Sonic Youth Mug

He says that and a lot more in this interview he did with GQ. Albini sat down for the Q&A at ATP NY, it’s just surfacing now. (Thanks for the tip, Jason.) As far as Sonic Youth, he says he considers them friends, but also considers their jump from an indie to DGC in 1990 as something that contributed to fucking things up for other bands at the time and down the line.

GQ: What are your thoughts on bands like Chumbawamba, that once had ’indie’ ethics but decided to take their political ideas into the mainstream by signing a major label?

STEVE ALBINI: I’m not really interested in participating in mainstream culture. Participating in the mainstream music business is, to me, like getting involved in a racket. There’s no way you can get involved in a racket and not someway be filthied by it. You’re another catalog item, another name on the list of people who are collaborating with the enemy. But by the same token I don’t know what circumstances every other band is in and what they feel forces their hand at some point. I know some bands feel like they have the choice between working with someone at the independent level who they think is inept, or working with someone in the mainstream—who may also be inept, but at the very least may give them some money. That’s the kind of choice I never want to have to make for myself. If I had been approached by a big record label when I was eighteen years old, after I had just made my first demo—that happens quite often now, bands get approached quite young—I have no doubt whatsoever I would have signed the first thing anybody waggled in front of my nose. I can’t fault someone who operates out of ignorance and gets involved with a corrupt industry. They literally don’t know any better. I can fault the people who put them in that position—agents, lawyers, music business professionals who put him in a position of signing away the next twenty years of his life. But the kid who’s in those circumstances, I can’t really cast any judgment.

GQ: What about bands like Sonic Youth, who signed to a major label with a full adult understanding of the choice they were making.

SA: I don’t know the exact circumstances of Sonic Youth’s decision, so I’m not comfortable saying they did it wrong. But a lot of the things they were involved with as part of the mainstream were distasteful to me. And a lot of the things that happened as a direct result of their association with the mainstream music industry gave credibility to some of the nonsense notions that hover around the star-making machinery. A lot of that stuff was offensive to me and I saw it as a sellout and a corruption of a perfectly valid, well-oiled music scene. Sonic Youth chose to abandon it in order to become a modestly successful mainstream band—as opposed to being a quite successful independent band that could have used their resources and influence to extend that end of the culture. They chose to join the mainstream culture and become a foot soldier for that culture’s encroachment into my neck of the woods by acting as scouts. I thought it was crass and I thought it reflected poorly on them. I still consider them friends and their music has its own integrity, but that kind of behavior—I can’t say that I think it’s not embarrassing for them. I think they should be embarrassed about it.

GQ: How do you think music might be different today if Sonic Youth hadn’t brought all those bands—Bikini Kill, Pavement, Nirvana, to name a few—into the mainstream fold?

SA: I think what they did was take a lot of people who didn’t have aspirations or ambitions and encouraged them to be part of the mainstream music industry. They validated the fleeting notions that these kids had that they might one day be rock stars. And then they participated in inducing a lot of them to make very stupid career moves. That was a period where the music scene got quite ugly—there were a lot of parasitic people involved like lawyers and managers. There were people who were making a living on the backs of bands, who were doing all the work. Had Sonic Youth not done what they did I don’t know what would have happened—the alternative history game is kind of silly. But I think it cheapened music quite a bit. It made music culture kind of empty and ugly and was generally a kind of bad influence.

The rest of the interview — including choice thoughts on fashion, film, etc. — is posted at If you haven’t read, The Problem With Music, check that out for additional historical context. I respect Albini’s surliness (and you can’t fuck with Big Black, Rapeman, early Shellac), but Ian MacKaye wears the anti-corporate hardliner hat with a cleaner closest.

Comments (51)
  1. ddogdunit  |   Posted on Oct 6th, 2010 -15

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  2. Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny that Steve Albini says “I’m not really interested in participating in mainstream culture” while wearing an AC/DC t-shirt?

  3. GQ: How would you describe your fashion?
    STEVE: I think fashion is repulsive. The whole idea that someone else can make clothing that is supposed to be in style and make other people look good is ridiculous. It sickens me to think that there is an industry that plays to the low self-esteem of the general public. I would like the fashion industry to collapse. I think it plays to the most superficial, most insecure parts of human nature. I hope GQ as a magazine fails. I hope that all of these people who make a living by looking pretty are eventually made destitute or forced to do something of substance. At least pornography has a function.

    You have to admit he is hilarious.

    • Not to defend GQ, but if we all followed Albini’s anti-fashion advice, we would be a nation of black t-shirts and ripped blue jeans. Count me out.

  4. I love Albini as much (maybe more than) as the next guy, but the guy a fucking production for a Bush record. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that record when I was a kid in the mid-’90′s, but isn’t that the pot calling the kettle a little bit racist?

    • My guess is that Mr. Albini would say that the two things (signing your band to a corporate label and recording a record on a corporate label) are two totally different things and are not comparable.

      As a recording engineer, Albini is paid to record someone else’s work. That is, I imagine that Albini would say that the work is not his art and that he is nothing more than trying to capture what the band sounds like–whether the band is good or bad, indie or corporate, or some creature floating in the middle. I think he would probably say that that is his job, that is what he is paid for, and that it is no different than being a cab driver–you go where you are told. Yes, he has a very specific style of recording, but it isn’t something he imposes on people. They come to him for it. Like a house painter who only uses green.

      As a musician, however, you are creating something artistic, something that should be above the financial concerns. That independent music is about community and some higher social purpose than just making money and efficiently moving units. As such, when an artist begins to make finances a consideration, or driving force (perhaps even if not on a major label), they begin to sully the whole pool which necessarily requires a lot of good-will and selflessness.

      A shorter version would be to say, if Albini were an Accountant by day, we wouldn’t say, “You did a corporation’s taxes. How can you complain about Sonic Youth.”

      I am not saying that this is my position, but that I think this is where he is coming from.

      • Give it a rest with the logic and reason Mans. Always with the logic and reason!

      • He mostly seems to be faulting them for setting a bad example. Sonic Youth was the first indie to get “Full Artistic Control” from a major and were working in territory that was pretty unmapped. They should have stayed with Homestead to be ripped off? Stayed with SST and continue to be ripped off? His criticism seems misguided. They can be criticized for having more mainstream ambitions due to their fascinations with popular culture and a Warholian desire to co-opt that culture, but their business with DGC had very little to do with that. And yes, Albini has the luxury of receiving checks with one hand while bashing labels with the other. That financial security provides a stable perch for high standards – that and being paid to perform at every ATP event in the world.

      • Albini has publicly stated that he is in the business of recording, not endorsing.

  5. Albini’s a dick. People have known this for YEARS! Ask Articles of Faith. Haha, he’s only half-serious anyways. And besides, he gets off on knowing that he’s a dick because he’s always been a scrawny little nerdy dude, and it’s kind of like his revenge against all the people that used to beat him up when he was younger. Aside from his commentary, the guy changed rock n roll forever. So who cares, right?

  6. I don’t really see what the problem is. Albini says he found it distasteful the way Sonic Youth persuaded other bands to sign to Geffen, and knowing his views on major labels this isn’t in the least surprising. He may be a dick, but he’s an entertaining dick. Who would you prefer round at your next poker night – him or MacKaye?

    • Why omit Andrew Dice Clay from the options?

      • Can we play Marry, Screw, Kill with Steve Albini, Ian MacKaye, and Andrew Dice Clay?

        Or in this case, would it be more appropriate to play Sign to the Label Of, Have Album Produced By, or Play in a Band With? Hm. I don’t think I want to do any of those things with The Diceman.

  7. He comes across bitter and jealous. Oh yeah, and hypocritical… I don’t see a difference between producing or writing for a major label- It’s making money via the big guys, the same guys he says were “foot soldiers encroaching into HIS neck of the wood”. I wish there were mirrors at ATM’s so he could look at himself every time he with withdraws In Utero or Razorblade Suitcase money.

    • He was an engineer (he specifically does not credit himself as a “producer”, as he does not like the implication) who RECORDED Bush and Nirvana. He’s also recorded literally thousands of other bands. In fact, you could go down to Electric Audio with a guitar right now, pay their 600 dollars a day fee, plus his 700 dollars a day fee and he will record you at the next available convenience. He charged more for the Bush and Nirvana sessions (record has it 100k for Nirvana), but you can count on the fact that he’s not continuing to make money off of them. That’s not how it works for an engineer (or most producers, unless you get a writing credit).

      So again, tell me how that’s hypocritical?

      • Because he worked under a major label…. the same shit he is ranting against and throwing stones at Sonic Youth (a way better band than he could even imagine being a part of) for.

        So again, how do you not get it?

        • In your first post you grossly overstated his roll in those records (going so far as to imply that he wrote some things?) and that is what I was responding to. Bands went to him for recordings, and that is what he gave them. That’s what he continues to do day in and day out with thousands of bands, 98% of whom no one will ever hear of, and he charges the same price for most of them. Yes he charged more for the bigger names, but he’d be a fool not to. As for the fact that they were on major labels, there’s a HUGE difference between recording a band one time and being paid for your work, and signing your life away to a manipulative and humiliating contract.

          That’s the difference.

          • look homie, I never said he wrote. I said there is no difference in producing, writing, RECORDING, engineering, performing, or any other aspect. If you WORK UNDER, OR MAKE MONEY FOR a major than you are in the same boat as those under contract. And noone else seems to think Sonic Youth or The Breeders or most other bands with indie roots were “embarrassed” by letting themselves be exposed to larger audiences and hopefully bringing good music to the masses. If folks hear good music they have a better chance of enjoying good music. If yr still holding onto “punk” ideals then good for you… just don’t hate on Sonic Youth who are one of the best. Ever.

          • He’s not hating on Sonic Youth for necessarily going big, he’s faulting them for establishing a precedent that ruined a lot of good bands. Sonic Youth jumped to a major and got creative control because they were Sonic Youth. They were never expected to sell a lot of records, just to make DGC a small profit within their established fanbase of tens of thousands of records. What Albini was getting at is that what they ended up doing was unintentionally sabotaging a lot of young indie bands who saw this band jump and decided they should too, but instead of getting the Sonic Youth deal most of those indie bands got shitty deals and were exploited in an attempt to find the next Nirvana; they got sold cheap, used up, and then thrown away. The early ’90s wasn’t like today where you could fail on a major and then set up your own indie to self-release while using the Internet to build a buzz. Most bands only got one chance and then disappeared, and even if they did sign to an indie they usually faded into obscurity pretty quickly.

  8. Wonder how Albini would feel about Stereogum taking accepting ads from the Air Force… Nothing says indie music like airborne remote controlled killing machines!

    • I think that was a joke, but to reiterate: the editorial team doesn’t choose the advertising on this site.
      Address complaints to the sales team at They handle the ads on Stereogum, GorillaVsBear, HypeMachine, PopMatters ,BrooklynVegan, Idolator, PureVolume, ConcreteLoop, AbsolutePunk and dozens of celebrity sites than dwarf the aforementioned music contingent.

      That said, Steve would surely think Stereogum sucks, and take our milk money in Texas Hold ‘Em.

    • wow, not a very indie-inspired affiliation. he probably wouldn’t like that either.

  9. Firstly – I don’t think you could seriously criticise SY for having a negative impact – they have consistently championed the unknown and publicised the obscure, particularly through their own labels.
    Albini’s criticism is of the fact that they made the to move to a major based on their own needs, but influenced other bands to do the same thing and acted as “enablers” for major labels to sign bands who weren’t suited to that milieu. I don’t necessarily agree but it’s a valid viewpoint.
    Albini performing a recording job for an artist signed to a major is very different to encouraging an indie band to enter that kind of relationship. As mentioned, his policy has been that he is happy to work with anyone who pays the asking rate. The money was higher with Nirvana or Bush because of the high level of incidental hassle of dealing with the label itself (viz the wrangling over In Utero). Had he wished to bilk the label he would have held out for points on the recording instead of a flat fee.
    Hats off for telling GQ that he hopes the magazine fails.

    • Yep. Well put.

      Everyone assumes he gets residuals or something off of these bigger profile recordings. He does not. 100k for Nirvana, 150k for Bush, and 700 dollars a day for everyone else. Pretty fucking reasonable. As he’s explained in previous interviews: he’s not bilking major labels, 100k is still on the very very low side to make an album that high profile, and also as he’s stated it’s a huge hassle of time and energy dealing with large profile recordings so he charges appropriately. If he wanted to be a multi-millionaire he could have. Many times over. Instead he operates under his terms, with what he feels comfortable with, and still manages to make a good living.

      Christ, I don’t agree with the guy about everything (although I do find him to be hilariously funny), or even like 70% (or possibly more) of the music he makes / champions, but this sniping from jaded assholes is unfounded and ridiculous.

    • Well, they were sort of the first poster band for a major– the band that the label could point to and say “see, we’re cool.”
      Ah, the early nineties, when even Butthole Surfers and Royal Trux could be on a major label.

  10. fuck pavement.

  11. If you contact Albini and ask him to produce you or record your band, he’d do it no questions asked as long as you pay him. How’s that for integrity?

    • what is wrong with you? You realize that by saying something like that, YOU’RE the asshole, right?

      • Thomas, I think that charbarred is agreeing with you–that Albini has integrity and is egalitarian and will record anyone who comes to his studio.

        • Ah, sorry. Getting to used to defending him against jaded people, I thought this was a sarcastic statement (ie “he’ll take money from anyone”). Getting super weird in here…

          • Just saying that I know a couple of bands who contacted him and he was happy to record them no questions asked (for a fee of course). Interpret that as you want.

          • ????? yeah obviously anyone wih a different opinion than your’s is “weird” and “jaded” (?). The only thing that would fittingly be labled as jaded is Albini the original GQ interview.

  12. Maybe there’s no irony in Steve Albini bemoaning the indie cred of Sonic Youth in the pages of GQ. Maybe not, but LOL anyway. Have a Coke and a smile, Stevie.

  13. But Albini doesn’t record for labels (major or indie) does he? He records bands, accepts payment from bands and works exclusively (i.e. no management, label “suits,” etc.) with bands, yes?

  14. What the freezing tit-hump is “a cleaner closest”?

  15. Albini started making records in 1982. GQ has been publishing since 1957, which means it has been around longer than Albini has been on the planet. Just wanted to point that out. Thanks, Wikipedia!

  16. On a lighter note, they sure didnt seem like any sort of an embarrassment when I saw them the other night at their ACL aftershow.

  17. Love – Steve Albani

    Hate – this holier than thou bulljazz

  18. love this stuff.
    to get free opportunities of business and also jobs just click on.

  19. Albini is an embarrassment. Guy is a fucking self righteous douche bag that’s ruined so many records, it’s pathetic. But I agree with some of the above comments when they say that it’s the bands fault for recording with him. You wanna jump on a bandwagon, do it… and pay for it later when critics pan the shitty production (oh, excuse me, ENGINEERING) values and the public screams that it hurts their ears. Sonic Youth are great, but I’m not trying to stick up for them (they can do that themselves). I’m just sick of people jerking off Albini like he’s some sort of hero to music or creative recording legend. Rapeman is the best thing he’s ever done, and eventually he will become the ass end joke of the 80s-90s indie rock phenomena.

  20. That’s awesome. I found a hilarious and awkward interview of Steve Albini. Check it out:

  21. What the fuck is “a cleaner closest”. If that sounds petty, suck my balls. Proofread your copy, jackass.

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