IT’S not often that you get to talk to the individual largely responsible for creating the soundtrack to your teenage years.
Butch Vig produced Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991 and spearheaded a Seattle-led revolution in sound.
In 2012 Vig was ranked ninth in NME’s top 10 producers of all time list, rubbing shoulders with the likes of George Martin. He has worked with The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Green Day, Foo Fighters, L7, AFI, Jimmy Eat World and Soul Asylum, to name a few.
And then there’s his own band, Garbage, fronted by the charismatic Shirley Manson. Vig is the band’s drummer and has played a major part in defining and refining the band’s avant-garde approach to sound.
“I still pinch myself sometimes because I am very lucky to have spent my whole adult life making music,” he tells Fairfax Media.
“Right now I’m working in my home studio here in Silverlake in Los Angeles and have a few different things going on – some Garbage songs, a collaboration with Dave Grohl, some music I’m writing for a possible film – yeah, that’s why I pinch myself.”
Juggling so many different projects at once as a producer with perfectionist tendencies can be difficult.
“I have pretty good tunnel vision when it comes to the project I’m working on, or the artist I’m working with,” Vig explains.
“I am guilty as charged when it comes to perfectionism – there are definitely times when I’ve obsessed about a little section of a song, or a lyric or a feel or the way the bridge is coming into the chorus.
“But I can’t help but go deep on the obsessive little intricacies of songs. It’s something I like to do and that defines the albums I make.”
When it comes to Garbage, Vig is able to play the perfectionist in the studio but playing live is, he says with a laugh, a “free for all”.
“You can control everything in the studio and manipulate it but on stage you have to let that go because you’re in the moment, it’s an experience and a communal celebration with the people in that room,” Vig says.
“We struggled with that in Garbage on the first record because we really wanted to make our live shows sound like the albums, but what we realised was that people don’t want to hear the album played perfectly. They want to see and hear a performance and sometimes the flaws and mistakes and detours that you make during a show are what make a show special.
“The fans don’t want an exact replica of the album you made. Once we learned that, going into our second album Version 2.0, it freed us up in a lot of ways to just be who we are on stage, and that’s been very liberating.”
When Garbage hit the airwaves in the mid-1990s with their unique high-tech/low-tech approach to music, they were a hit in Australia and the UK. Vig gives credit to triple j and Mushroom’s Michael Gudinski for picking up the band in its very early stages.
“Michael Gudinski gave us the green light to start Garbage before we even knew what we were going to do – we had just written a couple of songs and we had no idea we were going to tour and it was going to become a lifelong endeavour,” he says.
“We have a deep history with Australia and we love coming down there, we have a gas.”
As for the band’s enduring popularity, Vig points to Manson.
“As a band we can kind of veer off into techno or trip-hop or fuzzy punk rock or orchestral moments and one of the reasons that we’re able to do that is that Shirley has a really strong personality, is an amazing singer and has tonnes of charisma,” he says.
“She is the glue that holds all of our song arrangements together. She has given us leeway as a band to go off in any direction because she has this unique power to be the focus of Garbage and keep the songs going.
“We feel like there’s no pressure on us any more, we don’t have to prove anything. We are who we are, you either love us or hate us.”