Local music legend Steve Fisk is a walking bag of contradictions. The jovial producer renowned for his work with Nirvana, Unwound, and the Screaming Trees has been an outspoken proponent of old-fashioned multitrack studio recording, yet when it came time to record his first new solo album in 13 years, 999 Levels of Undo (which will be released Tuesday on Sub Pop), he followed the technological trend—using his home computer. "Not to sound like, 'Trust me, I'm a professional,'" he says by way of an alibi, "but I know what I'm doing."
Seattle Weekly: Despite all the new technologies like ProTools out there, you generally prefer to record with more traditional equipment. Why?
Steve Fisk: The recording industry is continually being victimized by technological improvements. There's a lot of places where you can point when the music industry kind of dies, and there are periods of unimaginative, something I call producer-driven, pop—like the Grammys last [week] and all that bullshit. There isn't really anything interesting going on. Probably most of that stuff is done on ProTools, and ProTools allows you to perfect things, to get out all the bugs. I don't like to hear the sound of somebody rustling around in the room and saying "turn that off," and it's easier to turn it off in the digital domain than it is with the analog stuff. If you're trying to speak the language of rock music, that's one of the things that's improved upon all the time, and that's why I say no. Traditional mikes, a properly maintained tape deck, a real recording studio— not somebody's home.
SW: Your new album's first song, "My Head Popped," features an electronically distorted voice. How'd you do that?
SF: That's a speech program on a computer. That's something my wife did, where she typed in a text manipulation that she made up and I made a song out of it. That's pretty low-tech; it was done on a G3.
SW: What kind of setup do you have at home?
SF: Just a G3. Mark of the Unicorn 2408, that's the digital hardware that has a firewire connection to the G3.
SW: With bands like Pell Mell and as a producer for bands like Unwound, you've pretty much mastered the rock framework, but in your solo project . . .
SF: I'm still fucking up?
SW: I was going to say that you're more electronic minded. What led you down that path?
SF: When I'm in Pell Mell, I'm a band member so I'm an absolute jerk. In Unwound, if I'm an absolute jerk, it's not because I'm trying to be; it just turns out that way. The idea is if you're in a band, you're doing something that hopefully excites or interests you; if you're working for Unwound or Beat Happening or whatever, you're trying to help them get their idea down, which is nothing like doing your own music. My own stuff, I've always been interested in electronic music. So me wanting to be in a band and work with rock musicians dates back to when I was 8. Since I was 14 or 15, I've been really interested in bizarre keyboards and synthesizers.
SW: What's your favorite Web site?
SF: Check out www.optigan.com. It's about this very strange instrument that Mattel used to make. Pea Hix is this kid from San Diego who found out about it and did all the research. You can spend a lot of time on the Web site; there's a virtual Optigan that you can play.