Shellac (sometimes referred to as "Shellac of North America") is an American noise rock group composed of Steve Albini (guitar and vocals), Bob Weston (bass guitar and vocals) and Todd Trainer (drums and vocals). Although they have been classified as noise rock and math rock, they describe themselves as a "minimalist rock trio."
Shellac formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1992 as an informal collaboration between guitarist Steve Albini and drummer Todd Trainer. Former Naked Raygun bassist Camilo Gonzalez sat in on early rehearsals and played on one song on Shellac's first single before permanent bassist Bob Weston, formerly of Boston's Volcano Suns, joined.
Shellac has a distinctive, minimalist sound based on unusual and urgent time signature, repetitive heavy rhythms, an angular guitar sound, and Albini's surreal, bitingly sarcastic lyrics. Songs typically do not have traditional verse/chorus/verse structure and the arrangements are sparse, to the point where some describe them as "amelodic". Shellac's signature sound is often associated with their enthusiasm for vintage Travis Bean guitars, a rare brand of aluminium-based instruments, and the Interfax "Harmonic Percolator" distortion pedal. Albini is also known to use copper plectra and unique guitar straps that fit around the waist rather than over the shoulder. The band prefers the intimacy of smaller clubs and live appearances are sporadic.
Both Weston and Albini are renowned recording engineers, and use their preferred methods with Shellac. Albini prefers a very sparse, analogue recording sound with little or no overdubbing, and is meticulous about microphone placement and choice of equipment. This is reflected in Shellac's 'no-nonsense' approach to their own music, both in the studio and live.
Shellac are also renowned for their unconventional modus operandi. Touring is often an excuse for the band to take time away from their day jobs (Albini and Weston are both recording engineers; Trainer tends bar at Nick and Eddie in Minneapolis), as opposed to a means of promoting a recent record or even for financial gain. Indeed, Shellac do not have a "fixed fee" for performances like most bands, preferring instead to take the door sales minus expenses such as promotion, running costs and venue fees. They have also been known to ask venues to remove ticket charges, as they deem them unnecessary.
An early claim from the band was that all of their songs were about two of Steve Albini's favorite subjects: baseball and Canada. In actuality, Albini and Weston's songs often refer to a broad range of topics, from the highly emotional, to examinations of everyday minutiae. However, regardless of the subject, each song is presented in a deadpan, occasionally violent manner. An example can be found in the concluding tracks from the band's 1000 Hurts record. Although both song titles reference a mundane household object, these items are in actuality symbolic of a larger theme. Weston's "Shoe Song" deals with the realization of love and its subsequent loss, whereas Albini's "Watch Song" details irrational anger and aggression.
Shellac are known for their mercurial nature, which has produced some interesting records and events. A highlight of many live Shellac performances is the "question and answer" session offered mid-set, where members of the band respond in an off-the-cuff and at times jocular manner to questions shouted out by fans and hecklers alike. Notably, they recorded an instrumental album known as The Futurist for a modern dance troupe. Unwilling to grant what the band considered a sub-par recording a wider audience, they pressed approximately 700 vinyl LP copies of the music and gave them away as gifts to friends. The front cover was a list of the recipients, with the relevant name encircled, to combat the possibility that the personalized copy would be sold or given away. Shellac also played a Halloween show as The Sex Pistols, featuring former Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid singer David Yow as Johnny Rotten.
In 2002, the band was also responsible for curating the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Camber Sands, England. Among fans of independent rock, these weekends have achieved legendary status, and featured performances from some of the world's finest groups. Knowing that most of the audience had come specifically to see Shellac, the band went on first every morning as an incentive for the festival-goers to be up in time to see the other acts. Other acts included The Fall, Will Oldham, Nina Nastasia, Rachel's, Mission of Burma, Silkworm, Threnody Ensemble, Shipping News, High Dependency Unit, Arcwelder, Do Make Say Think, The Breeders, David Lovering, Blonde Redhead, Wire, Zeni Geva, Oxes, Flour, Smog, Cheap Trick, Danielson Famile, The Ex, and Dianogah. A CD of live tracks from this festival was released on ATP Records.
In December 2004, Shellac recorded a BBC Session dedicated to their longtime fan DJ John Peel. Peel had been an ardent supporter of the band and his death earlier in the year came as a great shock to the independent music community.
In 2005, Shellac were recorded playing "Steady As She Goes" in an abandoned house as part of the second installment of a film project called Burn to Shine, organized by Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty and filmmaker Christoph Green. This is the only available recorded video footage of the band playing live that has been officially released.
Shellac did not release any records between 1000 Hurts in 2000 and "Excellent Italian Greyhound" in 2007, but songs which were to appear on the latter record formed the mainstay of their live-shows in the intervening period - in particular, "The End of Radio", "Paco", "Steady as She Goes", "Be Prepared", "Genuine Lulabelle", "Boycott", and "Elephant" (formerly known as "Repeat The Lie"). Excellent Italian Greyhound is named in tribute to Todd Trainer's Italian Greyhound, Uffizi; it was released on Touch and Go Records in June 2007.