Steve Albini Breaks Down Shellac's 'Dude Incredible' Track by Track
Published Sep 04, 2014On September 16, Shellac will release Dude Incredible, on Touch and Go. As previously reported, it's their fifth proper album and first release since 2007's Excellent Italian Greyhound. While little has been revealed about the impending LP since its official announcement, Shellac singer/guitarist Steve Albini has now shed much more light on the new album.
On podcast episode 120 of Kreative Kontrol with Vish Khanna, Albini previewed the new album, which has been teased since at least 2008, by agreeing to encapsulate each of the nine songs with one word, then add a slight elaboration that amounts to "stories behind the songs" that no one has heard yet. (Shellac don't do advances to press or anyone else.)
Here's how Albini broke down what he and singer/bassist Bob Weston and singer/drummer Todd Trainer came up with for each song, in sequence, on Dude Incredible:
One word: "monkeys"
It's about the group dynamics of trying to get something done with a group of people. Somebody ends up having to behave like a ringleader and then there's debate and all of the counties have to be heard from and then, eventually, there's a move where everybody's suitably motivated and you go off and do something. But along the way there are circumstances and ultimately you get to a resolution where you complete your enterprise or whatever.
One word: "compulsive"
The text of the song is an abstraction that Bob came up with of the things that someone who is suffering obsessive compulsive disorder has to do just to get through his day. He has to make sure certain rituals are performed in order to satisfy that obsession. It's called "Compliant" because that's the shorthand for "OCD compliant."
"You Came In Me"
One word: "intercourse"
It's a fairly straightforward song about sexual intercourse.
One word: "vandalism"
"Riding Bikes" is in the context of children or adolescents riding bikes, where it's a mindset and an activity put together. Like, you and your friends go riding bikes and that implies a certain degree of intimacy or closeness with your friends. You're not just riding bikes, you're having adventures, you're breaking things, you're stealing things, you're causing minor vandalism — all that sort of stuff.
"All the Surveyors"
One word: "survey"
We first got into a surveyor kick when, I can't remember if it was Bob or me, we noticed that quite a few of the founding fathers of our country, the United States of America — your neighbour to the South — were in fact, surveyors. Meaning that they took a chain and a pole and paced off the physical dimensions of our new country. They physically measured the place they were living in and that was part of their definition of where they were living. How much more could the borders of that place mean to you and its identity as a nation than that you had physically measured it?
A lot of the founding fathers were surveyors, including George Washington. But if you think of the word "survey," that means that you're assessing something from a distance and measuring it. There are a lot of circumstances where there's an external observer surveying what's going on. It doesn't even necessarily have to be a person these days. It could be a satellite or a drone or a surveillance camera.
"The People's Microphone"
One word: "altogether"
That's an instrumental song. The subject matter of the song doesn't really exist, because it's a musical motif only. But it was named after the practice that was revived during the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy other places movement. When someone wanted to address the whole of the occupation, obviously you couldn't be heard over a large distance, so the whole assembly made a social contract that, whatever this person said from the podium, they would all repeat it in sync in a loud voice so that people behind them could hear it. That construction was called "the people's microphone." I think that was an ingenious invention.
I started to think also about its use as a consensus-building tool, If you hear yourself in your own voice, it forces you to consider the veracity of the thing that you're saying because you don't want to be repeating a lie in a loud voice. So everyone who has convinced themselves to be a conduit in that situation is, by the process of repeating the thing that they are amplifying, a kind of a filter for its veracity. And then it forces them to internalize that thought because they have to evaluate it and it could be conceived of as a rote thing but, because of the way we all behave with respect to speech and language, it isn't. So, I was fascinated by that and I admire it as a technique to solve the problem of being heard in a crowd. And I'll be honest, I felt like I missed something by not participating in any of these people's microphone exchanges during the Occupy movement.
One word: "Indiana."
It's about the steel magnate for whom the town of Gary, IN, is named. Most of the lyrics for that song are taken from a book of labour and communist folk songs. It's called The Big Red Songbook. There's a song, the lyrics to which were written by T-Bone Slim, and they were in that book and the song is called 'Gary' and it's about Gary, IN, and its namesake.
One word: "pun."
That's another instrumental, based on a little guitar motif. Going back to the founding fathers and surveyor business, to qualify as a politician or statesman at the beginning of this country's existence, you had to have a very tangible relationship with the country. And now, basically any asshole who wants to can be a politician. We thought it would be nice to revive the idea that in order to be a public servant, you would've had to have had some intimate relationship with the place you were trying to govern.
One word: "snappy."
It's a very snappy song. Quick tempo. And it has a literal relationship with the founding fathers and their work as surveyors in that the tools of the trade are mentioned by name and there's a quotation by George Washington at the end that Bob recites where Washington describes how the lack of maps is impeding progress.
As Albini discussed these songs, he acknowledged that Dude Incredible might have a conceptual framework.
"It's circumstantial," he clarifies. "We were caught in a conversational loop about the surveyor thing and then we had these songs that we were working on at the time, and they ended up getting banded together without it being expressed. I suppose there's a tiny bit of continuity with Dude Incredible and the sense of adventure, but I'm deriving that now, ex post facto; it's not something that we talked about."
Shellac have released seven singles since 1993, their most recent being a split with Caesar that appeared in a Dutch comic book in 2000. In some instances, used copies of rare or out-of-print Shellac vinyl have been selling for hundreds of dollars online, leading some fans to wonder if a singles compilation might ever be forthcoming.
"We've talked about it," Albini reveals. "There are a couple of Peel Sessions and some old singles — we've talked about assembling all of that together as a compilation album. On one hand, I'm not into the idea of repackaging material that's already available. On the other hand, I'm not into going through the effort of making more covers for the singles, which is what it boils down to.
"I don't know that we've resolved it. We've talked about it and I think we've conceptually gotten our head around the idea of making a compilation of those early, oddball recordings and the Peel Sessions but we haven't committed to doing it yet."
A fan of Canada, Albini is scheduled to appear at Pop Montreal in September for a speaking engagement, a recording symposium with Hotel2Tango engineer Howard Bilerman, and a live cooking exhibition. As recently reported, he also recorded the upcoming Fear and Desire LP by Winnipeg band Conduct, who will release their album November 4 through hometown imprint Public Tone
Listen to this entire interview with Steve Albini (most of which is about baseball and poker) on Kreative Kontrol with Vish Khanna.