Big Black Interviews

Big Black: Hot Sand Wedges vs. Three Little Putters

from Forced Exposure #9, Winter 1986

Like Sonic Youth, Big Black is a band composed of an assortment of goobers who, when locked in musical coitus, are somehow able to overcome their bounteous social inadequacies and bellow out a Hellish amount of great effin' skronk. The first time they were supposed to come play Boston, Steve "Whitey" Albini sent us 200 posters for the show, the day before it was supposed to take place, with a tearful plea that we "please, please put them up." Oddly enough, we complied. The job took several hours and half a tank of gas. Naturally, Big Black decided not to play this show and much jesting occurred around the house re: our gullibility.

Consequently, when Big Black finally came to B'ton and played a knuckle- blistering set at The Rat [7/6/85], we got them to do a post-show at [Salem 66 roadie] Emily Kaplan's house that has since made 'em bray that we've "gotta keep that part out." No way, fuckers. It's all staying in. --ED

Steve Albini: vocals, gtr, Roland pedal

Santiago Durango: gtr

Dave Riley: bs

Jon Easley: ex-vocalist for Sorry

FE #9: Jimmy & Byron


[long introductory section is spent talking about a bunch of worthless subjects like Vic Bondi and his Articles of Faith.]

Steve Albini: AOF know that I don't like them, and I know Vic Bondi doesn't like me a whole lot.

FE #9: Liar.

Steve Albini: So it's not too likely that they're gonna call me up: "So, Steve..."

FE #9: "So, Pinkeye..."

Steve Albini: Well, Vic will be here this year in the fall. He's going to BU for grad school.

FE #9: Great, he'll be able to do those acoustic sets upstairs at The Rat.

Steve Albini: Like I said, I don't wanna talk about AOF, 'cause everyone's always asking me about them.

FE #9: I don't wanna know about AOF. Don't worry, we're not gonna put any of this shit in there. I mean, who cares about Ruth Schwartz's favorite band? We wanna know about Big Black. And Dave and his firecrackers. [The Rat wouldn't let them set off a bunch of wee combustibles as planned during their set, so Dave got a little brave after the show and let them rip in the parking lot before leaving -- ED]

...OK Dave, we know you're pissed [regarding comments by Albini in last issue's Big Black thing about Dave having a "nasty habit of getting riotously fucked up before gigs" -- ED]. Albini said it all. We took out all the bad stuff. He took up the back sides of two large envelopes writing stuff about you.

Dave Riley: I don't have a nasty habit of getting riotously fucked up before gigs.

FE #9: Really? Well, why'd you set off all those firecrackers last night? All those college girls getting you worked up?

Emily Kaplan: There were no college girls there last night.

FE #9: There were too.

Emily Kaplan: Name one.

FE #9: I don't know them by name. Just look at 'em...

Emily Kaplan: No, they're all in Europe now during the summer.

FE #9: Well, what the hell were they doing at a Big Black show? I saw forty or fifty college girls there last night. I was counting 'em. I don't know them.

[talk about how Sorry's singer, Jon, who was sitting in, occasionally plays without pants]

Steve Albini: Santiago has played nude before.

FE #9: Many times, I'm sure. So many of your friends have, Steve.

Steve Albini: Naked Raygun were opening for The Fall and they came back for an encore, doing "Libido" stark naked except for guitars.

FE #9: Wow, Mark Smith must have been panting.

Jon: I hear you can grab your crotch from behind without bending.

Steve Albini: I can.

FE #9: Yeah, Pezzati's got pictures.

Dave Riley: I've grabbed his crotch from behind.

FE #9: That's easy for you to say, Dave.

Steve Albini: Did Pezzati show you how he can make his throat into a tent?

FE #9: He was tellin' us about it, but we didn't wanna see it. Thurston [Moore, from Sonic Youth] called us up and said, "Pezzati's got pictures of Albini in his underwear"... but I saw those boxer shorts poking out tonight, so you've prodded a hole in that myth.

[much petitioning for the "real" interview to begin]

FE #9: I wanna know where my Lungs insert is. I never got one. I want some blood or something.

Steve Albini: Well, Dutch East India took out all the dangerous inserts. We had some with blasting caps, razor blades, firecrackers, fishhooks. They took out anything fun, basically...

FE #9: So, Big Black started as a college project at Northwestern, right?

Steve Albini: No.

FE #9: It was originally you and Liz Phillip, and Liz was writing all the lyrics, right? C'mon pal, tell us about the gestation of Big Black.

Steve Albini: I got kicked out of this other band in Chicago...

Dave Riley: Stations.

Steve Albini: You weren't supposed to mention that, Dave... they were skinny tie New Wave...

FE #9: "They"?

Steve Albini: ...then, for the next 6 months I was in the band, they were hot.

FE #9: Were you singing then?

Steve Albini: No, I just played bass and they were upset that I kept calling Bryan Ferry a stupid fag... so they got a bass player who dressed better than me.

FE #9: That couldn't have been a very difficult task.

Steve Albini: We had recorded this demo and Martin Hannet had already agreed to fly over and do a record with us. The rest of the band had gone over to England to give him the tape, and to hang out with him. When they came back, they said, "Hey, we gotta get serious and kick Steve out of the band."

FE #9: Why would Hannet do it? Wasn't that about the time of his height of demand?

Steve Albini: Well, there is actually a Stations 45 in existence, which came out about a year before I was in the band, and is about ninety-eight percent rubbish. There is one good moment, the rest is pop-wimp garbage.

After that came out they decided they wanted to start doing live shows again, so they got me, and we wrote two sets of material starting from scratch, all brand new stuff, and I had about fifty percent input into the songs. It was just me and this other guy, David Stowell, making all the music, and at that point he was an incredible fucking guitar player.

He'd plug his guitar into the preamp section of his ARP synthesizer and turn it up all the way so it would just be this total blasting fuzz, and go from there into these two huge reverb tanks built into the synthesizer so it was just this really dense, fuzz drone guitar. And he had a drum machine, and the keyboards to the synthesizer, and a little casio organ, plus these bass synth pedals, so he would stand there in front of this huge rack of shit and make this wall of sound coming out all by himself. There was one song where he's playing guitar with one hand, just raking the strings back and forth, playing synth with the other hand, and playing bass pedals with his feet.

FE #9: What did you do?

Steve Albini: I just played bass. And there was his girlfriend on vocals named Patty Smith, who called herself George Black to avoid confusion. They booted me because I had been showing them these songs I had, some of which ended up on the first Big Black record. And the could not stand any of them. So they got this bass player who was the most lame, art-damaged wimp who had been in a band called The Painterband, who had a single on Disturbing Records -- abysmal. But he had the greatest bass sound, it went: "dip, dip, dip." (laughing) Every note. So they got him and then Hannet came over and recorded $600 worth of stuff at their expense.

FE #9: $600 for Hannet is like fifteen minutes, right?

Steve Albini: They got part of one song recorded, plus they had to pay him like $2,000 in expenses while he was there. They had to fly over his girlfriend who answered all his calls and literally fed him his breakfast and stuff like that.

He had degenerated into a subhuman thing at that point, and he was basically dysfunctional in the studio. He would just sit there on the sofa staring into the speaker for the longest time, and then leap up and tweak a knob and then sit down again. All in all, I'm sure they spent close to four, five grand to have this guy come over to record part of a song which ended up being totally useless anyway.

FE #9: Did they break up?

Steve Albini: No, they stayed around and made this video which made it onto MTV called "Man Becomes Shrub." (laughter)

FE #9: Were you doing anything before Stations?

Steve Albini: I was in a band in Montana called Just Ducky, and then in Chicago I was in a really bad punk band called Small Irregular Pieces of Aluminum. (laughter)

FE #9: Were they any relation to Circle Seven?

Steve Albini: Yeah, Randy Peprock of Circle Seven was in Just Ducky -- one of the guitar players. Circle Seven when they were called Who Killed Society actually were a motherfucker band. Just amazing. If you can imagine it, almost a cross between old Agent Orange and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Then they turned into Circle Seven... whose record had its moments but it definitely wasn't as good as it should have been.

FE #9: How long were you in Montana?

Steve Albini: Eight years. I left for Chicago in June '80. Before Montana I was in Washington, DC and Santa Barbara, if you really have to know.

FE #9: We do. Didn't you try to get those guys from Montana [Just Ducky] to come with you to Chicago?

Steve Albini: Yeah, I sent Randy a copy of the original Big Black demo I did and said, "Move out here and be in a band with me." He said that they [Circle Seven] were "too close to having something going in Seattle," so he was gonna stay. He's actually in a band with Ron Reyes now [aka Chavo Pederast, Black Flag's second singer], and works at a ballpoint pen sales company with Black Randy. He says his band with Ron is like Mott the Hoople. They didn't have a name yet.

FE #9: The last band Ron was in really blew. They were named after some New York Dolls song.

Steve Albini: This sounds like the same disease.

FE #9: So you grew up in Montana, huh?

Steve Albini: Yeah, all my formative years were in Montana. I lived in the boonies at the bottom of this huge ski mountain -- all the typical hick stuff.

FE #9: But you were able to buy Suicide LPs.

Steve Albini: Just one. It just showed up in this used record shop. There was one shop that would order me stuff if I asked them long enough in advance. Rolling Stone, at this point, would still periodically drop hints about punk rock and I would pick up names that way. I sorta stumbled across the first Ramones LP, and that, plus the first two Stooges LPs, got me through high school.

FE #9: And you had a band?

Steve Albini: Yeah, Just Ducky. That was when we decided, "OK, time to start punk rock in Montana." And it went over about as well as you would expect. And we were legitimately terrible too, so everyone who hated us had valid reason for doing so.

FE #9: Got any tapes?

Steve Albini: (after a very long pause) No.

FE #9: Liar. Did you have original songs?

Steve Albini: It was about fifty percent originals. The cover songs were real simple, like "Human Fly" by The Cramps -- anything that had just 2 notes... we had a booking agency and everything. It was like Midwest Talent or something. They had us take band photos...

FE #9: Oh man, you gotta send us a Just Ducky promo pic.

Steve Albini: ...and they had like 200 copies of our song list (all of which were unintelligible) which they sent out to try and get us shows. We got like three shows out of them.

We played at this frat party in Idaho, which was actually pretty great. And we played at this prom in this bumfuck town in Montana, and they shut us down after like twenty minutes. This woman came running onstage, waving this check, "Take your money and leave!" They tried to stop payment on the check, they tried to sue us, something stupid like showing disrespect to the flag.

In the auditorium we had this dead duck that our singer used to carry around. It wasn't even a stuffed dead duck, it was just this dead duck, and he used to hang it on things. Which was stupid I thought, but that night he hung it on the flag, and apparently he got duck juice on the flag, and they tried to get us in trouble for that.

The last show we ever did was at this disco called The Star Garage. This was before people out there had any notion of what punk rock was about, even we didn't know what we were doing. There were all these regular joes in the audience, hicks with mustaches and stuff. We got more shit thrown at us than I've ever witnessed anywhere else. We had this girl singer who got hit straight-on with an ashtray.

FE #9: You had a girl singer in Just Ducky... singing "Human Fly"?

Steve Albini: Yeah, but we also had this other guy to sing. It was really a weird, big band sort of a thing. There were like nine people onstage.

FE #9: A little horn section?

Steve Albini: Uh, the singer played trombone actually. (laughter) We had all these great two-note songs like, "I'm A Prick."

FE #9: You must have written that one. So this was in '78?

Steve Albini: No, that was like the summer of '79. Then I was in this motorcycle wreck and that's basically when the band called it quits. I really fucked up my leg badly. That's why I walk funny now...

FE #9: Yeah, we were wondering.

Steve Albini: ...but I got a lot of money for breaking my leg in that accident, so that's how I was able to afford to go to Northwestern for journalism school. There were two people who made me decide I'd have to be in Big Black all by myself. One was John Lundin, who was a former member of Naked Raygun, and is currently the guitarist in Toothpaste.

FE #9: Is there anybody in Chicago who hasn't been in Naked Raygun? Dave, how long were you in the band?

Dave Riley: Only about three weeks.

Santiago Durango: I started that band. Me and Marco Pezzati started it about the summer of '80. We were a three piece for a really long time, then we got Jeff [Pezzati, singer for Naked Raygun] who had hair out to here [long, hard stretch].

FE #9: Hair to match his ears. Before he got that Albini influence on his head.

Steve Albini: He does have landing field hair. Putting-green hair.

Santiago Durango: We had people come and go, but basically it was just me, Marco, Colao (on drums), and Jeff. There were probably eight to ten people in the band altogether.

Steve Albini: Naked Raygun were probably the first Chicago band I was impressed with. I had shown up in town as a total dillweed who didn't know shit. I didn't even know where any clubs were, I ended up asking people at Northwestern University where I could see cool music, and these people would be like, "Well, there's a frat over here that has bands sometimes." It was ridiculous. It took me so long to break through the barrier of ignorance. At that time, Chicago was such a friendly pal scene, unless you were a friendly pal with one of the friendly pals, you just couldn't find out what was going on.

Santiago Durango: There were three bands that carved out the scene: Naked Raygun, Strike Under, and The Effigies. When those three bands started playing it started the whole ball rolling.

Steve Albini: This was still pretty early on in the scheme of things. My first year in college, I was like the only person in my whole school who had any notion of what punk rock was all about.

FE #9: Did you have one of those beehive hairdos then?

Steve Albini: No, I did have orange hair for about three weeks. I just had sorta like a "wad" of hair, 'cause I didn't want to have to pay for a haircut.

FE #9: Did you ever see this, Dave? Any of these "wad" haircuts?

Dave Riley: No, I didn't move to Chicago 'til 1982. I was living in Detroit.

FE #9: Why?

Dave Riley: A lot of college girls. No, that's where I was born.

FE #9: Were you playing in bands there?

Dave Riley: Not really. Nothing worth mentioning.

FE #9: Nothing great like the Detroit Mutants or Cynecide or something... or like Just Ducky?

Dave Riley: I did play in a band called Static for about two weeks. The singer was John, who went on to form Negative Approach.

FE #9: So, why'd you move to Chicago?

Dave Riley: Well, I was working in this recording studio, and I showed up one day and the door was shut. And while I didn't have a job I was visiting a friend in Chicago and I realized it was much more happening in Chicago than in Detroit.

Steve Albini: But he did get to see black superstars taking drugs and collapsing on the sofa at record company expense.

Dave Riley: Yeah, the studio I worked at, the in-house production was all the George Clinton stuff, Parliament/Funkadelic and Sly Stone for a long time as well. That's actually why I wasn't really involved in the punk scene, 'cause I was holed-up in that studio fifty hours a week. People in Detroit aren't quite as savvy as people in Chicago. People in Detroit will resent that, but just listen to some of those records from Detroit like the Cynecide 45s and compare them to what was coming out of Chicago...

Steve Albini: Oh, you mean like the Phil-In-The-Blanks records and The Immune System? There's dorks in every town. And that's why everyone thought Chicago sucked so badly, it's because the only people getting records out for the longest time were people like Novestrau.

FE #9: It didn't seem like Chicago was producing a wealth of independent product.

Steve Albini: All that stuff was horseshit, and that was the only stuff available.

Dave Riley: Yeah, I just think people were a little bit more complicated in Chicago...

FE #9: The Detroit thing always seemed like real "rock 'n roll."

Dave Riley: It was always this: (raises his fist in the air in mock arena-rock gesture)

FE #9: Dave Riley striking the air, drunk again, shadowboxing in the corner... so how'd you meet Albini?

Dave Riley: Steve had this band I was in, Savage Beliefs.

FE #9: Oh, yeah. I've got that single. The one with the wonderful sleeve. Ha!

Dave Riley: Hey, I was in a band with these art students what could I do?

FE #9: Quick, go to college.

Dave Riley: So, Steve had liked us and got us opening slots for The Effigies and then Big Black. And then one night, Steve gave me a copy of the Lungs record and said, "Listen to this, and if you don't think it sucks, then maybe you can play with us someday."

FE #9: What an effacing guy.

Dave Riley: So I listened to it and I thought...

FE #9: "...this sucks."

Dave Riley: ...it was really cool. So I ended up playing with him along with Savage Beliefs, and then we broke up, which was also around the same time that Jeff decided that he couldn't be in Naked Raygun anymore. So Steve asked me to join full-time, which was like December '84. And then we got around to practicing the beginning of February. We had a lot of aborted practices.

FE #9: Was that the extent of it the Savage Beliefs stuff -- the single and the Midwest compilation?

Dave Riley: And there's also the feature-length movie. This independent filmmaker named Charles Finch and our drummer had been in one of his earlier movies, he got this five times divorced dumb woman from Minnesota to fund this narrative.

You know that song "Jake" on the single? In the movie there's a fifth member of the band who's this really bad actor...

FE #9: Kinda like Albini.

Dave Riley: ...and it's about a love triangle between him and this drug dealer named Jake, and Jake's girlfriend.

FE #9: So they made the movie about that song?

Steve Albini: Just like "Ode to Billy Joe."

Dave Riley: The song is about this shitty neighbor that the drummer and guitar player used to have. The guy who made the movie, Charles, had seen Savage Beliefs and thought we were really cool and he wanted to make this really cheap-ass movie with lots of sex and violence and drugs and stuff. So he just wrote this script around that song. And we're in the process of working on the soundtrack. It's definitely gonna be released. There's like five of our "pop" songs in it, but we still have to do the chase scenes and all that crap. And the death scene.

FE #9: Kick some Albini butt.

Steve Albini: Dave gets machinegunned.

Dave Riley: You should interview me sometime when I'm awake. (laughter) But anyway, that's how I met Steve. He actually called me and said, "If you don't think we suck..." (laughter)

FE #9: So why didn't you tell him it sucked?

Dave Riley: I liked it.

FE #9: Did you really like it, or did you just think, "Well, my band's broken up now I gotta go do something else. I'll have a chance to go on tour now"?

Steve Albini: "And get some college girls."

Dave Riley: Well, by this time, Racer X was just coming out and I was getting riotously drunk all the time so everything sounded good. (laughter) No, I really liked it. I liked the way Durango played guitar... now the first time I met Durango he was leaning over the sink at The Cubby Bear in a drunken stupor. He saw me and goes, "You're in Savage Beliefs, aren't you? You guys are really good. You've got real style." And then he went ptoof -- throwing up in the sink. (laughter)

FE #9: He must have made a good impression -- head down in a sinkful of puke. Did Savage Beliefs tour at all?

Dave Riley: Well, we played in Hammond, Indiana once. It's a big long story... you don't want to play in a band with visual artists... actually I don't want to tell you guys all this shit 'cause you'll print it. Obviously you'll print anything. They were just in the band for fun, getting fucked up all the time. Not that I'm against fun, but they were just...

FE #9: Jerks.

Dave Riley: They were riotously drunk all the time. They were always talking about doing slide shows (laughter) and this and that. They didn't really have any focused ideas as to what it's like to be in a band. I was quitting every five minutes.

FE #9: Did you quit Big Black yet? As of the last issue, right?

Steve Albini: After he read that, he got out of the apartment and went into the car, slammed the door and said, "I'm just gonna sleep in here then, ya bastard."

Dave Riley: Actually, I'm starting to think of all these people I knew in Detroit how, like Scott Campbell, and Peter James, and Nikki and the Corvettes... not exactly hardcore, but...

FE #9: Yeah, not exactly... well, kinda hardcore. I mean Nikki never was but I always thought The Corvettes were pretty hardcore. They must have been, if Barry Hennsler interviewed them for Smegma Journal.

Dave Riley: I never played with them, I was just sorta hanging out, making coffee.

FE #9: It's like "George Clinton's out of town, here come Nikki and The Corvettes." What a letdown.

Dave Riley: I used to have to go out and buy George baking soda. They used to freebase quite a bit.

Sly Stone showed up one night and had everyone running around, getting him cocaine. And he finally ended up with like three grams, and he based up two and a half, and said "Oh, this shit isn't any good." Then he fell asleep on the couch for like eight hours, at about $175 an hour. I was instructed to shut off the lights and to go downstairs and just leave him be. That's the kind of shit that used to go down.

There was one time I had to go pick him up at a hotel and was driving him down this huge divided highway, and he used to carry around this briefcase and I could never figure out what was in it, and then I look over and he's snorting away, in heavy traffic and everything... I did serious drugs with George Clinton too.

We were discussing this the other day, and came to the conclusion that we're a band of ex-speed freaks.

FE #9: Steve, you used to do a lot of drugs with George?

Dave Riley: That's not really necessary to put into the mag.

FE #9: You guys have no idea what's necessary.

Dave Riley: Actually, there was one musical experience I did have in Detroit -- I played on a couple of real bad, embarrassing records.

Steve Albini: Oh yeah?

Dave Riley: They were way embarrassing records, though.

FE #9: Let's go. I probably have them. (laughter)

Dave Riley: Well, one was I got to do background noises on this Scott Campbell song "Yugoslavian Fruit-Bat-Bop," which has gotten airplay on Dr. Demento. He was trying to figure out what kind of sound he needed for this thing, and I had just eaten and I was sitting there in the back of the studio cleaning my teeth, and he heard me and goes, "That's it! That's it!" (laughter) They put some reverb on it and it sounded like a bunch of bats. That was the coolest music I did in Detroit.

FE #9: What was the least cool?

Dave Riley: I've got two singles which are really bad that I will never play for anybody.

FE #9: Solo 45s?

Dave Riley: No, they're with a friend of mine.

FE #9: What are they called?

Dave Riley: I'm not gonna tell you. They're really bad.

FE #9: Hey, look. We'll decide what's bad.

Dave Riley: The only good thing about them was that by doing these singles I got the job at the studio. They're really painfully blue-eyed white singles.

FE #9: Like Hall and Oates?

Dave Riley: Well, if they were like that, I'd probably tell you about them.

Steve Albini: Worse than Hall and Oates? (laughter)

FE #9: Well, you shouldn't have told us about them... OK, Santiago, what are the skeletons in your closet? Besides a sinkful of puke.

Steve Albini: Silver Abuse.

FE #9: Silver Abuse? Do they only have stuff on Busted At Oz, or is there more?

Santiago Durango: No, that version of Silver Abuse has nothing to do with the original Silver Abuse, which spawned a whole army of inferior versions.

FE #9: So it's like Silver Abuse I, II, III, etc.?

Santiago Durango: Yeah. Right now it's up to number 575.

FE #9: Which one were you in?

Santiago Durango: Silver Abuse I.

FE #9: Man, you've just been at the forefront of all this stuff. (laughter) Was this before Naked Raygun?

Santiago Durango: Yeah, this is the original punk band in Chicago.

FE #9: Well, tell us about Silver Abuse.

Santiago Durango: Well, we were riotously drunk. (laughter)

FE #9: How many of you were there?

Santiago Durango: There were five of us. One was a total acidhead who couldn't do anything more than play one note on guitar at any one point. He just fed back through everything. One of the guys was Colao who is the bass player now in Naked Raygun. The drummer went on to Toothpaste.

We were just a bunch of high school kids who got into the Ramones together. And we used to do a lot of drugs and get very drunk on very cheap wine. And make noise on instruments, and we got into punk, so we got this band together, with three guitars because we couldn't afford amps. We played a gig and we had a song that was offensive to people of the Jewish persuasion, and we led off with it, and they were offended by it, and that was that.

FE #9: That was it? You played one song?

Santiago Durango: Well, they wouldn't let us play anymore. It was a loft party thrown by this band called Tu Tu and the Pirates, (laughter) who were a bunch of fags that wore dog collars and thought they were punk, and another terrible band called Bam, who were another bunch of assholes.

FE #9: What was the song?

Santiago Durango: I'd rather not say.

Steve Albini: "All Jews Must Die."

Santiago Durango: You fucking asshole. We'll see how many guitar players you have tomorrow.

FE #9: And Dave won't play, either.

Dave Riley: One of the bad singles I played on was called "Eyes of Fire."

Santiago Durango: It was actually called "Jews Must Die," not "All..."

Steve Albini: That song will resurface on the next Toothpaste record, as "Toothpaste Must Die" though.

FE #9: That Silver Abuse ended after that one show?

Santiago Durango: No, we did one more as that Silver Abuse and for that we did a full set and we broke up 'cause I didn't want to play with them anymore.

Steve Albini: Santiago has written two or three dozen of the eternal riffs.

Santiago Durango: There's fifty bands doing my riffs for ever and ever.

FE #9: So, Silver Abuse is still together now?

Santiago Durango: Yeah, but they're a joke.

Steve Albini: The only original member is Boppin' Billy Meehan, the singer.

FE #9: He stayed in the band through all the changes?

Santiago Durango: Well, he's just always riotously drunk and will play with anybody.

FE #9: So it's kinda like The Saints. (laughter) So they still use songs you wrote?

Santiago Durango: A whole mess of bands use songs I wrote. Naked Raygun, Toothpaste...

FE #9: You were never in Toothpaste, were you?

Santiago Durango: No, but the guys I played with are and they learned my riffs.

FE #9: Why didn't you kill them?

Santiago Durango: They are not Jewish. (laughter)

FE #9: So when was the original Silver Abuse around? 1978?

Santiago Durango: Yeah.

FE #9: Did you ever record anything?

Santiago Durango: No. Nothing of value, just cheesy cassettes. Until these college students came into town, we were all very poor and didn't have money to do anything. And there was no money in Chicago for a band.

FE #9: It seems like Wax Trax was trying to put out records for a while, weren't they? They did that Strike Under record and they reissued that Subverts 45.

Steve Albini: No, they never did that. It was advertised but never came out. Autumm Records was going to reissue all those original EPs and never did. Autumm Records, from my understanding, was this tax dodge for a real estate investor or something like that.

FE #9: It seems like Naked Raygun or somebody would have recorded for them, considering...

Santiago Durango: No, 'cause it's the same problem that Big Black has now. We play for flies in Chicago -- they really don't...

Steve Albini: There were more people at The Rat tonight than we've had at all except maybe one of our Chicago shows.

FE #9: You can't rally up those college students? Like call up some of your old pals from Northwestern?

Steve Albini: I have like two friends from Northwestern. Everyone at that school hates me. Everyone I knew at Northwestern despised me. People who don't look anything like me have gotten thrown out of parties for being me. (laughter)

FE #9: There were four or five people at the show tonight that would have gotten thrown out of any party for looking like you. It's the Albini syndrome. The jarhead look. It's really scary.

Steve Albini: The flathead look, huh? I figured I might get drafted someday and I wanted to save time at the induction.

FE #9: So, did you record those original demos in your freshman year?

Steve Albini: No, in my second year, 1981. I got kicked out of Stations, and I went to buy a guitar...

FE #9: Were you dissatisfied with bass?

Steve Albini: I just realized I was gonna have to record everything all at once. I had a guitar, it was this Mosrite Ventures model. It was a great guitar but it only sounded like The Ventures no matter what I did, it always broke into "Walk Don't Run." So I sold that for the red guitar I've got now.

I bought the guitar on a Wednesday, called the guy who owned the four-track on Thursday and spring break started on Friday. I got the tape deck on Friday and I wrote and recorded most of the stuff in the course of a week. By writing it I mean, I had to learn to play guitar around the bass things.

FE #9: They didn't give you any homework over the break?

Steve Albini: No, everyone else went to Fort Lauderdale while I stayed in my apartment.

FE #9: So you recorded with the idea that you were gonna do everything yourself?

Steve Albini: No, I recorded with the idea that I would be able to bring these tapes around to people and play for them and get them excited and try to set up a band. And I played them for a million people and all them said, "Oh, yeah, let's do something," and they would degenerate or never come back. They would own up to the fact that they didn't know how to play their instruments or whatever.

FE #9: So you didn't know who Pezzati was at that time, right?

Steve Albini: Well, I knew who Jeff and Santiago were. Santiago was my favorite guitar player but I didn't know them personally. I didn't know The Effigies or any of those people. So I finished that demo and I started attempting to play with a bunch of people, one of whom was Lyle Presslar of Minor Threat. 'Cause he came to Northwestern for a year.

FE #9: Did he do anything else out there?

Steve Albini: Well, he called The Effigies up, 'cause that was when they were first considering moving Earl. I sorta casually let it slip that they might be booting Earl and he called John Kezdy up and told him basically, "Here's my number if you ever need any guitar playing done..."

FE #9: Were you hanging out with him?

Steve Albini: I got to know him pretty well...

FE #9: He was never a possibility for Big Black?

Steve Albini: Yeah, he was -- that was the idea, initially, one of them. But there was a basic incompatibility. I respected him and I think he respected what I was doing but he wanted to play "rock" guitar a bit more than I think I wanted "rock" guitar to be played.

This was before Minor Threat reformed, of course, and it would be really strange being around him at that time. Like we'd go to shows and stuff and it was almost like he was deeply insulted that people weren't stopping him and recognizing him. 'Cause when he was in D.C. that was happening all the time, everyone knew who he was. So he would introduce himself to people at clubs as being from Minor Threat and no one really...

Minor Threat had played in Chicago once to like five people at that point. This was before Out Of Step. Before even "In My Eyes." Santiago was one of the five.

Santiago Durango: Yeah, that was a great show. I think we were doing sound that day, that was the only reason we were there. It was Minor Threat, G.I. and who's the band with the little short red-haired kid?

Steve Albini: Not The Necros?

Santiago Durango: Yeah, he was great. "IQ 32." They were better than Minor Threat that night.

Steve Albini: It was pretty obvious from the outset that, though Lyle and I liked each other, we probably weren't gonna be able to play together 'cause we'd end up throwing things across the room at each other after a while.

I kept working on trying to find people to be in the band and I just obviously wasn't gonna be able to find anybody. So I did three more songs and gave a tape of the finished thing to John Kezdy of The Effigies. I ran into him at a magazine stand and gave him this tape. That was when they were starting their label.

FE #9: Was he actually involved with Ruthless, or was it just Jon Babbin? As far as running the label?

Steve Albini: Initially it was Kezdy and Babbin. And then it broke down into being mostly Babbin, and me doing some clerical bullshit. And towards the end of it, Babbin was so tied up with his job and his girlfriend that I had to do a lot of the mailing and stuff and that's when it sorta fell apart.

Although I'm gonna start it up again. Right now I'm thinking of doing records with a couple different bands. Rifle Sport from Minneapolis, who are a helluva lot better than they've ever proved.

FE #9: I should hope so.

Steve Albini: I still think some of the stuff on their first LP is really good, but their production blew -- and they're so much better live. Just the excitement of the songs. We're gonna do a six-song record. They're one of those bands that are so fuckin' prolific that it can overwhelm you. If you see a thirty song set of their it's really hard to take it all at once. But if you concentrate it, distill it down to five or six songs it's really representative and pretty damn exciting, and that's what we're gonna do.

And there's this band Urge Overkill , from...

FE #9: The drummer from them played on Bulldozer, didn't he?

Steve Albini: Right, he's a really cool guy. He's like in his mid-twenties, married, very Catholic, a banker, sits behind a desk and sends out auto loan applications all day. He's one of the two or three nicest persons on the planet. And he's an amazing drummer.

FE #9: Why did you get him? Why'd you want to have a drummer?

Steve Albini: Starting to recognize... see, at this point the drum box we had was a really cheap one. Just a tiny, itty-bitty thing, the Roland. Really a drag to do anything complicated at all. And it just came down to the fact that since we were gonna be paying for studio time, it would be faster and easier to get good basic sounds by having a real drummer there, and a helluva lot cheaper. He had heard the first record and really liked it. So we rehearsed a coupla times with him for the new stuff and he fit in pretty well.

FE #9: Did you ever play out with him?

Steve Albini: No, I'm not too thrilled with the idea. The only time we've ever had a drummer play out with us live was one song. Jim Colao from Naked Raygun played "Rema-Rema" with us at this art gallery opening. That was pretty wild.

FE #9: So Kezdy decided to sign you up for Ruthless?

Steve Albini: Yeah, it wasn't any contract or anything. He just said that if I wanted to put a record out, then I could be part of Ruthless Records, just to take advantage of all the administrative things Ruthless had.

FE #9: And there were 1500 copies of Lungs?

Steve Albini: Right. Well, I've still got a coupla hundred in my room, but they don't have covers. So what we're gonna do is take those records that we don't have covers for and put them on a Plexiglas bender and fold them up into little wallets for our upcoming 7", for the first couple of hundred of them. Then there will be a little sticker that says, "Includes free copy of Lungs." (laughter)

FE #9: People will really love you then, Steve. And then you did the inserts for that record too, right?

Steve Albini: Actually the very first fifty or 100 of those records, I didn't have covers die cut yet and I needed to send some out. So Babbin and I sat in my living room with an X-acto knife and a utility knife and cut out all these covers and folded them by hand, which was a drag and a half. I know a couple of people who've got those and they're pretty easy to identify, for you record collectors.

FE #9: Sorry, Steve -- you've got the wrong magazine. We don't cater to those people and we don't want to know that kind of information. Not at all.

Steve Albini: The first 100 or so had these special inserts that were these sheets of paper with rubber stamped clever sayings all over them...

FE #9: Like what, "I've got peach fuzz on my dick"?

Steve Albini: ...and they had other stuff taped to the sheets as well as the individual inserts. Every single copy had a different thing in it.

FE #9: Not mine.

Steve Albini: Except yours.

Dave Riley: All I got in mine was a couple of Bazooka comics. (laughter)

Steve Albini: So you got one of the shitty ones.

FE #9: How many had blood? How much blood flowed out of those skinny veins?

Steve Albini: That was Jon Bonhem's (who played sax on the record) roommate. He was living in Madison with this guy who had chronic nosebleeds. What they did, they made a bunch of those inserts and scattered them all around the floor, and he stood there in the middle of the room and sprayed nosebleed all over them. There were a couple of times when he had these gauze plugs in his nose for his nosebleeds and he'd unroll the gauze and tape it down on these sheets. There are a couple of these around.

Some of the individual inserts were really clever. Some of them had little rubber animals. Some of them were scary photographs that we bought in this second hand shop. Photos of people who must be dead by now, but when they were in love, and old granny photos...

FE #9: I guess I'm glad I didn't get one after all. So, how come on Lungs all those pictures only show the bottom part of your head?

Steve Albini: Well, I was kinda embarrassed. I looked like a dork. I didn't really want my photo on there and be like, "Here I am, guys!" I just figured it would be spooky and enigmatic.

[tape changes]

Steve Albini: ...there's never enough college girls. I'm basically a social 'tard.

FE #9: Well, you're soon to be married, aren't you?

Steve Albini: No. I booted the Chinese/Norwegian girl.

FE #9: You booted her? For what?

Steve Albini: Repeated fuckings of the other hippies.

FE #9: Oh, man. What are you gonna do?

Steve Albini: Well, for a while my balls were swollen up really bad and I was gonna have them lanced. Basically I've been going the cheap sex route lately.

FE #9: Nothing new there. OK, after Lungs came out, what did you do?

Steve Albini: I gave copies to Jeff, Santiago, and a bunch of other people. And Jeff and Santiago both said they would be willing to play. I think they were probably thinking one or two shows.

Santiago Durango: I'll tell you why I decided to play. You and Jeff were in the basement trying to play and I was upstairs trying to watch a football game or something and you guys were disturbing me and I could see this continuing, so I figured I could stay up here and be miserable or I could go downstairs and play guitar, so I went down.

FE #9: And you promptly started playing out?

Steve Albini: Not a lot. Once a month. That's almost saturation in Chicago because there are so few people who go to shows at all. And even fewer of those people actually like us.

FE #9: So that eased you into the Bulldozer period...

Steve Albini: Yeah, Lungs came out about a year after I had first recorded the demos and we played three or four shows that summer, started rehearsing the new stuff.

FE #9: Why did you want to go twenty-four track on Bulldozer? Was that your big goal?

Steve Albini: No, it's just that it was a whole band at that point and it didn't seem feasible to try to squeeze into, just for the sake of it, a low- budget thing. Although we've done some stuff like that. Like on Racer X we recorded half of that on eight-track. Because it's really convenient and easy, and we've got a drum machine that takes care of a lot of the problems of trying to get good sound -- well-miked drums. The other thing was that I found these sugar daddies, these two guys who were running this record label in Chicago called Fever, whose big act was The Bonemen of Barumba. (laughter)

FE #9: They poured like how much money into them?

Steve Albini: I don't know, they gave me a figure at one point of like the total expenses of how much they've put into their label, it was like $30,000, and that was a couple of years ago. Altogether I think they spent $3,200 on Big Black and spent like ten times that on The Bonemen.

FE #9: And boy, does it show.

Steve Albini: And they're still throwing money into those guys.

FE #9: What other records have they done?

Steve Albini: They're responsible for the last two Effigies LPs, the Get Smart LP, and the second Big Black. So they've actually been involved in two or three decent records, but they were incredibly gullible, and I sorta conned them into paying for a bunch of stuff for Big Black. And it took them a real long time for them to get their money back because when you're dealing with independent distribution it takes a long time to get any money out of them. So Fever wasn't too happy.

FE #9: Were they actually handling the record?

Steve Albini: No, basically I got money from them and then sold the records and paid them with the money that came in, or rather paid my rent with the money that came in, and avoid talking with them for weeks at a time, while I scraped the money together to give back to them.

FE #9: I don't understand why they would do it.

Steve Albini: I think they thought they'd be able to get back some of the money they had invested in The Bonemen, who obviously weren't selling many records for them.

I saw a Bonemen session at the most expensive studio in Chicago, Chicago Recording Company, where they went through about five takes of this five minute long song, fucked it up wildly each time and all they could think of to do was like take a coke break when they were done. And all of this was on Fever's tab. I don't think there was one productive moment there. And I'm sure all their sessions went like that, and they ended up spending thousands and thousands on these Bonemen of Barumba tapes.

And they paid for two Bonemen videos, with real expensive production effects and stuff. And now Fever's got this "P and D" deal with Enigma, which is pretty clever on Enigma's part it's like, "You give us finished records that we don't have to spend money on, and we'll keep all the money." And Fever kind of hangs around and bugs them a lot and never gets any money.

FE #9: It's hard to think of anyone who has ever gotten any money from Enigma.

Steve Albini: John Kezdy of The Effigies swears that The Effigies got a royalty check once, but I never saw it, and I've never heard of anyone else getting a royalty check from them.

Enigma was handling the first Naked Raygun 12" and I saw this sheet that came along with their check and at the top it said something like 2,000 records at $2.50 apiece. The whole rest of the page was deductions: postage, coffee, hanging around costs and down at the bottom, Naked Raygun actually got $300 or $400 out of it. That's for 2,000 records sold. It was amazing -- the gymnastics they go through to avoid paying anyone anything.

For a while there, they were at least doing a good job of getting the records out and promoting them and now they have eight records coming out a month and they can't even do that.

FE #9: Racer X took a pretty long time.

Steve Albini: Over a year. It was originally supposed to come out in July/August of '84 and it came out the following April. I don't think that's any one specific person's fault. It just took a helluva lot longer than anyone expected. I think we made sort of a mistake on that record by going for a big, massive, slick rock sound and I don't think it came out as impressive as it would have to be to be totally successful as that. I think it should have been a little more raw and nasty in terms of sound quality, 'cause I think it ends up sounding a bit too samey and monolithic.

FE #9: Were you worried about the idea of doing a third 12" in a row, rather than a full LP?

Steve Albini: I really like the idea of 12" EPs, though the next thing will be a 7" single and then we have enough stuff to do an LP.

FE #9: Will that be a big, studio-sounding thing?

Steve Albini: No, we've already got about half of it recorded and it's definitely big, but doesn't have that seamless, big drone quality that Racer X had. I mean, the songs that I like most on that were the eight-track songs that sorta by necessity are a little emptier. Like "The Ugly American" and "Deep Six." Those are the songs that have the less enormous sound to them, it's not like you're in awe of this big, shimmering sound -- you can actually hear what's going on behind it. The stuff we're doing now is more along those lines.

FE #9: What's the single gonna be, a cover?

Steve Albini: No, it's the song "Il Duce," which is about Mussolini, which we actually recorded while doing Racer X. And a new song called "Big Money."

The idea behind the single is to get the records coming out relatively frequently. And we had never done a single and I think singles are pretty cool. Really, I just want Big Black to be on the jukebox at this bar called The Over Easy in Chicago. This whole thing is just an excuse for me to bring the record down there. Singles are a distillation of the whole thing. That's why I like the 12" EPs -- 'cause there's enough stuff for you to get involved in the whole idea of what the band is about, but not so much that it's hard to listen to it all at once.

FE #9: What else after that? Are you thinking of big things?

Steve Albini: No, I'm really comfortable with the way it is now. I don't have a driving desire to be all encompassing and world powerful or anything. If I know that we sell 3-5,000 records to 3-5,000 people that give a shit, I think that's enough.

Santiago Durango: Right now, the band is flowing along nicely.

FE #9: Do you want to tour more?

Steve Albini: That's almost an impossibility because Santiago and I work and the only time we can tour is when we get vacation time. I can only get a week this year. We're planning to tour this fall, and it's gonna have to coordinate Dave's break from school and our vacation times.

FE #9: You gotta quit.

Steve Albini: No. I can't live like Tim Yohannan.

FE #9: Why not? You've just got to buy a lot of green tape.

Steve Albini: I mean, I like my job -- it's pretty cool and they're paying me enough so that I have the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want with the band. If I had to start making money from the band, I don't think we would be able to do it as honestly.

FE #9: So, what's this obsession with covers? Are you gonna do "Six and Change"?

Steve Albini: I haven't decided. I just really want to do a Pagans cover I haven't really decided what. I just like clever covers. I think you can tell a lot about a band by their covers.

FE #9: But you didn't do any last night. No "Rema-Rema" -- I mean, what the fuck?

Steve Albini: I don't know...

FE #9: What Mötorhead song do you do?

Steve Albini: We don't. That's another one that we were going to do.

FE #9: Well, what do you do?

Steve Albini: "Rema-Rema", whatever Feelies song that goes "whoah, whoah, whoah" -- the one that's speeded up. We were gonna do "Where Were You" but someone else beat us to it.

FE #9: Well, do another Mekons cover.

Steve Albini: I've thought about it. I just got the "Teeth" single yesterday. "Roadrunner" we did for a while. "Frankie Teardrop" -- we could have done that last night.

FE #9: Yeah, you should have. How long do you do it for?

Steve Albini: Like five minutes. We did it in Minneapolis once. These guys hate playing it, and just sit on the side of the stage while I'm up there with the drum machine.

FE #9: You should do "Bohemian Rhapsody" alone.

Dave Riley: We were almost gonna do "Rock 'n Roll", the Gary Glitter song once.

FE #9: I don't think that would be quite the same.

Steve Albini: We did that David Essex song "Rock On" and got about halfway through "AC/DC" by Sweet. For a while we were doing this Naked Raygun song that Santiago wrote that they don't do anymore called "I've Got No Dreams."

FE #9: Did Pezzati take dancing lessons?

Steve Albini: No, but -- this is really funny he's gonna kill me if he reads this -- he's in an aerobic class called Janntastics. Him and Karen go to do leglifts together.

FE #9: Has he always been that active onstage?

Steve Albini: Yeah, he's always been running and jumping and aerobic as a frontman. Everyone in that band is like large, refrigerator-shaped. Very impressive people.

Dave Riley: They all look good. They could stand up there and drink orange juice and eat bologna sandwiches and look impeccable.

FE #9: Unlike you guys, obviously.

Steve Albini: And the women would die for them. Jeff is like a pussy magnet. When we were on the road with Jeff, when he was in Big Black, he'd be like, "Hi, girls. Where's the party?" And he was always scrupulously faithful to Karen. It was really strange... in high school, apparently he used to be the lead in all those musical comedies and stuff.

FE #9: How's your relationship with Tesco these days?

Steve Albini: I don't know. I just sent him a package of stuff. The last thing he sent me was this really bad Asian blowjob mag. I sent him this mag I got in Chicago called Tits And Knobs which I think he'll appreciate. A lot of purple-titted bondage stuff.

And I sent him this book called Autoerotic Mutilations: A Case History, which is a whole mess of these cases of people who died in these elaborate concoctions that they rigged-up to masturbate with. Like guys who'll have these electric train transformers clipped to them and they'll accidentally electrocute themselves and they'd be found five days later, bloated with smoking balls.

There was this one woman who was found with a flashlight in her ass. She had bound herself up with her hands up her crotch and she was dunking her head underwater in the bathtub to excite herself and she drowned. They found her a couple of days later with her head still underwater and the flashlight still there.

The most common way of dying is for these guys to hang themselves while they're yanking. Supposedly, to black out while you're coming is really great. Not that everybody does it, but it's a relatively common practice with twisted weird adolescents.

The best one is this guy who had an electric shoebuffer and he was lying on the floor in a den with a chair propped up against the door and he was like buffing himself. And he came, and he was just lying there, and apparently the case to the buffer was shorted -- the spuzz dribbled down his leg, got inside the buffer, shorted the buffer, gave him a heart attack, and turned the buffer on. So he's lying there dead, and a couple of days later they came in and he's still laying there with the buffer still on, buzzing. And it had worn a hole into his thigh.

FE #9: OK, you're probably the last person to ever be asked this question: what's Tesco's sperm taste like?

Steve Albini: Well, have you ever had a vanilla milkshake after it's started to melt and it's gotten real runny, but it still has the froth on it?

FE #9: It's been sitting out for a while?

Steve Albini: Yeah, sorta like that, but saltier.