A Conversation with Butch Vig
Mike Ragogna: Hi Butch, how you doing?
Butch Vig: I'm good, man. I'm just sitting here in my home studio in Silver Lake in Los Angeles and I'm getting ready to work on some new music. I've got some new Garbage music here all afternoon.
MR: Nice! Speaking of new Garbage music, you have a new DVD called One Mile High...Live, which I guess was the tour that you did right after the release of your last album, Not Your Kind Of People?
BV: That's correct.
MR: It was about seven years before you guys got back together. What was it like with Shirley and the gang this time out?
BV: Well, we needed that seven year break. We had done four records and four long tours and when we finished the fourth album Bleed Like Me we were really burned out. We had lost our enthusiasm for the band and for making music together. Taking seven years off completely revitalized us and gave us a new sense of energy and enthusiasm and sort of forced us to look at what's important to us. We love this band and it's a great vehicle for all of us to be creative and write music so when we started recording Not Your Kind Of People, we felt hungry and excited. The songs, I think, had a lot of energy and the recording process was really fun and exciting and then we decided to go on tour and we were all kind of mildly freaked out by it. But as soon as we started doing it, it was like getting on a bike and riding it. We realized how much we loved playing for people. Then we went out for a year. I think we played like a hundred and thirty or hundred and forty shows spread over a year. We just decided it's time for us to capture a live performance. We had never done that before, so it just made sense to try and put out a live DVD.
MR: Yeah, and also you can tell from the performances, as you said, it was like revving the machine back up. But on the other hand it felt comfortable. You guys have a comfort level on stage that's very obvious and I don't want to put words in your mouth but it seems like it's reflecting your relationships creatively and personally.
BV: Yeah, we get along pretty well as a band, we've always been pretty close and we share a lot of the same sensibilities and politics, we like food and art and film and music and so there's a comraderie between us and I think you can see it on stage and I think that's one of the reasons it was such a great experience making Not Your Kind Of People and also to go on tour like we did. I've seen a lot of bands that are disfunctional and that don't like each other and there's no point at least for me in this point in my career to going on tour untless I enjoy playing the shows and enjoy the company I'm with. Life is too short to torture yourself.
MR: Yeah, and also you have a lot of projects you're with in addition to Garbage.
BV: Yeah, I'm a studio writer. I love being in the studio and if I wasn't having fun on stage I wouldn't do it. We've been around for a while, we don't take it for granted. We're like, "This could be our last tour so let's have some fun." I don't think it is our last tour, we're already talking about making another record and we already have offers to play more shows. But we're sort of also taking it one day at a time or one week at a time. We're not really looking too far down the line. I think there's going to be more Garbage shows in the future.
MR: I also want to throw out there that to me, it seems that by doing all the old classics like "Stupid Girl," "Number One Crush," "Push It," etc., you're resetting the foundation of the group.
BV: It was. One of the things we decided to do from the get-go is, if we're going to play a lot of those classic songs, some of them, we wanted to rearrange. Like "Stupid Girl," we sort of took a different point of view with the arrangement and "Only Happy When It Rains" we sort of stripped down the whole intro. We needed to do that for ourselves. We've probably played "Stupid Girl" a thousand times in concert and to play it exactly the same as when we played it on our first record, I think we would get bored with that. So with a lot of the songs, we keep tweaking the arrangements and changing things here and there and it's just to keep things interesting for ourselves and also our fans.
MR: While you were on the road, did any new songs come out of all of you being together again?
BV: Not songs, but ideas for songs and little riffs and jams, sometimes just a chord progression. Sometimes when Shirley would do sound check, she'd come up with a little vocal phrase. It's just the nature of how we make albums, we start to accumulate little bits and pieces of ideas and then when we go in the studio, we start to take those ideas in and form them into songs.
MR: When you got together, was it surprising to see a level of familiarity with the material and as a unit after seven years? Did things gel and click together smoothly?
BV: Well, some songs came together very quickly. Like I said, we've played "Stupid Girl" so many times. The new songs off of Not Your Kind Of People were the real challenge because it's one thing to record in the studio and it's another thing to transfer that into the live environment. But we also changed our sort of set up. Ultimately, the way we play on stage now is more flexible in terms of how we put a set together and how we do the arrangements because we can change key, we can change tempo, we can add intros and outros pretty much on the fly. We never used to be able to do that before. It made it so we could play the shows a bit more free form, but if you saw the first day of rehearsal in March, it was kind of a train wreck. We were going, "What key is this song in again? What are the chords in the chorus?" Usually, the first time we would play a song, it sounded kind of like a train wreck. Then we'd go, "Okay, let's play it again," and it sounded better, and about the third time, we played it, it would start to sound like a semblance of its former self. Being off for seven years, it took a bit to dust off the cobwebs.
MR: This is the Denver concert on One Mile High...Live. I imagine you were also recording other concerts, too?
BV: We recorded the audio of a lot of the concerts. We filmed a lot of documentary footage, a lot of backstage footage that may see the light someday. But we realized we had never released an official live performance DVD in our career. We decided we wanted to pick a theater where we knew we had a good fanbase that was a small theater, not too big, and we could put on our own show. We played a lot of festivals but we didn't want to document those because that's not really our show, we're one of many bands on the bill. Denver seemed like it made sense. It's a very honest representation of what we sound like live. As a producer, I've seen a lot of bands release live DVDs and what they do is they go back in the studio and re-record everything and make it sound perfect. We did not do that. We left it very pure. It's what we sound like live. You hear little mistakes and things in the set that happen any night because it's a live environment. Also it's very honest. There are no guest rappers or special theatrics or laser bombs or anything like that. It's just Garbage on stage playing our songs. That's the DVD we wanted to put out.
MR: Of course. And with all of these extra performances, maybe there'll be a somewhat larger release in the future as a CD?
BV: Yeah, it could be. We're working on collecting footage and documentary bits and pieces, a lot of content, because next year's our 20th anniversary of our first album, so I think we're going to be ramping up some special releases for that. We'll see. We're not sure exactly what we're doing yet, we just started formulating plans for that. But it's exciting to go through all the archival stuff.
MR: You have a couple of featurettes on this DVD like "Automatic Systematic," "Battle In Me," "Big Bright World," "Blood For Poppies" and "Control" extras in addition to the videos. And there are videos for "Big Bright World" and "Blood For Poppies." Who came in and guided or suggested those additions?
BV: We worked with Eagle Vision to put it together that way, but we knew we wanted to have some bonus content. I think fans expect that. In some ways, we could've put more extra content in. But I think it worked in the context of the live DVD because a lot of this extra footage we have we want to save for our anniversary that's coming up.
MR: Butch, what advice do you have for new artists?
BV: Really be true to yourself and follow your own path. Try to be authentic and find your own identity. If you want to get into music, do it because you love music. Don't do it because you want to be famous or a pop star because the odds of that happening are very slim. You can make a career in music, but if you want to be happy, you have to follow your own path. Like I said, be authentic. Make something you believe in yourself. Don't try to copy someone else and become some clone because you think it will make you successful. Find your own words and your own way of doing it.
MR: I have to ask a question like this because you do have an amazing career. All these years later, Nirvana's Nevermind. It was a pivotal album that helped put grunge on the map, and you were the producer. How do you feel about that record?
BV: Well last year was the twentieth anniversary of Nevermind and Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic and I did a lot of interviews and I worked closely with them on the box set and all of the reissue stuff they put out. Fundamentally that record changed my life. I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you because Garbage would not have happened if Nevermind had not happened. Dave and Krist and I are really proud of that record and I wish Kurt was still here to appreciate it. Anybody who was close to the band, that record fundamentally changed their life in ways that they never expected. I realize that I'll never have a record that is that critically and commercially massively successful ever again. To me, it still sounds fresh and I think that's maybe the testament to how good and powerful the album is.
MR: It also changed the course of what was happening with music, very important. But on the other hand, you did have great critical success with Garbage, with peaks like Rolling Stone calling your third album one of the Top Ten albums of the year. And it could be argued that Garbage has also been a very influential band to a lot of people.
BV: In some ways, I think we have. I think when our first album came out, it really caught a lot of people off guard because we didn't sound like all the other music being played on alternative radio at the time. But Nevermind was so massive, I guess it just affected people in a way. Garbage has had a great career. We've had great press and for the most part, we've sold a lot of records. We've had number one albums and singles. I've also done that with Green Day and The Foo Fighters. I've worked with some amazing bands, but looking back at Nevermind, it's one of those zeitgeist moments. I'm hoping I'll still work on some great records, but I don't really expect that there'll be another zeitgeist moment. I don't even know if there can be another record like that. The way consumers get music these days and how they absorb it it seems like there's an innocence that's sort of gone. I don't know if you can have another band like Nirvana explode until it becomes supermassive. Maybe it could happen, but I just think it's getting harder and harder to do because of the nature of how the music business changed and how the world is changed.
MR: Right. Hey, one of the people that I've also interviewed over the years is the late Phil Ramone. We used to talk about the influence he had over pop music in the seventies, how he sort of jazzed it up and left a mark that way. In the same way, you had a major effect on the sound of where pop music was in the nineties, what would be defined as indie and alternative. It's an odd comparison, but you both steered the course of how recordings sounded for a while. In your case, I kind of personally want to thank you for that.
BV: Uh, well, thank you very much, man. I'm lucky that I've had a long career both in a band, Garbage, and as a producer. Part of it's luck, I guess, and part of it is I just have a sort of pragmatic background. I still love being in the studio and working on music. There's no way to know when you start a project how it's going to turn out but I still love every day when I go in the studio. To me it's exciting and fun. This sort of goes back to when you asked me about young artists. You've got to follow your path and do something that you love doing everyday otherwise there's no point in doing it. You might as well get a job in a bank or whatever. You have to find something that you love to do and I absolutely love making music. So I'm lucky.
MR: Nice. Well I don't want to be the one that keeps you from creating the next awesome production, so I'll go now, but do you have any plans for touring in support of the One Mile High Live DVD?
BV: No, you know, we were out for a year, we were out last April and just finished the tour this April. We have a couple of possible shows coming up later in the summer and fall, but I don't know if we're going to do them though because we're going to start recording in August and once we start recording a new Garbage record we don't want to take a break. It's better just to focus on that. we're hoping that we can get the bulk of the album recorded this year so maybe we could see a new Garbage album next summer. Whether that happens or not just depends on how quickly these songs come together but that's what we're shooting for. We're definitely going to start doing some recording in August.
MR: Well I really wish you all the best, not only with Garbage but with whatever else you're connected with.
BV: Cool. Thank you very much.
MR: All the best, Butch.
BV: Cool, man, cheers!
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
CLASSIC ROCK MEETS OPERA WITH ALEXANDER KARIOTIS
When people think of classic rock voices, Steve Perry from Journey and Freddie Mercury from Queen come to mind. Take their vocal styles, add to them the sounds of great operatic composers such as Puccini and Verdi, and a completely new and original musical form is born. Blending his two loves, rock and opera, Alexander Kariotis is thrilled to be bringing something new to the music scene. Kariotis proves that throughout his eight track self-titled debut album, due in the Fall.
"And what's his history," you ask? Determined to excel in classical music, he began studying at Mannes Conservatory of Music in New York with Metropolitan Opera tenor Dan Marek, and was coached by with Pavarotti's coach and accompanist, John Wustman. Alexander moved to Berlin, Germany, then traveled to Modena, Italy, to study with Pavarotti's voice teacher, Arrigo Pola, and with La Scala tenor Gianni Raimondi in Bologna. From there, he went on to perform alongside Tony Award winning actress Elizabeth Ashley in Terrence McNally's Master Class, a starring role in the one-man Off-Broadway show, Holdin' On, sing at New York's Avery Fischer Hall, the Berlin Philharmonic in Germany, and receive his Masters in Opera from Northwestern. Alexander Kariotis' self-titled debut album will release later this year.
And that leaves us with this exclusive during which the artist explains it all himself.
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