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Butch Vig: Garbage Man Always Delivers

butch vig

“The approach on Not Your Kind Of People was a little bit looser,” Vig says. “We didn’t go into any big studios. There’s a combination of live drums and programming and we’d chop up stuff and process it. I recorded my DW kit in my home studio. I used six mikes on the drums: kick, snare, rack, floor, two overheads, then I set up a mono mike down the hallway in the bathroom. I’d crank that and compress it like mad. That was the sound of the drums. ‘Blood For Poppies’ was live drums over a drum machine, then cranked through SoundToys Decapitator, a distortion box that I would put gates and filters on. There’s a lot of layers in the songs. On ‘Control’ I played a simple John Bonham–styled pattern; I cranked up the room mike until I got that big boom-crack, kick-snare pattern. I used a Dunnett titanium 14" x 6.5" snare drum — it’s really light but it has a great sound.”

Not Your Kind Of People blows through more drum production sounds than a Transformer destroying a city. “Automatic Systematic Habit” and “I Hate Love” rev up full-on torture techno beats; “Big Bright World” bounces and bubbles like a syncopated serpent; “Blood For Poppies” drops distorted dub tom fills amid a smoking reggae pocket; “Battle In Me” rages and rocks on like Mr. Grohl himself. With drum sounds constantly morphing from acoustic to electronic, from triggered to programmed, how does Vig maintain a balance when writing songs?

Butch Vig

Vig’s Setup

Drums DW
1 22" x 18"
2 14" x 6.5" Snare Drum
3 13" x 7" Tom
4 16" x 16" Floor Tom

Cymbals Zildjian
A 14" New Beat Hi-Hat
B 10" A Splash
C 19" A Medium Thin Crash
D 22" A Custom Ride
E 18" K Custom Dark Crash

Electronics Ddrum
F Pads (’90s vintage)
G Ddrum 3 module

Butch Vig also uses DW 9000 series hardware, Hart Dynamics triggers, Vic Firth 5A sticks, and Remo heads (Coated Emperor, toms; Emperor X, snare; and Ambassador, resos).

“Compared to when we began, now I know how to make records,” he laughs. “I will usually play to some sort of click or loop from day one. It’s rare that I will just set up and play live without a click or a loop. Part of that is so we can cut and paste easily, and we have a tempo reference to get an idea of what we’re going to do. It’s part of our songwriting process. So much of it is built in bits and pieces, so starting out I keep my mind open to try anything. That’s a real part of our sound. It’s using a combination of live drums and programmed drums and manipulating that sound, whether it’s live or programmed. I like to do something to it and not have it sound normal. We have to f__k it up a little bit!”

Vig assimilates a John Bonham feel for one groove, and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason for the title track. “On ‘Control’ I wanted to get something heavy,” he explains. “I thought of John Bonham. Then I played that harmonica part. Sometimes I’ll remember a fill or a sound or a groove from something and try to bring that in. That’s what we did with ‘Big Bright World,’ which is pretty live, over a kick and snare loop. In ‘Not Your Kind Of People’ I was trying to channel Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe.’ It doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd but you can hear it as a reference point. ‘Blood For Poppies’ is a live drum take over a drum machine. It’s all been processed so it’s hard to tell what’s what. ‘Automatic Systematic’ — there’s a big techno kick and snare on that, and I played live drums. When we mixed it we cut it up more for an electronic feel. ‘Battle In Me’ is all live drums. The kit on that track is heavily compressed, so it’s got that big boomy sound.”

On older Garbage material the band had less programming and editing software at their fingertips, but the approach remained the same. Perform, slice, dice, chop, edit, and re-edit.

“‘Silence Is Golden’ was live drums over some percussion. ‘Vow’ was live drums over programmed drums, and we ran the drums through a Boss pedal, and the whole kit through some weird filters. A lot of the first record the drums were run through lo-fi processing. ‘Only Happy When It Rains,’ there’s some live drums on top of these weird distorted samba loops from one of those cheap rhythm boxes. Then we ran a drum machine kick and clap and then I played kick and snare and hi-hat over top, overdubbed crashes later. ‘Stupid Girl’ samples The Clash’s ‘Train In Vain.’”

All this brings up a pressing question: How can understanding programming make drummers better musicians?

“With programming you can come up with ideas that you can’t possibly play!” he laughs. “And if you do that then you have to figure out how to play it, whether it’s chopped up or a pattern you would never play normally. Sometimes it’s good to have a non-drummer program a drum machine by hitting some pads. You’d be surprised what they come up with. It’s wrong and off in terms of a natural feel but sometimes they will come up with something that sounds interesting and fresh. And whenever you program something you can’t play, you have to figure it out. ‘Can I play that? Or at least figure out something that will work with that, then play over the top of the programmed part so the two parts work in sync?’ That can be an exciting thing, to free your head up from things you would normally fall into.”

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