How I met Mr. Steve Albini

Steve Albini and Martin Yam Moller in Electrical Audio Studio A

Ok, so here’s a wild thing that happened. I got to meet Steve Albini at his studio Electrical Audio in Chicago.… and embarrassingly I got so star-struck meeting him, that I completely forgot to ask all the questions that I would normally do for this blog!

So that’s why this post is a little bit different than the usual ‘9 Odd Questions for Music Gear Junkies’ Interview.

First of all, if you don’t know about Mr. Steve Albini. He’s a producer/engineer who famously recorded Nirvana’s In Utero, but also hundreds of other records that I and millions of others, have listened to since the ‘80’s.

He has got to have one of the heftiest discographies ever!

But more interestingly, he has a particular kind of attitude to recording and music in general. He records all analogue, not just because of the sound and workflow, but because of its importance as an archival medium. He also keeps his rates as low as possible in order to keep working with independent bands/musicians. This attitude is very much reflected in the way that he constructed Electrical Audio, the studio that he built and opened in the late ‘90’s.

Outside Electrical Audio

So I was in Chicago this summer playing a couple of concerts for the release of my debut solo album, and I was talking to my bassist, who mentioned that he’s recorded at Electrical Audio with other bands. He said “Give’em a call and ask if you could come by and take a look at the studio and talk to Steve”. For him, having lived in Chicago for many years, Electrical was simply the local studio that everybody used. For me, it was the holy ground on which Sunn 0))) conjured Pyroclasts, their excellent 9th album from 2019.

It simply didn’t seem possible to just call up the studio… and so for the 14 days that I was in Chicago, I procrastinated and did a whole bunch of other stuff.

Then on the last day before I had to fly back to Denmark. My buddy Anthony, the bassist, reminded me “Just call and go out there”. So I called up Electrical and there was a nice person who answered “Yeah, come on by… There is a session today at noon, but there should be some engineers here to show you around”.

So of course I took a cab out there at 9am! Jumped out and rang on the door.

Electrical Audio Studio Door and Bell

And… the same person on the phone says “Oh, there are no engineers here right now to show you around. Can you come back in an hour?”

“Sure” I say. An hour goes by. Me, loitering outside in the general area.

Ring that bell again. Same thing. So I come back 30 min later.

Receptionist says “Hey, what about if you give me your tlf number and I get someone to call you back when they get here?”

“Perfect” I say, and think ‘Damn, they’ll be busy with that session today and I’m leaving tomorrow’. So a bit disappointed, I walked down the road from the studio that I didn’t even get into, to find lunch somewhere.

I’m just about to order a sandwich at a cafe … and my cellphone rings.

“Hey, this is Steve… you wanted to take a look around the studio?”

“YES! I’ll be there in 2 min”… and I run out of the cafe.


The following is a loose, badly-remembered re-paraphrasing of the hour long tour that Mr. Steve Albini gave me of his wonderful studio and gear. Mainly just photos with whatever I could remember that Steve said.


At Electrical Audio, walking from one live room to the next, seems just like any other studio, but what is not visible, is the fact that each room has it’s own separate foundation, for near total acoustic isolation between rooms.

Walking from Studio A to B

You know how you always hear of studio owners tearing the roof off their house in order to get their massive consoles into the mixing suite? This is the upside down version of this! Buying a building and re-digging it’s foundation, with the building still in place. A pretty intense approach to acoustic control.


The mic collection at EA is a sight to behold. While I was a little too busy salivating over the mics, I barely managed to register that Mr. Albini said something like… ‘Every sound is different and every mic responds to that sound in a different way… so for every recording, you have to try out a lot of mics.’

Headphone tree
Guitars and Pedals

Analog recorders and effects racks play a huge role in the daily recording life at Electrical Audio. These aren’t there for show or the occasional ‘retro band’ that books a session once a year.
They are constantly serviced and maintained by the in-house tech.
Mr. Albini even showed me their service log books, and described the administrative system they use to keep everything up and running. Which means that anything that’s not working, gets pulled out and fixed off-site. Anything you see in the mixing rooms is plugged in and ready to go.

Studer A 820 MCH 24 Tape Recorder
Studer A 820 MCH 24 Tracking Recorder
Ampex ATR-102 2-Track
Ampex ATR-102 2-Track Master Tape Recorder

Electrical Audio even make their own brand of equipment. Their in-house studio tech has plenty of work to do, in order to maintain all that juicy analog equipment. But somehow they make time to produce a lovely EA preamp and shelving EQ (the bi-colored LED lit logo is a signature).

EA’s preamp and EQ

EA also make a passive direct box, which Mr. Albini say is a workhorse and gets used a lot, both for re-amping and sending mic level signals to guitar pedals. Since it’s a passive design, it is bi-directional.

Check out the super high ceilings in Studio B. There’s lots of natural light, which is very lovely, but quite unusual for a live room, there’s also tons of diffusion in the ceilings.
It was really funny to clap in this room, coz I could easily recognize the distinctive reverb, from countless albums with recordings of snare drums in this room. Strange to experience such familiar early reflections, in real life.

Studio B with very high ceilings and natural light

Steve took particular pride in describing the non-parallel walls made from Adobe mudbricks that were used inside the studio live rooms. They are unfired and have the odd properties of both reflecting sound in a diffuse way, but also absorbing it over a ‘pleasant’ spectrum.


Lastly… yes, I did remember to ask him what his favorite knob/fader or switch was….

Penny & Giles Motorised Faders on the Neotek Console

Thanks Mr. Albini for graciously taking me through your awesome studio!


Nadia Struiwigh – Ambient Experimental Techno

1. Favourite knob or fader or switch on a piece of gear and why?

4-axis joystick from the Argon8 of Modal Electronics

This is actually a harder question than I initially thought ha ha. Firstly I want to say that the knobs from DJ Techtools are awesome. I replaced my knobs from my TB-3 into bright Purple ones (love purple) but my all time favourite tool is the the 4-axis joystick from the Argon8 of Modal Electronics. I was a big gamer when I was young, and it reminds me of the good old days and it just feels like FUN. The joystick on the Argon8 can be assigned to many modulation possibilities which is ace for a live performance.

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

Desktop synths

I guess I can interoperate this as my perfect setup as I haven’t burned my hands on
modules yet. Well, my setup is always evolving and I am sometimes surprised by how many pieces of gear are in my collection. I love to use my gear rack as a library, so I can swap out elements and finetune my set for each performance separately. At the moment I am a big fan of my Maschine+, Korg Opsix, Korg Electribe EMX, Hologram FX, Big Sky FX, Elektron Analog Four, Korg Volca FM, Moog Sub37, and Roland TB-3.

3. What setup do you bring on holiday or tour or commute etc.?

I would love to bring everything haha, but unfortunately that’s impossible. I reckon it’s the setup I mentioned above, but for holiday time I would bring the Maschine+ and Modal Skulpt as it has batteries. Myvolts made a handy mini mixer so I can hook up some small devices to it. They also have incredible coloured cables which makes my holiday setup more fun – it’s all about the fun!

4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

I’ve been working lately a lot with MNTRA plugin… it’s sample based and it has some
lovely FX in it as well. The layout and the layering works great for ambient pieces, and the sounds are really organic. If this is created in a hardware piece, I will be the first one to buy it. It’s already stunning as plugin, so I can imagine how it will look in an actually 3D product.

MNTRA VST plugin

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

I wish I had, because it would mean my studio was way more portable haha! I almost
never sell things, but when I do, it is jus time for the device to move on. I believe that gear should always be played and be loved (gosh I sound like a massive nerd now), so therefore if I’m not using something I will give it away or maybe sell it, but I will never regret it.

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

Nadia Struiwgh keyboards

My Moog Sub37 and Nord Lead A1. It’s hard to put this in words, but they truly opened up a whole new world for me. I started by playing as a DJ, Techno sets, and I still love it but I am always hunting for more depth in music. By creating music “freeform” you start to get in touch with your biggest creative part of your brain, and playing keys is doing it for me. I love how keyboards/ synthesizers look, the layout, the harmonies I can create by tweaking the Oscillators and filter it down into a warm sounding layer. It is just so hands-on, and it always invites me to play.

Korg Electribe EMX

My Korg Electribe EMX has showed me how to create a track with just one piece of gear. The crunch it has, FX, Wavetables, Drive, Tubes and the step sequencer is nothing alike other pieces of gear. It truly has a big place in my heart, therefore I have two of them. (I love writing love letters to my gear haha!)

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

I started off by getting a Doepfer Dark Energy, the store owner advised me this. Because of that… I had to learn immediately about synthesis as it’s a mono synth and it’s ready to patch up. I wouldn’t recommend someone this more complex device (I love it though). I would have start off with first some midi devices and maybe something like the Roland Boutique or Volca FM series. Just to try out what fits my needs. I would advice to pop in a store regularly and just try out stuff instead of buying it. For modular fans, maybe try out some plugins first and dive into books like Bjooks – they make amazing books with a lot of insights.

The Bjooks

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

My Yamaha DX200. I have a big love for FM synthesis, but this old man has some bugs and it jumps to presets and different settings when I want to turn knobs. I would never sell it, because it’s a synth that is really well made and kind of a classic. I also got it from a dear friend of mine, so there is a lot of emotional connection to it. DX200 my mate.

9. Most surprising tip or trick or technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

I think I just got the hang of making devices sound different than they are known for, I love that challenge. So I got the Korg Volca FM, which definitely sounds like FM, but I surprisingly got it sound like a deep Sound Bowl by slowing down the BPM and slowing down the Sequence. By combining it with the Hologram FX it got that deep frequency that really hits the spot. It’s insane!

Synth library

Artist or Band name?

Nadia Struiwgh.

Genre?

Ambient, Experimental, Techno. I like to combine all styles, and adjust it to my mood. I actually am not a fan of the word Genres, as I hear and feel music as… music.

Selfie?

Not feeling it right now haha, sometimes I do, but I am already so much online on
Instagram, that I become bored by my own face. My machines will do the job.

Where are you from?

The Netherlands 🙂 but currently a nomad. I live where my heart guides me to.

How did you get into music?

Long story short, I was a massive raver when I was young. You could find me at any
Electronic party, and it really got me. One day I asked myself, there must be more to it than only craving for a phat base. I met my mentor 13 years ago at a party, DJ Estroe, and I was amazed by her appearance. A WOMAN IN THE SCENE!! HELLO! So I wrote her a message, and I never left the journey. I practiced a lot at her house, started to play DJ sets and borrowed an old laptop from my partner in that time to make music with Reason. All my time and money was poured into music, and that’s the journey I will always follow.

My first setup was this:

Nadia’s first setup

What still drives you to make music?

My soul and community.

How do you most often start a new track?

It really depends on my mood and it really changes each time. Sometimes I start by using pads, mostly I do actually, and sometimes I just love to start off with crazy beats. It always starts by just jamming and sitting down to have fun. If I don’t do it like that, I force something which will turn into a big frustration.

How do you know when a track is finished?

When it feels, when I have no doubts, when I have no questions. I learned in life, when there are no questions, it flows and it makes sense. And it really applied to music as well for me. When you feel the “YES” feeling it’s time to let it go.

Show us your current studio

Nadia’s happy place

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

“You Do You”. And I still listen to it everyday again. I try not to watch what other people do too much, because it distracts me from my path and it influences my music. I learned to keep the focus within. If you are happy with what you are doing, there will always be someone around that will be happy with what you are doing too, so keep the drive, keep going, keep learning and keep celebrating life.

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

instagram.com/nadiastruiwigh – and for bookings please send my agent a message 🙂 Marcus@lb-agency.net


Søren Vestergaard – Go Vest

1. Favourite knob or fader or switch on a piece of gear and
why?

Roland Space Echo 201

I really like the feel of twisting the gain knob on my 1073 vintage
design preamp! It has fixed gain so the little “clicks” when twisting is
so satisfying. It could also be my Roland Space Echo 201. Nice big
buttons.

Neve 1073 Mic Preamp

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you
change?

It could be many things… but i really truely love the Boss RV5
reverb unit. (I own 5 units right now…) The mod setting sounds just
perfect for anything… but it would be even better with a preset
button… The newer Boss reverbs doesn’t sound quite as good. In
general i think the opportunity to store presets in stompboxes would
be great.

Boss RV5

3. What setup do you bring on holiday or tour or commute
etc.?

My jazzmaster and my pedalboard are always with me. Maybe my
laptop and a midi keyboard for sketches.
Sometimes I bring something like the microkorg just for fooling
around.

Pedalboard and Jazzmaster

4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

I wish that Sugarbytes Effectrix would find its way into a stompbox.
That would be awesome. And the Boss RV5 should be a available
as a plugin as well. It would be great if Soundtoys did a multieffect
unit as hardware! The Zvex lofi junky looper would be great as a
plugin as well.

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

I only keep gear that really makes me happy, I’m not into collecting
stuff any more, so a lot of things have been in and out of the studio. I
recently sold my Juno 6. I might end up regretting this… But it is about
chasing sounds, and sometimes selling something, leads to buying
something else.

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

My Gebr. Neumeyer piano or my Fender jazzmaster are my go to
inspiration stations. Combined with a lot of stompboxes, they keep
amazing me with fresh inspiration and sounds.

Gebr. Neumeyer piano

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

A jazzmaster, 10-12 stompboxes, a good microphone, laptop and
interface and a midi keyboard and some speakers too.

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that
you just can’t live without?

My pedalboard. Everything runs through it, but its a never ending
story, It changes from week to week and sometimes its a mess and
keeps me up at night in pure frustration. But on the other hand it
just keeps on giving me inspiration and the feel of twisting
stompbox knobs never gets old!

Guitar Pedalboard

9. Most surprising tip or trick or technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

The Roland MX1 is a brilliant mixer for adding fun stuff to any sound
source. It has some really unique master FXs, that can do things i
haven’t found anywhere else. I use it as an effects unit just before
the DAW. Its a bit noisy with hiss, but to my ears it means even
more grit for the source. Seriously, try it!!!


Artist or Band name?

S.Vestergaard

Genre?

Crossover / Electronic / Indie / Score music

Selfie?

Søren Vestergaard

Where are you from?

Denmark / Vordingborg

How did you get into music?

My dad and brother are musicians as well, so I grew up in a house
filled with music. But I found my true call back in the 90’s listening to
stuff like Portishead, Massive Attack and the entire grunge
movement. Actually I discovered quite early that music production
was more interesting than just playing the guitar, so I have always
been a huge fan of great producers, which may be my overall
lifelong inspiration.

What still drives you to make music?

Finding new sounds is what my life is all about. I love producing
all kinds of music and everyday is a gift being blessed with the
opportunity to work with music as a living. And of course new
gear…

How do you most often start a new track?

It mostly starts as an iphone recording of me singing or trying to
explain an idea. Maybe with a small piano/guitar part that supports
the overall idea. Then it comes to life in the studio.

How do you know when a track is finished?

I’ve trained this thing a lot. Let it go when you are tuely proud of it.
If not, keep going untill it feels right!

Show us your current studio

Sørens Studio

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Stop overthinking! Its the number one creative killer. Never go down
that road. Stay open, positive and focused and leave all the stupid
concerns away from the studio. I have never once experienced bad
energy leading to good music. Always positive!

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

svestergaard.com or
instagram.com/vestergaardtheproducer

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