Butch Vig

by Mike Huberty
June 2009

Butch Vig - Producer, Drummer, Studio Owner, Madison Native

Butch Vig - Producer, Drummer, Studio Owner, Madison Native

A Wisconsin native who made his name producing records for bands that would come to define the alternative movement in the 90’s with Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins and then came to know rock success as the drummer and producer of multi-platinum artist, Garbage, Butch Vig is known as a sonic virtuoso who makes some of the best sounding rock music around. Playing in Madison bands through the 70’s and 80’s and founding Smart Studios, Butch has as of late relocated to the sunnier climes of California and started a family, but that hasn’t slowed him down. After recently producing records by The Subways and Against Me! his latest project is GREEN DAY’s newest album, 21st Century Breakdown.

As Butch describes recording the album, “It was a long process that took about 13 months from the first meeting until we finished mixing. It was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into it,” he says. “But I knew it would be a long process. I felt like they reached a new level with American Idiot. And a lot of times, when bands reach that point, they go backwards, and we wanted to move forwards. Once I heard the song ideas, I knew we were going for something really ambitious. We wanted to make sure the band could play all the songs, especially ones with complicated arrangements. We decided to make sure they could play it like they meant it.“

And ambitious it is, 21st Century Breakdown is a rock opera in three acts, and some of his favorites are in the second act. “’East Jesus Nowhere’” has a killer crushing groove,“ he says. ”And that song came about with a riff that they were jamming over for months. Then one day, Billie Joe just came back from a baptism and he was shocked how people responded there. He felt like their responses were a form of mind control. And it’s not that he or any of them have something against organized religion, but it was more his reaction to the idea of people trying to control other people. That arrangement came together over the course of two days, it’s crazy and I love it. The other track is ‘Restless Heart Syndrome,’ which has a real John Lennon sort-of vibe and Billie Joe’s vocals are incredible.“

To keep the flow of the record, they recorded each song in order and as Butch says, ”We put up the titles on the wall and just looked at them. ‘Know Your Enemy’ is a song about using prescription drugs and there’s little themes like that that run through the record. On some tracks, we tried segues combining them. We wanted things to flow, and have the sequencing make sense, at least to us.“

And when it comes to recording with a band that has so much experience under their belt, Butch compared it to working with some of the newer acts he’s been producing. ”The difference between an established band like Green Day and someone newer like The Subways was that it was their second record,” he says, ”and there’s a learning curve, going through preproduction. Tightening everything up and getting the performances really excellent. With Green Day, they’ve made a lot of records. The work was really helping them figure out their vision, trying to really understand what they were shooting for over seven months of preproduction.“ And his experience helped balance between what he could bring to the table to complement the band’s ideas. ”In some ways, I wanted to make a record that sounded like Green Day but not necessarily that I did it. I really wanted to analyze how they did it. They’re an incredibly tight band that’s still a close-knit unit. They’re locked in like a machine. I didn’t want to force production ideas, there were points when I pushed them with arrangements and we wouldn’t do it unless it was something that they could play. At the end of August, we could listen to all the demos sequenced. I’ve never made demos where it was so complete, the recording was easy. Being so prepared takes a lot of the guesswork out.“

And for a Wisconsin guy out in California, what’s the biggest adjustment? ”I still think of Madison as home where my family is and a lot of my friends are. I work at studios in Hollywood and Ocean Way, but really try to stay in my neighborhood where I live out here. It took awhile to find the sense of community here and you’ve got to find your niche.“ After becoming one of the most sought-after producers in the rock industry and working with some of the biggest bands of all time, it looks like he has.

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Butch Vig Online:

Butch Vig
CD: Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown Record Label: Reprise Records
Purchase Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown on Amazon
Download Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown on Amazon