Steve Albini, who died this week at 61 years old, engineered many of the greatest rock albums of the past 40 years, including Surfer Rosa by Pixies, Rid of Me by PJ Harvey, and The Magnolia Electric Co. by Songs: Ohia. He was also an influential and productive musician in his own right with bands like Shellac and Big Black. But his most monumental career achievement is his work on In Utero, Nirvana’s corrosive follow-up to Nevermind.

To get the gig, Albini reached out to the band in a letter.

“I think the very best thing you could do at this point is exactly what you are talking about doing: bang a record out in a couple of days, with high quality but minimal ‘production’ and no interference from the front office bulletheads,” he wrote, addressing the message to Kurt, Dave, and Chris (misspelled). “If that is indeed what you want to do, I would love to be involved.”

Over the course of four pages, Albini laid out his plan. He wanted to “leave room for accidents or chaos,” suggested they record the album in Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota (“It’s a great facility with outstanding acoustics and a totally comfy architect’s wet dream mansion where the band lives during the recordings”), and reiterated that he didn’t want a dime in royalties. “I think paying a royalty to a producer or engineer is ethically indefensible. The band write the songs. The band play the music. It’s the band’s fans who buy the records. The band is responsible for whether it’s a great record or a horrible record. Royalties belong to the band,” he wrote.

The letter ended with the following words: “If a record takes more than a week to make, somebody’s f*cking up. Oi!”

Nirvana accepted Albini’s offer (his involvement with two of Kurt’s favorite albums, Surfer Rosa by Pixies and Pod by The Breeders, didn’t hurt). The band’s label didn’t love In Utero‘s more abrasive sound, but Albini was undeterred. As he explained to CBC in 2023, “Literally from the first song that they ran through, I knew it was going to be a good record and we didn’t have anything to worry about.” It’s more than a good record — it’s a great one.

You can read Albini’s full letter to Nirvana here.