Shellac formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1992 as an informal collaboration between guitarist Steve Albini and drummer Todd Trainer. Former Naked Raygun bassist Camilo Gonzalez sat in on early rehearsals and played on one song on Shellac’s first single before permanent bassist Bob Weston, formerly of Boston’s Volcano Suns, joined.
Shellac has a distinctive, minimalist sound based on asymmetric time signatures, repetitive rhythms, an angular guitar sound, and both Albini’s and Weston’s surreal, bitingly sarcastic lyrics. Songs typically do not have traditional verse/chorus/verse structure and the arrangements are sparse, to the point where some describe them as “amelodic”. Shellac’s signature sound is often associated with their enthusiasm for vintage Travis Bean guitars, a rare brand of aluminium-necked instruments, and the Interfax “Harmonic Percolator” distortion pedal. Albini is also known to use copper plectrums and typically wraps his guitar strap around his waist rather than over his shoulder. The band prefers the intimacy of smaller clubs and live appearances are sporadic.
Both Weston and Albini are recording engineers. They prefer a sparse, analog recording sound with little or no overdubbing, and are meticulous about microphone placement and choice of equipment.
Mid-set in many live performances Shellac take the time for one or more “question and answer” sessions, where members of the band respond in an off-the-cuff and, at times, jocular manner to questions shouted out by fans and hecklers alike. Shellac also played a Halloween show as Sex Pistols, featuring former Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid singer David Yow as Johnny Rotten.
In 2002, the band curated the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Camber Sands, England. Knowing that most of the audience had come specifically to see Shellac, the band went on first every morning as an incentive for the festival-goers to be up in time to see the other acts. Other acts included The Fall, Will Oldham, Nina Nastasia, Rachel’s, Mission of Burma, Silkworm, Threnody Ensemble, Shipping News, High Dependency Unit, Arcwelder, The Breeders, David Lovering, Blonde Redhead, Wire, Zeni Geva, OXES, Flour, Smog, Cheap Trick, Danielson Famile, The Ex, and Dianogah. A CD of tracks from the bands performing at the festival was released on ATP Records.
To celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band, Shellac returned to ATP to curate once more in December 2012 with the line-up including Wire, Scrawl, Mission Of Burma, The Ex + Brass Unbound, Red Fang, Shannon Wright, The Membranes, Alix, Bear Claw, Helen Money, Dead Rider, Arcwelder, Neurosis, Mono, Melt Banana, Uzeda, Prinzhorn Dance School, Three Second Kiss, Buke and Gase, Oxbow, Nina Nastasia, Zeni Geva, Bottomless Pit, Pinebender, STNNNG and more.
In April 2013, Albini stated that a fifth Shellac LP was “just about finished” although it had “no projected release date”. It would “most likely” feature nine songs and be released on Touch and Go Records despite the considerable downsizing that the label has undergone.
The band’s fifth LP, Dude Incredible, was released on September 16, 2014.