The Beatdown

Steve Albini is ready for Bright Channel, but is Bright Channel ready for him?

 Jeff Suthers is checking his trunks for chunks. Seriously -- listening to him talk, it sounds like my man needs to change his drawers.

Rest assured, though, that Suthers isn't suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, and I'm pretty sure nobody slipped a laxative into his Ho Hos. Actually, there's a damn good reason that he and his Bright Channel bandmates, bassist Shannon Stein and drummer Brian Banks, might be soiling themselves: The band is heading to Chicago for a week of recording with none other than indie-rock god Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studios.

"I'm really excited, man," Suthers admits. "It's like I've recorded every possible way under the sun, and he's the one guy I can think of right now who I'd even give a shit about doing anything with."

That's understandable, because Albini's only worked with, um, the Pixies, Nirvana, the Breeders, Cinerama and, well, just about every other band that's mattered over the past fifteen years. So why wouldn't "a humble group of crazy kids with no money" be shitting themselves at the thought of spending a week with such an icon? Not to mention having Albini press buttons and turn knobs on their eagerly anticipated debut.

But how did Albini hear of Bright Channel in the first place? Here in Mootown, we all know that Channel is worth watching -- but Albini's in Chicago, for chrissakes!

"Um, basically, we just contacted him and told him what our interests were, and he got back with us," Suthers explains. "We've always kind of considered him an option; it just always seemed a little bit far-fetched. And I don't know, one day a couple of other friends sort of put the bug in my ear, and I started checking into it. And next thing you knew, it was like, 'Let's just do this.' It was just a matter of deciding whether or not we thought we could handle it and seeing about coming up with the money.

"We had a promo pack that we were going to send him," he continues, "but he doesn't really...I don't think he's real concerned with that. I think he's more concerned with just basically getting the time slot booked right, and if people are able to come up with the funds. He doesn't seem like he really gets too involved personally with whether he likes your band or anything like that. He's just coming more from trying to help local bands and that sort of thing."

In fact, Albini is notorious for being extremely myopic and unwavering when it comes to music -- and not exactly easy to work with. So Suthers is approaching the sessions realistically. "I'm sure you've heard the stories of his vibe and everything," he says. "I hope that we're on his good side and everything will be fine. My biggest concern is really to have our shit together and go in there and know exactly what we want to do and just be convictive about it. I think he gets the most pissed when people come in there and they just kind of dilly-dally around about it. They don't really know what they want to do, and they're looking to him for ideas.

"I've heard a few stories," he adds. "A friend of mine said that a friend of his recorded there, and at one point they actually asked him if he liked their band. And he was like, 'I don't know; it's your band.' I'm just going to go into it like he's probably not going to like us; he's not going to go out of his way to give us all kinds of input. He's probably just going to be really business and do his job. And if it ends up he likes us or he's actually cool to hang out with, then more power to us."

Instead, Bright Channel plans to take full advantage of its time by tracking eleven songs for its debut effort. And will another legendary indie institution be releasing that disc?

"Yeah, there were rumors that at at least two of our shows there was a Matador rep kind of hovering around," Suthers replies. "But I never did talk to anybody. So either we sucked or it was just a rumor."

Although Matador is certainly a label that interests the group, it's also possible that Bright Channel will end up releasing the record on its own. Right now, Suthers and company are more concerned with getting their material recorded, and in a way they're happy with. After that, they'll worry about shopping it around.

"Hopefully it's something we can put together relatively quickly," says Suthers. "You know how that stuff goes. You end up sitting on your album, and the thing doesn't get released until you've got three new sets of material."

He's speaking from experience. Suthers and Stein have been playing together for nearly a decade, and Bright Channel formed in February 2001 from the remnants of another talked-about combo. "We used to take ourselves so serious in Volplane," Suthers recalls. "We got pretty close to getting signed with Warner Bros. one time. We went out to L.A. and did a bunch of recording out there in some Joe Shmoe studio and got a big taste of how nasty that industry is. We kind of pulled the plug on the whole thing mid-session. I just couldn't deal. It's like they just want to produce things to sound like the next radio hit. We came back thinking we'd tell the world to fuck off and record our own album."

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