The Heckler got a unique opportunity to chat with influential Indie rock recording engineer, musician, Chicagoan and baseball fan, Steve Albini. Singer and guitarist for the punk rock band Shellac, Albini was also a member of Big Black and Rapeman. He has recorded over 1,000 albums for over 1,000 bands including Nirvana, PJ Harvey, the Breeders, the Pixies, Cheap Trick, Jesus Lizard, Bush, Silkworm and Billy Corgan–most at his Belmont Ave. recording studio, Electrical Audio. But anyone who records with Albini and his staff at Electrical Audio know that they better brush up on their baseball knowledge, current pennant chases and Wiffle Ball pitches. For in between takes, baseball is king.
THE HECKLER: What’s your earliest memory of baseball — good or bad?
STEVE ALBINI: Bad: My mom takes me to a sporting goods store in Santa Barbara, Cal., and tells me to pick out a baseball glove. I’m intrigued by the first-baseman’s mitt and I get it. I have no interest in playing first base, and am constitutionally and physically unable to do it. But at the age of 7, I own a first baseman’s mitt. This is the first in a series of events in my life wherein I am given a choice, and make a capricious one, which ultimately saddles me with circumstances I neither enjoy nor deserve.
TH: Where did you see your first Major League game?
SA: I saw an exhibition game between the Red Sox and the Washington Senators (neé-Rangers) in 1971 at RFK stadium. There was a homerun derby between Carl Yastrzemski and Frank Howard, which I enjoyed. The game and the stadium were un-memorable. Before that, I used to listen to Vin Scully broadcasting the Dodgers on the radio. My family moved to Washington DC in 1972, just after baseball moved out. I watched the Orioles on local broadcasts and felt mild disappointment when the A’s went to the series, but that series was where I found my next abiding baseball fixation, the Cincinnati Reds, who I followed until the late 1970s, when I found punk rock and stopped paying attention to baseball.
TH: Where were you when the Bartman ball fell to earth?
SA: Watching on television from the lounge of the studio. I rewound the TiVo many times to watch the thing in slow-motion.
TH: Your thoughts on the incident. Do you think it affected the game on the field?
SA: Obviously, it had an impact on the game. Any time a team gets an extra out in an inning it makes a difference. I have to have some sympathy for Bartman though. If I were in his shoes, I probably would have grabbed for a foul ball myself. And then I would have been the object of nationwide hatred. Wait … I am. Nevermind. Fuck ’em.
TH: You play baseball in your free time. What position do you play?
SA: Bench. I play for the Electrons of the Chicago Metropolitan Baseball Association. Usually second base in the late innings of a blowout. I have started one game at second base, but that was a pityfuck of the first magnitude. I am listed as a catcher, but I haven’t played a single inning as catcher in two years, except in pick-up games.
TH: What is the worst baseball-related injury you’ve suffered?
SA: This is totally gay, but… I was shagging balls for our Coach Ryan Rezvani, who was hitting fly-balls for outfield practice. One of the Electrons, Javier Figeroa, has a hose like a rifle, and he threw a bee at me when I already had a ball in my glove, so I tried one of those kick-saves they show on that Canadian channel. My right great toe was fucked-up for almost nine months. I was once hit in the throat by a ball, and I had a blinding, hallucinatory moment of intense pain, after which my voice sounded like broken crockery. My band went on tour a couple of days later though, and no shit, I sang better than I ever had in my life.
TH: What’s the worst on-stage related injury you’ve suffered?
SA: Nothing major. You always cut yourself on the hands and stuff playing guitar — it’s unavoidable. Bob Weston (Shellac’s bass player) and I used to end our sets by lifting Todd (Trainer, drummer) off his drum set and carrying him away. One night (at a baseball-themed event in strike year ’94), Todd fell on Bob at the end of the set and dislocated his shoulder. That wasn’t me though.
TH: The Cubs have a renovation plan on the table, which includes and ESPN-Zone type restaurant, quaint shops and a bleacher expansion that includes 1,980 new seats. Your thoughts?
SA: You see, I’m not a Cubs fan. I don’t give a shit. Fuck ’em. Lights, boxes, whatever. As long as the interior part of the ballpark stays gorgeous, and as long as fine National League ball clubs come there to play, it will be a good place to go see a game.
TH: The Tribune (owners of the Cubs). Your thoughts?
SA: Right-wingers. “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Standard-bearers for excellence. This genius company once took the initiative to “modernize” the English language, by “simplifying” the spelling of common words. For a period beginning in the 1930s and into the 1960s, they used these alternate spellings: “Laff,” “Frate,” “Luv,” “Burocrat,” “Doctrin” (amongst many others).
TH: Wiffle Ball games are common in your studio’s lounge. What’s your go-to pitch?
SA: The “Puzzler,” which is the name given to whatever pitch I am about to throw. Usually a side-arm rising fastball (holes up), or a knuckler (holes forward). Greg Norman (A staff engineer at Electrical Audio) has an assortment: “Ol’ Tom,” “Trouble Ball,” “Cat-hop,” “White Lightning,” “Beulah,” “Kaiser Wilhelm,” “Toe-Tapper,” “Peanut,” “Money Shot,” “Tina Louise,” “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Pitch,” “the Bose-Einstein Change-up,” “Four Divisions Landing at Omaha Beach,” “the Racist Joke,” “Michael Stipe v. Un-named Minor Complainant,” “Pity the Pitiful, Pity Me Lord,” and “Like-a-Donut.”
TH: If you weren’t an engineer/singer-songwriter, what would you be?
SA: In the words of Mark Twain, “Considerably more comfortable, Ma’am.”
TH: What is your opinion of players having the stadium sound guy play 4-5 second clips of their favorite song for the walk from the on-deck circle to home plate?
SA: Usually, it just sounds like someone turned on a dumbass radio station for a second.
TH: Which 4-5 second bit of a song would you choose for your seven steps to the plate?
SA: Something by Gorecky or Greig. Maybe side four of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music.” Maybe I’d cop out and use “Allstar” by Smashmouth, like every other dumbass who needs a soundtrack to something. Maybe the opening bars of “Then Come Dudley” by the Jesus Lizard. Maybe the screaming part of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop.” Maybe I’d commission a new piece of music to be entitled, “Whatever May Happen During This At-Bat, Remember: It’s a Long Season.”
TH: If you could have one at bat against any pitcher in any Major League stadium, who would you face and where?
SA: Rocky Biddle at Olympic stadium in Montreal. Why? Six reasons:
1: I have a chance against Rocky Biddle. Honestly, I think I have a chance.
2: Nobody would be there to see it if I whiff.
3: Chad Bentz has one hand, and he’s better than Rocky Biddle. I could spend the whole time saying things like “At least you have both hands, Rocky!”
4: If I’m playing against the Expos, my team is the favorite.
5: I could walk out into Olympic stadium and do a slow pan. Then I could say under my breath “Calice! Le baseball des Ligues Majeures… Je suis arrivé! Je ne peux pas le croire! Moises Alou a joué ici, et il pisse sur le sien transmet! Tabernac!” (translation: “Holy shit! The Major Leagues… I made it! I can’t believe it! Moises Alou played here, and he pisses on both of his hands! Goddamn!”)
6: There is no number six.
TH: Organ or DJ in-between innings?
SA: Please no DJ. Can there be one place on earth where there isn’t a DJ? You know they have DJs at the library now, right? It’s a total drag, especially on Dub night.”
TH: U.S. Cellular Field, Petco Park, Tropicana Field, Ameriquest Field, etc, What is your opinion of the corporate hijacking of America’s Past Time?
SA: Like Wrigley wasn’t a gum or something. Shut up.
TH: What is your opinion of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)?
SA: They don’t represent me. They represent the dying breed of the old- school show business industry. Whatever they say, you can assume it’s bullshit.
TH: Booze or Water while playing live?
SA: I heard a vocalist’s trick from Guy Picciotto (he’s from Fugazi, who are famous, so I can drop his name and let everyone know that I know famous people): Keep a thermos of hot water on stage, and gulp the hot water at mid-set — it really does extend the useable lifetime of your voice. It doesn’t make you a better singer, but you won’t lose your voice as easily. This is a mixed blessing.
TH: Let’s try some word association:
In Utero: In Vagino (…then out, then in again, then out again…)
Wendall Kim: “…not the best arm in the National league, still… collision at the plate… he hangs on to it for the final out.” Clear Channel: Clear Cocksucking
Ronnie Woo-Woo: Wesley Willis-Willis
Pro-Tools: Amateur Tools, just like those “-9” aluminum pingers.
Wrigley Field: A lovely stadium full of people who think they’re at Sea World.
Barry Bonds: Badass. I like him a lot. Unique in the game and unappreciated by people who prefer one-dimensional, insubstantial grinning company men named Sammy Sosa. Creed (the band break-up): Boo-fuckin’-hoo. Did you see that guy on Celebrity Poker? He makes Dave Foley look sober and he whines like a little girl.
The Heckler: “If I hit like The Heckler, I’d wear a dress.” – the Onion