Chatting with super-producer/Garbage drummer Butch Vig
Wed, Apr 11, 2012 (6 p.m.)
Photo: Autumn de Wilde
- April 14, 8 p.m., $34
- The Pearl, 942-7777
How was the show last night [Monday]?
I think it was pretty good for seven years off. Gonna take us a few shows to get into a super groove, but I think it was pretty cool.
Just like riding a bike?
Sort of, but it’s kind of a wobbly bike right now … Last night was the first official show with production and stuff. We did a show Friday where we, for the last rehearsal, instead of playing in our rehearsal space in North Hollywood, we went into a club and posted for a couple hundred fans to come watch. It was good to do it, because it’s different when you play in front of people. You can practice till you’re purple in the face in your rehearsal space, but it’s different when you walk onstage.
Why has the band reunited to tour and write a new record?
We never really broke up; we just went on hiatus because everybody needed to reclaim their own lives. It just seemed like the right time to get back together. We were off for almost six years by the time we started recording, and Shirley [Manson] was the one who got it going. She worked on a solo record that was rejected by her label because it was too left field. They kept trying to get her to write with these pop songwriters, who’d worked with, like, Rihanna and Katy Perry. She said, “You know who I want to write with? Butch, Duke [Erikson] and Steve [Marker].”
So she was the one who suggested it over a year ago, just get in and see what happened. And it was quite liberating to start writing and recording, because we were free agents. There was no label telling us what to do … we basically just had fun, and very quickly all these songs started falling into our laps.
How have you seen the industry change during the time away from Garbage?
Obviously, the old business model is rapidly depleting itself. For 95 to 99 percent of artists and bands out there, I don’t think they should be on a major label. If you really want to be a pop star, someone like Katy Perry, then to have that kind of swagger and marketing power with a major label is necessary. Most people don’t want to be that way, and they’re not going to be able to play that game. The main thing is we’ve just found the whole digital revolution has sort of empowered us, as it has a lot of other artists. We’re releasing the record on our own label, and we’re in control of the marketing, what we release, when we release it.
It’s a lot more work, but it’s also kind of fun, because that’s how we started out with the first Garbage record before we were bought and sold to several different corporations during our career. So it’s cool, because there’s no one to answer for anything except ourselves. And while I have no idea how many CDs or mp3s we’re even going to sell, at this point just getting the record done was a success for us. So we wanna have fun doing it.
Really, the only way to do that is to take control and do it on your own terms.
What are your expectations for the tour?
We’re gonna play a bunch of shows in the U.S. and a couple scattered shows in Europe and the U.K. in April and May. Then a bunch of festivals in the summer and probably some more festivals and shows in the fall.
It was our first show last night, so to me it’s daunting to look ahead like six months and look at all these dates. For one thing, personally, I don’t like the planes, trains and automobiles. I just don’t like traveling, which is what a lot of touring is about. It’s one thing to be onstage for a couple hours, but its getting from point A to point B that sucks.
It looks like there’s already quite a few sold-out shows. Did you expect that?
Honestly, it’s pretty thrilling for us to be gone for so long and to see we still have a fanbase out there. We kind of made the record in a void. We had no expectations, and then to see this kind of response from our fans is pretty cool and overwhelming in a way. The fans at the show yesterday were great, and you can tell they’re hardcore fans because they know all the songs. it was quite a momentous occasion.
Your Facebook page is full of fans’ excited posts. Were you ever worried everyone might have forgotten about Garbage?
Well, that’s kind of what we thought, that nobody would care. We were a band that never really fit into any genre, and we have all these styles of music that we incorporate: electronic and fuzzy guitars with pop melodies and a beat … When we made this record we decided that we didn’t want to reinvent ourselves; we just wanted to do what we do, be who we are, and it sounds fresh again. At least, I think it sounds fresh.
Part of it is the looseness in the playing and the approach we took to the recording, but a lot of people have said that the new record sounds vibe-wise like the first album. And I guess I can hear that. I mean, it sounds like it was recorded in 2012, but there’s an energy or a spirit there that does remind me of the first record. And I think that’s a good thing.
When you’re in the studio with Garbage, how do you balance the roles of musician and producer?
When working with the Foo Fighters or Green Day or Muse, it’s their music, and it’s my job to channel that into their vision of the album they’re trying to make. In Garbage, I am a musician and a songwriter first. I am one of the producers, [but] all four of us make production decisions equally. There’s something satisfying about working on your own music, to be able to get up and write a riff or chord or lyric and go show the band and later in the day we record it. That’s how the title song, “Not Your Kind of People,” came about. I was driving around in my car, and I started singing that line with no chords or music or any other licks beneath it, and I called Shirley and said, “I think I got a cool title for a song.” We got together that afternoon and wrote the song in, like, 30 minutes. That’s something I can’t do producing Green Day or the Foo Fighters.
Are you ever tempted to look at your bandmates and say, “Hey, I’m Butch Vig.”?
(Laughs) No, they would laugh at me if I did. I’m really close to all three of them, like a family. There’s no egos involved. We fight a lot and argue a lot about what the mix should sound like, and at the end of the day I think that healthy tension is part of what makes us sound like who we are. A lot of bands are run with an iron fist by the main member or main songwriter. Very few bands are democracies. Garbage is a dysfunctional democracy—everybody has an equal say; I guess it just depends on who shouts the loudest. I think it’s healthy to have that kind of discourse among band members.
What do you look for in taking on a band as a producer? Is it a demo or meeting them?
Usually it starts with someone telling me about them, either a manager or a friend. The great thing about the Internet now is you can usually go on YouTube and see a video of them live and hear a song. First, I need to feel some sort of connection to the music, and then usually it goes way beyond that, because I want to sit down and talk to them and meet them and sort of see what they’re like and what their vision is like and see if I can bring something to the table. There has to be some sort of a spark or some sort of connection that makes sense for me and for them also.
You’ve been playing in Garbage for 15-plus years and producing since the early ’80s. How do you still get excited about what you’re doing?
I have been so immersed in music my whole life that I guess I still have a fire burning. I still love making records, I still love writing songs. It’s exciting. It’s the best f*cking job in the world.
I’m so lucky—I’ve spent my whole adult life doing this, and I don’t take it lightly. In some ways, when I start a record, it could be the last record I make. Because if it sucks, no one’s ever going to want to work with me again. To have that planted in the back of your head, makes you work hard. At least it makes me work hard every time.
It doesn’t matter if I work with someone big like the Foo Fighters or if I work with a young band like Against Me! who I absolutely love. Once we have a connection, we just have to make a great body of music. I’m a studio rat. I prefer being in the studio to going on tour, because to me that’s kind of the ultimate creative tool. To get in with your bandmates or with another band—I love it.