Steve Albini, Iconic Rock Producer for Nirvana and The Pixies, Dies at 61

Jim Bennett/WireImage/Getty
Jim Bennett/WireImage/Getty

Steve Albini, a legend of rock n’ roll who produced albums for Nirvana, P.J. Harvey, and The Pixies, as well as his own music, has died at 61. He suffered a heart attack Tuesday night, a staffer at Electrical Audio, the recording studio he founded in the late ’90s, confirmed to The Daily Beast.

Alongside his storied producing career, Albini also performed with his band Shellac. Shellac was preparing to release its first album since 2014 just next week and had scheduled tour dates for later this year.

Albini’s influence on alternative rock—particularly grunge, post-punk, and its ilk—in the mid- to late ’90s can’t be overstated. While his own bands, including Shellac and Big Black, which he fronted in the 1980s, gained esteem, it’s his work as a record producer—or rather as an engineer, his preferred title—that cemented his legacy. His credits are lengthy and arguably unparalleled: In 1993 alone, Albini worked on Nirvana’s In Utero, P.J. Harvey’s Rid of Me, and Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy—each one ranking among the greatest albums ever made.

It’s almost shocking to recall just how many fantastic, canonical works Albini helmed, how many major bands whose sound he helped shape. (Pixies’ Surfer Rosa? The Breeders’ Pod? Slint’s Tweez? Joanna Newsom’s Ys? You can’t match that lineup, and the list goes on and on and on.) That he never stopped working—his latest producer credit was in 2023—meant that he worked with generations of artists, including the ones inspired by earlier acts whose work he recorded.

But his impact on the industry extended beyond the music itself. In 1997, Albini founded Electrical Audio, a Chicago-based recording facility with a novel premise: Albini wouldn’t take royalties off the work of musicians who recorded there. As a result, the studio was reportedly one of the most affordable facilities for high-level music production.

A pen-and-paper drawing from the early days of Electrical Audio’s founding, posted following news of his death by record label Secretly Canadian, speaks to the DIY quality that permeated Albini’s work:

He was a proponent of analog recording in an increasingly digital era, and famously suspicious of major labels; the majority of the artists he worked with are legends of the independent music circuit.

“Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context,” he wrote in a 1993 piece for The Baffler. “I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit.”

That trademark sense of humor further helped solidify Albini as one of rock’s most iconoclastic figures—even if it sometimes was directed at other artists. He trashed Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, and Urge Overkill as “pandering sluts” in a 1994 open letter published in The Chicago Reader; he called former tour mates Sonic Youth sellouts for becoming what he called “a foot soldier” for “mainstream culture”; and he memorably went off on the iconic band Steely Dan in a social media thread last year. (His social media presence was always a sight to behold; he’d switched from X to Bluesky in recent months, and his last post timestamped was just Tuesday afternoon.)

Fittingly, numerous music critics and indie rock artists have taken to social media to eulogize the icon, sharing favorite recordings and memories. Michael Azzerad, the legendary music journalist who profiled the indie rock scene Albini belonged to in his book Our Band Could Be Your Life, expressed what has become perhaps the prevailing sentiment: “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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