Interview: Butch Vig

Dan MacIntosh

By Dan MacIntosh

on 05.23.12 in Interviews

Not Your Kind Of People


Garbage’s creative urges on their first album in seven years (Not Your Kind of People, available now through their new STUNVOLUME imprint) take a similar shape as their late-’90s heyday — driving synths, downcast electric guitars — which makes sense: The band says they were inspired by what they haven’t been hearing in the marketplace lately.

eMusic’s Dan MacIntosh caught up with the band’s iconic drummer Butch Vig, who spoke on how Garbage reclaimed their unique sound, going indie, and how they band let seven years fly by.

Garbage was quoted in a recent album-previewing press release as saying the “new songs have been inspired more by what we haven’t been hearing rather than by what we have.” What do you mean?

There’s a style of music that we like — electronics, bubbly guitars and pop melodies and atmospherics and big beats and trashy drums, all blended together. That’s the sound of Garbage. And I think we realized there’s nobody that sounds quite like us, and that’s one of the inspirations that made us want to make another record; is to make a record that sounds exactly like who we are because nobody else is doing that. To me, our new album sounds like our first album, vibe-wise.

Your new album is on STUNVOLUME Records, and I read recently in NME where you said, “We started out on independent labels both in the U.K. and in the U.S. and then they ended up getting bought up by bigger corporate labels. In the end, no one from those labels seems to care or know who you are as a band and we just didn’t like that experience.” How was this experience different?

We’re masters of our own destiny, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The great thing is that we have complete control over what we decide to do, but with that comes a lot more responsibility and a lot more work. You know, in the past a lot of things like marketing and the artwork and everything that you would delegate out to the label. Now we are the label, so we oversee everything. But that’s OK.

I mean, in a way that’s how we started out. When we released the first album it was on an indie label, Alamo, here in the U.S. and Mushroom Infectious in the U.K. and the rest of the world. It was just a handful of people at those labels. We worked very hands-on with them, and as they got bought out, we ended up being on these corporate labels and we could just tell there was nobody that really gave a shit about us or understood who we were. And certain things just fall between the cracks. So we’re back to being hands-on with everything.

Is the label just for the purpose of putting out your music, or do you run it as a label, perhaps, for other artists that you know and enjoy working with?

Well, so far, we’re just releasing our album. But down the line, we want to sign some other artists and do some collaboration — use the label as a vehicle to do whatever creative projects we see fit to get involved with. We’re setting up the infrastructure now with our press team, with our marketing team and the people we’re doing artwork with.

Your reputation before Garbage was as a producer. And I wonder, when it comes to making Garbage albums, do you switch hats and sort of change your mindset? Or do you go into being the recording artist with the same mindset that you would as a producer?

I think you’re right. I wear two different hats, really. When a producer, I’m working on someone else’s music and their vision. If I’m working with the Foo Fighters or Green Day, it’s their songs and it’s my job to help them reach that vision and where they want to go with those songs. In Garbage, I’m a musician and a songwriter and I’m working on my songs, or our songs, and that’s a completely different thing and my production ideas. Obviously, I have a lot of production ideas in terms of how the record should sound. But so do Shirley, Duke and Steve, and that’s why all four of us are listed as producer because we all are extremely opinionated on the way the record should sound.

I love the way you describe yourself in the press release: the four-way brain-filter.

It is a four-way brain-filter, and we agree on a lot of things and there’s a sensibility that we share, but we argue about a lot of things and that tension is good, I think, because ultimately it pushes everybody a little bit harder to sort of get on the same page and also get the sort of performances that we’re all into.

Shirley is such a special frontperson. What is that that you think makes her so good at what she does?

Well, first of all she’s an amazing singer. I’ve always loved her voice from first day we met her. She doesn’t sound quite like anybody else. I think when you hear a Garbage song on the radio, no matter what we do sonically, whether it’s fuzzy guitars, or it’s atmospheric or a ballad or whatever, her voice defines us in a way. And she really has one of the most charismatic voices in rock ‘n’ roll.

Can you tell me a little about the process of writing songs? So, when you write songs, do you sit down in a room and write together? Or do you bring pieces to the studio?

Well, we do both. Every song kind of has its own path. The first song we wrote on the record, “Battle In Me,” came from a jam of all four of us being the studio in Hollywood with nothing. We hadn’t written anything. We just sat down and started fucking around and that came out, basically. The same with “Man on a Wire.”

A lot of the songs, like the title track, I was in the car one day and I just had that line come out. I didn’t have any melody or chords or anything. I told Shirl…I called her that night. And the next day we sat down, all four of us in the studio, and Duke and Steve each had an acoustic guitar and Shirley sat there and I was just tapping some beats on a drum machine just trying to figure it out.

Why did it take so long to record a new studio album? Were you just busy with other things?

Well, we needed to take a break. We were pretty burned out after Bleed Like Me. I don’t think anyone knew it was going to stretch into seven years, but it was important for all of us to reclaim our own lives, our personal lives. As for me, I just got back into producing. I love being in the studio, so that was easy for me to lose track of time. And it wasn’t till about a year ago when Shirley called up everybody and said, “I think we should get back together, and see if we can, with no expectations. Let’s just see if anything comes out at all.” So she kind of got the ball rolling.

You guys must have a very unique chemistry.

You know, we really do. We’re a family, like three brothers and a sister. And we know each other very well. I mean, we like hanging around with each other. A lot of sensibilities we share. I think that’s one of the reasons that we’re able to keep making records together. This is our fifth proper studio album together, and there’s a sense of being in a club when we go in. We laugh about it. We make fun of each other. There’s no one that’s too precious about anybody’s role in the band. So I think that’s a healthy way to work with someone. Shirley’s a great singer, but Duke and Steve and myself don’t consider ourselves great musicians. We’re pretty average musicians, but I think we’re pretty good at maximizing our abilities and sort of understanding how to use our strengths at what we do best.

It doesn’t sound to me like this was really a reunion, in the sense that you had somehow broken up and you decided to get back together. It just seemed like to me that this was just the right time to do something again. Would you characterize it that way?

Yeah, we never broke up. We went on a hiatus, but there was no talk of breaking up. I mean, we still kept in contact. We just hadn’t done any recording. So I live fairly close to Shirl in L.A., so we’d bump into her at dinner or I’d see her at parties or clubs or whatever. I keep in touch with Duke and Steve. Steve’s been my partner at Smart Studios for 25 years and Duke and I have been in bands forever, so we’re really good friends. Everybody let the band fall by the wayside, but none of us ever intended to quit. It was just a long-needed break.