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By Jim Cress

BIG BLACK:
NO GREY

"Urge Overkill," says Steve Albini, answering his phone. Uh...hello? They're a band he likes, it turns out.

"Fuck off" is another great way to greet callers, Albini explains. "When you answer the phone 'fuck off' people tend to give an honest response. Courtesy is just another kind of lie."

Sound abrasive? So's the record, but it's selling anyway. Albini is fraying nerves these days as Big Black, with a six-song EP, Lungs, released on the Effigies' Ruthless Records label last month.

Big Black is a one-man band; Albini wrote the songs, sang/shouted the vocals, and played all the instruments (guitar, bass and a little organ), save a few yells and atonal sax blasts contributed by friends. He also recorded and mixed the disc, designed the cover, and came up with a bizarre variety of inserts--fishhooks, scary photographs, locks of Will Tizard's hair, etc, for the first 1,500 copies. Total cost: $1,870 and a case of beer for a friend who provided a four-track recorder. Albini picked up the tab using his college financial aid money.

Steve Albini

So what possessed this 20-year-old Northwestern University student from "Missoula fucking Montana" (His emphasis)? Albini sees Big Black as an extension of his own lifestyle--stripped of pretense, spontaneous and unconventional. Talk to Albini. Listen to Big Black. Notice the similarities.

Take food, for example. Albini: "I steal a lot of necessities like food...I need to eat food to live. I think it's silly that I have to sell myself to get it." Big Black: "I'm a hunter-gatherer, I kill what I eat. / I'm a steelworker, I kill what I eat. / I'm a brick layer, I kill what I eat." ("Steel Worker")

Like the song titles suggest ("Live in a Hole," "Dead Billy," "I Can Be Killed," etc.), this EP is not chock-full of cheerful pop and lyrical sentimentality. The music is harsh, but not hardcore. More like an angry cloud of bees swarming in your head, or a wire brush scraping steel. Aibini calls it "realistic."

"If this record sounds black, it's because everyone else tries to be so twiddle-dee-dee, lightweight, gee-aren't-we-having-fun," he says. Some of the "really good noises" he tortured out of his homemade "stratocaster copy," (cannibalized from the remains of several guitars), for the record include an "instant train-wreck noise," a "female-sounding buzz," and a "scratchy, insects-coming-out-of-the-ground sound."

"While I was growing up in Montana, I thought that all the music in the whole world sucked," Albini recalls. "Imagine this amphetamine-head in Montana, scouting through record bins, trying to find records worth listening to. I found, tops, two or three a year." These included albums by Television, Suicide, Wire and Killing Joke.

So, after a week of bass lessons in high school, Albini started making his own sounds with a noise band that, well, just never caught on in Missoula. Locally, Albini played with Stations for about six months, until they traded him in last January for a bass player who was less obtrusive.

Albini hopes to make live Big Black music around Chicago by spring, if he can find other musicians who like the sound and if he sells enough records to recoup his tuition money. Funds permitting, he says there are easily 60 more songs he'd like to put on vinyl.

According to Jon Babbin of Ruthless, who is distributing Lungs, Big Black will be in the black by spring, an impressive sales feat for an independent record. Babbin said the record is selling well in Chicago, and several hundred have already been sold to distributors on the east and west coasts. Through Green World Distributors, Big Black will soon be available in England and Europe as well.

Ironically, Albini believes that the people who are buying his record and dancing to it in local clubs (where Big Black is beginning to catch on) are, alas, among the many kinds of human beings that piss him off--fashion-conscious trendy groupies. "These homos love it, for some reason. It sickens me to think that lude-heads are doing poppers to this on the dance floor," he complains.

Other people Albini despises include--pencils ready?--"laissez-faire hippie wimps," "raging homos" (not homosexuals in general, just those that make their sexuality their only identity. "I actually like most homos I've met," he says.), and fraternity and sorority members ("Greeks are just shitty people who pretend what they do is desperately important.") At Northwestern, these groups--in fact, a large part of the student body--are not very fond of Albini either. He doesn't mind.

"I polarize people--they either like me, don't like me or don't know me. I don't care one way or the other," he says.


Taken from Matter, Vol. 1, No. 1, January 1983. Possibly the first print Big Black recieved?


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