photo courtesy of Vice Magazine/VBS TV
We had the privilege to attend the taping of the VBS series Soft Focus this week, when they rolled into town to tape conversations with Mick Collins and Steve Albini. Originally posted at The Deli Chicago, here is a look into what you missed during the live taping Tuesday night. Make sure to keep an eye on VBS's website for video of both conversations coming soon.
If you know anything about sound and music in Chicago, chances are you know who Steve Albini is. The audio engineer, musician, writer, and all around musically inclined guy, sat down to chat with Ian Svenonius of Soft Focus during a live taping of the show at Logan Square Auditorium. Soft Focus is an original series on VBS TV, the channel ran by Vice Magazine, where musician Svenonius sits down to have conversations with luminary musicians and artists in front of a live audience. The conversations range in topic, and provide the audience an intimate look at the lost art of the style of after dinner speeches.
The night began with another guest, Mick Collins, front man of The Gories and The Dirtbombs, two seminal garage rock bands from the Detroit scene. Collins was making garage rock long before The White Stripes brought Detroit's sound to the masses in the late 90's. Just after getting off a huge tour, Collins discussed the odd dichotomy of tour life and what they coined as the "scavenger mentality" of life on the road. He went on to discuss the importance of The Gories, and how when the band first formed they were twice voted the worst band in Detroit. But Collins brought up the fact that when you are doing something that you know is groundbreaking - something that will still sound new a decade from now - it's easier to take the criticism. He gave a detailed oratory of the making of an album, the close-knit Detroit rock scene, and what it was like to be a musician long before the Internet changed things. The most interesting debate came about from the question of how long an album should be. Collins says 40 minutes, and Svenonius says 34 minutes, but it's easy to agree with Collins when he simply states, "No band in the world has 75 minutes of anything they need to say."
Next up was the conversation with polarizing Albini, a man that doesn't mince words with how he feels about the multiple facets of the music industry. One of his most famous essays is titled "The Problem With Music," so you can understand this man has numerous opinions about music, and rightfully so. It's no surprise the conversation turned to the current situation with Touch 'N' Go Records, who recently ceased distribution of numerous labels and went back to being the original independent label they started as. Albini points out the situation was "totally predictable," yet "not all tears," that Touch 'N' Go "started as, and is now, a small record label, and what's the problem with that?" He makes a valid point, also bringing up the fact that it would be better for Touch 'N' Go to take this route rather then continue the previous way, and eventually die off and close. Yes, things are ever changing in the music industry, and times are rough now compared monetarily to 10 years ago, but it's not the end of the world. Albini has a way of putting doomsday scenarios into perspective, pointing out that sometimes these are things you can't change; in a way it's like the weather.
One interesting aspect was listening to Albini talk about his own discovery of music as a child. Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Albini became enamored with bands such as The Ramones, Suicide, Television, and other groundbreaking bands of punk rock. He spoke of being exposed to music without the cultural saturation surrounding the scene the music was associated with. Listening to him describe the awe he felt after listening to new music can easily relate to the way most musicians, and intense music fans, were first exposed to the music that formed their own love.
And of course the conversation turned to recording, the art form in music where most people were exposed to Albini's work. He talked about the hierarchy of a band, the long running debate of real drummers vs. drum machines, and the alien feeling many bands feel when they enter a studio. Hearing Albini speak is inspiring, a reminder that many people still care about the music over the business in the music industry. For a man with such an impressive resume, he remains down to earth, pointing out that "music isn't special, it's just another element," and Albini has a relevant point. Music is simply a conduit, and what matters is the artist and music on the other side.
If you missed out on the live taping, check out Soft Focus online where both conversations will be available soon, as well as discussions with other artists such as Kevin Shields, Cat Power, and Henry Rollins.