Weston remains one of the most in-demand bass players


July 8, 2005


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 scene.

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 out."

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.



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  • 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 said.

    "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, visit www.jacksonpresleydiamond.com.



    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 about:

    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.