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PJ Harvey pays tribute to Steve Albini: ‘He taught me so much about music and life’

The singer, who worked with the noise-rock pioneer on her 1993 masterpiece ‘Rid of Me’, says Albini "changed the course of my life".

By Daniel Kreps

PJ Harvey (Picture: Steve Gullick)

PJ Harvey paid tribute to Steve Albini, who she recorded her acclaimed second album Rid of Her with, following the death of the noise-rock pioneer.

“Meeting Steve Albini and working with him changed the course of my life. He taught me so much about music, and life. Steve was a great friend – wise, kind and generous. I am so grateful,” the singer wrote on social media after Albini’s death at the age of 61. “My thoughts are with him and his family and friends as we suffer his loss.”

A year after her 1992 debut album Dry, Harvey enlisted Albini for her second LP after hearing his work with Pixies and the Breeders. “His sound just sounds like a band. He’s the only person I know that can record a drum kit and it sounds like you’re standing in front of a drum kit,” Harvey told MTV’s 120 Minutes at the time

“It doesn’t sound like it’s gone through a recording process or it’s coming out of speakers. You can feel the sound he records, and that is why I wanted to work with him, ’cause all I ever wanted is for us to be recorded and to sound like we do when we’re playing together in a room, and that’s never happened before.” Harvey also credited Albini’s innovative studio setup for “capturing the feeling of the sound.”

Recorded in less than two weeks at Albini’s then-go-to Pachyderm Studios, 1993’s Rid of Me would ultimately be regarded as Harvey’s masterpiece and land on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list, where we noted “the intense dynamic shifts in her music, which careen from blues to goth, often in the space of one song. Harvey was under the influence of Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Waits, and Flannery O’Connor, and her singing, writing, and lead-guitar playing coalesce into something marked by flames. The lyrics have lots of licking, moaning, bleeding, stroking, open mouths, and dismembered body parts. The songs spew viscera as they build to a sticky ecstasy.”

Following Albini’s death, many of the countless artists he worked with have penned tributes to the engineer, including Superchunk, Code Orange, and Failure, who recorded their debut album Comfort with Albini.

“In the weeks we spent with him making Comfort we were charmed, seduced, and challenged by his fantastic twisted sense of humor, astoundingly scientific mind, and principled sense of sonic fidelity and philosophical integrity,” Failure wrote. 

“Perhaps, at the time, we imagined he was the first of many brilliant experts we would encounter as our music career progressed— but it soon became clear that the unique combination of talents that constituted Steve were of the once in a lifetime variety. He was also, in spite of—or because of being so cool, a big nerd and a sweet guy.”

Eddie Roeser of Urge Overkill, a band that played shows with Albini’s Big Black as a fellow Chicago rock act and worked with Albini in the studio, said in a statement to Rolling Stone, “We’re saddened to hear of Steve’s demise. Urge Overkill were there to build and test his first home studio with Jesus Urge Superstar, Urge’s first album. He had just taken the plastic off the tape machine in his basement in Chicago. The main thing I’ll remember is Steve’s sense of humour and all the laughs that we had in making that and all our other records with him. He also gamely asked Urge to hop in his rented van for one of Big Black’s first tours (in 1985), along with Big Black’s Santiago and Dave. These were Urge’s first out of state (Illinois) shows and first tour. Steve was one of the most generous and funny people around. He helped us airbrush the cover of Urge’s Supersonic Storybook album to make it far more hilarious than the raw photo would suggest. Thanks for the laughs, Steve, we couldn’t have done it without you.”

From Rolling Stone.