The legendary producer helped Slate survive kung fu

by Chris Morin

Thursday 3

There are few producers more legendary, or mercurial, than Steve Albini. He’s worked with the Nirvana, Pixies and The Jesus Lizard, and fronted cult groups such as Shellac, earning a reputation for cranking out records that sound like the business end of a buzzsaw.

So when Edmonton punk foursome Slates got the chance to record their third album, Taiga at Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago, it was a dream come true, says frontman James Stewart.

“It was great, but obviously it was intimidating — the guy is legendary and he’s been involved in so many projects and albums that we’ve all loved and have been influenced by,” says Stewart. “But you’ve got to get over that pretty quickly.”

Slates spent six days in Albini’s studio. Stewart says the experience was “white-knuckle” at times, but the end result was worth it. While their previous album Prairie Fire had a sunnier disposition, Taiga is a darker effort, with Stewart’s raspy vocals cutting through densely layered guitars.

“We wanted that authentic feel that Albini’s stuff has,” says Stewart. “It’s tough to get that specific sound when you’re working against the clock, but it also makes for some good records when you have to work like that.”

It’s not just Albini’s touch that contributed to the grittiness of Taiga: Slates experienced a major lineup shift when guitarist Eric Budd left, due to “wanting to focus on his kung-fu studies,” says Stewart.

He also attributes the shift in dynamics to geography and an obsession with bizarre lyrical themes.

“I guess we were in the dead of winter in Edmonton — we couldn’t help but write songs that were nastier. Thematically there’s usually something about stuff burning down and people at the end of their rope. And there’s usually stuff about statues, for some reason. And animals eating people.”