Iconic Indie Frontman and Engineer Steve Albini Dead at 61, Worked with Nirvana, PJ Harvey, and More

Steve Albini, legendary indie frontman and producer for Nirvana, PJ Harvey, and Pixies, has died of a heart attack at age 61. His death was confirmed by staff at his recording studio, Electric Audio, according to a report from Pitchfork.

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Albini started in 1981, forming the band Big Black while he was in college. After a stint in the band Rapeman—a name choice for which he later expressed regret—he formed the band Shellac in 1992 with Bob Weston and Todd Trainer. Shellac released five studio albums, as well as a self-release in 1997 and a live album in 1994.

Although he was integral in the indie scene as a frontman, he was prolific as a producer, although he refused most credit in liner notes. He preferred to be called a “recording engineer,” as he once told BoingBoing in 2014. Once in 2004, he estimated that he worked on at least 1,500 albums, most notably Nirvana’s In Utero, PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, and Pixies Surfer Rosa. He also worked with The Breeders, Mogwai, Joanna Newsom, Bush, Chevelle, The Stooges, Manic Street Preachers, Cheap Trick, and Veruca Salt, among many others.

[RELATED: Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Steve Albini Talk Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ 30th Anniversary on ‘Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend’]

Steve Albini’s Life, Work, and Views of the Music Industry

Steve Albini took a unique approach to recording music, as he preferred to let artists keep control of their creative project. The role of the “recording engineer,” in his opinion according to a 2004 feature in MTSU Sidelines, was to troubleshoot issues that arose during recording. He felt that producers often destroyed the recording process with a need for control. Albini, however, approached recording with a fast and loose style that brought exceptional results.

While looking for a producer for In Utero, Kurt Cobain was drawn to the work Steve Albini was doing with PJ Harvey and Pixies. In 1992, Cobain told Rolling Stone, “[In Utero] will be more raw with some songs and more candy pop on some of the others,” citing that Nevermind was too polished and mainstream. Albini was using the natural acoustics of the recording studio by placing multiple mics in the room to aid in a more grungy sound and create a cohesive blend between Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic.

Albini was a staunch purist when it came to recording, preferring analog and dismissing digital outright. He was a journalist, writing often for Matter in 1983, and published many essays such as “The Problem with Music” in the 1993 issue of The Baffler. He was critical of the music industry and worked primarily with underground and indie artists. However, he also would work with just about anyone who asked.

Featured Image by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for FYF

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