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GC: If you could give 5 quick tips to an artist or band just starting out to help them get where you are now, what would they be?

Butch Vig: I've got two for you:
  1. When you're starting out, it's OK to borrow influences from the bands you grew up admiring and listening to. But as a young band or artist I think it's really important to establish your own identity. Most of the demo tapes of bands I hear are very generic or clichéd, and I can't emphasize enough how important it is to come up with your own sound.
  2. Don't ever, ever, ever sign anything without talking to a good entertainment lawyer first.
April 2005: Garbage was meant to be a lark, a way for some old friends to take advantage of success and have fun on the other side of the control room. Three records later – 1995's Garbage, 1998's Version 2.0 and 2001's Beautiful Garbage – Garbage has seen their albums top the charts around the world, had countless hit singles, graced every year-end best-of you can name, earned several Grammy nominations and cut a James Bond movie theme. They've also played close to 1000 shows, from dives to sheds to giant festivals, as well as tours with Smashing Pumpkins, Alanis Morrisette, U2 and No Doubt. Guitar Center recently caught up with Butch Vig, the drummer for Garbage, to see what's new with them.

'Bleed Like Me' cover
GC: Can you give us a quick rundown of what you have been up to for the last 6 months? Anything new coming out? Any tours planned?

Butch Vig: We finished mixing Bleed Like Me in early December and started doing press and promo in January. We shot the video for the first single "Why Do You Love Me" with director Sophie Muller, and then went to Madison in February to start rehearsals for the upcoming tour. Eric Avery (Jane's Addiction) will be our new bass player. We just played our first gig in Paris and the show was fantastique! We'll be back in the US in April for some gigs and a lot of TV and promo, then back to Europe in May for some of the big festivals.

GC: Garbage, your first album, came out 10 years ago this year. Can you describe any changes in your musical style, musical influences or your writing and recording processes?

Butch Vig: The most obvious changes to the way we record are due to the new technology: Pro Tools HD, samplers, soft synths, plug-ins. We still write the songs in the studio, and each album has been very time consuming. On Bleed Like Me we tried to capture more of the live sound of the band...it's really a rock record, lots of loud scrappy guitars, and a lot less loops and electronica.

GC: Do you attribute these changes to the ever-changing music industry and consumer tastes, or more to your band's personal and professional growth?

Butch Vig: We've probably played close to 1,000 gigs since out debut album came out, and in some ways, we've sort of evolved backwards. Most bands early records are based on rehearsing in your basement, playing some local gigs, and then going into a studio and basically trying to capture their "live" sound. When we started the band, I had grown bored with the traditional "rock" recording – typically drums, bass, and guitars – and really wanted to utilize samplers and computers and blend a lot of different musical styles and genres together. At the time, the debut album caught everyone by surprise because I think they were expecting a "grunge" record. Now it seems that a lot of bands are using that technology. When we started recording Bleed Like Me, we made a very concious effort to get back to a "rock" sound. We tried to feature the guitars, and turned up the ambient mics in the mix to get the sound of a band playing in a room.

GC: How do you decide what contributors to use on your albums? Is it based more on a specific sound you need on a track, or does the contributor get to add their own creative touches?

Butch Vig: We had a few guests on the album: Dave Grohl and Matt Walker on drums, and Justin Meldal-Johnson on bass. I ran into Dave at a Xmas party and asked him if he wanted to play on a track. A couple months later we were in LA and he had a bit of time off, so he came by and put down a smokin' groove on "Bad Boyfriend." We had written and recorded a version of that track earlier, but it didn't feel right. When Dave played on it, he really brought a new energy to the song, and helped raise the bar for the new songs that were to follow. We knew Justin from his work with Beck, and I had used him as a session musician. He's a fantastic player with a great vibe in the studio. The same goes for Matt Walker, who filled in for me when I was ill on our last tour. He's a powerful drummer, and also a friend of ours, and it made sense for us to have him play on some tracks. Several people have asked me why we had guest drummers on Bleed Like Me. Quite frankly, they are better musicians than me, and it allows me to focus more on production and songwriting in the studio. And I played a lot of guitar on this album, which I found very liberating.

GC: I heard that FedEx was instrumental in helping put this album together. With the success of Garbage and other bands like The Postal Service (who put their album together through the exchange of files from different locations), do you envision future bands may form, collaborate, record and release albums more autonomously than in the past?

Butch Vig: Bleed Like Me was recorded in 3 different studios: Smart in Madison, and Sound City and The Boat in LA. Duke, Steve, and I all have fairly sophisticated home studios, where we could each work on new ideas, and MP3 them or send files over the Internet to each other, and then bring them to the studio on a FireWire drive when the band would get together.

GC: What one piece of gear is the most instrumental to what you do day-in and day-out?

Butch Vig: I'll give you a few of my favorites:
  • I've got a 1957 Telefunken ELAM 250 microphone I bought when producing Freedy Johnston's album that sounds amazing. I've used it on almost all the sessions I've done since 1993, including most of the Garbage songs.
  • I also love using the Summit TLA-100 mono compressor. I use it on vocals, set to kick down about -10 db on the loudest sections, and I find it really helps keep the vocals sitting in a good space in the mix. I've used the Elam/Summit combo on just about eveything I've produced since 1993.
  • The Chandler Limited TG-2 pre-amp sounds really good...very smooooooth.... We used it on almost all of the guitars, bass, and vocals.
  • Another new fave piece of gear is the Palmer Speaker Simulator, which we blend in with ambient mics to give the guitar an "in your face" quality while still retaining the natural amp sound.
  • Fave new guitar amp: the Diezel VH4...it's really, really loud and crunchy!
  • Fave stomp box: Tech 21 XXL
  • Fave new plug-in: Izotope Trash
Here's our current gear list:

Amps:
  • Matchless JJ30
  • Modified '75 50w Marshall
  • Diezel VH4
  • Pod Pro XT
  • Victoria Bassman copy
  • Bass Pod Pro XT
  • Ampeg B-15
Microphones:
  • Telefunken E LAM 250
  • Brauner VM-1, KHE-VM1
  • Neumann FET47
  • Shure SM57
  • Royer R121
  • RODE NT-2
  • AT 4041
  • Coles 4038
  • Blue Bottle
  • Audix D6
DIs/Mic Pres:
  • Chandler Limited TG Channel, TG-2
  • Groove Tubes Vipre
  • Little Labs PCP Distro
  • Manley SLAM!, Voxbox
  • Palmer Speaker Simulator
  • Focusrite 430 Producer Pack
  • Trident A-Range
  • API 512b
  • JDI Phase Coherent DI
Compressors:
  • Chandler Limited TG-1
  • Manley SLAM!, Voxbox
  • Summit Audio TLA-100
  • Roger Meyer RM58
  • Joe Meek SC-2
  • RCA BA86A
EQs:
  • Manley Massive Passive
  • Chandler TG Channel
  • API 550
  • GML
  • Trident A-Range
Software:
  • Pro Tools 6.7 (G5 Dual 2 gig/4 gig RAM/1 TB hard drive space HD5 system in Magma 7 slot chassis)
  • Ableton Live 4.1
  • Reason 2.5
  • Bomb Factory Fairchild, 1176, LA2A, Pultec
  • GRM Classic Bundle
  • Massenberg Hi Res EQ
  • Cranesong Phoenix
  • Izotope Trash
  • McDSP Filterbank, Compressorbank, MC2000, Chrome Tone
  • Soundtoys Pitchblender, Soundblender, Phasemistress, Filterfreak
  • M-Tron
  • MOTU Mach Five
  • Spectrasonics Atomosphere, Trilogy, Stylus & Stylus RMX
  • Focusrite Forte Suite
  • Digidesign Revibe, Reverb One, Synchromatic
  • Altiverb
  • URS API, Neve, Fulltec EQs
  • Sony Oxford EQs
  • Waves TransX, L1, L2, C1
Stompboxes:
  • Z. Vex Wooly Mammoth
  • Z. Vex Fuzz Factory
  • Lovetone Doppelganger
  • Lovetone Big Cheese
  • Tech21 XXL Pedal
  • Blackstone Overdrive
  • EH Big Muff
  • EH Memory Man
  • Sherman Filterbank
Check out Garbage's new album, Bleed Like Me in stores April 12th.

» See the archived interview with Butch from 1999

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