YELLING ROLL TIDE WITH STEVE ALBINI (A single day in the life of Electrical Audio)

todayMay 30, 2024 48

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I wrote most of this in the first few days after Steve passed away, but I had to step away from it for many reasons. It’s the last thing I’m going to write about Steve for a good while.
To be honest, I’m actually not quite sure why I chose this particular story to tell in the wake of his passing. It’s certainly good, but I honestly have better ones… like the time we were trying to impersonate Steve at his home studio and make a video that looked like he was recording us completely nude. Steve quickly flipped the whole script, and we were the ones whose punk asses got pranked by the end. Please use your imagination on that one.
There are other great ones too, like when we blew up a tape machine with Steve by recording a Tesla coil with fireworks taped to it and radio interference coming through it that had the saxophone bit from Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” easily audible (by the way, that’s the final track of the Man or Astro-Man? album called “A Spectrum of Finite Scale”).
Or maybe the time in 1995 when myself, Brian Causey, our guitar player, and Steve all slept together in a king-size bed in a disgusting, unheated roach hotel room with chemical-activated (“shake and bake”) truck driver meals under the covers in order to stay warm during a blizzard. And yes, the list indeed goes on and on. I guess this particular story occurred to me first because it was just like any typical day recording at Electrical Audio in Evanston, IL with Steve Albini.
Like so many other people, I will always have incredibly vivid memories of recording with Steve. Being at Electrical, even to this day, is like stepping into a mad scientist’s lab, but completely filled with microphones and no safety goggles in sight. Albini wore many more hats (or jumpsuits in his case) beyond being an unrivaled master audio engineer, but more than anything, he simply loved having fun and being around others who did as well. One particular story from 2013, while recording “New Cocoon” for our “DEFCON” album, still makes me laugh to this day.
This song was a weird one for us—blown-out scratchy guitar, Mellotron strings, deconstructed drums covered in T-shirts, a cracked ride cymbal, vocals panned to one side (Steve’s suggestion and the only time we have ever done that), and the sound of WWII paratroopers marching and singing as they prepared to jump from their planes. A typical day at Electrical Audio.
After working our way through the tedious piece-by-piece assembly of the tracks, we were close to having everything finished but the mixing. I was packing some of my drum crap up in the live room when I heard Steve’s voice through the talkback say, “Hey, Causey has an idea he wants to try.” Brian then leaned into the talkback and said, “You know where the second verse goes into the first chorus? Maybe you could yell something to make the buildup there sound crazier.”
I was confused by the idea, but I agreed to try it. “What do you want me to yell?” I asked.
Steve chimed in, “It doesn’t really matter. It’ll be mixed so low the words won’t be discernible. It’s more for the effect.” Steve paused, then said, “You’re from Alabama, so probably the most instinctive thing for you to yell is ‘Roll Tide,’ right? Just stay about six feet from that U67 on the boom there and give it a go.”
Me being in front of a vocal mic is generally a very bad thing, and this particular idea seemed just plain goofy on top of that, but sure, why not? Maybe it’d be fine just buried in the mix. I put on my headphones and waited for the cue. “You’re rolling,” Steve said in his classic, deadpan way that anyone who has recorded with him knows well. At the right moment in the song, I belted out what I thought to be a rather spirited and hearty “Roll Tide!” So there. That wasn’t too bad. Mission accomplished.
Or so I thought. Steve’s voice came back: “Err… Causey says it was good, but he wants a little more zing on it if you can.” And so it went, with each take getting more aggressive than the last. By the ninth or tenth take, I was lunging towards the mic and nearly falling over from the effort. Finally, Steve and Brian walked in, grinning in the way only people who just completely pranked your ass do.
Steve then simply plugged the mic cable into the back of the microphone. It hadn’t even been connected the whole time. I’d been yelling into an utterly unrecorded void of my own gullibility, which, of course, provided them with some good old knee-slapping entertainment. I felt like the tee-ball kid who is goofing around in shallow left field and staring blankly at the grass until getting the seams of a baseball stamped on his forehead at high velocity from a sharp line drive.
Dammit. What a waste of time. The look on my face must have shown both pathetic bewilderment and reality-prank-show victim “where is the camera at?” style confusion. Steve shrugged, “Sorry, man. We honestly didn’t think you would actually do it; that’s what was so great about it. Why don’t you just do a stupid hillbilly yell on it just to say we put something there.”
Obviously it was a solidly successful prank on the feeble mind of yours truly, but I had now lost all momentary connection with reality and for good reason. Nonetheless, I still did one more take with a sincerely decent Walker County-style redneck yell that is just genetically baked into anyone born in Alabama. That was it though. No more yelling, screaming, or Roll Tiding for me.
In hindsight, that was actually a great night of recording and was just one of dozens of things that would happen while recording there. Steve was a master class-level jokester, storyteller, and general keeper of obscure and useful knowledge. A band making a superb album while the process of recording everything is genuinely fun is far more rare than I bet most people may realize; recording can be mind-numbingly frustrating as well as painfully boring. I think it’s the bit of having a good time that is honestly the main reason why so many of us recorded multiple records with him.
In this present state of forced retrospection, if you connect all the innumerable dots of Steve’s life and work, it’s obvious why his passing is so damn significant. The footprint Albini left truly contained multitudes. So many of us who worked with him will attest that through him we became people who were smarter, wittier, more worldly, more distrusting of bullshit, and more loving of decency, fairness, and respect.
He made over 1,400 albums for people that were raw, powerful, genuinely honest records that captured what a band was authentically about—whatever that might be from one band to the next. Steve had the bluest of blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth, relentlessly Midwestern work ethics and he sacrificed a lot of himself for that. He touched so many lives and cut a lot of analog tape along the way. Basically, one of the many things he did in his life was to enlist a shit ton of people to be in his abstract but powerful army that he might call the “Defenders of Fun” (Steve would very often introduce “Wingwalker” with some version or another of this idea).
And yeah, sure. The dreaded shitheads known as the “Killers of Fun” have won this particular battle. It hurts really fucking badly that we won’t get to have any more of those unforgettable moments with Steve. I was really looking forward to recording with him again and eventually having Shellac play the “new” club. I really wanted him to see the place. A lot of Saturn is built around the idea of trying to give a similar experience to bands much like they would get while recording at Electrical. Ultimately, there are very few people whose opinions I genuinely have cared about or trusted; Steve was one of those people.
My deepest wish is for those who loved him the most, and for those who knew him better than I did, to find peace one day. Their mourning must be unfathomably deep right now. My heart goes out to them. Steve made a fucking incredible noise with his time on this planet. Like a true walker of the wings, Steve had an engine. A big perverted engine at that. I hope more than anything that wherever he is right now, his body is in the shape of a plane. I am pretty damn sure it is. Steve Albini was a hell of a man, and we miss him.
Oh yeah, one more thing I wanted to say…
And by the way, if you want me to hear me yell on that song from when we were at Electrical, it is at the 1:35 mark.

Written by: Brian Teasley

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