When you play bass beside a character as colorful and outspoken as Steve
Albini, and you're an easygoing, self-effacing person by nature, it's easy
to find your contributions overshadowed. But Bob Weston is one of the
busiest players with one of the most impressive resumes on the Chicago music
At 39, Weston has always balanced making music with working behind
the scenes, and he moves easily between roles. He studied electrical
engineering at the University of Lowell -- his specialty was designing
broadcast antennas -- and worked as a technician at a Boston radio station.
He also played bass with the Volcano Suns, recording four albums with the
group led by former Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott before the band
split up in the early '90s.
"When I was in elementary school, I always needed to be the one to run
the filmstrip projector," Weston said. "That followed through to stage
lighting and the TV studio in high school, and then college radio. Put that
together with my playing trumpet from fifth grade, and this is what came
Eager to become a recording engineer, Weston accepted a job offer from
Albini and moved to Chicago in 1991. He spent the next few years working as
a technician for his mentor, helping Albini maintain his old studio at his
home on the Northwest Side. Weston had already done some recording with
Sebadoh before leaving Boston, and now, when Albini's studio wasn't booked,
he began recording groups in Chicago.
Over the last 14 years, Weston has compiled a long list of albums to his
credit, working at the new studio Albini opened in 1997, Electrical Audio,
as well as facilities such as Soma and Semaphore. (Rock fans often think of
them as a team, but Weston and Albini have only worked together on Shellac
recordings, though Weston did serve as assistant when Albini recorded "In
Utero" by Nirvana.) Among Weston's personal recording highlights are the
Rachel's, the Vandermark Five, the Coctails, the Oxes, Lynx, Rodan,
Arcwelder, June of '44, Polvo, Archers of Loaf and Six Finger Satellite.
JACKSON DIAMOND, WITH SHELLAC, THE DOUGLASS KINGS, SILKWORM AND
9 p.m. Sunday
2011 W. North
Albini famously insists
upon the term "recordist" for the work he does, but Weston doesn't have a
problem being credited as an engineer or a producer. "I think he and I work
in a similar way, but Steve sort of underestimates his contributions,
because he obviously has an opinion about things in the studio," Weston
"We all pick mikes --
the band never tells you what mike to pick or where to put it -- and when
you start doing a mix, you put up a mix that you think sounds good, and then
you have the band work on it with you, so it's always going to have your
aesthetic on it. At the same time, I don't think I've ever told a band, 'You
need one more chorus in there' or 'Let's add a coda.' I will say, 'Hey,
you're singing out of tune,' and I'm a producer in the sense that I make
sure the record gets done on time and on budget. But I do subscribe to the
theory that the band knows better than me what it wants to sound like."
Weston was working with
Consonant, the new band formed by Mission of Burma veteran Clint Conley,
when the legendary Boston art-punk trio reformed in 2002. Martin Swope, who
originally served as Burma's soundman and tape manipulator, did not rejoin
Conley, Prescott and Roger Miller, so they offered the gig to Weston, who
toured with the group and recorded its 2004 album "OnOffOn."
"Is that an insane story
or what?" Weston asked. "Here's my favorite band of all time, and I get to
be in it." Mission of Burma plans to record its next release with Weston in
the fall. Meanwhile, his other steady group Shellac is midway through mixing
its fourth album.
Albini had been working
with drummer Todd Trainer as a duo for two years when Weston moved to
Chicago. The veteran guitarist for Big Black and Rapeman and the former
drummer of Riflesport and Brick Layer Cake soon invited Weston to play bass
with them. The trio has since recorded three spectacularly noisy and
relentlessly rhythmic albums: "At Action Park" (1994), "Terraform" (1998)
and "1,000 Hurts" (2000).
As the dates on those
discs indicate, Shellac isn't exactly prolific, and its live performances
are just as sporadic -- which is no surprise, given the busy careers of each
of its members. In addition to a full slate of recording projects, Weston
also works as a freelance engineer for National Public Radio, often
contributing to the show "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me."
"We talk to each other
once a week, and we're always thinking about it or working on it," Weston
said of Shellac. "But whether we see each other is all based on our
schedules opening up. We plan rehearsals months ahead of time, and sometimes
we go for months without rehearsing, while other times we see each other a
couple of times a month."
Shellac is reconvening
to play a special show on Sunday to benefit the son of Lee and Chaney
Diamond, friends of Weston and his wife Carrie. Two-year-old Jackson Presley
Diamond was diagnosed with an encephalopathy and now requires 24-hour care
and extensive therapies, and the family's medical bills are piling up.
For more information,
REASONS TO LIVE
In homage to the
classically elliptical "three-dot" columns of journalism's past -- and
because the always daunting stack of "cool things I have to find room to
mention somewhere" is threatening to topple over -- here are some completely
unrelated but very worthy audio, video and book releases you need to know
The BellRays, "The
Red, White & Black" (Virus), because vocalist Lisa Kekaula is an
absolute force of nature ... From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth
of American Punk Rock (Chicago Review Press, $16.95), a new and updated
edition of Clinton Heylin's classic on the roots of the rock underground,
originally published in 1992 ... Julian Cope, "Brain Donor" (Mister
E), the long-awaited return of the psychedelically fried St. Julian in his
primo, Stooges-influenced, hell-bent-for-leather grunge mode ... Candye
Kane, "White Trash Girl" (Ruf, below), the latest album from the sexy,
sassy, blues-beltin' San Diego singer and songwriter ... Jethro Tull,
"Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970" (Eagle Rock DVD), a
memorable document from Ian Anderson at his bluesiest, as well as his
hairiest... "The Atomic Bitchwax 3" (Meteor City), the first disc
with Finn Ryan replacing Monster Magnet's Ed Mundell, but every bit as cool
as the trio's previous stoner-rock epics ... Longwave, "There's A Fire"
(RCA), not quite as strong as the band's debut, but still some of the best "shoegazer
rock" since Slowdive.