How does a relatively new band like Spy secure highly opinionated indie producer Steve Albini to engineer its debut?
"There's a certain amount of protocol involved, so that you don't make him angry," says Spy singer Chad Etchison. "He really dislikes managers -- we don't have a manager, a booking agent or a label, so I think he was more inclined to work with us. He likes to have band members call him directly because he really believes it's the band's project, not a business entity."
Etchison's Bowie-eque croon sits atop Spy's crunchy, post-punk guitar within supple, moody arrangements that recall Imperial Teen at times, such as on the glam-ish rave-up "Break My Mind." That may not seem the most natural musical match for Albini -- he was a member in influentially dry, dissonant and sneering bands Big Black and Shellac, and has produced numerous groups, including the Pixies, Melt Banana, and even major-label but indie-minded Nirvana and PJ Harvey. But Spy shares his DIY aesthetic. The band is providing the entire album free for download (www.spytheband.com). Spy's self-titled album release party at 10 High will only be for the vinyl version of the album.
"Our whole idea is to be noncorporate and more like a painter who shares his work with everybody. So we decided we weren't going to sell the digital form and the only thing that we would charge money for is the vinyl, to recoup the cost of pressing it," Etchison says.
For almost 15 years, he and brothers Mark and Jon Skinner have been playing together, even while Etchison was living in California.
"We were doing this thing where I would come in town and we would play together. Eventually it was too difficult to write and put shows together with all the back and forth, so I moved back," Etchison says. They then formed Spy (originally named Jet) with longtime friend Cary Brown.
To prepare for Albini's hands-off, capture-the-moment style, they rehearsed heavily, and are proud of the result.
"It took us a bit to get used to, but once you get into the flow and realize the approach, it's really cool and exciting. It puts the onus on you to create this piece of art and not rely on someone else to shape it for you," he says. "I'm ready to finish with this record and go back!"
Spy's album release party is at 10 High Fri., Oct. 14, 9 p.m., with Swagger and Moresight. $7. 816 N. Highland Ave. 404-873-3607. www.tenhighclub.com.
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