Shellac, the band that lives in the land of Do-As-You-Please, is finally gracing us with their almighty presence this Sunday at The New Parish in Oakland. Bootleggers be warned: all recordings to tape only.
I have been listening to the projects of sound engineer extraordinaire Steve Albini since I was a teenager. Not only is he the founding member of both Big Black and Shellac, he was also a seminal recording engineer in the 90s, working with bands I adored (The Pixies, The Jesus Lizard, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai and Nirvana to name a few) and using methods that were—at the time—unheard of.
Focusing on the live sound of the band playing as a whole as opposed to singular takes of separated instruments mixed together to create the illusion of a song played by all members simultaneously, and focusing instead on microphone choice and placement to ensure the band’s aesthetic translated onto the finished product, he forever altered both the way we document rock music and how we listen to it.
Albini offered studio time at affordable rates, royalties were refused, album credit was unwanted and the role of producer was turned down. Albini sought to capture the essence of the band efficiently, keeping the vocals low in the mix and tracking only to tape. His methods were unholy and free, entirely his own and something made both possible and affordable by the major label roster he was building. The man was in demand and therefore got to set the rules of play.
The same could be said for Shellac. A self-described “minimal rock trio” with leanings toward post-rock, noise and math rock, the band release when they feel like releasing, tour when they feel like touring and think little to nothing of the mainstream press. A privileged view for sure and one that almost any other band could not get away with, Shellac blaze their own trails and then light the path on fire to dissuade non-believers.
I myself am a believer. I recognize the absurdity and advantage of a band that refuses to engage in the demeaning cycle required. I appreciate Albini’s sarcasm in lyrics and in interviews. I think Todd Trainer is one of the greatest drummers on the planet. I still consider Surfer Rosa to be the best album by The Pixies. The impact has not lessened. The man is still legend and the band still highly regarded. Almost miraculous, it seems, yet made that much more satisfying by the longevity—I highly recommend catching Shellac on this tour. The next time they come through you could be 90.
Shellac play The New Parish this Saturday and Sunday, October 22nd & 23rd. Doors are at 8pm, tickets are $18 and Helen Money provides support.