Any music fan from the 90’s will understand that Butch Vig needs little to no introduction. As the drummer and co-producer of Garbage and the producer of Nirvana’s historic Nevermind, Vig has laid his musical blueprint and then some. But as many a good musical mind, Vig is honing in on the present to showcase original material with his new collaborative group 5 Billion in Diamonds, which features guitarist Alex Lee (Goldfrapp, Strangelove and Suede), bassist Sean Cook, drummer Damon Reece (Spiritualized, Massive Attack and Elizabeth Fraser) – and guest vocals from Helen White (Alpha), Sandra Dedrick (from The Free Design), and David Schelzel (The Ocean Blue). The self titled debut album is set for release August 11th.
In the meantime, his “other” band Garbage is on tour this summer with Blondie for their first time together this summer, creating a bonding fusion of new wave and alternative that will teach younger bands like Glass Animals and Dreamcar a thing or two. Glide caught up with the legendary drummer amidst his summer tour to learn more about what’s ticking in Vig’s world..
Hey Butch, how’s the Garbage tour going so far?
We’ve been out about two weeks and we’re in Kansas City tonight. It’s been good, except for a couple shows that have been outdoor amphitheaters. We played in Boise and it was 120 degrees onstage, it was brutal hot. The shows are great, almost all of them have been sold out. Our openers are also great so it’s been a pretty awesome bill.
How did the Blondie and Garbage connection take form?
Well Shirley has known Debbie for many years. Debbie was one of Shirley’s big icons when she was younger and then luckily she eventually got to meet her. It was really their idea to put this together. They wanted a symbiotic bill to go out and express female power onstage. It’s been cool to be able to see Debbie Harry and Blondie go out and perform every night. She’s in incredible form and there have been a lot of young women out at these shows, so I think they get to see two icons from different eras, the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s empowering.
You have been on the right side of history and helped record Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, who recently transitioned to female, on her solo record. Is that something at the forefront of your mind when you record, that it’s not just rock and roll but an element of empowerment?
The best music touches people in a way where it becomes more than just a catchy song. There is something about it that can help transform people’s lives when a song comes together in the right way. I’ve been lucky to work with a bunch of artists who have been able to do that. That is the X factor when working with someone, in that you never know what form the end result will ultimately take.
I love Against Me! so much! I think that they’re one of the best bands in the whole world. I am close with Laura Jane and have been part of her journey for a long time and I just think they are incredible. If it was up to me, they’d be as big as the Clash.
Besides the crowd size and maybe the size of the tour bus, what is the biggest difference between your early tours with your first band’s Spooner and Fire Town ?
Back in the day when we were young we would hop in the van and share a hotel room, make sure everyone had five minutes to shower and then get out of there.
We like to keep it smooth now, and keep it within our budgets. We’ve aligned ourselves with a really good crew that is like family. So it’s fun when we go out on the road, we don’t like working with drama queens and vibe crushers and people who bring you down.
It’s important to make sure the tour experience is good because, really, you are only onstage for a couple hours at the most everyday, the rest is spent with your crew and band traveling, so that’s a big part of the experience. We are lucky we’ve aligned ourselves with some cool people.
The last Garbage album, Strange Little Birds, seems to hit pretty close to the first Garbage album. Do you think the sound is cyclical or did you want to reach back to the beginning?
I don’t think it sounds like exactly like it but I think there is a vibe that is reminiscent of our debut album, and it’s totally accidental. We tried to let the music reflect Shirley’s lyrics on our last album. She was writing from a direct stream of consciousness point of view and did her vocals very quick, which she did on the first record too. On later records we would labor a lot and manicure things to a pop perfection performance, but not so much on this last album. It’s very spontaneous.
We stripped down a lot of the big rock production and relied on the atmospherics and cinematic moments, which happen on our debut as well. It has a texture that gives our songs that kind of ‘noir’ feeling. I think maybe that’s one of the things on Strange Little Birds that makes it feel like our debut album.
You’ve worked with some big bands like Green Day and Muse that have really big sounds and gone the other stripped down direction as well. What is your ideal recording situation? If you could go anywhere in the world with any setup, what would you choose?
There are certainly some amazing studios that I call sonic temples around the world. Abbey road is one. I’d like to track a Garbage song in Abbey Road. There a lot of great studios in Nashville and Los Angeles. There is something about those rooms like EastWest and United on Sunset, which are still there. There is magic in them, and there is something in the sound and space and you can feel the history of other bands that have recorded there, and that rubs off on you.
I tell it to young musicians and artists all the time, many people are forced to record on your laptops now because of budgets, but I encourage them to try and at some point get into a sonic temple and record because its an experience you’ll never forget. There is a reason that they were built and so much music has come out of them, because there is magic that happens there.
You seem to have an internal compass that brings you towards great artists. Are you excited about any up and coming bands?
There is so much new music that I love. I’m working on an indie film called Puppy Love right now and I’ve written some songs for it, and am doing the music supervising. Some of my favorite bands, I have been trying to get into the film soundtrack. I love this band Foxygen. I love Phantogram, which remind me of Garbage in how they approach their production. I love Parquet Courts, who remind me of a cross between Pavement and the Pixies, with this primal sound. There is a new track out by Mondo Cosmo that I love. I love that new National single that came out. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I saw that there is a new coffee table book that came out about Garbage. What’s your involvement with that?
We decided we wanted to release a book and originally were going to try for the 20th anniversary of Garbage but missed the date. We realized it was going to be a massive undertaking. We worked with a journalist, Jason Cohen, and he did an oral history and interviewed us, and that took a long time. Then trying to put it together stylistically, Shirley sorted through hundreds of personal items and photographs. It took three years, when we thought it would take less than a year, but we realized that we would only do this once.
We love the way it turned out, it is very representative of who we are as a band. If you are a Garbage fan or not, I think you are going to find it interesting. It’s called the This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake, which is one of the lyrics from “Push It”. It’s out now and we are doing bookstore signings and everyone seems to dig it.
Five Billion in Diamonds is your own personal project, what are the plans with that band?
The record comes out in August. It started as a labor of love with my two friends in the UK who are DJs, James Grillo and Andy Jinx .We started writing music for an imaginary film soundtrack, inspired by obscure soundtracks from the late 60’s and early 70’s. Initially we wrote a bunch of instrumental tracks and then we started to approach singers that we liked to come onboard and contribute vocals. It slowly took shape as an album, and I finished mixing it earlier this year. We found a label that fell in love with it and they are releasing it.
So far the response has been great. We are trying to figure out if we can do some live shows this year, but there are a lot of people involved in the band that live different places and there are a lot of moving parts. But we are trying to find a three-week window to do some live shows in Europe and the US, hopefully in the Spring.