Nirvana's 'In Utero' Producer Explains Hands-Off Approach With Kurt Cobain
By Andrew Magnotta @AndrewMagnotta
January 26, 2021
Famed rock producer Steve Albini is perfectly comfortable taking a risk with his paycheck, but he plays it much closer to the vest when it comes to his actual work.
Albini, a punk guitarist who moonlights as a professional poker player, famously bet the entirety of his $100,000 fee for Nirvana's In Utero on a billiards game with the band in 1993 — if he won, the band would double his money; if he lost, he'd do the album for free.
Despite Albini's insistence that he's an average-at-best billiards player, Dave Grohl recalled declining the wager, noting that Albini owned his own pool cue. The producer tells Kerrang! in a new profile that he's makes the same offer to every band he works with — no one has taken him up on it yet.
When it came to working in the studio, Albini recalls being more careful, especially with regards to Kurt Cobain. During the course of the prior two years, Cobain had rocketed into rock stardom with the success of Nirvana's previous album, and he was wary of hangers-on.
"Well, I didn't try to become a bosom buddy of his, because I knew that everyone around him was trying to weasel their way into his world parasitically, and I wanted him to know that he didn’t have to worry about that with me," Albini said. "So I never pressed him for any personal intimacy. But I got to see him at work, and I saw that he was extremely serious about his music, and his passion was genuine. I think that’s what people responded to, because he had a distinctive voice. I grew to respect him as an artist and as a person.”
Producer Butch Vig employed a similar tactic when it came to working on Nevermind, explaining last summer in an interview with Q104.3 New York's Jonathan Clarke that artists usually deliver their best performances when the pressure is low.
"A lot of times people think they're warming up and if you record it, you might end up with a final take," Vig says. "I know it because sometimes when I'm recording myself, if I don't get something in two or three takes, I get into my head a little bit and usually it goes south for a while and it takes a while to get the performance back up to where it was when I initially started. I have a tendency to try to keep the first or second or third take when someone's recording."
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