The conversation between record producer and Shellac frontman Steve Albini and former Pixies and Breeders vocalist and bassist Kim Deal was billed with equal footing. In Austin, both have endless appeal: There are a lot of music nerds who want to talk shop with Albini, and Austin’s rock scene has had more in common with Pixies and alternative rock than anything else.
Albini made it clear he was much more interested in interviewing Deal, as he was wearing a Breeders shirt in the style of the Oakland Raiders logo and said that she was the reason he came to South by Southwest, “a place I swore I would never go.”
Neither of them are figures you’d spy at Fader Fort, and that’s what made this panel so refreshing. Albini asked quite a bit about Deal’s early life in Ohio, and the most poignant note that came from it was that Deal would cut long cables — her dad was an engineer — to make her own small patch cables to hook up recording devices, before she knew she could just buy them. DIY might be as much of a term corrupted by branding as anything at SXSW, but she really meant it there. Both of them were successful on their own terms, sort of the American indie ideal, and that’s why they connected so well.
Another interesting nugget is that Deal called Albini at 3 in the morning — 4 a.m. New York time, he clarified — after hanging out with LA vulgar punks Fear, and she remarked that they were her band now. Not much came of it, but how cool would that have been? Albini is known for having a sharp tongue about the music industry — he is really a man with zero space for bull — and while the panel was mostly cordial, he did poke fun at Deal’s interest in true crime, one that she shares with his wife, Heather. Specifically, Deal’s love of Nancy Grace, where Deal impersonated her “bombshell tonight!” with appropriate bombast. Indie icons: They love reality TV like us. Well, some of us.
The interview was as much about her as it was Albini ceding ego. Toward the end of the discussion, when Deal switched it up and became the interviewer, he admitted he had regrets about the chatter in between songs in “Doolittle” because he was “mortified by how much you can see my fingerprints on that record.” He owned it to his relative inexperience with recording outside his social circle at the time, and thought there shouldn’t be dead space between songs. Albini also joked about how he didn’t work on Deal’s most successful record, the Breeders’ “Last Splash,” saying that “the asterisk to my relationships with musicians — I didn’t work on the big one.” Hey, “In Utero” isn’t just a consolation prize, dude.
Above all, they just love talking music. An audience member for their best sounding records in terms of production, a question for both where it was evident it was geared slightly more toward Albini. He said the best sounding records are Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s “Zuma,” AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black,” and his favorite record of all time, the Stooges’ “Fun House “ — even with his resume, at heart he is an American who loves to rock. When an audience member asked for their favorite Japanese bands, Deal said that the Pillows making a song called “Kim Deal” made them her favorite, while Albini cited working with post-rock band Mono and experimental hardcore band Zeni Geva. Both are worth bragging about, yet none of them came with an arrogant air. A lot of people will try to impress you this weekend, and they’ll fail miserably at it. Albini and Deal made a great conversation without even trying. Faith in yourself is important — don’t let it get to your head.