Shellac's Todd Trainer on Minneapolis drummers, and today's music climate
Hard to believe 20 years have gone by since heavy rockers Shellac formed in Chicago in 1992. It began with engineer and guitarist Steve Albini and Minneapolis-based drummer Todd Trainer. The band fully formed when Albini invited bassist Bob Weston to move to Chicago and employed him as an engineer at his studio.
Back in the early '80s, Trainer met Albini when Big Black played the 7th Street Entry for the first time, and soon after was playing drums for local post-punks Rifle Sport. He then joined another post-punk act Breaking Circus in the mid-'80s that shifted to Minneapolis from Chicago. More recently, he's been the driving force behind Brick Layer Cake. Ahead of Saturday's anniversary, Gimme Noise chatted with Trainer about drummers, drumming, and staying excited about Shellac for 20 years.
GN: After 20 years, how do you sum up Shellac's style?
In all honesty I just consider it rock music. It's reached a point of absurdity and ridiculousness that it's broken down into so many genres. To me its like, a hamburger is a hamburger. You can put a million different cheeses on it but its still a hamburger. I sort of view rock music in the same way. I never think of us as math rock or post-punk or what people would refer to us as.
GN: What are the characteristics of your favorite drummers?
TT: I've always enjoyed drummers. The ones who impress me the most are typically the ones who are, to me, more creative and unique stylistically, than proficient technical drummers. I break it down into two categories of drummers. There are those who are really creative and unique, and those who are excellent at technique. I appreciate both and am amused and entertained by both. The stuff that has makes a lasting impression on me is the stuff that is a creative and lasting approach. The technical ones impress me but rarely do they inspire me at all. Stylistically I've always strived to be creative, original and unique.
GN: Your drumming sounds primal and makes me think of Bonham, Husker Du, etc.
I think drumming itself is primal. Every kid wants to bang on pots and pans. So I think it's a primal thing. I just consider myself a rock drummer but I've always strived to be creative and technique. We've gotten to a point in time where there are a lot of great technical drummers. Sometimes the speed they play with or the complicated things that they are able to do, are impressive, but they leave no real lasting impression on me because still what it amounts to is what they're playing and sometimes that's forgettable other than that its incredibly fast.
GN: Do you see younger drummers now who stand out to you?
TT: I've felt this way for a long, long time, and now is no exception. There's an awful lot of really, really high-quality, incredible drummers in Minneapolis. I don't know the reason for that. The only city I could compare that too, fairly, is Chicago, I lived in Chicago for two and a half, close to three years. Then, I payed a lot of attention. Per capita, no offense to Chicago- somebody in Chicago once asked me, "Tell me your top ten favorite drummers in Chicago and Minneapolis." I said, "Well at the expense of embarrassing you, my top ten drummers of Chicago and Minneapolis . . . they all reside in Minneapolis!" (Laughs) Which is pretty crazy considering that city is ten times the size of Minneapolis. So I think there are really amazing drummers here.
For many, many years I made an enormous effort to keep up to speed with what was happening in Minneapolis, musically. From the time I could get out to see shows, which was about 1980 to literally the very late '90s I felt I had a really good idea of what was happening musically. I'd go sit through those three- or four-band bills regularly. I'd take recommendations, and see shows when people invited me to see shows, of bands I never heard of. I remember the distinct point one night I went out and saw a four-band bill, and found them all to be mediocre. Part of that has to do with my age, part of that is feeling jaded because I've seen an awful lot of incredibly good bands in my life, and I've been very fortunate to see a lot of legendary bands, I feel like I grew up in an incredible time in Minneapolis with the obvious bands in the '80s that got a lot of attention worldwide, really. I feel that was a healthy time here, a lot of incredible bands. I've seen bands from all over the world that were incredible.
At some point in the late '90s another thing that attributed to my lack of interest in the music community in addition to age, jaded, and having seen a million great bands -- I feel like those bands were honestly mediocre . . . I really do. When I was young, it was hard to get shows. It wasn't easy to get shows. There were only a couple venues you could play. And now there are 12 - 14 venues you can play. And there are 50 bands playing every night of the week. Its great to have all those options, it really is. But it also feels like one doesn't have to selective any longer, to host a show. There are no longer 100 bands begging for that Friday night, there are 500 bands begging but now we have ten times as many venues available. So it seems to be easy for bands to get shows. People may disagree with me on that. But that's how I feel about it. And then I feel like, because there are four local bands playing at every venue, every night there seems to be less well attended.
So I feel the musical community has suffered a little bit due to the overabundance of venues. Again its great to have the option, but the shows are less attended and less exciting as a result, that's how I feel.
GN: I attended a lot of Uptown Bar and Entry shows.
TT: I think they had to be more selective, because with fewer venues, more bands would play there and they could come up with some pretty amazing lineups any night of the week, especially the weekends which every band wants. Chances are you'd go out Friday or Saturday nights they'd be super-crowded. With a great lineup and super-crowded there'd be an additional level of excitement in the air which doesn't exist in a half-empty room, which is what I'm expecting at our upcoming show.
The people at First Avenue were kind enough to warn me in advance we were picking an awful weekend due to the fact its Labor Day weekend, back to school and the State Fair. They said any other weekend probably would've been better than the one we picked but we really didn't have any other options.
GN: Where's your favorite place you've played?
TT: We're all big fans of Italy. We've always had an incredible time playing there. It has to do with everything -- the art, architecture, the history and the scenery and the food and the people and the fashion and the automobiles -- it's a pretty spectacular place. We've done like 30 - 40 countries now and I'm pretty sure we agree Italy is a favorite.
We're going to Australia in October. There are definitely things I enjoy about it. Early on we did a tour of Australia and New Zealand. We really loved New Zealand; it's an incredible place, really spectacularly scenic, an amazing country.
I've felt like Spain is always fun because of the people. I 've enjoyed Belgium and Holland a lot because they have great venues. I think its because they get some government funding. Their venues there are always a pleasure just to be in. The Dutch and the Belgiums have a knack for making you feel comfortable and at home in a venue. It seems like we're never in a hurry to leave those places.
I think all of us feel really fortunate to have played shows in nearly every country in the world that would have us. I think we've enjoyed something about everywhere we've been.
GN: How does it feel to do All Tomorrow's Parties again? Did you three work together on the lineup?
TT: Yeah! That lineup is still incomplete. We're still waiting on a handful of being confirmed. It's an effort we are all a part of. It's an exciting thing and an amazing opportunity because honestly some of my favorite weekends ever were at ATP events. They can be really incredible, loads of fun and really entertaining. The one we did in 2002 - it's incredible how much responsibility goes with hosting 30-plus bands like that. We're band members not promoters. In a sense you become agents, and promoters and handlers and a lot more than band members in that situation. There's a lot to it people wouldn't expect, nor did we when we first got into it.
This year I felt it was difficult to get my list up to something reasonable (laughs) number of bands. A lot of my favorite bands from 2002 no longer exist. I feel like its maybe, reality or me, it's not the most exciting musical environment in history. I sometimes feel: The '50s were great; the '60s were great; the '70s were great; even the '80s and '90s . . . I feel like the last decade of music, for me, hasn't really been that awesome. It's a strange thing. I feel like everything in the world improves. The automobile improves and the way we live our lives, for the most part, improves. Things typically improve; it might get more complicated and come with some nonsense but basically improves. I feel with rock and roll, in the '50s, '60s, '70s and even music I'm not that fond of, like R&B and soul -- is still pretty awesome. And now I think of it, like ew, the pop music, some of it I can't get excited about.
GN: What helps you stick together after so long and inspires you to keep performing as Shellac?
TT: really proud of that fact. I think a lot of it has to do with personalities and a lot of it has to do with ways we conduct ourselves as a band. Some of it has to do with proximity and logistics of our band. Living 400 miles from Bob and Steve requires me to travel 800 miles to rehearse. We don't rehearse regularly and we don't tour regularly. So when we do, we aren't going through the motions and we aren't settling into some routine or habit. It requires a great deal of effort to arrange a rehearsal so when we do its incredibly productive and exciting to go to rehearsal.
Whereas, some of the bands I'd been in, in the past -- Rifle Sport and Breaking Circus, we'd rehearse five nights a week, which is great but its easy to take everything for granted. You just show up and do it. When you're rehearsing less frequently and you're making a greater effort to do so, you seem to maximize, its more of a "wow, I get to play drums in a rock band!" It's more exciting. We're not touring much, and we aren't playing the same songs in the same set every night. We never really get tired of that routine that I think bands who are making a full-time goal of it can be pretty monotonous and by rote, its just your life and how you make a living.
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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