Steve Albini offered to produce Nirvana’s In Utero for free if they beat him in a game of pool

Steve Albini and Kurt Cobain
(Image credit: Scott Dudelson/WireImage / Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Producer and electric guitar player Steve Albini is known for being a unique figure in the world of record production, but when it came to working with Nirvana on their 1993 album, In Utero, he laid down a proposition that even the band members couldn’t meet.

On the night before the band was scheduled to begin recording, Albini, who at that point was known for his work with the likes of the Pixies, Jesus Lizard and PJ Harvey, among many others, propositioned members Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl: if any one of them could beat him a game of pool, he would do the album for free.

If Albini won, however, Nirvana would have to double his fee.

Albini recalled the story in a new interview with Kerrang!. “I did that with every band I worked with, and no one ever took me up on the offer,” he said. 

“It’s not like I’m a particularly good pool player, but I have an equal chance of winning in a fair game,” he continued. "Ultimately, it wasn’t going to make that much difference to my life if I got double the money for the session or worked for free. But I guess Nirvana were a little more risk-averse than I was.”

As for what made the trio so unwilling to take Albini up on his wager?

“We were paying him $100,000,” Grohl once said. “Anyone who’s got the stones to gamble something that large must be amazing, so everyone said no.

“Plus,” the drummer added, “he had his own stick. We didn’t want to fuck around with that.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.