Bob Weston on LCD Soundsystem, Arcwelder, and All Tomorrow's Parties
Photo by Liz Clayton
It has already been 20 years since Shellac came together in Chicago in 1992 as an informal collaboration between engineer and guitarist Steve Albini and Minneapolis-based drummer Todd Trainer. Shellac was fully formed when Albini invited bassist Bob Weston to move to Chicago and employed him as an engineer at his studio. Weston is a record mastering engineer, engineering during his first years living in Chicago, and worked with Albini on records such as Nirvana's In Utero.
After they hit First Avenue this weekend for a 20th anniversary show, it's on to Australia, and then they return to curate All Tomorrow's Parties in Camber Sands, England in December. This is the first time they've curated ATP in England since 2002, and Wire, Mission of Burma, Red Fang, Shannon Wright, and several more are expected to play. Gimme Noise spoke to Weston about his 9 to 5 job, and putting Arcwelder on the ATP bill.
Gimme Noise: Tell me about your work as an audio and record mastering engineer?
Bob Weston: I used to record and produce bands up to 6 or 7 years ago, then I opened a mastering studio, so now I'm a record mastering engineer, every day Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. I cut vinyl masters and work on CD masters for a lot of bands. And I enjoy it. I work with a lot of bands, a different band every day.
Today I cut lacquers for the Mentally Ill. I think they were a band in Chicago in the '70s and they reformed and made a new record. This one was recorded with Albini actually a couple years ago and they decided they wanted to make a vinyl version. So they came to me and I did a vinyl master this morning. I've done some cool records. Two years ago, I did the mastering for the last LCD Soundsystem record. Its fun to work on good music.
I was Steve's assistant engineer on In Utero and that was really fun. That was one of the first records I worked on when I moved to Chicago 20 years ago. It's the only record I worked on with Steve.
GN: How did you meet Shellac and begin performing with them?
BW: After my old band the Volcano Suns had broken up -- Steve had recorded the last Volcano Suns album, so we were friends -- he was going to expand his studio, so he invited me to move to Chicago and work for him as his studio maintenance technician, help him build the studio and fix things, be the studio fix-it guy in his new studio. Once I moved out, he said, "Oh, Todd and I have this band, we need a bass player." We had a practice and it seemed to work for everybody so I joined the band. They already had a bunch of songs written but from there on out we wrote the songs together.
GN: You're curating all tomorrow's parties in England in November. What was it like selecting bands for that?
BW: That's really easy! I think about what my favorite bands are right now - the three of us made lists of bands we love personally and we think people haven't heard of in England. I think the idea of curating is to try to educate, so we try to put bands in front of people that we think they'll love. For instance, Arcwelder from Minneapolis, because I don't think a lot of people have seen Arcwelder and they are amazing. We picked them and people who see them who never have will be like, "Holy crap, they're great!"
GN: I go to every Arcwelder show that I can.
BW: Oh yeah, I'm one of the biggest fans, ever! That's one of the bands I've recorded. I worked on their last 3 albums.
GN: One of you picked Red Fang, which is really cool.
BW: Yeah! I put them on my list, and both Steve and Todd were like, "Oh yeah, good idea!" I'm friends with one of the guys in the band and we think their videos are hilarious. We went to see their show in Chicago We thought it would be cool to ask them. And we didn't think many people have heard of them.
GN: How have you seen the music scene change?
BW: There are always bands I do like and don't like. We're a hard rock band, and there are plenty of hard rock bands, and there are plenty of bad hard rock bands. There are never tons of great ones. The one thing I did notice recently was, I've gone to a lot of shows where I'm standing in the audience to watch a band that I think I'm supposed to go see because people are telling me they're great or I want to check out a band I haven't seen before. I'm watching the band and the music is sort of not doing anything for me, and then I'm watching the people play and they don't even look like they want to be there. It's sort of depressing. I'm like, "Why are you even doing this? You don't have to do this!" It seems like there are more bands like that now. Maybe there are too many bands these days and everyone feels like they need to be in a band. I want to see a band up there for a reason, whether I like it or not, I want them to be excited about it and giving it there all, and not standing there looking like they'd rather do something else.
That's why I like LCD Soundsystem. I think James thought the same thing. I think he wanted the live band to be really fun and aggressive and really into it. That's something I really liked about that band.
GN: I see you played trumpet on Low's Things We Lost in the Fire.
BW: Oh yeah, I played two songs on the Low record. Once in awhile when a band is performing in Chicago, and they know me and ask me to play for them I'll practice for a few days and do that. I love Low; I'm a huge fan. They're amazing. I think we've invited them to ATP, but I'm not sure if they're playing that.
GN: Who do you have joining you for your dates in Australia?
BW: Black Level Embassy, two shows - I worked on a record for them. They're hard rock. My Disco, in Melbourne, Steve's recorded and I mastered. A guy in My Disco is the one who invited us. This girl whose band is called Pikelet. Here stuff is crazy, interesting and charming so we asked her to do the rest of our shows with her. And in Perth, there is smRts - that's an instrumental band I mastered whose stuff is pretty cool.
GN: Is there anything you'd like to add regarding your 20th Anniversary?
BW: I'm looking forward to playing a Shellac show. We love playing shows together. We don't do it by rote, its still exciting for us.
Shellac - 20th Anniversary Show w/ Bellini and Stnnng, 18+, $12, 6:30 p.m., Saturday, September 1 at First Avenue Mainroom.
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