Steve Albini, out of his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, has already worked with a long list of your favorites, including: The PIxies, PJ Harvey, and of course, Nirvana. And he's still at it.

We asked Alex Tween of The Forms (also recorded by Albini) to check in with NYC's harshest critic (you will learn by the end of this interview what he really thinks of our fair city)—below they discuss the music industry, Lady Gaga, Odd Future, In Utero, and more. Albini will be in town soon with his own band Shellac, playing the ATP Festival (at its new home in New Jersey) and the Bell House (on October 3rd).

I remember when I saw Shellac last year play at Bell House that it was pretty striking to see a band live that was playing really direct, aggressive music that wasn’t trying to be pretty or poppy. It just seems from my perspective that there aren’t many bands that are making dark or ugly music anymore. Well, it sort of depends on the idiom really. There’s a lot of sort of grungy metal and punk stuff where every single band is trying to make aggressive music.

Yeah, I guess I’m referring more to the... Bands that play at the clubs you go to.

More or less, yes [laughs]. But, I guess you really do record all sorts of bands... Yeah, that’s one of the most fun parts about my job because I get exposed to a really wide swath of what’s happening in the music world everyday.

And it’s not necessarily what I might be seeing. Part of it is just what kind of person goes to the grocery store. I mean every kind of person goes to the grocery store—except for the people who have their butlers do their shopping for them.

Are there any bands around now that you are a big fan of? Yeah, you know, it’s always an awkward question for me to answer because if I mention somebody then by default I’m always not mentioning other people. It always puts me in the position of having to sort of out people as not my favorite music. It’s immaterial to be working on their records.

That way they can privately dream that you are a big fan. Well, it’s rude, you know? Like, asking a girl about all of her ex-boyfriends. No, really. You want to know, you know?

You wrote a well-known essay called “The Problem With Music” which details how artists are ruthlessly exploited by the music industry... Or used to be back when there was a music industry.

That’s what I’m kind of getting at—whether there is still a “problem with music” now that the industry has largely been destroyed by the Internet. By the people who listen to music. That’s the thing that’s awesome about it. The music business and the record business used to be synonyms. When someone talks about being in the music business what he meant, until fairly recently, was that he was in the record business. But people who listen to music have yanked the rug out from record labels and made the music industry back into something about music now. Basically, the music industry now means people who play live music in front of an audience and places where that happens. That’s what it means. The record business is now a puny adjunct to the touring existence that a lot of bands have been using for their bread and butter for a lot of years anyway.

One of the most well-known casualties of the music industry was Nirvana, who are in the ether once again, as it’s the 20-year anniversary of Nevermind. You recorded their follow-up to that album, In Utero. I realize I’m probably the millionth person to ask you about them but I was wondering, now that all this time has passed... I’ll take the over on a million by the way.

Well maybe not as much these days? It’s like any other sort of touchstone band. Every year another big brother goes off to college and leaves his records to his little brother and another generation of fans find out about every band that sort of survives the slush pile. Nirvana is a classic example of a band that’s gonna continually find a new audience for itself until that kind of music no longer resonates with people and that might be a very long time.

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Albini's poker room at ATP 2008 (Photo by Jen Carlson/Gothamist)

You’re about to be doing some touring, including playing All Tomorrow’s Parties once again. Are you running a poker room there this year? It’s kind of awkward this year. When we played and ATP was out in the Catskills it was in this Catskill resort called Kutcher's, and Kutcher's had a card room as part of their establishment and it was called the Executive Card Room and it was kind of assumed that there would be card playing going on. That’s sort of how we got started doing it. It kind of became a tradition and now we have to find a place to do it. There’s a number of complications that go into New Jersey gaming laws. You can have a private poker game, that’s fine. But, you can’t advertise it. Like, I don’t know if I can even tell you we’re having a card game. So it can’t be advertised. You can’t take a rake. There's a lot of totally normal things but rather than jeopardize a poker game, if one were to brake out, I guess I’m going to say I don’t know if there’s going to be a poker game. Let’s put it that way.

In thinking about this interview I realized that at almost every point that I’ve run into you, you’ve had some sort of non-musical obsession of the moment, poker for one period of time and billiards as well. I came across your food blog, MarioBataliVoice. Is this your current non-musical obsession. Well, as an adult, I’ve always cooked and the food blog came along in a pretty innocent way. My wife got an iPhone and the iPhone had a good camera on it. So whenever I would bring her dinner, typically in bed, she’d be laying around watching television and I’d bring her dinner, present it to her in a mimic of the way that Mario Batali talks about his food...

Fake Italian? Not really fake Italian, fake Mario Batali. Typically he concludes the presentation of his food with, “enjoy” or “Bon Appetito.” So I’d conclude my presentation with “enjoy” or “Bon Appetito.” So Heather got to taking pictures of the dinners that I was making for her and posting them on her Facebook for her friends to see, so she could sort of crow about how nice I was being to her, and wouldn’t everyone like to have a husband as nice as me. Things like that. At least that’s the way I interpret it.

So then she started a blog just to collect all of these pictures. Eventually there ended up being quite a few of these pictures. So she started a blog collecting all of these pictures in one place and then I started writing things on the blog about the food. That’s where it came from. It wasn’t a conceptual thing like, now I need to start talking about food all the time. It’s just an extension of my relationship with my wife, Heather, and an extension of my relationship with me making dinner for her.

So this is an interview for Gothamist, which is a New York-centric website. I believe you. Do you have any New York stories that you’d care to share? No.

You ridiculed New Yorkers pretty badly at your last Bell House show. Well, there’s the thing about New York. New York is such a monolith that it’s pointless to have an opinion about it. It’s like bitching about the weather. It certainly won’t accomplish anything and it certainly won’t make you feel better about what you didn’t like. New York has a couple of characteristics that are undeniable and one of those is that it’s a magnet for assholes who couldn’t get any attention at home and decided that the problem wasn’t that they weren’t interesting but that there were all these squares around them in Dubuque or whatever and they need to go to some big cosmopolitan city like New York where people will appreciate them. So if you can imagine that scenario playing out within every city in North America and every one of those assholes with an opinion slightly outreaching his ability getting on a fucking Greyhound. You end up with a pretty good description of what’s annoying about New York is that it’s full of people whose self-image just ever-so-slightly outstrips their ability.

I studied painting under in college under Ed Paschke, who is dead now, he was a brilliant, brilliant educator. He was one of the only people in college who actually taught me anything. I mean, I learned a lot while I was in college, don’t get me wrong, but not a lot of it was academic and not much of it was taught to me, it was primarily stuff I learned on my own. But he was one of the few people that actually taught me anything. But at one point, and he was the first person to make me aware of this, of being in New York. He described it as the “catch-all of runners up.” And I think that’s probably what annoys me about New York when I’m annoyed by it. Whatever they’re doing at the moment, that’s not really them, in their minds. Like, I’m working in this bookstore but I’m not a bookstore clerk, I’m a writer. Or like, I’m working in the restaurant but I’m not a waiter, I’m an actor. There are all these people who are not the thing that they are doing at the moment and therefore feel demeaned by every second of their existence. And the chip on New York’s shoulder is the thing that keeps everything on the ground there. It’s the massive weight that causes all of the gravity that happens in New York.

Having said that. I’m going to do that English thing. Oh, he’s such a cunt. [Fake British accent] I mean that in the nicest way. [Laughter] I mean this in the nicest way really but he is just such a cunt, you know. Really I just want to murder him, I mean I love him, but I just want to murder him.

Speaking of people with a sense of entitlement, you recently wrote a diatribe about the band Odd Future. Oh, it wasn’t really a diatribe. It was a message board thread about Odd Future and I happened to have an anecdote about them so I share my anecdote and what passes for Journalism these days is repeating things that other people link to you on Twitter so that’s what it boils down to. That became a News thing.

You’ve dealt with some very well-known “rock stars” over the years and I was wondering if you found that sort of entitled persona common in musicians on that level. In my experience, it’s more rare than people who are not musicians would like it to be. So they tend to grasp onto any examples of it as if they were the norm. Like, inflate any perception of that indulgent, bratty behavior. They tend to inflate it and grasp on it and those things become conversational moments. It’s pretty rare. I mean, what do people know about Oasis? Oh, they’re brothers and they fought all the time. Blah, blah, blah. They’d had all these outbursts and all this rockstar shit. Right? And that shit, apparently, does quite a bit for the public profile of the band. In a place like England where there’s really, really powerful music media presence. In the US I mean, that’s all that anybody knows about them because nobody bothered listening to their music.

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One of the rooms at Electrical Audio. (Photo by Jen Carlson/Gothamist)

It seems though, if you look at artists like Lady Gaga, they seem to intentionally just focus on that sort of thing. I’m an exceptionally lucky man in that I’ve never heard a note of Lady Gaga’s music and you could sit her on my lap and I wouldn’t recognize her. I know that she’s a cultural force at the moment but I’m quite satisfied in having dodged that one. It’s like a truck drove by spraying shit from a nozzle over the entire neighborhood and I happened to be under an awning. You know?

What it boils down to is that I’ve maintained a scrupulous cultural ignorance since about 1985 when I realized that what’s going on out there in the regular world means nothing to me. If it’s not being done by people I can identify with in some way or people that say something that punches through the distance between me and them and makes me pay attention to it. If it’s not that, if I don’t find it rewarding then I’m not going to spend any energy trying to think about it. There was a period there, in the ‘90s, when people who were my friends even, started trying to rationalize an appreciation of mainstream pop music. Bullshit like Madonna and that fuckin’ Cher single that was everywhere...

“Believe.” Right. Shit like that, people would pretend that it somehow lessened me as a person that I had no connection with this shit that I despised. Saying that this stuff is culturally significant, that it’s going to influence arts and letters for decades. Well I’m not going to read any of those letters then and I’m certainly not going to watch any of that art. I’m not going to give a shit about that. I don’t care. I don’t care what influence Fonzi has had on music, art, and sculpture. I’m not interested in that music, art, and sculpture. I mean, to use a dated metaphor there. Fonzi. The entertaining thing about that is that it was the beginning of the snake swallowing its tail of retrograde nostalgia that we’ve been wallowing in ever since.

I guess Fonzi has been very influential in a strange way. I think the way that it was influential is that it showed a lot of people that you could make a lot of money making people look and act the way that children think that they did twenty years ago. [Laughter] This is kind of weird. Did you ever see the Woodstock movie?

Do you mean the documentary? Yeah. Okay, well the band Sha Na Na appear in that film. As weird as that sounds. You know Sha Na Na...

The TV show. They had a TV show for children, yeah. That was probably the beginning of the retrograde snake consuming itself that I was discussing. Right?

Woodstock the movie and Sha Na Na being in it. But if you think about it let’s say the period that Sha Na Na were trying to evoke was 1959. When was Woodstock? ‘69 or ‘67. I’m going to Google it right now while I’m on the phone with you so that I can continue this conversation... Alright, 1969. So Sha Na Na seemed stupid and out of place in 1969 when they were evoking nostalgia for an era that was ten years earlier. Now, we’ve got so many layers of nostalgia that we’ve got a nostalgia for the second or third revival of something as nostalgia. I totally expect a fourth wave of ska to roll through at some point.

I think there may already be. My brother actually played in a pretty well known ska band and he claimed that ska is more popular now than it ever has been. Oh, which band was it?

They were called Mephiskapheles. I was going to say please let it be Mephiskapheles. Was he horn?

No, he was a guitar player. That’s a super easy gig. Guitar in a ska band? I mean half the time you can even just shut your amp off.

So what else is in this Gothamist? Should I look at it? I shouldn’t look at it, should I?

I would be in a lot of trouble if I said don’t look at it. So, of course look at it! I’m not going to bother. I’m just going to assume whatever you’re involved in, that is fine.

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Pip Albini! (Photo by Jen Carlson/Gothamist)

One last thing. Jen from Gothamist expressed interest in acquiring the cat that lives at your studio, Pip, and wanted to see what could be offered in exchange. Not going to happen. Pip is now the grand dame of the studio. She just lays around and lets people dote on her. That’s like her whole job now.

I’ll let you go now but am going to be at your Bell House show so will see you then, and thanks. Yeah, make sure you say hi.