Beyond his life as drummer of rock icons Garbage and the super-producer by your favourite albums by the likes of Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth, Butch Vig also loves to jam and collaborate. It was that spirit that led him to form 5 Billion In Diamonds – a ‘supergroup’, if you will, with Andy Jenks and DJ James Grillo, assisted by Ebbot Lundberg (The Soundtrack of Our Lives), David Schelzel (The Ocean Blue), Bristolian singer Helen White and musicians including the ‘Bristol Wrecking Crew’ of Alex Lee, Sean Cook and Damon Reece.
After dropping their self-titled album back in 2017, now they’ve announced their return with ‘Divine Accidents’. Described as “another imaginary soundtrack to another imaginary film” and indebted to the alt-pop sounds of the ’80s, their second record comes with guest spots from Temples frontman James Bagshaw and Martin Barnard from Alpha.
Check out new single ‘Weight Of The World’ below, as Vig tells us about what to expect from the album, the magic of film, Garbage’s plans for 2020, and if the world will ever have another ‘Nirvana moment’.
Hello Butch. This record is a lot of fun. It doesn’t sound like ‘a difficult second album’…
Butch: “That’s right, it was easier – and most of that came from us having our core singers. On our first record, we didn’t know who was going to sing. When we started ‘Divine Accidents’, we started writing songs specifically for the singers. Because of that, there’s more of a confidence to it.”
What can you tell us about the new collaborators you’ve brought on board?
“We have James Bagshaw from Temples singing on a song called ‘Let It Get Away From You’. We were trying to write a Tame Impala-esque song. We met James in London, he’s a lovely fellow from a very cool band. He ended up putting a tonne of guitars on it, playing synth and a really cool bass line, did the vocals, wrote the lyrics and really transformed the track. Martin Barnard from Alpha sings on another track, which is dark and the most orchestral-sounding song. That’s really cool.”
It seems to have a heavy ’80s influence?
“The first record had references to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and I can definitely hear some ‘80s references on this one – especially on a song like ‘Into Your Symphony’. I hear New Order, The Cure and The The in there. We feel we can borrow references from pretty much anywhere right now. By the next record, we’ll probably have some ‘90s hip-hop!”
Are you working through one decade at a time?
“Exactly! But then we’ll run out of decades, catch up with ourselves and have to write music that’s a decade ahead of us.”
What’s the plot for this ‘imaginary movie’?
“There was never a specific plot, but we might imagine scenes or reference a film. We watch a lot of movies when we’re recording. We got the title ‘Divine Accidents’ from watching a documentary on Orson Welles where he says, ‘The best thing about film-making is divine accidents’ and would talk about those mistakes that completely transform the film.”
What’s the mood and vibe of the album?
“It’s celebratory, even the darker moments. Ebbot brings the energy he had in Soundtrack Of Our Lives. You can hear The Who in there, the fast guitars. ‘The Weight Of The World’, the next single, sounds like what’s going on in his head. In this day and age with the chaos and disruption that everyone is dealing with, this somehow it feels like he’s embracing it. I feel like the songs are kicking against the disruption that we’re all feeling. It’s not a party record, but there’s a sense of optimism.”
What else have you been up to?
“We just finished mixing the new Garbage album, and we’re getting that mastered this week. That’s kind of a thrill. The day we went into lockdown in March was our last scheduled day in the studio. We thought we’d be finished a month later, but then the pandemic took hold and we had to finish everything by file-sharing and sending things around. I’m happy to say it’s finally done.”
Shirley Manson [singer] told us that the new Garage album had a Roxy Music feel to it. Would you agree?
“There are a couple of songs that have Roxy Music references, definitely. There are a couple that have Talking Heads references. I feel like the music is a schizophrenic cousin to our third record, ‘Beautiful Garbage’. Every song is a standalone piece. It’s quite eclectic. There are about four or five dark, beautiful songs, then some that are more jarring. We’ve gone in some sonic areas that we haven’t explored before, but it still sounds like Garbage. Even if we tried to not sound like Garbage, we still would.”
So it’s nice and dark?
“It’s dark and eclectic. A lot of Shirley’s lyrics seem very prescient, apropos of the world we’re in right now. She could see this crazy lockdown and all the racial busy and the craziness of the election.”
Having produced Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ which changed the face of music and united a generation, do you feel like a moment like that is still possible?
“Oh boy. I think it would be tough to repeat that zeitgeist moment. If ‘Nevermind’ came out this week, despite being a great record, it would not have the same cultural impact. It was perfect timing coming out when there was a shift in music and it felt like a revolution. I can see that happening again, but not in the same way. I saw something similar with Billie Eilish. I’m friends with her and Finneas and their mom was my daughter’s music teacher. They live down the street from us. Billie speaks for a whole generation of youth, much like Nirvana did with their zeitgeist moment.”
Can it be done with the same impact in the era of streaming?
“It’s so different how music is consumed now. Everything is so instant that it’s hard to build up some mystique. When you really want something but can’t quite get your hands on it, that makes it all the more powerful. Everyone has access to everything these days. Maybe someone will come along with a band who sounds like Nirvana but a lyricist who writes like Bob Dylan and is into hip-hop and doesn’t have Instagram or Facebook. Maybe they’ll do a couple of shows and disappear. If they did, people would go mental because they’d want them all the more. If you know who that is, please call them because I want to produce them!”
Is there anyone you dream of working with but haven’t yet?
“I get asked that all the time and can never really think of anybody. I will say this though: one session that I was totally stoked to do was a session with Neil Young, when we were doing the Sound City documentary with Dave Grohl. Neil was going to come down and jam with Dave and Krist, and I knew that if he did he’d say, ‘Yo, this is pretty cool, let’s go on tour’. It would be like Crazy Horse on steroids and he’d fall in love. We went out, set the studio up, Dave was ready, Neil’s crew brought down his guitar, amps and drums and everything was set to go. I went in at 10 or 11 in the morning, Neil was supposed to get there at 1pm then at 4pm we get a call saying that he couldn’t make it. We were all crushed.
“I just knew it was going to be one of those moments where you go, ‘Holy shit’. It didn’t happen. Dave still got to fly somewhere and interview him though. Maybe one of these days. I have immense respect for Neil Young because he has just done it this way. He’s written brilliant songs, written some bizarre records and he’s just following his own path.”
‘Divine Accidents’ is released on November 20 via MAKE records. Garbage will embark on a UK arena tour with Blondie next November.