Two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Steve Albini joined former Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic on the “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” online show. They got together to talk about Nirvana’s “In Utero,” which Albini produced and recorded for the grunge band in 1993.
The long-time poker aficionado is a well-respected recording engineer and music industry critic who has captured the sounds of some of the most loved bands in the 90s. Besides Nirvana, he sat behind the controls and set up the microphones for The Pixies, The Breeders, The Jesus Lizard, Slint, Superchunk, P.J. Harvey, and more than 1,000 others.
He is also the bassist in his band Shellac, which tours just about every year with one stipulation: They can’t be on the road during the WSOP in Las Vegas, a city the famously opinionated man says he hates. When he’s not on the road, he plays in a weekly long-running small-stakes poker game where he even helped invent a variant of poker, Swingo.
Anyone with a few bucks and a couch to crash on in Chicago can hire Albini to record them at Electrical Audio. The poker game, filled with Chicago actors, comedians, and musicians, as well as poker champions, may be a little tougher to get into.
Albini, 61, won his first WSOP bracelet in a $1,500 Seven Card Stud event in 2018 where he had to beat Jeff Lisandro heads-up. His second came in a $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event in 2022.
Here’s what Albini told The Ringer about some of the reasons he loves the game:
“I feel like the parts of my brain that I’m not using in my day-to-day life come into play,” he said. “I don’t do a lot of calculating when I’m going through a normal day. You’re doing at least some sort of rudimentary math in every hand of poker. When you’re playing cards you have to do a lot of sort of prediction of behavior. I don’t do a lot of manipulative psychology in the rest of my life.” If Albini needs information from a band that he’s recording, he added, “Normally I just ask them. They’re not trying to keep secrets from me.”
The whole interview with Conan is great for both Nirvana and Albini fans. Check it out:
In several interviews, Albini said that cards have been part of his life since he was a child. His father was a very good bridge player, and it’s one of the ways his family socializes. He continued to play poker in small games through college, and after he opened his studio in 1997, he became a regular (when he’s not on the road) in that aforementioned weekly game.
Albini and I have at least one thing in common besides loving music — a wife who is befuddled about the game and the people it mostly attracts. Again, from The Ringer:
“My wife does not give a fuck about poker,” Albini said. “What she has seen of it has been revolting. And I can’t blame her for being repulsed by it. The popular image of the macho bro-man poker contingent is pretty depressing. It does seem quite retrograde. She does know my friends who play cards. And she likes them. And I think she discerned that there was another kind of poker player, that there were people who took the game seriously as an intellectual problem and who wanted to play not as a means of asserting dominance over each other, but as a way of expanding their own experience.”
He’s not wrong. He’d also tell you he rarely is.