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The Gearspace.com Community 17th November 2021 07:23 PM

Interview with Butch Vig with co-engineer Billy Bush
 
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Butch Vig played the drums in the ridiculously popular and high-selling alternative band Garbage (and of course he produced their records too). But if that wasn't cool enough, Butch has also made some absolutely seminal rock/alt-rock records including the diamond-certified 'Nevermind' by Nirvana and other significantly incredible releases from Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Eat World, Sonic Youth, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Muse and more. To say that we were a little bit excited about his Q&A back in 2009 would be the understatement of the millennium. To make sure he could answer all the questions with the technical minutiae in place, he brought along his long time co-engineer Billy Bush who had worked alongside him on some of those records plus more from Alanis Morissette, Beck, Korn, Limp Bizkit & Ash - plus all the Garbage, too! This was a terrific look behind some juggernauts, we hope you enjoy catching up on it as much as we did.


I have always been enthralled with Nevermind's sound quality, especially the drums. Can you tell us which snare drum was used? What kind of kit was used? - Ruanddu


Butch Vig: The best way to get the drum sound on Nevermind is....get Dave Grohl to play drums at Sound City!!!

The snare was called "The Terminator"...it was 80's Bell Brass. His kit was an 80's Tama Grandstar.

Andy Wallace added a bit of his custom samples as ambience, they get a bit of the "gunshot" effect, but the samples were mixed pretty low...

We used a "drum tunnel" on the kick, which is basically adding an extra kick drum to extend the low end.



Any chance you could post some pics of your home studio? - D.F.


Butch Vig: It's nothing fancy, a bedroom which I use to record in. I can't really track a full band, there's no isolation. I do a lot of writing, and editing here. I also have mixed quite a few things here. Shirley did most of the vocals for Bleed Like Me here. I didn't do any acoustic work in the room, I just hung some panels to absorb the reflections.
  • Pro Tools HD (w lots of plug ins and soft synths)
  • Barefoot MM27s
  • MAudio EX66
  • Chandler LTD1 into Summit TLA 100 for vocals.
  • Chandler TG2 for Pod bass and guitar
  • Culture Vulture
  • Roger Mayer RM58
  • TRANSIENT DESIGNER
  • M Audio Keystation 88 Midi controller
  • M Audio Trigger Finger for beats
  • Fender Custom Tele/Fender 12 string/Fender Jazzmaster
  • Fender P Bass
  • Gibson Les Paul Jr.
  • Gibson J 45 acoustic
  • Elam 250 mic
  • Bock 507 mic
  • and a bunch of stomp boxes!



Big big fan of your work as a musician and as a producer/engineer. I am also a HUGE FAN of Alan Moulder. Did you recommend Alan to the band? - Karmageddon


Butch Vig: Billy and I called Alan to mix Siamese Dream because of his work with My Bloody Valentine. We really admired his ability to make a very dense mix sound very focused. Alan is awesome, a proper English Gentleman, with great ears and LOTS of patience! He's going to be mixing in LA in July, I hope to hook up with him for some ice cold frosties and lots of gossip.

Re: The The Subways - All or Nothing

Billy Bush: Hi - On only tomorrow the drums were a Pork Pie kit with a 60's Ludwig Acrolyte snare. Recorded at Conway "C".

(thanks to mike fasano for taking copious notes!)

Close room mics were Coles, far rooms were Telefunken 251's - no real processing going on during the tracking. The room just sounds that good!

I think a big part of the drums being able to cut through the guitars is due to the band - they have an amazing organic thing going. The way they each play really complements each other and they manage to have a lot going on without stepping on each other.

Guitars were mostly a Gibson ESTD, a Diezel VH4 and a Matchless DC30. Royer 121 and PR30 mics, Germanium preamps. A lot of the sounds had some sort of pedal involved - we really geeked out on the pedal front and sometimes we had 4-5 stomp boxes going at once.

Rhythms were doubled, sometimes quadrupled with a different guitar sound.

They were great to work with and it's amazing how much easier it is when everyone in the band can really play AND they know their parts inside and out. It was a fun record to make!

Butch Vig: There are a really tight band, great live! Billy was fat at doubling guitars, and Charlotte came up with some wicked bass lines.

Josh is a great drummer....and kind of a nut...he didn't use any hi hats...lots of cymbal washing Keith Moon style...

They had SO MUCH enthusiasm in the studio, it was a pleasure to work with them.

Rich Costey mixed the album...I think it sounds amazing!



Re: Nirvana. I wonder if you follow a certain philosophy concerning arrangements. I mean, every song is different, but what prompts you to choose a cello for "Something in the Way", a sampled and highly processed beginning for "I Think I'm Paranoid" or the quarter-note silence in "Supervixen"? - _Morph_


Butch Vig: Nirvana’s "Something In The Way" is a beautiful, dark song, and I didn't really feel like like it needed a lot of additional instrumentation. We decided to add a cello because it would add to the mournfulness, and the bendy sliding parts help make it sound a bit surreal, at least to my ears.

In "Paranoid" I thought the intro needed to sound sort of spacey and swirly, so you feel like the narrator is not quite sure what's going on in their head.

In "Supervixen" we originally had the drums playing through the holes where the guitar stops, and then decided to have the drums match the pattern, so I cut the holes out when we mixed by doing automation mutes. It became even more exaggerated when the mastering engineer went to digital black.

Looking back, I feel like those arrangement decisions all help to serve the song....which is a good thing to think about when trying to decide what a song needs.



Just wondering…how much do you still track analog? On the last Green Day album I read you guys did drums and bass to tape. Do you still do all-analog projects? And do you ever mix to tape? - JQ127


Butch Vig: I don't use that much analog tape any more. For Green Day, we tracked to both Pro Tools and tape, but after a listening session, EVERYONE (myself, band, Chris Dugan the engineer, assistant engineers) agreed the Pro Tools sounded better. I think we used tape on a few tracks (Chris probably commented already on GS)...but I think the reason we chose Pro Tools is that we had a great analog chain going in, with the mics, preamps, and eq, and we didn't need another element to vibe the sound up.

If you had been there to A/B with us, you could hear what I'm talking about....the tracks sounded GREAT coming up on the console...and when played back on Pro Tools, they sounded EXACTLY the same. When we listened to the tape, I was missing transients, and thought the bottom sounded mushy, and the top end sounded weird.

I still print mixes to 1/2" tape...although most of the projects I've done lately have come from digital..and a lot of the time I leave that choice to the mastering engineer.



I love both your very produced (Garbage) and underproduced albums (Sonic Youth - experimental jetset, trash and no star) What's your view on "limiting" your options during the recording of an album? (Track count, tracking days, live band vs. overdubs, FX etc) Is it always up to the band or do you have a strong opinion on how "produced" that particular album should sound? - Decibike


Butch Vig: I don't think you should limit yourself either way, if it's "produced or underproduced". I think if you get a sensibility of how an artist should sound, you will start to make decisions regarding the production that almost become second nature. If it's a band that can utilize a lot of overdubs or production tricks, I will just start suggesting ideas. But if it's a band that's more primal sounding, I don't really think about production options that wouldn't be true to who they are.



What do you think of the Bock 507 mic? - Banevt


Butch Vig: The Bock 507 sounds BIG and very smooth. I run it into the Chandler LTD-1, with a little eq, 80Hz hi pass, and a couple db boost at 12k, into the Summit TLA 100. It sounds pretty sweet!



I was wondering what your thoughts/decision making process on tracking bands together versus individual parts (drums first, then bass, guitars etc...)? I am particularly interested in your process for Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day. - Rishi


Butch Vig:

Nirvana: tracked all in the same room, guitar and bass cabs isolated...kept the bass, some of the basic guitars.

Sonic Youth: tracked all in the same room, lots of bleed, kept all the basics, overdubbed more guitars on Dirty than Experimental Jet Set.

Smashing Pumpkins: on Gish, just Billy and Jimmy tracked, with Billy standing 2 feet away from Jimmy, only kept the drums, Billy overdubbed all the guitars and bass. On Siamese Dream, they were all set up in the live room, with cabs isolated...on some songs all 4 played, some just Billy and Jimmy.

Green Day: all 3 setup in the live room with cabs isolated, but usually I was just going for the drums. Both Billie and Mike like to overdub in the control room. There were a few songs where we kept Billie’s OG track.

One of the reasons I like to record the whole band is to hear how the drums will sound against the guitar and bass...if you record only drums, it's hard to make sure you should eq them if they are not competing against other instruments.

I also like to record the whole band for the vibe, I like to hear the big picture when tracking!



When you're bouncing all those tracks to stereo, have you done most of your e.q. and filtering to each take or is this something you'll give yourself options for later in the mix stage. My second is that I've seen or read interviews where you like having guitars in the L and R, but also up the middle. Do you have a particular tone you like to hear up the middle: perhaps something darker or brighter than in the sides? - lord_bunny


Butch Vig: Usually when I bounce, I try to make it sound like it will in the final mix, so I will EQ/compress and sort of "pre-mix"...

When I put a guitar up the middle, it usually has more mid-range crunch, or I try to find an eq pocket that gives definition to the chords or riff...and it's usually in the mid-range, 500Hz to 2k...



You've mentioned the Akai sampler several times. You even mentioned running vocals through one. Was this to tweak backing vocals? I've never used one so I'm curious as to what you loved about it so much. It sounds like it was an integral part of your workflow. - KingUgly


Butch Vig: I bought the Akai S 1000 after hearing Public Enemy's albums, I wanted to use a sample in making music. I started using it for remixes in the mid 90's, then went crazy with it on the first Garbage record. Probably 60-70% of the tracks went through the Akai, to manipulate the sound.

When I listen to the 1st Garbage album, it sounds kinda weird, but what I hear is the sound of the Akai s 1000. I bought a Kurzweil K2500 for the 2nd album, but we started moving into Pro Tools on that album so the samplers started to fall out of favor. The only thing I didn't like about the Akai was the unbalanced to balanced issues...but it had a sound!



I read in some of your posts that you had an api Lunchbox that you brought to sessions with you over the years. - ScumBum


Butch Vig: Yes, I used that API Lunchbox on tons of records! A lot of the overdubs on Gish went through it. Also the main chain on a lot of the first Garbage album, including Shirley's vox. I still use it!



During your career, have you ever had an "ah-ha" moment where your mixes jumped to a new level? If so, what was the change? - Stereophonic


Butch Vig: I think the first "ah-ha" moment I had was when I realized if I had made a bad recording, I couldn't fix it in the mix. It made me pay more attention to how things sound at the initial point of attack, so to speak. I like to commit to eq on certain things, compression when needed, and efx when they sound right, so when you start mixing the song, you should be able to balance the faders and make the song sound good without any eq or processing. When you get the song in focus, then you can start hyping it, and it was recorded well, you shouldn't have to do too much!



How do you motivate the musicians to get better takes? When do you feel you've pushed them to their limits and got the best out of them? - Jbjoubaud


Butch Vig: Every artist is different, and as a producer you will respond to each situation by using your best psychological instincts. Some artists can be very easy to talk to, they want to make the recording as good as possible, so if you openly discuss what needs to be done, and give them really focused feedback, they will rise to the occasion.

Some artists are not as easy to deal with, it could be because of any number of reasons: they may be lacking technical skills; they might be lacking in social skills and have a hard time communicating; they are too self absorbed and their ego is so huge that they are not aware of their own limitations.

Sometimes you can push an artist if they have a super ego, they may look at the challenge and embrace it.

Other times you will need to use all your cognitive psych 101 powers to figure out what to tell an artist, how to encourage them, how to give constructive criticism, etc.

The bottom line is, there is no easy way to put this down on paper, you have to figure it out, sometimes in real time!



Did you use Tac Scorpion for the first Nirvana record? What's your opinion of the console? - Mark1353


Butch Vig: Nevermind (2nd album) was recorded at Sound City through a Neve. If memory serves me correctly, we recorded the Sub Pop demos through a Tac Scorpion, although most of the tracks went through outboard pre amps: my API Lunchbox and some Summit gear. I mixed those demos on the Scorpion. About 3 months later, we bought a used Harrison 3232, and that's what I used on GISH!



I wanted to know your thoughts on choosing mix engineers for the records you produce, and how your style of mixing differs from the countless mix engineers you've worked with in the past (Wallace, Costey, Moulder, Lord-Alge.) Also, I notice a similar "drum sample sounding snap" to many of your records. Do you include samples you prefer or trust the mix engineer to compliment your work with their judgement? - SamPura


Butch Vig: I've been lucky to have worked with some incredible mix engineers. Besides being technically talented, each engineer brings his own "sensibility" to a mix, how they perceive balances, how they like to EQ, how they use efx...and that's one of the things I take into consideration when choosing someone.

One of the problems I run into when choosing a mix engineer: the band requests production reels from different mixers to see who they like the best. I find they don't actually listen to the mix, they listen to the song and the artist, and if they don't like that artist, they cross that mixer off their list.

I usually include individual drum hits at the end of each song, and if the mixer wants to use a sample, I encourage him to use our drum sounds.

I sometimes will have the engineer replace the top snare mic with a sample, especially if the hat bleed is too much. I don't replace the bottom snare mic, I leave that as a live performance. I only replace individual hits, and leave the drum fills live. And you can't do this quickly with sound replacer, you need to go through and line up each hit EXACTLY with the original, so you won't have phase problems.



I was wondering what you do when a project has serious problems and appears to be headed rapidly towards oblivion. How do you turn things around to get it finished? And have you ever been in a situation where you just had to cut your losses and give up? - submodern


Butch Vig: That's a tough one. You have to look at the reasons why there are problems. Is it the songs? The artist or band? The label or management? If it's the songs, you can always write a new one, right?

If it's complicated because of personalities, that's much tougher to deal with. You have to decide if it's something that can be "fixed"...if not, maybe it's time to move on to something else.



So on Siamese Dream, the song "Spaceboy" has mellotron strings throughout it, which are WAY sharp...I actually love how it sounds, I was just curious if there was a story behind that? Was it a happy accident? Was the mellotron not cooperating that day? Or did someone decide they wanted it to be out of tune? - Shai An


Butch Vig: Is the Spaceboy Mellotron sharp? It could be...it was a very temperamental mellotron! The cool thing about that song is that it has a really cool vibe...it's kinda loose...but it feels really great. And I think Billy's vocals are breathtaking. Billy played the mellotron, and I remember that at the time I thought some of the parts he played were quite odd (he's not a keyboard player)...but now, they all make sense to me!



I was hoping that you could explain what your live triggering rig consists of -- how you prepare each sample for live use and if your kit is tuned wide open (or muffled completely for triggering). - Stickmanly


Butch Vig: I use a DW kit live. The kick snare rack and floor trigger my Ddrum sampler, which has custom samples Billy Bush and I have taken from the songs on the album. The acoustic drums are pretty dead, all the drums are heavily padded...in certain rooms you can run into problems with ghost triggers if the acoustic kit is too "live" sounding. When you sit on my kit, it does not sound that great...until you put the headphones on!



Do you have any tips on how to keep a fresh sense of perspective towards the production when you've heard the songs day in and out over many, many months? - demel


Butch Vig: One thing I try to remember is to trust my instincts when I've been sucked into a long and deep black hole. It's very easy to second guess yourself the longer a project goes on. I try to commit to things (arrangement, efx, tones etc) if I have an initial response of "this is cool!" Usually if I don't commit, then maybe I wasn't quite sure of the idea in the first place.

I also reference demos, especially if there was something I really liked in the original version.

When in doubt, if I'm struggling with something, it's time to "drop tools" and either go home or work on another song. Then, the first thing I do the next morning, over a cup of coffee, is listen to the ruff mix from the night before and write down my comments. It's funny after a night's sleep how clear your brain can hear a song!



Re: Spooner and Fire Town. Way before Nevermind and Garbage, you and Duke Erikson were in two cult-Midwestern bands, and along with Steve Marker engineering or as soundman, and released a number of records at the beginning of your production career. I was wondering how your production techniques and knowledge from self-producing those records have influenced your later career and how you look back on those records now. - Acereject


Butch Vig: I look back at my days with Spooner and Fire Town with fond memories, and now I realize how both bands were very influential on my becoming a producer. We had a DIY attitude (out of necessity really) and since I wanted to make records, I was the guy who sort of took charge and figured out how to do it. Some of the early Spooner singles sound pretty funny to me now, very lofi in a charming way, but by the time we made the first album we were getting smarter in the studio. Gary Klebe (from Shoes a great power pop band from Zion, Ill) co-produced the first album "Every Corner Dance" and he saw that I had an interest in recording, and told me one night "Don't just be a drummer, you have an ear for recording, you should keep moving in that direction" and I took his advice to heart. We had some amazing experiences in Spooner: crazy wild gigs, some bad record deals and near deals (on the advice of our lawyer, we turned down and offer from Arista to make an EP with up and coming producer Robert Lange...aka MUTT LANGE...duh!) and lots of time spent writing songs, jamming and drinking beer. It was fun! We went back last year and found all the old demos and outtakes in the vaults, and we hope to release them sometime soon.

Fire Town was also cool. We wanted to make a jangly midwestern pop record, and we recorded the first album at Smart on my 8 track, released it on Boat (our Madison indie label), and when MTVs 120 minutes played our home-made video of Carry The Torch, all the labels came a calling. We signed with Atlantic after never having played a single gig together, and after we made the second album it all went downhill. The A&R guy who signed us left and we had no one at the label to look after us...this was in the days of hair metal, and Skid Row, White Lion, and Twisted Sister were all the rage, there was no room for a little jangly pop band from the midwest. But I learned a lot about record making that second album with producer Michael Frondelli in NYC, and the day after I flew back to Madison, I started work on Killdozers "12 Point Buck" which we did in 6 days. After hearing it 6 months later, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana called...



If you have one acoustic kit and one electronic kit going together do you tend to treat them like two separate entities (eg. bus compress each individually)? Or will you more group and compress all the kicks together, then group and compress all the snares together, then all the hats/cymbals, etc? I know you mentioned before for example you often bounce your acoustic drums to mono. - mobius.media


Butch Vig: Getting multiple drum sounds to blend is tricky! First, you have to worry about timing issues, make sure they are not flamming too much, or messing up the groove. Then I usually would sculpt each sound with eq or filters, choose where you want to find a pocket for each sound. For instance, if you have multiple kick drums, all of them don't need to be full band frequency. Don't be afraid to really exaggerate the eq, it might sound weird if you solo it, but hopefully sounds great in the mix. I usually keep the live drums and electronics on separate tracks, and mix them all to a master drum buss.



What are your favorite plugins and outboard analog gear? - bforest4


Butch Vig: Fave plugins? hmmmmmmmmm

Comp: I like the Bomb Factory BF76 on a drum buss, set to fastest attack and release, to get it to pump, also like it on vox. I use the Ren Axx on guitars, also API and SSL as comp and limiters. Master X on acoustic gtrs.

EQ: Waves REQ6 eq's Oxford EQ's, APIs, also like the VEQ4 on vox

Delays: Echoboy, Echo Farm

Reverb: Altiverb

Others: izotope Trash, FilterFreak, Amp Farm, Amplitube 2, Sans Amp, GRM Bandpass, Izotope Ozone. Massey's plugins are great, especially the limiter.




How do you get the performance you want out of your vocalists? Are there techniques you use to get them in the right headspace to sing? Any tips on making them comfortable? How do you know if you've gotten the best performance a singer can offer? - six_wax


Butch Vig: The approach to getting great vocals is different with every artist. Some singers respond to very detailed feedback..."you're a bit flat on the 2nd line of the chorus" or "you need to push it more, give it more emotion"...other singers internalize feedback too much and start to over think what they are doing, and the performance gets too clinical. The trick is to understand how to get them in a zone, so they are relaxed and uninhibited.

I like to go for full takes when I start, and not give too much feedback. Sometimes you'll get what you need from the live takes, and make a great comp from it. Sometimes as we work on the song, I'll start to break it down by section, and give the singer much more feedback. You can usually tell right away if they are getting better or worse as you focus, and I have to adjust the feedback accordingly. Hopefully you get enough great takes to make a comp. I like to work from 6-8 strong performances. Sometimes more if I want more options, sometimes only 3 or 4. You should see my comp sheets, they are pretty weird looking. I make little checks and X's for each line on every take, as they record it. I make darker checks if a line is really great. Lighter checks for good, X's if I heard something I didn't like. Vocal comps are one of the most mentally draining things I do in the studio. I listen line by line, sometimes word by word, for attitude, pitch, and phrasing.

I also don't like singers to listen to themselves when doubling. I'd rather have them sing another take as a lead vocal, and use that as the double. Sometimes when they listen to their own voice, they change the tone of how they sing to match the original, and it can get kind of weird sounding. Vocals are the most "human" part of recording, and the most fragile!



RE: Garbage. I love the overall production of that record. It has a perfect balance of synths and heavy guitars; acoustic drums and samples, etc. Everything from the reverse pizz. on "Androgyny" to the RetroFunk break on "Cherry Lips", all the bits work perfectly together. - rodrigo


Butch Vig: Cherry Lips is a funny song, we slowed the track down so it gave Shirley's voice a crazy "helium" effect at normal speed. I recorded the verses through a wah wah that I pushed up and down by hand, cuz I couldn't get the timing down with my foot. And it's not a guitar, the primary sound is a sped up tuba sample. I think we added a guitar underneath it...can't remember exactly...

A lot of the Garbage songs had multiple drum sounds...live drums (usually looped and mixed down to stereo, sometimes mono), programmed beats (usually run through an amp or stomp box) and sometimes we would make our own "record"...which means taking a beat, maybe with a bass line, guitar line, or some sound effect, and running all of them through the same stereo effect to give it a "mastered" feel...almost like we were sampling off an old album. Programmed hi hats from a sampler or drum machine ALWAYS sound better with some dirt on them!



I'm really curious to know the signal chain for Shirley's vocals. Did she use the same mic/preamp combo for all 4 albums? How much time does she spend in the studio to perfect her vocals? Do you record every part separately (Verse/Chorus bridge etc)? I'd really like to know. - Chrislago


Butch Vig: I have a 1959 ELAM that sounds pretty amazing (I bought after renting it for recording Freedy Johnston's This Perfect World)...and that is probably the main mic we used on the first two albums. Usually the pre was an API, into the Summit TLA 100 (my favorite voc comp). Sometimes we would be recording things on the fly and just use a hand held 58. MilK (from the 1st album) was done that way. In fact, the whole song Milk was recorded in about 2 hours, in the control room.

On the 3rd and 4th album, Billy Bush had a Brauner that sounds really sweet, and we used that, maybe 60% of the time on vocals.

As far as takes, some songs were quick (like the above mentioned Milk) and some took longer. Once we felt like we had an arrangement, and Shirl had the lyrics, I think we would record around 10 takes, sometimes the full song, or sometimes focusing on just verses or choruses. The cool thing about working with Shirl is that every take was different, so I would have a lot to choose from when making a master comp.

Billy will know! (Weigh in when you can, hombre!)

Billy Bush: Hey BV. We got a Brauner VM-1 halfway through V2.0 and ended up using it along with a Blue Bottle whenever we were doing background vocals.. same API 512c, 550A, TLA100a chain. We found that Shirley's vocals would phase out when we were stacking 12 or 16 vocal parts so we switched up the microphone to try to keep that from happening. It's also the mic we used on the Bond theme "The World Is Not Enough".

On Beautiful Garbage we used the VM-1, a VM1-KHE and your Elam at different times depending on the vibe...same chain. On Bleed Like Me, i think we used the KHE and Elam but it was through the chandler limited LTD-1 and a TLA100 compressor. Most of those vocals were recorded in your living room using Real Traps Microtraps if i recall!




Version 2.0 is WAY up on my list, for sonics and songs, cheers to you! Was that record, version 2.0. all 16 bit digital? How did it come together technically? When Garbage works do Steve and Duke and Shirl take over a song, or are you or Steve or Billy always the guys editing and carving away at stuff...to ask, are you always the producer?
Is there a division of power? - Thenoiseflower


Butch Vig: Garbage are a dysfunctional democracy. All 4 of us have opinions (not just about the songs, everything, what to order for dinner!) So there were many, many times we would butt heads in the studio.

Hard to explain how a song comes together cuz there is no set way we record. Some songs start from jamming, and then Billy Bush would edit a rough arrangement so that we could continue to add parts and build it. Sometimes someone would bring in a demo, and we would deconstruct it and redo it so we could all add our own ideas.

On the first album, I mostly did beats and loops, and Duke and Steve did the guitars and keyboards, From V.2 on, everybody played everything...and on Bleed Like Me I played way more guitars than drums. That is the one thing about being in Garbage that was fun, that you could play any instrument or part, and did not have to fit into a certain role.

In such a free for all situation, it was good to have our engineer Billy Bush there for quality control. Mixing was tough, because I would put a song up, and discover lots of parts I'd never heard before! So part of the mixing process is also arranging, which is why some mixes took 3 or 4 days!



Would you mind telling us about the loops in "Stupid Girl"? Every magazine and online source focuses on the drum tracks taken from the Clash song, but I am more curious about the loads of stuff that went in the background there. Such as the weird loop on the right channel in the bridge section, gelled with a dark sticky pad etc. - Barish


Butch Vig: Stupid Girl is one of the most simple songs we recorded, and the whole song was written over the bass groove and Clash sample. We decided to add textures, guitars, and keys to make the song dynamic rather than write a lot of complicated chord changes. Steve and I added a lot of ambient sound efx that float in and out of the mix, and there is a "glitchy" sound that comes in during the pre-chorus that was taken from one of our DAT players that had broken and started emitting bizarre noises.

We recorded the basic tracks on ADATs in Steve's basement while drinking lots of gin and tonics. When Shirl tried to sing on it the first time, we realized the key was too low, so instead of re-recording the guitars (too lazy maybe? too many G & T's?) I just re- printed them through a pitch change patch on a Yamaha SPX 90. Definitely lofi, but it sounded OK to our ears, so we left them that way.

Mike Kashou, a friend of ours from Milwaukee, played bass. Shirl's vox are amazing on the track, one of my favorites!



Looking through the lists of gear you and your associated engineers use, I can't help but notice condensers (especially LDCs) galore, a few ribbons, and very few dynamics. You've also got LDCs on toms, and SDCs on snare. LDC on piano and acoustic. This might all be total coincidence, but I was just wondering if it's a real trend and if there's any conscious preference or reasoning behind it. - mobius.media


Butch Vig: All three styles of mics sound different, and the engineers usually choose them depending on how they want to hear an instrument...dynamics are usually more tight, with focused midrange and a bump in the high end, not a lot of deep bass...ribbons are softer sounding, usually have a roll off in the high end...LCDs usually have a very open top end. But there are no rules, I've used LCDs on kick drums, ribbons on snare drums and guitars, and dynamics on everything from acoustic to cymbals.

Recently I've been using Heil dynamics on guitars and drums, as well as the Telefunken M80 on snare. You can record an acoustic with a 57...if you have a nice sounding guitar, and the player is good, it's going to sound great. On the other hand, the most expensive mic in the world won't help a bad performance!



I know Chris Dugen said Green Day main rhythm parts were tracked twice per side, each time with a different guitar/amp combo. On the other hand, with AFI, things were tracked once per side, each with one guitar per side split to two amps each time. Just wondering if any of you guys have any thoughts on the relative merits of these two general approaches with guitar or how you most often like to handle it. - mobius.media


Butch Vig: The advantage of using one guitar and splitting into two amps is that you have completely different tones from two different amps, usually one cleaner and the 2nd with more overdrive, and because it's one performance, you don't have to worry about it getting messy sounding because the guitar player can't play it exactly the same each time. But you have to be careful, because you can run into phase problems and impedance issues, which can really mess with the sound.

If you're tracking with each amp separately, the guitarist has to be really, really good! Even the slightest difference in each performance, whether it's timing or tuning, will start to make the part mushy and washy.

I've used both methods in the studio, whatever works best for the band.



How do you back up/archive your finished digital media (audio) projects for the long term? Do you think about ways to store the medium so they can be accessed in the future? - Piranhadrum


Butch Vig: I can speak for the Garbage era stuff - I have archived it to a slew of different mediums. I think you're not really safe unless you have it on two different types of media and have multiple copies.

I have it on:
  • Multitracks: 2" analog tape, 44.1k 24bit WAV, 96k 24bit WAV, DDS4
  • Masters: 1/2" analog tape, 44.1k 24bit DAT, 44.1k or 96k 24bit WAV
The WAV files are flattened and start at the same time to the sample and are copied onto a number of different drives. Every major revision of PT that comes around I open and save a copy of the session with as much plugin information intact as possible. It can be a major pain, but it's worth it when Rock Band or Guitar Hero come calling!



Re: Nirvana “Something In The Way”. Did the band try recording an electric version or was it always acoustic? Were the cello parts pre-planned to the sessions or was it an idea that came together during the recording process? - Ledbelly


Butch Vig: We tried tracking with the full band and it didn't sound very good. Kurt ended up doing the acoustic and his vocal while lying on the couch in the control room. We overdubbed everything in Studio B, drums, bass, back vocals, and the cello was last.

FYI: I rented some sort of digital editing system to tighten the tracks up, this was before Pro Tools. It was a pain in the ass to use!



I was fairly obsessed with Nirvana years ago. They had a lot of great songs that never got the full studio treatment. - staticwhitesound


Butch Vig: I think most of the unfinished songs that had ruff vocals have come out. They did have this super catchy song that didn't have any lyrics. I encouraged Kurt to come up with something, but he thought it sounded "too much like REM"...

One song that does stick out is a song called "Talk To Me" that was played live a few times on the Nevermind tour and also made an appearance on the DVD for the Nirvana box-set. That song has a really jangly riff that is really poppy.



I wonder if you could say a few words about the Vertical Extrapolator, is it real? If so, what is its purpose? How does it work? - silverdisk


Butch Vig: The Vertical Extraplater is a custom black box that makes the mix sound higher and deeper than anything you've heard before. Just kidding! Steve and I made up a bunch of nonsense in a tech interview during the first Garbage album, and they printed it. I wish such a box actually existed!



ICan you walk us through behind the scenes stuff such as how you hook up with a band, how their ideas are represented to you, what you do to familiarize yourself with the music (listen to it in an office, car, take notes) and how you develop a vision where you wanna take it? etc.

It's difficult finding interviews with those that do what you do, so thanks for doing this! - steve10358


Butch Vig: A couple years ago I got a call out of nowhere from Craig Aaronson at Warner Brothers. He told me about a group he had signed Against Me, and that they were a great, really passionate young band. He was VERY enthusiastic on the phone, so I told him to send me some of their music.

A couple days later I received a package which had contained their previous album as well as several earlier EPs. I listened to the album Searching For A Former Clarity and really liked it, especially the song Don't Lose Touch.

I called Craig and he wanted me to fly immediately to Florida to see a gig, which I couldn't do as I was in the middle of another project. I looked at my schedule and saw an open weekend about 3 weeks later, so I flew to Milwaukee to see them on Warped Tour.

The day of the gig, I went straight to the venue (a huge, hot, asphalt parking lot) and their tour manager took me right to their tour bus. We chatted for a few minutes, and I followed them onstage, and was able to watch their performance a few feet away (always good to see them that close, you can really see how they play together).

After the brief set, I went back to their bus, and we sat down and talked for about 2 hours over a couple of beers. I asked them a lot of questions. They asked me a lot of questions. They played a few new songs for me (one of them was “Up The Cuts”, which I immediately loved, and I noticed they had played it in the set earlier). I really, really liked them, so as I shook hands and was getting ready to leave, I asked them "so, do you want to make a record together?" And they said "hell yeah!"

Normally, I would wait a few days to make a decision, talk to the A&R person again, listen to all the new demos...but I really felt a good vibe from hanging with them, and just decided to go for it.

The next step was pre-production, and I told Tom Gabel to start sending me demos. As the songs came in, I would give him very specific feedback..some of them were great as is, some songs needed a different groove, some I suggested chord changes to make the chorus better, etc...Sometimes I will suggest a reference point to a band, like "how about writing a song like this." I had noticed a lot of the new songs were very sociopolitical (which is one of Tom's strengths, and one of the reasons I love his songwriting) and I suggested he write something more personal, maybe something that tells a story. I suggested "why don't you write a song that's a cross between "Rebel Rebel" and "Walk On The Wild Side"...a couple days later, he sent me an early demo for Thrash Unreal, which became the first single from "New Wave" and needless to say doesn't sound anything like the song references!

After I felt the songs were good, we booked studio time in Los Angeles, and I booked 2 weeks of pre-pro rehearsal. Andrew asked me a couple day beforehand "What are we going to do for the next 2 weeks?"...During rehearsals, I would deconstruct everything they were playing, have them play their parts solo for me (just the drums, just the bass, just the guitars) work on arrangements, and work on tempo maps (I also brought in a drum machine for Warren to play with as some of the songs were unsteady...and at the end of two weeks, I knew, and the band knew, every part and note on every song they were playing! Then we went into the studio and recorded the album!



Nobody Loves You from beautiful garbage. It's one of my all time favourite tracks and I'm really curious to know more details how it came about? - Alt


Butch Vig: Shirley wanted to keep those vocals back in the mix. I think it's meant to be heard as voices swirling in your head...and the listener can make up in their own mind what the voices are saying.



RE “Know your enemy” Green Day - I would like to know what effect/effects were used on this snare? It's very big, but still clear and punchy. All in, what's the secret? - tamasdragon


Butch Vig: The snare is a Dunnett 6.5 X 14 Titanium we called "Tits McGee". There's a lot of the room mics from Oceanway in the mix, as well as whatever EQ/compression fx CLA used.



I’m wondering how you approach Co Producing a project rather than being the sole producer. For example, when you did Sing The Sorrow (AFI) with Jerry Finn. Is it more difficult to form a coherent vision with another producer? Or is there one guy who's more in the driver's seat than the other? Or do you play to each other's strengths? - equallyscrewed


Butch Vig: If your going to co-produce with someone, it's important that you both understand where the project is going. I would never want to work with someone if we didn't share the same sensibility or vision.

Jerry Finn was AWESOME! He had a great attitude, great ears, and a wonderful sense of humour. When we decided to work together with AFI, I looked at it as an opportunity to learn from another great producer...and I did!

It was also the first time I worked with Joe McGrath and Mike Fasano, who are very good friends of mine, and I still work with.



Now-a-days it seems like tons of young wanna-be artists are calling themselves Producers because they can build songs using samples. Has the role of the Producer been changing over the years or are they misusing this title? - RawDepth


Butch Vig: In this modern era of bedroom/laptop recording studios, it does seem like anyone can become a producer! And in the most basic term, a producer is just someone who has an opinion, so that leaves the door wide open.

Technology has leveled the playing field, and I think it's a good thing. However, it also means that there are SO MANY bands recording songs that sometimes you have to wade through a pile of **** in order to find a song that really moves you.

The same goes for producers, there are a lot of them out there, hopefully you end up working with someone whose opinion you trust!



I'd like to know your thoughts around quantizing drums in ProTools. Is this something you tend to regularly do or something you try to avoid? - BenJah


Butch Vig: I like the tracks to be pretty tight, but I always pay a lot of attention to when a drummer sounds good, and try to make grids adhere to the drummer, not the other way around. That's why I do tempo maps, as well as letting parts of songs freestyle. I think the degree of quantizing depends on the song, and the drummer. You have to use your ears, make sure the groove feels right.

Tip: don't look at the computer screen when listening so you can see if a drummer is ahead or behind. Close your eyes...and listen!



On the 1992 Nine Inch Nails remix CDEP “Fixed" there was a track that had the back half of your remix of the NIN song "last"...your take is certainly quite different from the original, any recollection as to why you went off in such a different direction, recording your own parts rather than a straight-up remix? - Edanderson


Butch Vig: Trent asked me to do a remix, and said "do your own thing, make it different"...and I started recording a lot of new parts, and took it in a much different direction. When it was finished, Trent thought the front part of the mix didn't fit the EP, so he just used the ending. I'm glad it's on his website. Duke and Steve worked with me on the remix, in the very early days of Garbage.



What are some of the cheap or obscure processors/tools that you find to have a nice flavor? - Entrainer


Butch Vig: I bought my Roger Mayer compressor for about $500, it really pumps the drums like crazy.

Old (and new) stomp boxes are good on all sorts of things, especially vocals and drums. We have this Nady guitar pedal that we used on a lot of Garbage songs. I've got an old Radio Shack mic that sounds great on vocals every now and then, it sounds heavily filtered.

AKG makes a good mic C3000, large diaphragm, you might be able to get it on eBay for a couple hundred bucks.

The Audio Technica 4047 is also good and not very expensive.

When we started Smart Studios, I found a LOT of cool gear at garage sales, especially schools and churches, they always seem to have mics and PA equipment buried in dust in the closet! I remember we got our first DBX 160 for about $50 at a garage sale!



I picked up an RM57 that I've been in love with. It's being restored right now and I'm cleaning up a few things. Have you compared the RM57 and the RM58? I'm updating a few things on the 57 that were added on the 58 - they seem to make it more useful. - Riv


Butch Vig: They both sound very similar, the compression is very hyped, and I think there are some distortion harmonics. The "Rocky Meyer" won't work on everything, but when you want that extra wild factor, it's great.



I've been battling with sibilance issues lately. How do you deal with this? - notbillcosby


Butch Vig: This is a good question for the engineers. If the de-esser you're using sounds like it dulls the vocal, maybe you should try another one. Also, if you're using a digital system, you can go in and draw volume dips when the sss's stick out, a time consuming pain in the butt, but it works.



"This Perfect World" by Freedy Johnston. Any insight to the record/sessions would be fun to hear. - jrmprod


Butch Vig: I fell in love with his album Can You Fly, and when someone from Elektra approached me about working on the album, I jumped at the chance. I think he is an AMAZING songwriter, his lyrics remind me of short stories, or the books by Cormac McCarthy. John Siket engineered. We recorded the basics at Dreamland, a beautiful old church in upstate New York, near Bearsville. There were a lot of session players on the album, Graham Maby (from Joe Jackson's band) on bass, Frank Vilardi on drums, Marc Ribot (from Tom Wait's band), Dave Schramm, Mark Spencer, Marshall Crenshaw, and Kevin Salem on guitar. It was interesting to work with such great players, and to get their styles to fit in with Freedy's songs. I remember the band stayed in a house a few miles from the studio, and John and I stayed in a super lofi cabin. It was f**king freezing!

The last two songs we recorded were the title track, which Freedy started playing one morning at the breakfast table. I knew it was going to be a key track. The hardest part was getting the acoustic performance to feel right, and then getting Marc Ribot's overdubbed guitar to work in arrangement. I remember John Siket and I would load Marc's riffs into my Akai 1000 and fly them into the spots where I thought they would work. We were at Sear Sound then, finishing overdubs. There was one riff that prompted John and me to sing "there once was a fairy king...."

Bad Reputation also happened last minute, very quickly. The rest of the band had gone out to dinner, and Freedy started playing the song. I got on the drum kit to work out an arrangement, and John yelled through the talkback mic "this sounds great, record it right now"...so we grabbed the assistant engineer John (I'll tell Joel) Yates to play bass, even though he didn't really play bass! We cut the song in about 3 takes. By the time the band got back from dinner the basic track was finished!

Hats off to John, the album sounds gorgeous! The title track is so beautiful, it makes me cry when I hear it. Freedy played it at my wedding, and we both sobbed all the way through!



I was wondering how the process of remastering the tracks for Absolute Garbage took place? It's been noted that all of the tracks have had minor changes, and even some of them quite significant, some examples: the heavier bass on Cherry Lips and Special, some changes in "Push it"'s middle-8 and the removal of a vocal from "Only Happy". - Acereject


Billy Bush: As for changes made during the remastering it's good to keep in mind that during the original mastering on every album a lot of editing and changes occurred and sometimes those weren't documented. Going back and remastering them often meant trying to remember which version was used for which section of the song. There's sometimes 10-12 versions of each song with minor differences and we would often edit between them during mastering.

Also, sometimes after all is said and done, you look back at a song that was released some time ago and you realize that maybe the bass or guitars should have been turned up!

But another reason is that some of the mixes don't exist any more: when a band finishes an album for a major label, the label gets ownership and takes possession of the masters (the stereo mixes both pre and post mastering). In Garbage's case, that original label was Almo Sounds in North America and Mushroom in the rest of the world. Seemingly every album cycle we went through found the band on some other label due to the consolidation of the industry. Almo to Interscope to Geffen, Mushroom to Warners, etc.

When we were starting to collate the material for Absolute Garbage, we couldn't find the analog masters for the first album. None of the labels have them, none of the mastering facilities have them. Somehow the labels managed to lose ALL of the original stereo mixes.The only thing we could find in the archives were a rather incomplete and damaged set of 16bit 44.1k safety DAT mixes. Emily at The Lodge did a pretty amazing job of putting it all together even though it was a far from optimal situation. So if you happen to be sitting on a stack of 1/2" tapes that say Garbage, get ahold of me, will ya?



Could you describe your role as Executive Producer on the Jimmy Eat World “Chase This Light” album (as opposed to just a regular producer)? - soundsundergroun


Butch Vig: I decided to work with them in an exec role because I knew they have a lot of studio smarts, and didn't need a day to day person in the room with them. They wanted to record the album at their rehearsal space in Phoenix. Chris Testa is the engineer and co-producer...he was there making sure everything sounded amazing and helping with day to day decisions. Chris also helped set up their studio before we started recording. As for my role, initially I gave them a lot of feedback on the song arrangements, then went out for the first week of tracking, and would fly in for 3 or 4 days at a time when they needed help. We ended up mixing here in LA with CLA.

I think the album is great, has really hooky songs, and is sonically the best they've recorded. Hats off to Chris!!!



Hey Butch, can you enlighten us to the processing used on Chris' “Bass in Breed” - by Nirvana? It sounds like some sort of light synth effect. - dalley


Butch Vig: There's no synth, Chris used a fuzz pedal. Andy might have put a bit of Eventide on it during the mix.



I´d like to know how you ideally like to deal with bass when recording a band. Do you like to record it before or after guitars? Also do you record DI or just try to make the amp sound right? - jaakkol


Butch Vig: Lately I like to record the rhythm guitars first, then do bass. It's much easier to tell how much midrange or top end you need when the bass has to compete with a wall of guitars.



I'm a young guy who went to "school" to become an "engineer" thinking it might get me a leg up in getting a job in a recording studio. Do you have any advice to help me get my foot in the door? - Home Brand


Butch Vig: I don't know too many studios who are looking to hire at the moment, it's pretty tough out there from a business standpoint. One of the things you can do (and it sounds like you tried it) is to find your own work...find a band or artist you want to work with and offer to help them make the record. Figure out in advance if the band will pay you or if the studio will pay you. Most studios welcome any freelance engineers, especially if they are brought in the project, but that doesn't mean the studio has the cash to pay you a salary. I think the schools that teach engineering and production are a valuable tool, but there's no guarantee of getting a job. So you have to be creative, and hustle.

Or you could be really crazy like I was and open your own studio!



Love your production style, would be interested to hear what your favorite records are. - Mr.Noobyman


Butch Vig: Here's just a few of the artists and albums that really moved me and inspired me:
  • Clash "London Calling"
  • Beatles "Revolver" "Rubber Soul" "Sgt Pepper"
  • Roxy Music (1st four albums, and “Avalon”)
  • The Who "Who's Next" and "Quadrephenia"
  • The Ramones "The Ramones"
  • The Pretenders "Pretenders"
  • Radiohead "The Bends"
  • Television "Marquee Moon"
  • U2 "Actung Baby" "Boy" "War"
  • REM "Murmur"
  • Bruce Springsteen "Born To Run"
  • Patti Smith "Horses"
  • David Bowie "Ziggy Stardust"
  • Neil Young "Harvest"
  • Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers”



How's the ol' Trident A-Range doin'? Still rocking like a champ? How would you compare it to the other British classic, Neve? - GearHunter


Butch Vig: The A Range is still rocking at Smart, sounding as sweet as ever! Both the Neve and Trident are very colored, in a good way. I guess the Neve has a bit more "punch" especially in the low end. The Trident seems to have this remarkable sparkle in the mids and top end. You can't go wrong with either, really...



The original Janglebox or the new JB2? And, do you think it would be good for reamping and/or mixing? - analogjeff


Butch Vig: I got the new one, the JB2. Not sure how it would sound for reamping...but it sure sounds good with a Tele going through it into an AC30.



What type of preamp do you like, clean or colored types? - tamasdragon


Billy Bush: Personally, I dig anything with color. I'm not a big fan of sterile. The thing about tape is that you don't hear what it's doing when you're getting the sound together and I like getting the sound I want and having it be captured that way.

Butch Vig: Yes, Billy hit the nail on the head...tape used to give the song some extra color and compression, and with Pro Tools, if you want color, you need to get it from the initial chain, the mic, pre, eq, and compressor.



Re Garbage:

1) All The Good In This Life lyrics: There's one line that we can't quite figure out. "with the riders in the dirt back on astelin turf". Is astelin turf the correct lyric? If so, what the hell is astelin turf? haha

2) #1 Crush Nellee Hooper Mix: the opening moaning vocals - is that Shirley or Madonna from the song "Bedtime Story"?

3) I've actually asked you this in person, but believe I may have caught you off guard - what happened to "Hangin' with the Bitches"? It was the supposed first completed track off Bleed Like Me, but it never made the light of day. Was this one of the tracks that was made prior to the temporary hiatus? I'm dying to hear it! You were quoted saying that it was "sort of a talking heads funky groove but a lot darker and noisier". - Domenick


Butch Vig:

1) You were close.. It's Aztalan turf.

2) I'm not sure where Nellee got those intro vocals...it could be Madonna, as he worked with her on Bedtime Story.

3) Bitches was never really finished...it did have a really cool, funky groove, was quite noisy, and Shirl's vocals had loads of attitude...for some reason we didn't think it fit on Bleed Like Me.



Re Garbage: Do you remember how the unusual sound of intro-guitar in Vow was made? What effects and settings were used?

- Is it true that the first version (jam) of So Like a Rose was about 10 minutes long? And what effects are used in it (especially the lovely reversed outro)?

- Any interesting facts about making of Hammering in my head? There are lots of incredible loops and samples! Just a masterpiece! I wish you would do something in similar techno-style again with Garbage.

- Some people don't understand b-sides like Tornado, Alien Sex Fiend or I'm Really Into Techno. What was the idea? They were planned like full songs with lyrics in the beginning or not?

- Who's voice is in the intro of Dumb and what exactly is he saying?) - subrussian


Billy Bush: On the intro of Dumb, it's a Cab Driver speaking spanish. We were tracking Daniel's bass upstairs at Smart and for some reason the cabbie's radio started coming through his bass. It only ever happened that one time.. very weird... It sounded cool and distorted so we kept it!

Butch Vig: Good memory BB....yes it was a Cab Driver bleeding through the bass! The start of Vow was 9 individual chords, 3 for each chord, that I loaded into the K2500 sampler, then we used filters, panning, and envelope parameters to get that sort or swirly tremolo effect.

We got asked to use that song in a sampler CD "Volume" in the UK, and none of us were into it..at the time it sounded really boring, kind of clean sounding. When I started to mix, I ran every single channel really hot through the Harrison to get some saturation or distortion, and put Shirls vox through this Nady gtr stomp box. Also (by accident) only one side of the mix went through a compressor.

The gtr intro, and the mandolin-ish solo by Steve we're recorded at the very last minute. We didn't intend to put the song on the album, and then some radio stations in the US started playing the song, and sort of forced us to get our **** together and finish the album. Some people don't understand b-sides like Tornado, Alien Sex Fiend or I'm Really Into Techno. What was the idea? They were planned like full-songs-with-lyrics in the beginning or not?

Most of the b-sides were done really fast, cuz we needed b-sides...which is why they are kind of all over the place.

Tornado is named after the Tornado Club in Madison, where we spent a lot of time drinking cocktails. The vocalist "c'mon Shirl" is Shirley's crazy friend Shannon, who worked there.
I think Alien Sex Fiend is the song that inspired Radiohead to record Kid A. (Just kidding!)



1. How do you usually determine what the tempo of a song should be?

2. As a producer, do you ever find it useful to make some kind of studio demos (i.e. demos made under your supervision, possibly with something resembling the intended final instrumentation) before you start the real tracking process? If not, what would you think is the best method for making sure the song’s final arrangement has “everything it needs, but nothing else”?

3. Finally, I’d love to hear about your drum tracking methods. Do you usually record the drums first? If so, what kind of a backing track (click / programmed beat / guitar or bass guide tracks / etc) you usually feel is needed for the drummer to give his best performance? - StereoPari


Butch Vig:

1. If it's a band, listen to the song with a BPM counter and make note of what the tempo is when it sounds right. If it's not a band, try working on the song in pre pro with a click until it feels right, but don't listen to the click on playback...you need to focus on how the song sounds, the phrasing of vocals, chords, and groove without the click click click.

2. Yes, demos are extremely helpful, I need to know what the song is like and what the vibe is. Or getting in a room with the band and having them play the song so you can work on the arrangements. Sometimes I get demo-itis and end up chasing the elusive magic that was captured the first time. The great thing about Pro Tools is that you can use parts from demos and put them in the new version, even if the song is a different tempo, sometimes even a different key. Hard to know what the "final arrangement" is, you have to trust your instincts to know when it's right.

3. I like to track the band live but I'm usually just going for the drums. I like to make tempo maps that work for the band (there is another thread with some notes on that)...Some drummers work best with a naked click...other times I will make percussion loops, shaker and tambourine, from either a drum machine or a live loop we make in the studio. We would usually only change the drum heads between songs, usually the snare head would hold up for getting through the tracking of one song. One of the reasons is because we were so well rehearsed Tre usually only had to do 3 or 4 takes.



Do you have any memories of L7's sessions for Bricks Are Heavy? - staticwhitesound


Butch Vig: That was fun experience working with L7....those girlz were CRAZY!!!

We tracked for 2 weeks at Sound City, then moved to Smart in Madison for about a month of overdubs. I had seen them live before, and they rocked, so I tried to take their sound and just make it a bit more focused, especially the songs. I wanted to make sure the album had plenty of attitude! By the time they left Madison, they knew every bookie, pimp, drug dealer, and psychopath in Madison, and with a constant flow of characters in and out of Smart there was never a dull moment!

Some great songs on the album: Pretend We're Dead, Diet Pill, Wargasm, Everglade. There's some crazy backward noises on the end of Pretend We're Dead, that was a wild night in the studio!



I was wondering how you feel about the change of music biz with free downloads, mp3 and such. Do you think the major labels were sleeping and did not act fast enough to keep track of technology or are most people just thieves and going for "free" music for the thrill of it? - Music_Junky


Butch Vig: When digital first happened, I don't thank ANYONE knew how profoundly it would change everything, from how we record (ProTools, etc) to the product (mp3s), to the distribution (the internet). Knowing what we know now, I'm sure a lot of people in the music biz would have embraced the medium in a much faster, proactive way.

It's funny, a lot of people seem to look at the drop in CD sales as only hurting the corporate suits and the stockholders...but this change affects everyone, especially artists. I've heard lots of BS about how artists can make up for the loss of income by touring...we'll ask anyone who tours a lot and they'll tell you its grueling and expensive, and most bands in the long haul are not going to survive on their ticket sales. I know lots of producers and engineers who are struggling to find work, and a lot of great studios can't afford to keep their doors open. But the current decline can't be entirely blamed on illegal downloading, the economy sucks, and it affects people in every aspect of business, including entertainment.

I kind of feel like this is going to be the worst year that we've bottomed, and we're going to see some optimism starting next year, not just in the music biz but in the entire country.



M-Audio EX66 monitors. What did you hear on them that it complements your Barefoot MM27's? - eddiewer


Butch Vig: To me, the MAudio EX66's have a really open top end, and good bass. They almost seem a bit scooped in the low midrange. But I can hear things on them that I can't hear on other speakers, especially at low volume. I think the Barefoots have better detail in the midrange, and the tonal and balance decisions seem to translate well. Speakers are very subjective, I like both the MM27s and the EX66s, but that doesn't mean that you will.

Do you find the EX66's (in the position they are in) mess with the low end of the MM27's since they are blocking two of the 10" speakers facing the phantom center? - Silvertone


Butch Vig: The MM27's don't seem to have a problem being next to another speaker, I don't think bass frequencies have a problem next to other barriers like a speaker, they just need cubic space. Both speakers sound good in my home studio.



Garbage’s "Push it" was one of the reasons I started getting interested in recordings back in 98. It would be great if you could elaborate on that song a bit! - Ciaccona


Butch Vig: The bass on Push It was played by Daniel Shulman, a Fender into an SVT. I added a bit of synth sub in spots, but it's almost all amp.

The snare is a composite of 3 sources...one of them was my Yamaha "Gish" snare, don't remember where I got the others but they were processed quite a bit. Oh yeah, Billy and I recorded some drums at an old warehouse on Willy St near Smart, The Madison Candy Company...it was getting ready to be torn down. We spent all day setting up drums, and after I did one take, the cops showed up and gave us cease and desist orders. I pleaded with them to give me another 20 minutes, and they looked the other way...so I did a couple takes on Push It, and Paranoid...and we used some of those drums on the songs. I also used samples from that recording in my DDrum live, especially the toms, which you can hear at the end of Paranoid.

There are some crazy guitars on the song, by both Duke and Steve...man that was a hard one to mix! But I LOVE that song...Shirl's vocals are amazing. It's also my favorite video!



When I mixed the last Soul Asylum record Dave Pirner told me about a piece of gear the Studer had given you to test back when you worked with them which you nicknamed "The Hopper"...Is this true? - zmix


Butch Vig: Ha! The Hopper!!!!

John Siket and I used a Studer 48 track digital on most of Let Your Dim Light Shine. We recorded on 2" analog (tracked at A&M, now Henson) and transferred the basics into the Studer for overdubs.

The "Hopper" was the Studer's internal digital sampler. It allowed you to bounce digitally within the machine...I can't remember but I think you could do 2 or 4 tracks at a time. It was great for vocal comps, and shifting guitars if they were ahead or behind. It was a great sounding digi multitrack, never really went into wide production because Pro Tools was right around the corner.

That was a fun, crazy record to make! We had 3 studios going in NYC at the end when we had to meet deadlines, doing vocals in one room, comping in another, and Andy Wallace was mixing in a third.

FYI: I must give Dave Pirner a nod, I nicked my publishing company name from him, Vibecrusher. When someone from the label or management was coming by, he would say:
"Dude, incoming vibecrusher alert."

He would also step into the room when John and I were editing, and in his own way, drawl: "Dude, what's not occurring?"



Autotune. Your stance on it, how you use it in the studio, and your opinion on where it will go from here? - MikeTSH


Butch Vig: I hate it when you can tell it's being used, and unfortunately I hear it on lots of records. I only use it when necessary, I'd rather have the singer do more takes, or spend more time comping vocals. When I do use it, I try to use it on a very forgiving setting.



I'm wondering if you have any advice regarding egos in the studio. Anything specific about how you deal with difficult people in the studio would be great! - Coops


Butch Vig: A lot of artists have big egos...and I have certainly worked with some. Whenever I work with someone who is bullheaded, if I feel like I'm trying to get my point across, the best way for me to do it is to have a very rational discussion as to why I think it should be a certain way. I don't always win...and sometimes I have to bite the bullet, and remember that it is their album, not mine (even if I feel I'm right and they are wrong).

Sometimes I try to get an artist to think the idea is theirs, even if I came up with the idea. I don't care if they want to take credit, that's fine, as long as I got my way in the end!



Where does the line between producer/engineer sit and does this shift for you from project to project or is it very distinct?? - usefullidiot


Butch Vig: I have a pretty good knowledge of the gear I'm using, but I don't want to get too caught up in the engineering aspect of making a record. Ultimately I trust the engineers to make technical decisions...they are gonna be better at it than me...and it's more important for me to keep my eye on the big picture: the songs, the performances, making sure the vibe is right.

That being said, I can be a gearhead on occasion!



I would just like to ask you what do you recommend equipment-wise for complete noobs like myself? - bexsmall


Butch Vig: Bex...I get asked questions like that all the time. There's not a quick, easy answer as to what you must learn to be a producer. Take your classes, ask questions, absorb everything, then you have to JUST DO IT!

There's no amount of reading or classes that can prepare you as much as going into a room with a group of people and making a recording...even if you don't know what you're doing! I didn't when I started...I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned along the way. I never took any classes, I found an old warehouse space, bought a cheap 8 track with my buddy Steve (from Garbage), and we went to local punk clubs and offered bands to come and record for free, just to get them into the studio.

We were broke, with no idea how to run a business, but man oh man I didn't want to do anything else. I poured myself into it, sometimes working over 80 hours a week...and slowly, very slowly, I learned how to record and how to work with bands.
I'm still learning!

Good luck, and have fun!



Smashing Pumpkins - "Disarm". Were the songs before you got involved really raw, like Billy and an acoustic, or more sussed out like Nevermind arrangement wise? - JDN


Butch Vig: Disarm was one of the hardest songs to figure out. When we were rehearsing with the band in Chicago, we worked on Disarm with a full rock arrangement...but were never very happy with the results.

I kept delaying the tracking of the song at Tryclps cuz I wasn't sure what to do. Finally toward the end of recording we attempted to cut the song like we had rehearsed it, with full band..Jimmy trying different parts on toms, pulsing kick drums, etc...nothing was working, it all sounded like too much going on, no matter how much we stripped it back.

Finally, out of frustration Billy came into the control room and we talked about the song, he played it on acoustic guitar and sang in front of me, and I was struck by how intimate it sounded. So we (very quickly) recorded a take with his acoustic, and then Billy plugged in his keyboard, and we quickly mocked up an arrangement with strings, bells, percussion and feedback. And that became the template. We went back and recorded everything for real a couple days later.

I don't think I would have figured that song out if Billy hadn't played 3 feet in front of me, completely unplugged.



I would like to ask you about your production of Sonic Youth's 'Dirty', the now classic 1992 album that gained them a lot of new fans, including me. I can imagine the band (and specifically Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore) having some very strong ideas about music production, and I wondered how you were able to find the middle ground between their experimental aesthetic and your result-oriented work methods that led to the full-bodied sound of 'Dirty'. - Black Shadow


Butch Vig: I recorded Dirty at the Magic Shop in NYC, it has a great old broadcast Neve console.I must admit, i was a bit intimidated when I first went to meet the band in NYC. I had seen them live before and really admired their approach to music, and for some reason I thought they were going to be all snobby and arty...but in fact they completely disarmed me with their humour and wit. I went straight to Thurston and Kim's apartment on the lower east side, and when I walked in the door, Thurston yelled "we need to make the album sound like THIS"...and played a 7" single I had recorded by a band from the Twin Cities, Mecht Mensch! It sounded like crap!

I was completely blown that he had such an obscure single, as well as almost every other obscure band I had ever produced!

When we started recording, my goal was to capture the sound of Sonic Youth with a bit more 3D, full spectrum glory, yet still retain the quality of what makes them unique. We tracked all the songs live, then went back and overdubbed a lot of the guitar parts, so I could spend more time with them on the sound and performance.

It's probably the most "produced" album they ever made, but still sounds like the Sonics. I LOVE some of the songs: Sugarkane, 100%, Youth Against Fascism. And Teresa's Soundworld...I remember the night we recorded that song, the hair on the back of my neck went up in the middle of the take, it sounded so great...and I remember thinking man oh man do I have the coolest job in the world!



YouTube - Green Day Mix LA, can you describe to us what it's like working with CLA? - rojo


Butch Vig: Chris is an amazing mix engineer! I don't think you should think of mixing with him as a nightmare, more like "I'm lucky to be in the same room with someone this friggin' talented!"

If you work with Chris, you know you're going to get a big wide screen mix. He IS opinionated, and likes to make sure the core of the song, the essential parts of the arrangement are really focused. He may not care for the fiddly guitar line in the 2nd verse, that you spent 2 days perfecting...he's more concerned with the SONG coming across, the big picture, not the individual tracks. Not to say he doesn't like ear candy, he is great with reverb and delays...creating a sense of space in a mix...and also good at helping to create dynamic moments in a mix, and very quick when called upon to come up with something on the spot. There's a reason he's booked every single day, he consistently delivers awesome mixes!

Are you in the room with him when he's mixing? - PRobb


Butch Vig: Yes I was in the same room with him. I like to go to the mixes so I can be somewhat hands on with feedback. I usually let the mixer work on their own until they get it to a place where they are ready for comments and tweaks, then usually stay with them until it gets printed.



When you started to gain some popularity with your band, did you ever stop and think "Jesus, this is what some of those bands I worked with had to go through!!"? - Fooman


Butch Vig: I think having some success with Garbage at a later point in my career kept me somewhat grounded. Not that I didn't have some rock star moments. It was FUN! Even when we were tired of getting our asses dragged around, on a bad day, I would remind myself "It beats sloppin' hot tar".

It's a good thing I didn't have that kind of success when I was 20 years old, I would have exploded!



Any strange mic set ups you'd like to share you know in the sonma tube, garbage cans, behind windows ,car doors ,stairwells? - tomcat


Butch Vig: There's a noisy drum loop in the middle of Queer. I had recorded some drum tracks that I ran through the Roger Mayer RM58 and printed to a DAT. One day I thought I’d load some of the loops into the Akai sampler and see if I could get something cool to work in the bridge in Queer. Somehow I patched the DAT output into the wrong channel on the patch bay (which was a nightmare to use!) and it went through a SMPTE converter...the sound was SO f*ked up and scratchy, but I loved it...so I recorded that straight into the Akai, then fiddled with it until it locked into the track. Funny, I tried doing that again on a later song, and it never sounded the same.



Do you still use tape for some projects, or do you work exclusively on digital formats these days? Do you like your stuff to be mastered onto tape, or are you happy to stay in the digital domain? Also do you prefer to listen to CDs or vinyl for pleasure, and what are your thoughts about the sonic integrity of D/L formats? - drezz


Butch Vig: I'm pretty much stay in Pro Tools these days. I will on occasion track something to tape and then transfer to PT. When we started Green Day, we did a shootout with tape and Pro Tools...after we had the first song tracked, Chris Dugan set the playback levels so we could flip between the two formats...the result...EVERYONE thought PT sounded WAY better! We were using kick ass preamps, great eq's, and killer mics, and we were pretty happy with how it sounded. And to my ears, the PT playback sounded exactly like the input.
I listen to music everywhere, on my crappy laptop, in my crappy car stereo, in my echo slap happy living room from an airtunes source.

My home studio sounds good, I've got a pair of Barefoots MM27's and a pair of M-Audio EX66 that compliment each other. When I am working, I think it's important to listen in as many environments as possible so you know what's going on in the real world.

Billy Bush: I think we really had an epiphany during V2.0 regarding tape. Having spent a year working in the box and then mixing off of tape we realized how much time was spent rewinding and also how handy looping playback was. We really spent a lot of time on that record testing how it sounded coming back from PT and from tape and instead of just saying "it doesn't sound the same from the computer as it does on the tape" we just worked harder at making the sound on the computer sound cool.

The final straw for me was during mixing when the slave Studer's playback mechanism broke and it flew into some hyperspeed rewind and shred the multitrack for Temptation Waits. Luckily it happened during the fadeout and it sounded cool but it meant that half the song no longer existed.

Having spent a good part of the 14 months making that record battling the limitations of Pro Tools, OS 9 and processing power of the G4 at the time, I had come up with a robust way of backing up. I realized that no matter how annoying a computer crash may be, more often than not you can recover without any loss. IF you're proactive.

Butch Vig: BB...yeah that's a funny (and true) story...we watched in shock as the tape machine shredded the 2" tape...luckily we had just printed the mix, the only mix...and you can hear the tape machine speeding up on the end of the song! We debated if we should go back and make another slave reel with all the missing tracks, but we felt like it was as good of an ending as any, so we left it that way...



What's it like seeing your singer acting on TV? Does the band all tune in to watch? Shirley Manson as the terminator robot - Catherine Weaver, in the TV SiFi drama - The Sarah Connor Chronicles...! - Jules


Butch Vig: I loved watching her on The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They originally asked her on the show for a few episodes, but the producers and writers loved her (and are huge Garbage fans!) so they asked to stay for the whole season. I think she plays an awesome terminator!

Don't f**k with Catherine Weaver!



When working with engineers and assistants, what really upsets you and what really makes you say 'this dude is switched on'? - slaphappygarry


Butch Vig: A great assistant is someone who's one step ahead of you, they are proactive in the sense that they are keeping an eye on the session and looking out for trouble, or anticipating your needs.

What bugs me is when an assistant takes on an attitude, like "I can't be bothered because I'm too busy surfing the internet"....or when they make a comment that is not solicited. I'm sure a lot of assistants have home studios, and have recorded their own projects, and occasionally we'll end up with someone who has a chip on their shoulder. I remember once we were working on a drum sound and the assistant (who shall go nameless) said over my shoulder "that snare doesn't sound very good"...which bothered me because he had no idea where we were in the process.

I DO ask my assistants opinions, especially if they are really familiar with the room.



Can you share favorite methods/gear for reamping, guitar pedals on keyboard tracks and so forth? - dannygold


Butch Vig: There are so many options out there now, lots of cool plug ins (I like Izotope Trash, the Massey plugin, good old Sans Amp, and some of the guitar modelers to name a few)...and get out those old stomp boxes!!!



Any special consideration when you record Gtrs? - AMIEL


Butch Vig: Getting phase right can be VERY tricky...sometimes you have to move the mics around just fractions of inches to get it right. There's no hard fast rule, you just have to use your ears.

Sometimes i like to bi-amp between a clean sound and distorted sound...and that's also very tricky because no matter what splitter box you use, I think it still f**ks with the signal.

There are phase click boxes that will let you know if the signal is coming in with a positive phase...especially useful for drums...can't remember the name of it



What is your general style when it comes to panning and fader rides? - mobius.media


Butch Vig: I tend to like things pretty wide if they are panned...hard left and right, or down the center. It's not a hard/fast rule, but if something is slightly panned, like a shaker, I find it distracting. For some reason, I always put hi hats down the center....it bugs me if they are panned wide.

When mixing, I do a LOT of rides...mostly on vocals, but also on drums fills and downbeats of sections if you want to have more impact.

I do what I call "tiering" where sometimes I will take the whole mix at the start of a quiet section and boost it 2 or 3 db on the sub groups...then over the course of 16 bars or 32 bars, whatever the length is, I lower it back down to 0 db where it started, so when the chorus hits I can pump it up 3 db, then ease it down, and pump it up for the next change where you need impact. If you look at a WAV file, it looks like steps...and the dynamics are usually pretty extreme, way more than you hear on the final mastering because I don't use buss compression.



Hey Butch, what kind of monitors you trust and why? - reflixtinian


Butch Vig: I'm really into the Barefoot MM27s lately, balance and tonal decisions seem to translate well to a lot of other environments.

I also have pairs of Adams, Genelecs, and M-Audio EX66's that I use at my home studio.

I have small B&W speakers in my living room, which is pretty boomy, so I don't really use them for critical listening.



How often do you check mixes through Headphones? Also after mixing and listening to your mixes for so many hours.. At what point does ear fatigue become an issue? - madcap8465


Butch Vig: I don't use headphones very much. I like wide separation in mixes especially on guitars, and the balance will sound right listening on speakers, but on Headphones the extreme panning makes the guitars seem too loud.

I change the monitor volume a lot during a session, mostly medium levels, but also go very quiet, on dim, which is the best way to hear pitch and timing...and I like to crank it up when someone is overdubbing in the control room.

I think it's wise to change the levels a lot, because the song will sound different at each volume.



When choosing the mix engineer for productions that you helm, I was wondering if you have more of the final say or is it more the band and or label? - Thethrillfactor


Butch Vig: Usually I discuss the selection of a mix engineer with the band and A&R person. Sometimes I'll get the band to listen to potential mixers' recent body or work, so they can tell what their sensibility is. But you have to be careful...a lot of artists don't "hear" the mix, they listen to the song or the artist, and if they don't like it, they cross them off their list.

When we chose Andy Wallace to mix Nevermind, Kurt and I looked over a list the label had sent with potential mixers. There were LOTS of names I knew and respected, and I was psyched that I would have the chance to work with a kickass mix engineer.

We looked down the list: Scott Litt, Ed Stasium, Don Gehman, Bob Cleramountain, Tom Lord Alge, etc etc lots of great mix engineers...until we got to the bottom, and it said: Andy Wallace/Slayer. Kurt said: "Call that guy!"



How long do you generally spend on a rough mix? Are you doing any additional arranging during this time or are you just focused on the mix? - planet red


Butch Vig: Sometimes I make very polished rough mixes if I feel like I need the band and label to hear them a certain way. When Billy and I finished AM's New Wave, I took the sessions home and spent about 3 weeks doing roughs, and we actually used one of the mixes on the album.

Other times, I like to keep the roughs just a flat board mix, with very little eq, comp, and effects. That's what Chris Dugan and I did with 21st Century Breakdown, we hyped it just enough to get the idea across, but leaving a lot of room for CLA to do his thing.

The danger of doing really good rough mixes is that you fall in love with them, but it's also hard to do a rough mix and leave it kind of unfinished...there's a tendency to want to make it sound "finished" before it is actually finished.



Did you guys record with Line 6 POD? - eddiewer


Butch Vig: I have my Pod at the home studio going through a Chandler TG 2pre, which I love...it seems to thicken up the guitar, almost like it's going through a Neve.




Re Bull in the Heather - Sonic Youth. I was wondering how you approached recording the guitars and the lead vocal on that track/album? - Teddy Ray


Butch Vig: It was recorded at Sear Sound in NYC. John Siket engineered, and we recorded the basic track live, all 4 members going to tape. We did a few overdubs on guitar, but the track is pretty simple sounding.

Steve Shelly played an AWESOME groove on the song, and he only used one stick, his right hand he played shaker.

I think Kim's voice was recorded through an M 49...which sounded amazing!

FYI: Walter Sear's mic collection is incredible!



The exact set-up was as follows: Neve 8040/1081's, AKGD12 on bass drum, SM57 on snare, C12A's on toms, C24 on OH's, U47's and 77DX's on gtrs, RE20 on bass. Everyone was in Sear's small Studio A. There were gobo's. Steve the drummer was the only one wearing phones. The tape machine was an Ampex MM1200/16track with 499 at 15ips NNR. Kim's vocal was an M49 thru some kind of early Manley tube-pre. - tekis


Butch Vig: Good to see you're on the board John!

A couple things I remember from those sessions....the band brought in a "lofi" PA that we ran a lot of the vocals through...like SST Superstore.

I also remember Lee or Thurston handed Walter Sear a guitar and told him to play a "solo" which ended up being really funny cuz Walter couldn't play guitar!



Overloading the mix compressor? Do you cut all levels & then build back up so the gain structure is more even? - FRETPICK


Butch Vig: I never use a master buss comp, unless I wanna jack up a ruff mix to play in the car. I do use a lot of compression on individual tracks, and use a stereo comp on the drum buss. Sometimes the mix gets too hot, and i have to pull ALL the faders down 5 or even 10 db.and I never put an eq on the master buss.



I wonder if you have a special quote that's helped re-energize/refocus you through times of turbulence? - JoeyM


Butch Vig: After a rough day at the studio, the BEST thing I can do is go home to my beautiful wife and daughter and get a good night's sleep! It's amazing how clear everything becomes when you can get away and get some perspective.

That being said...when things get rough, I like to say (in a southern accent, courtesy Jeff Tomei) "Is it sweet?"

The answer of course is NO IT"S NOT SWEET...but just by acknowledging that fact it's not so sweet seems to make it better.



When you're done with a project after however many weeks/months of studio time with a client, of course you've had quite a bonding experience. Do you have any sort of ritual you like to do with the clients, like give a funny gift, or just go out to dinner and talk/laugh about it? Any sort of closure thing? - Ironbelly


Butch Vig: I don't really have a ritual, as it's hard to predict how the album winds down. I try to do a hifi band dinner, throw down for some good wine, but it's usually smart to pick a window several weeks before the very end of the album. Usually the end of the album is quite chaotic, as almost every time I finish we've run up against deadlines.

After I finally approve the master, I like to put the album away and NOT listen to it for several weeks, sometimes months...until I can listen to it and enjoy it without being critical.



Just curious, in a previous answer you said you don't insert any mastering style effects on the mix buss. Do you use anything on the mix buss (compressors, eq's, etc) - JDN


Butch Vig: Sometimes i will put a compressor on the buss during a mix, just to see how a "mastered version" will sound, but I take it off after a few passes. I like to have all the transients there before mastering, they will get smoothed out later.



Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream - Can you share with us what effect you used in the intros for the guitars on "Cherub Rock" and "Rocket"? - theblotted


ButchVig: I think it was an Electro-Harmonix pedal set to the slowest speed. We did do a lot of actual tape flanging on the album, like the solo in Cherub Rock.



When recording lead vocals, do you have a distance that you prefer to keep the singer away from the microphone? - badboymusic


Butch Vig: I usually put the mic about 3-4 inches away. Sometimes you'll want the singer right up on the mic if it's a quiet part. And if it's a really loud section, and the singer has a really loud voice, you need to back them off, maybe around 12-18 inches.

Some of the older tube mics sound better with a bit more distance on the singer.

Compression: I like a lot of it on vocals. I usually set the threshold to kick down about -10, at least on the Summit TLA 100. Sometimes I'll set it even higher so the peaks kick down -20 db.



Re Garbage - “I think I'm paranoiiid!!!!” I just wanted to know what effect you used on Shirley's voice on the bridge of this song. - ze engineer


Butch Vig: We didn't use any pitch change...just filters into a stomp box.



2 short questions on Supervixen. Was the GTR Solo harmonized or is it 2 seperate gtr lines? The "stop". possibly one of my fave moments in music (even though it is essentially silence!!) - was it written that way or was it an afterthought in the mixing process? - rhythmtech


Butch Vig: It was 2 seperate gtr lines, but there is a bit of Eventide on them, not an octave, around +10 cents.

The stop came from the riff, originally it sustained through the break, then we redid the riff so it cut off with natural ambience...and it was Scott Hull who did the "black hole of silence" edits in mastering!



Re: Killdozer: Just how tall is Michael anyway? He sounds like a giant trucker of a man. How did you manage to record the biggest voice in the history of rock? And were they as fun to work with as the humor in their songs suggests? - leaper


Butch Vig: Mike Gerald has a deeper voice than the Man In Black himself, Johnny Cash!

The Killdozer albums were so much fun to record! They were loose and spontaneous, and the band played with a drunken swagger unlike anybody else I have ever recorded. Being on Touch and Go, there were no restrictions other than small budgets, which was good because we had to work FAST.

Snakeboy was recorded on 8 track, and has several songs that became live classics, like King Of Sex and Going To The Beach. They were the only band that I would sometimes mix live, which I liked to do because I had a sense of how to make them sound big in a small club. It was after hearing 12 Point Buck that Subpop called regarding a band called Nirvana, as well as Billy Corgan.

I had been in NYC making the 2nd FireTown album, which had been long and not somewhat grueling, almost 4 months...and the day after I flew back to Madison I went into Smart with Killdozer to record 12 Point Buck. We recorded and mixed the album in 6 days, and on the 7th day we recorded For Ladies Only!

On the first day of recording, the band said they didn't really have that many songs finished, so I just told them to jam, and I cut sections of music together via tape edits to create songs. We also wrote a list down of things we wanted to record: celtic riffs (New Pants), accordion (Free Love In Amsterdam), brass section (Lupus), sexy Barry White vocals (Space 1999), radio broadcasts (Richard), even an ode to Irwin Allen (Man vs Nature)...the album is pretty weird sounding, but I love it!!!

When Mike would overdub vocals, Dan & Bill Hobson and myself would sit in the control room, turn all the lights off, and solo Mike's vocal channel at stun volume! We would fall over with laughter at some of the lyrics he came up with, and to hear his voice all alone blasting through the speakers was pretty scary!



I'm generally curious about the whole producer/mixer dynamic.... For example, you're producing a band that CLA is mixing. How does that work? Who gets a 'veto' in opinions? - fooman


Butch Vig: The mixers I work with are very much interested in making the band and producer happy! While there are certainly opinions flying around during a mix, at the end of the day, I want the band to be happy with the results, as does the mix engineer, even if we disagree with some of the choices they make in eq, efx, levels, etc...

If I have a difference of opinion with the band or engineer, I VERY CALMLY lay out my argument why I think something should sound a certain way. Hopefully they understand what I'm saying and will bow to my genius!!! Ha!!!



What's the story on Dave Grohl's intro on Territorial Pissing? Was this some kind of inside joke that Dave had going on? Moments like that are usually one of my favorite parts of good records. - Shimona


Butch Vig: That's not Dave, that's Chris. I challenged him to sing some sort of intro, make fun of a "wimpy hippie song" and he had finished half a bottle of Jack. We did it in one take, in Studio B at Sound City.



. I'm wondering if you would be willing to share maybe your top 5 rooms near L.A. or even anywhere that you would choose for the best drum sounds. - DontLetMeDrown


Butch Vig: Some of my fave rooms for drums are:
Oceanway B
Conway C
Henson D
Sound City
Avatar in NYC (Power Station)



Do you also use reference CDs when mixing to 'reset' your ears in some way or do you have other things you use to recalibrate the ears? - Doc_Rock


Butch Vig: I usually listen to some things I've worked on, Pumpkins, Garbage, Green Day, etc...but sometimes I listen to other albums depending on what I'm working on. There's a great track by The Crystal Method I listen to tha has big, tight bass, Wild Sweet Cool...also a cool electro track called Moan by Trentmoller that is good to test a system with.



I have very few heroes in life (living or not). The list is short and reads something like this...
1. Jesus
2. Les Paul
3. Butch Vig
Now on to a question. In the Garbage song "parade" (which is in my top songs of all time playlist), what is the instrument that provides that spanky strum in the intro? It sounds like a sampled guitar that was chopped and replayed on a drum sampler (MPC/etc...) - Ari-M.


Butch Vig: That's a good list! I'll settle for 3rd place!

You are right about the start of ‘Parade’...we recorded acoustic and electric guitars and put them into the MPC 1000 to get that chopped feel!



How much of a gear fan are you...? I was wondering if your approach is either in a more arty kind of way or technically. - MidasHatesGold


Butch Vig: I've always been a closet case tech nerd! But I leave that part of my brain off most of the time when I'm producing cuz the most important thing is focusing on the songs, the vibe, and the performances. I've been going through a microphone phase lately. I just bought a Bock 507 mic, which sounds amazing.



What's your philosophy when it comes to using digital technology for fixing "problems" via editing. - joaquin


Butch Vig: The song will only be as good as the source material! It helps to be working with a band that can really play their instruments!

When i first started producing, I had a "holy ****" moment when i learned how to edit tape. There was (and is) a definite art to it, and I fully embraced it. With Pro Tools, or any other digital system, the editing has become so easy, my daughter could do it (not a bad idea, she's only 3 years old, but maybe I could get her editing some hi hats!)...the trick is to use the editing to make the groove sound better, not destroy it. So, as mentioned above, it helps to have a band that can play...and only use the editing as a tool to make it a little sweeter!



Whenever I hear the older Pumpkins stuff, the thing that sticks out is Jimmy's hats are always on the go. I don't hear that much in today's productions, often you hear a shaker or tamborine instead. - fooman


Butch Vig: Your right, Jimmy has an awesome left foot...and it does sound like a shaker. I wish I could keep time the same way he does! When a drummer can keep their hi hat foot happening like that, it really helps smooth out the groove! Some drummers have it, some don't...no matter how hard I practiced I could never get that kind of feel!



Surround sound found its niche for movies. Do you ever see it becoming mainstream in music? - madcap8465


Butch Vig: I've never done any 5.1 mixes. I think it's great for film and TV, but I'm not sure it will ever be embraced by the mainstream as the main music format. We got asked to do 5.1 for the 2nd Garbage album, and Billy Bush and I thought we would lose our minds if we had to go back and mix that album again!



Do you have any advice on how to place room mics when recording drums? - ScumBum


Butch Vig: Trust your ears! You should move around the room when the drummer is playing and listen to what sounds good. Then put up the mics and record a verse and chorus...if it does not sound good, move them.



What mics and positions do you like to use on Snare Drums? - ScumBum


Butch Vig: These are all good choices, depending on the style of music, and how the drummer plays:

Josephson es22
Senn 421, 441
AKG 451. 414
Heil PR 30, PR 20
Telefunken M80
SM 57
Beyer m201

I usually put the mic right over the rim of the snare, up about 2 or 3 inches, aimed right at the center of the head. I have on occasion placed the mic on the side of the snare aimed at the shell, which can sound great. I also like to use a bottom mic, making sure the phase is correct.



What lives on your Mix Buss? - evillain


Butch Vig: I generally don't put anything on the mix buss, unless I'm trying to hype a quick ruff mix, or avoid blowing the mains during tracking.

On occasion, I like to use the Smart C2. I like to use 1176's on the drum buss...or sometimes the Roger Mayer (if I really want it to shred). I used an API on some of the drum tracks on the first Garbage album. The Retro 176 is really cool! Also, CLA used the Shadow Hills Mastering Comp on 21st Century Breakdown and it sounded amazing!



Let's talk about Jimmy Eat World, do you have any good stories to tell? I find "Chase this light" pretty similar in sound to the "Futures"-album. Is it just the band or did you pull them in that direction? - Dozerbabar


Butch Vig: Chase This Light was recorded under interesting conditions. The band set up a studio in their rehearsal space. There was no wall between the console and band, it was very casual and informal. Chris Testa engineered, and he helped set up the gear. I think the album sounds awesome, the songs are really good! Chris has posted on the album before, so you should fire away with questions.



How much 'loyalty' to the original do you think a remix should have? Do you feel it should have some thread back to the original for the listener to relate to, or is it a case of "if it's not different, why bother"? Do you want to keep doing remixes, or is producing pretty much your focus now? I loved your remix of "Last". - Led


Butch Vig: I always like doing remixes where the artist lets you do your own thing, rather than trying to do a slightly different take on the original. I usually transfer just the vocal to a new tape or session, then start jamming, trying different beats, riffs, etc until something starts to grab hold. It's fun! The last remix I did was Against Me's "White People For Peace"...I think it turned out pretty cool, the band used it in a video!



I've always thought the Garbage song “Special” sounded very Merseybeat/Searchers/Beatle-y in essence. Did it ever start out that way? - vincentvangogo


Butch Vig: The influences in Special come from a lot of sources (like a lot of Garbage songs). Steve came up with the basic chord progression, which initially was very Ramones-y...Duke came up with the 12 string riff, which is very Beatles/Byrds-esque...and Shirl did her thing with it, borrowing a few lines from The Pretenders (we sent Chrissie a letter to see if she was OK with it, and she gave us her blessing, as well as sending me a shirt that said "F**K" on it!). The back vocals also have a Beach Boys vibe, which is one of our fave bands!



Hey Butch, my girlfriend's uncle is Dave Pirner and when she was a little kid she spent a lot of time around Soul Asylum, and Karl took extra interest in her. He would go out of his way to play with her so her mom and dad could hang out with everyone in that scene (Jayhawks, Wilco, Honeydogs) and they became close...he even gave her a lot of his record collection! Do you have any memories of Dave in the studio that I could share with her and the family? - upinflames


Butch Vig: Karl was one of the sweetest, kindest dudes I ever met. He had a very dry sense of humour, and a super positive vibe!

Let Your Dim Light Shine was an amazing experience...kinda crazy at times, but I loved working with Soul Asylum. I still listen to that album. John Siket engineered (who I also worked with on Sonic Youth and Freedy Johnston) and I think it sounds really good, not dated at all. One of my favorite songs is To My Own Devices...it was Dave's autobiographical theme song!

RIP Karl, you were a good man!



How to try to inspire yourself when a song you are working on is not inspiring you, or just plain taking away your motivation/inspiration? Or when working with someone who's vision goes against what your ear tells you… Any advice on tricks you have come up with when you come into such conflicts? - colinmiller


Butch Vig: I approach every project like it's going to be a big record, like the band is the bees knees, and I will give them 100% complete attention and passion. And that goes back to when I started producing albums in 1984. Musicians and artists can be very fragile, and as I learned how to make records, the most biggest thing I took from all those early sessions was how important the psychological aspect is....what is the band's dynamic, what are their strengths, weaknesses, how do I motivate them, how do I tell them the song sucks, how do I stop them from punching each other!
I have done LOTS of projects, both big and small, where the vibe was incredible at one point in the session, and not so schveet a half hour later. A producer's role is to turn it around when things go bad. Figure it out, motivate the band...that's my job!



I think Cherub Rock is one of the top 10 greatest rock tracks ever. When the guitar comes crashing in it is really (in my humble opinion) just sheer rock bliss. Was it mostly layering and some kind of varispeed tape effect? Anything you can remember about how the guitars were recorded and what was used for this song would be awesome to know. - soupking


Butch Vig: There are LOTS of guitars on Cherub Rock, most of them Billy's Strat going into his Marshall. The one sound that still gets my blood to a fever pitch is the sound that comes in on the chorus. The house engineer Mark Richardson took a distortion box out of a pedal steel guitar, and put it in a little silver box with input and output jacks, and it had the COOLEST white noise blast! Man oh man, I'd never heard a stomp box that did anything like that! We ended up using it on a bunch of songs. Billy still has that pedal somewhere in his archives.



"In Your Room" ,Depeche Mode, zephyr mix... Do you remember anything from this session? - afionidos


Butch Vig: I'm a HUGE Depeche Mode fan, Violator is on a my fave albums. So when I got the call to do a remix, I jumped at the chance!

I spoke with Martin before I started the mix, and he said I just just do whatever I wanted. I dug the original song, so I wanted to keep the core of the song intact, especially Dave's vocals. What I would usually do in a remix is mute all the original instruments and start trying some new parts with Dave's vocals. Somewhere along the way I came up with that back and forth piano part, and the guitar riff. I asked Duke from Garbage to come in and add some noisy bits on guitar, which were cool.

I remember I was using Sans Amps and stomp boxes on a lot of the tracks, especially the drums. Funny, cuz that's sort of the approach that inspired me to form Garbage!



How do you ensure a song you've done sounds great on even the poorest playback system? - manning1


Butch Vig: I think it's really important to keep grounded in the real world...so listen to your ruffs and mixes on as many systems as possible. I really like using the Barefoot MM27's as my studio monitors, I also have a pair in my home studio. But I usually spend more time listening through consumer systems: my laptop, my junky car stereo, and in my boomy living room through an airtunes wifi setup. The mix will always sound different depending on where you hear it. I think your mixes will translate to a lot of systems if you get the mix sounding right on the cheapest speakers...



I have to ask about reverb. I guess nothing specific, but any general tips or tricks you use? - Rikers Beard


Butch Vig: I have a tendency to use delays over reverb, not a hard fast rule, but I think vocals and guitars sound better with echo. If the reverb is not sounding right, maybe you need a better software or hardware unit. Or get an old plate reverb on Ebay!



Hi Butch, I met you in Oz once, we compared notes working with The Cosmic Psychos. I went out and found an old Harrison 4032 on your recommendation and you were right about the filters, in combination with the eq you could do great things with gtrs and drums. Had to finally decommission mine some time after Smart decommissioned theirs but still have the channels. I simply must make them into a sidecar one day, I really miss their sound! Did you keep some channels or did you find something else that did the same trick? - princeplanet


Butch Vig: We had two 3232's that we wired together. I loved that console! We sold the Harrison a few years back, I should have kept 8 channels in a sidecar for the filters!



How do you deal with low mids (specifically guitar) during the producing/tracking/mixing process? The projects you have worked on are very clear but still have power especially in the low mids. I often find myself struggling to get a good guitar/low mid sound that is powerful and doesn't make the mix sound muddy. Do you have any thoughts, tips, tricks or suggestions? - Rishi


Butch Vig: When I started working on the 1st Garbage album, I realized quickly that a lot of the songs were going to be very, very dense sounding, so I would do a lot of filtering as we built the songs. The board that we mixed on was a custom Harrison, and it had the most kick ass HP/LA filters! And I would take the filters and sweep them around on a guitar until it sounded like it had its own "pocket" in the song. If you soloed the track, it sounded like s**t, but in the context of the mix, it sounded perfect.

I started doing a lot of eq filtering when we recorded Siamese Dream, as the songs on those tracks were also very very dense.



When putting up your overheads, what are you generally looking for? - Worlez


Butch Vig: I generally like to use what I consider warmer mics for overheads, 251's or C-24's (if they are available)...but there are so many other variables, how hard is the drummer hitting? How complicated is the part? What is the sound of the room? And what cymbals did you choose



I read somewhere that Kurt didn't like singing in headphones and you set up a speaker system for him to track his vocals. As producer, what did you do to help get the best performance out of him ? What was a typical session tracking his vocals like ? Could you only get 5 takes out of him , then his voice was blown? - ScumBum


Butch Vig: I tried using the out of phase speakers with no Headphones but I didn't like it (I could hear the weird phase bleed), so I convinced Kurt to wear Headphones. We used a U67 on most of his vocals, I think it was the Neve pre, and probably an LA2A.

I was lucky if I got 4 takes. Usually 3...I would get him to do a warmup and adjust levels (and record it) and then get him to do a couple takes. He did not have the patience to do more than that, and usually blew his voice out anyway, so I would take anything I could get!

It's funny, I can hear the vocal comp on some songs...like Lithium. The verses are really obvious between the different takes.