“If you will commit yourselves, I will bust my ass for you”: Read the letter Steve Albini sent Nirvana before agreeing to work on In Utero

“If a record takes more than a week to make, somebody’s fucking up,” he wrote.

[L-R] Steve Albini and Kurt Cobain

Credit: Frans Schellekens/Redferns [L], Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic [R]

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The surviving members of Nirvana have shared the letter Steve Albini – who died earlier this week after suffering a heart attack – sent them prior to agreeing to work on their third and final album, 1993’s In Utero.

The lengthy letter, embedded in a post that’s simply captioned, “Steve Albini”, laid out the legendary engineer’s philosophies and methodology surrounding his creative process.

In the letter, Albini made one thing very clear: “I’m only interested in working on records that legitimately reflect the band’s own perception of their music and existence… If you will commit yourselves to that as a tenet of the recording methodology, then I will bust my ass for you.”

His unique brand of production and engineering solely focused on the artist. At no point did Albini wish to force his own agenda. “Most contemporary engineers and producers see a record as a ‘project,’ and the band as only one element of the project… My approach is exactly the opposite.” he promised.

“I consider the band the most important thing,” he vehemently insisted. “I do not consider it my place to tell you what to do or how to play. I’m quite willing to let my opinions be heard (if I think the band is making beautiful progress or a heaving mistake, I consider it part of my job to tell them) but if the band decides to pursue something, I’ll see that it gets done… I prefer to work on records that aspire to greater things, like originality, personality and enthusiasm.”

He even found time to take a jab at remixes; “I do not like remixing other engineer’s recordings, and I do not like recording things for somebody else to remix… Remixing is for talentless pussies who don’t know how to tune a drum or point a microphone.”

He added: “I have worked on hundreds of records (some great, some good, some horrible, a lot in the courtyard), and I have seen a direct correlation between the quality of the end result and the mood of the band throughout the process,” he writes. “Making punk records is definitely a case where more “work” does not imply a better end result.”

Famously, Albini refused to accept royalties on his recordings. As the letter shows, he was always reluctant to take a big paycheck and exploit the bands he worked with. “I would like to be paid like a plumber: I do the job and you pay me what it’s worth,” he insisted.

“I do not want and will not take a royalty on any record I record. No points. Period,” he went on. “I think paying a royalty to a producer or engineer is ethically indefensible. The band write the songs. The band play the music. It’s the band’s fans who buy the records. The band is responsible for whether it’s a great record or a horrible record. Royalties belong to the band.”

The letter is grounded and humble, even down to the cheeky closing line: “If a record takes more than a week to make, somebody’s fucking up.”

Steve Albini died at the age of 61 earlier this week after suffering a heart attack at his Chicago studio facility, Electrical Audio. Staff at the studio confirmed the news to Pitchfork.

Albini was a mastermind when it came to gritty production. From Nirvana’s grunge-y pessimism, to the Pixies’ fluttering art punk, to PJ Harvey’s aggressive alt-rock, if an artist wanted to sound raw, Albini was the go-to man.

The revered producer was open to working with any artist he believed in. In a recent interview with Free Press Houston, Albini revealed he’d worked on “a couple thousand” records throughout his career. Many were underground artists.

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