Albini largely saw his role as capturing the band as they sound in the studio, being there to help solve problems, but largely to stay out of the way and let the artists control how they want their project to sound.

He was a vocal advocate for analog recording over digital and opened up his own studio, Electrical Audio, in 1995. His off hands approach made him an in-demand producer. While he worked on many blockbuster, chart-topping albums, Albini constantly worked with newer and up-and-coming artists. In recent years, he’s worked with artists such as Cloud Nothings, Black Midi, Low, Ty Segall, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Screaming Females, and many others. 

Outside of engineering and performing, Albini was also a music journalist. In the early 80s, he wrote for local Chicago zines like Forced Exposure and the magazine Matter. Beyond music, he played competitive poker and appeared several times in the World Series of Poker. 

Albini’s legacy as an engineer and musician has shaped so much of the music we’ve championed at KEXP and KCMU over the years. Join us in revisiting some of our favorite works and moments below. You can also revisit DJ Troy Nelson's tribute set on The Midday Show in the two-week streaming archive here until May 22.