Interview: Bob Weston of Shellac

Ahead of May 5th's Akropolis show, the former Mission of Burma member discusses punk ideals, the Chicago music scene and Steve Albini's new guitar style

As author Michael Azerrad has detailed in Our Band Could Be Your Life, in the 1980s there were many musical caravans that took to the American road with little ambition other than playing music and making friends.

Later in the '80s and early-'90s, when the "indie music" maelstrom was hit by what Azerrad calls "fiendishly brilliant marketing," it was often hard to tell where punk's DIY values, pluralism and expression had gone.

Few well-known groups or producers seem to be as persistent in their lack of compromise as the crew who call themselves Shellac.

Along with artists like Ani di Franco, Shellac's members -- Todd Trainer (drums), Steve Albini (Guitar) and Bob Weston (bass) -- have stuck to '80s DIY and community principles. In doing so they have proven to be the antidote to a what, since the '90s, often seems like a punk-rock dream gone bad.

Their positive efforts are audible on the 2007 CD Excellent Italian Greyhound, which like Weston's previous affiliation, Mission to Burma, includes more than a small spasm of avant-garde edge.

It’s with similarly terse humor that Weston answers the following questions, all of which clarify a thing or two about the music community Shellac sustain, while revealing Alibini's new guitar playing trick.

Darrell Jónsson: It is rumored that Excellent Italian Greyhound is named after your drummer's dog. If this is, in fact, the case, have you met Todd Trainer's dog, and if so what are some of the connections between Todd's dog and your latest CD?

Bob Weston: Yes, it is named for Todd's Excellent Italian Greyhound. Uh, of course we have met his dog; we have played together in the same band for over 15 years. The connection is that we put him on the cover of the CD.

DJ: Steve Albini in an interview once said he feels he is in more part of an "underground of hobbyist musicians" than part of the "music industry". Looking back at the roster of musicians you have produced and the bands you have worked with, would you say that this concept of "underground" sums up your participation in music as well?

BW: Yes.

DJ: Has this concept of underground changed since the '80s from your perspective?

BW: We're part of an underground arts community that was around long before the '80s and will always be around. It is our home and we are proud to have those friends and be a part of this community.

DJ: For many it used to be considered a 'career' decision to either move to New York, London or Los Angeles to work with music. For instance, the jazz artists who moved from Chicago to New York in the '70s tend to be the ones who had the more visible ongoing careers. So I'm curious about your move to Chicago, and what motivated and/or inspired you to move there?

BW: I moved there as a career decision. I wanted to record bands. But in my hometown of Boston, nobody took me seriously. There were already too many established studios and engineers. I moved to Chicago when Steve offered me a job as the electronics tech in his small home studio. He said that I could use the studio when he didn't have bookings. So I was able to redefine myself as a recording engineer in Chicago, since I had no history.

DJ: Was there any major difference between Boston and Chicago with the musicians or music styles that you worked with?

BW: I find that Chicago has one of the most cooperative music and underground arts communities I've ever come across. It's a dream. Musicians play in many different groups/combinations and are great friends that help and support each other. There's not the cut-throat attitude that I see in other cities where people are out for themselves at the expense of others. The same with the recording studios and engineers. We help each other out. We're friends and colleagues, not competitors.

DJ: Some of the music on Excellent Italian Radio sounds tight enough to have been notated. Do you work at all from charts or notation?

BW: None of the music has ever had notation. We'll make rough recordings at practice to help us remember what we've come up with and how we've been arranging a song. We write songs like any rock band; somebody has an idea or theory, or riff, or lyric, etc. Then we all come up with other parts to play along with the first part. And we all work out an arrangement of the song together.

DJ: Do you have any surprises planned for your upcoming tour you may want to drop a few hints about?

BW: Steve will be performing on stilts.

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