"This is the first time we will have ever played in Texas," enthuses Shellac vocalist and guitarist Steve Albini over the phone from Electrical Audio studios in Chicago. "We've always wanted to play there, we've just never been able to organize it in a way that made sense." For Shellac, one of the most venerable independent rock bands in existence, making sense is what it's all about. "To be honest, our records and our touring are not really correlated," he continues. "It's been about five or six years since our last record. We play shows when we feel like we can play shows that are interesting, and we do a record when we have material for a record; we don't really try to coordinate them too much. We have finished a new record, which should be out sometime by the end of the year. The nice thing is, we're not trying to promote our band in a conventional sense. We figure there's a certain number of people who will be into our band, and those people will probably come to the show no matter when it is. And if we're content with that number, then it sorta doesn't matter when we tour."
Albini, a well-known figure in the indie rock world ever since forming the notorious Big Black in the early '80s, is probably even better known for having been the engineer behind such hugely influential albums as the Pixies' Surfer Rosa and Nirvana's In Utero. His day job of recording both established and fledgling bands at Electrical has allowed for an unusual career focus for Shellac, characterized by an easygoing but uncompromising spirit that extends from their touring and recording habits to the way the live shows are structured.
"What we play live is generally the songs that we're most interested in at the moment, and that's always a mixture of old songs and new songs," he explains. "We don't have a fixed set that we play; we try to improvise the set list while we're playing. Whatever seems like a good idea at the time, that's what we play. What's nice about that is we never really feel like we're frustrated by the choice of material -- we could literally play any song that we wanted to at any time."
Since its 1993 debut, Shellac has methodically crystallized its own form of sonic hypertension: The band's occasionally monolithic, always harsh guitar-bass-drum patterns show a marked propensity to tighten to the point of strangulation rather than release in any sort of catharsis. Live, the guys are peerlessly entertaining, combining military musical precision with slow-build vocal freakouts, all executed with an obvious, unforced camaraderie between Albini, rock-solid bass player Bob Weston and suspiciously simian, intimidatingly excellent drummer Todd Trainer. As far as what the new, unreleased material will sound like, Albini is typically blunt: "We don't really have an agenda for it. We have our tastes and we pursue them. If you're unfamiliar with our band, then I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you go and buy our record, because that sort of implies that your tastes and our tastes don't overlap. If you are familiar with our band, you probably already know whether or not you'll wanna buy this record."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.