Turned down an offer from Green Day to produce what would become the mega-popular punk band's 1997 album Nimrod, because he didn't want to do it in Billie Joe Armstrong's home studio on a Mackie board.
A handful of Nirvana songs, but thought the Kurt Cobain biopic Cobain: Montage of Heck was exploitative rubbish.
Keyboards on Pell Mell's Flow, one of the greatest albums in the legendary catalog of SST Records.
Of all the spectacular entertainment that animated the Moore Theatre at the 13th annual Genius Awards, nothing surpassed Seattle Rock Orchestra's extraordinary rendition of Steve Fisk's "No No Man (Part One)." Recorded in 1991 as accompaniment to the late Seattle poet Steven Jesse Bernstein's sleazy, film-noirish poem "Me and Her Outside" for the posthumous Sub Pop album Prison, Fisk's original studio creation came to tumultuous life on Saturday night, augmented by guest poet Roberto Ascalon's impassioned reading.
SRO captured the essence of Fisk's grippingly tense piece of spy jazz that's interspersed with passages of phantasmal joie de vivre reminiscent of John Barry's "Florida Fantasy" from the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack. The composer was duly impressed by the orchestral interpretation, and he added, "I'm so glad [the piece was performed] in the Moore Theatre, where Jesse had a high-water mark with William S. Burroughs so many years ago." The performance also emphasized how Fisk doesn't need to be in the spotlight or onstage to generate magic.
The afternoon after the Genius Awards ceremony, Fisk was right back at work in his Arundel Gardens studio, putting finishing touches on an album by indie-pop phenom Car Seat Headrest. The musician/audio engineer has been inordinately busy this summer, mixing and producing records for both several local artists and singer-songwriters in far-flung places like Ireland, Belgium, and Denmark. On top of all this, his electronic funk-soul band with vocalist Shawn Smith, Pigeonhed, has an album due out in November on the Cabin Games label; it's the long-awaited follow-up to 1997's The Full Sentence. Pigeonhed remain the most popular group in which Fisk has played, and their distinctive spin on smoldering Prince-like ballads, proto-triphop jams, and incendiary funk juggernauts made them a wonderful anomaly in Sub Pop's catalog and Seattle's 1990s musical ecosystem.
Fisk's credits cut a wide swath through both the rock mainstream and the underground, ranging from Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Screaming Trees to Unwound, Boss Hog, and Love Battery. Every time you look at his discography, new facets emerge. I've been following Fisk's work since the 1980s, and I'm stilllearning new things about his feats. He possesses an almost superhuman adaptability. "I'm the only person who's ever gotten paid to write music for Negativland," Fisk notes, and that makes sense. His propensity for incisive, subversive audio collage made Fisk a valuable ally of those Californian sonic pranksters.
Repeatedly over his career, Fisk has proved that ingenious ideas carry more weight than sheer technical ability on instruments. Regarding the deft, witty use of samples that characterizes his solo releases, Fisk says he favors those that have "cultural baggage," which makes them ripe for recontextualization. "I love stuff that's deep, with a lot going on. I was going after politicians, religious figures, people with Amway and get-rich schemes. I was trying to say there's a commonality between these people: They're all trying to get something out of you. It's all about that 20th-century issue of mind control."
Despite 30-plus years of uncompromising creativity in many bands and studio wizardry with both world-famous groups and underground cult icons, Fisk maintains a humble demeanor. His Genius victory caught him off guard. "It wasn't obvious to me at all," he says in a phone interview. "Chastity Belt and OCnotes are big deals. They're both obviously early in their careers, while I'm at the end or high point, depending on how you look at the life chart. I was legitimately surprised, and I didn't prepare a speech because I thought that would guarantee I wouldn't win. I'm a fatalist—to prepare for success will ensure that it'll never happen." One thing he does regret is not thanking onstage three of his major artistic inspirations who passed away this year: Beakers drummer George Romansic, photographer Arthur S. Aubry, and Negativland member Don Joyce.
When asked to recall the records he's proudest to have worked on, Fisk offers unexpected answers: the Geraldine Fibbers' Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home and Butch (dark, noisy, country-tinged rock opuses that he coproduced with John Goodmanson) and "Strong, Warm, and in Command," a solo track from the 1991 compilation Kill Rock Stars. He describes the latter as "a very crude thing that was put together with minimal gear. That thing sounds very good for how old it is. Nothing was on tape; it was all inside a sampler and very low fidelity." This funky, psychedelic sound collage reflects Fisk's ingenuity, keen ear for spoken-word snippets, and ability to finesse extraordinary results from meager resources.
Fisk is too much of a realist to think that this award is going to change his career trajectory. "I think my orbit is pretty well fixed right now," he says with a laugh. "It might lead to some cooler production gigs. Whenever I get some hype in local papers, some people call me who wouldn't necessarily call me. This [award] is much more than hype; this is a big deal."
Further pragmatism ensues when Fisk is asked if he's figured out how he'll use the Genius money. "There are a lot of day-to-day expenses and some upgrade stuff I need to do with my computer, but it's not like I'm going to go to Spain and write a piece about bullfighting or something."