Bust your ears
Sacto punk mainstay Charles Albright listens up
Sacramento musician Charles Albright’s been playing in Sacramento bands since he was 18, and his list of bands reads like a who’s who of the local modern punk and indie scene, with stints in bands such as Milhouse, Rock the Light and the Frenchmen. Albright, whose day job is teaching math, just put out his second solo release I’m Happy, I’m a Genius (Permanent Records)—a breakneck spin through seven noisy but melodic punk numbers. Albright took a breather to talk to us about recording, philosophy and headphones.
What was the recording process like?
I really like people who spend a lot of time recording and buying nice gear, but I feel like I have the opposite view. [These songs] are just me playing with a laptop; I used Audacity for the recording.
What kind of quality do you think the home recording gives your music?
I think it gives it a really cool quality. Not a lot of people know how to record that way, and a lot of it is just about blowing things out—which sounds easy, like, “Oh, you just turn it up.” But you have to know how to turn it up; if you turn it up at the right point, you can get things to break up or compress in a neat way. But some people turn it up to the point where it’s distorted—which to my ears, of course, is very subjective.
Speaking of which, there’s a song on the 7-inch called “Headphones”—what’s that about?
I wrote that song right after my friend [and SN&R contributor] Derek Nielsen [wrote] some mean things about me [wearing headphones out at a show]. I felt slighted that he would think my ears are too sensitive. The reason why I wear headphones is because my ears are damaged. I’ve been in some of the loudest bands in town and I have tinnitus—I get ringing in my ears.
How long have you been wearing headphones?
In the mid-2000s, my ears started to hurt and I had problems hearing people, and then shows started to hurt, and then it occurred to me to wear headphones [at shows]. You only get one set of ears, and with the headphones, the ringing isn’t driving me insane.
Have other people given you a hard time about wearing them?
A few people don’t get it. … I’ve been in a lot of bands that celebrated playing loud, but after a while it kind of catches up with you. My philosophy’s changed—you want people to think it sounds loud, but it’s not really the loudest.
How many bands have you been in?
I’ve been in 20, but that’s not counting sitting in with other bands. That’s just counting where we played at least one show or practiced for a few months. I’m in about three or four bands right now: the Pizzas, Baby—there’s a Milhouse reunion show in September and Rock the Light has one more show, too.
You’re known as something of a historian and collector when it comes to Sacramento music. What do you collect?
Mostly punk or indie from the late ’70s on: stuff like Tales of Terror, Nar, the Bananas. That’s probably the only thing I allow myself to collect—local records and tapes. I’d like to do a blog or site to put up lost gems or records that never came out.
In your other life, you’re a mathematician.
I have a master’s degree in math, and I have a bachelor’s degree in math and also one in philosophy.
How do your education and music intersect, if at all?
I think I force them to intersect naively, in the sense that I’ve always thought logically [about music]—I think the songs are structured logically, but I also try to throw in some philosophers, too. Like on the song “I Am the Halting Problem”—the halting problem is a famous philosophy [about a] computing problem, and I was thinking about the connection between humans and the halting problem when I wrote [it].
I’d like to have health insurance, I’d like to start saving for retirement, I’d like to have a bunch of junk out of my house and a lot of records under my belt. I want to have adventures.