In an interview with homegrown feminist collective LISTEN, Steve Albini has opened up on his views on feminism and supporting women’s voices in music, as well as his own work’s often confronting relationship with men’s entitlement and sexual violence.
Happy that no one has yet used his music to claim he is championing any “creepy-as-fuck Men’s Rights type shit” Albini nevertheless uses the interview to not only acknowledge that his choice of subject matter may be traumatic and upsetting for some, but to also explain his view that failing to explore these themes through art only worsens the problems.
The piece’s author, LISTEN founder Evelyn Morris who also performs as Pikelet, says she was triggered by Albini’s band Shellac‘s performance of their song You Came In Me while Morris was touring as the band’s support act.
Despite feeling “utterly respected” by Albini and the band during the tour, Morris even noting that “feeling accepted by Shellac went a long way in helping me to give less of a fuck about what dudes thought,” seeing them perform the song about a man ejaculating inside a woman without her permission triggered feelings of trauma around a sexual assault he had experienced two years earlier.
“The somewhat comical delivery of the song seemed to trivialise my experience, to make light of a situation I had taken so long to get over,” Morris wrote. Seeking catharsis, she wrote to Albini who responded.
“I have been active in music, making music addressing these issues since the late 1970s, and this is the first time I’ve ever been asked about them specifically, and for that I thank you,” he wrote, adding that “I consider women’s perspectives to be critically important to our scene, and I am pleased to be asked to comment rather than being used as an unexamined data point.”
Explaining that, “without being asked, I have always felt it appropriate to let women speak for themselves,” he also admitted he was aware that “given the sensitive nature of the subjects and the obvious provocations in my history, I suspect my uninvited input in such conversations would be more irritating than enlightening.”
But having been given an invite by Morris, Albini was only too happy to openly examine and explain his exploration of misogynist practices and thinking in his work. Judging by the length of his response he’s been thinking about all of this for a good long time as he goes into a lot of detail.
He goes on to analyse specific songs and lyrics in the very long piece and while I’m only gong to scratch the surface here, you can and should read the whole piece.
Here’s an excerpt:
“I want to make a distinction between not tolerating sexism in person and allowing sexist language and behaviour in characters and protagonists in song. The perspective of a song, it barely needs to be said (although apparently it needs to be said) doesn’t represent the mental state of the musician, and inhabiting it while conscious of the difference is important. I’m not deflecting such criticism by saying they’re “just stories,” I’m saying that every facet of humanity, even the worst, is present to a degree in all of us, and any of us can inhabit that perspective either willingly or be driven to it. It is important that we deal with it on a cultural level because sure as shit it will appear in real life…
“It is imperative for an artist to be honest, to respect the creative impulse, wherever that may go. Anything less is just decoration or inconsequential humming. Sometimes the resulting art is repugnant, but I believe the world is better for it, that it is made richer by having those thoughts explored. Essentially any theme or subject could trigger memory of trauma depending on the context….
“That life encompasses trauma, evil or hurt means that art, if it is honest, will eventually get around to them as well.
“I appreciate that some of this is playing with fire, and if I’m going to do that, I am obliged to do it in a way that is both responsible (respects the truth) and worth the risk (not capricious, not frivolous).”
You can read Morris’ full piece at LISTEN.
Shellac – He Came In Me (Live At The Bell House in NY)