Steve Albini is a pretty nerdy guy. It didn’t take long in a conversation with him until we were talking about poker chat room culture, CuteOverload.com, and Rick Astley. The rock band that he sings and plays guitar for, Shellac, is pretty nerdy too. But like Albini himself, much of the band’s charm comes from this attitude of not really caring how nerdy they come across. This is a band, after all, that built their own amplifiers and included specs on the amps in the liner notes of their first single. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they make blistering minimal hard rock with one of rock’s greatest rhythm sections (drummer Todd Trainer, bassist Bob Weston) and one of rock’s most singularly distinctive guitarists.
Shellac’s most recent album, Excellent Italian Greyhound (Touch And Go), released earlier this year, was their first in seven years. I thought it would be really cute to interview Albini in Italy, since the album title mentions Italy, and they were playing in Italy, and coincidentally I was going to be there anyway. But like a lot of things Shellac, “Italy” is just some involved meta in-reference, so I might as well have interviewed Steve Albini on Pluto. As it was, I interviewed him in a rock club called Interzona in Verona, setting of part of Romeo and Juliet, the work that, for you internet readers, was the original inspiration for Baz Luhrmann’s classic 1994 film Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as star-crossed lovers who packed large handguns and weren’t afraid to use them on each other/themselves. Walking to the venue involved leaving behind the old world charm of the typically exquisitely Italian downtown area of Verona and entering an area haunted by the run-down relics of Italy’s Fascist public works period.
So what is this place?
It’s actually pretty famous ― during the Fascist period, Mussolini had this idea that he was going to centralize all of the distribution of produce from Italy ― that everything grown all over Italy was going to come to Verona, to a central magazina, and then from there it would be shipped out to all over Italy under state direction. And to facilitate that, he built this big magazina, and there’s a refrigerated train switch yard, and trains cars would come in full of fruits and vegetables, and they would stay refrigerated there and then they would go through the roundabout to get loaded up onto different trucks, all under refrigeration ― so it was all a big socialism of farm production. Of course it was a total disaster and never worked, and by the time everything was built and completed, the Fascists had been chased out so then there were these giant disused buildings that were eventually squatted, and over time the squat became a legitimate venue and organized with the city. The original Interzona rock club was in the big roundhouse, the frigatoria, and it was a kind of commune, left-wing thing. This building has only recently been used as a venue, and this is the new Interzona, but it’s the same compound as the old Interzona, and gradually they are renovating it to become an arts complex.
Yeah, for some reason I thought that this show was going to be you guys in some cheesy Eurodance club or something.
This venue has actually been around for a long time, and every band I’ve ever been in has played here ― Rapeman has played here, Shellac has played here, Big Black played here a few times.
When Shellac began, it had kind of a Canadian theme, which, I dunno, was maybe an elaborate ruse?
Well, it’s kind of a temporary ― like, we get stuck in a loop, and we were stuck in a Canadian loop for a while
Right, Canada, baseball, etc. When did the Italian thing come about?
I’ll tell you what happened: I started communicating with the band Silkworm exclusively in Fake Italian. They sort of started Fake Italian. Fake Italian is speaking English with an Italian syntax and vocabulary, like using unnecessarily florid vocabulary, like [gestures to Shellac bassist Bob Weston and then speaks in fake Italian accent] “Tonight, the hair of Bob, she is like some kind of beautiful octopus, or many squids, and they are all simultaneously they are fighting and they are dancing on the Bob, and it makes from Bob a super-organism these squids fighting and dancing and the Bob.” Which is a way of saying “Bob needs a haircut.”
The nice thing about Fake Italian is that it allows you to say things that you would get punched for saying normally. It’s sort of like, we had a thing about ventriloquists for a while [as featured in the Shellac song “Mouthpiece” from 1997’s Terraform], that ventriloquists are actually just assholes that get away with it because they talk with their hands. And why does anybody actually pay money to go through that experience? It’s so retarded. If he didn’t use a funny voice and use a puppet, you’d deck him.