Soundtrack Of My Life: Butch Vig

Legendary rock producer and Garbage drummer

The first song I remember hearing

Barbra Streisand – ‘On A Clear Day’

“My mum was a music teacher and she loved musicals. She would always buy the sheet music to the musical and figure out how to play it on piano. After I moved out and went to university, I’d go back for a holiday and [we’d] gather around the piano and that was one of the songs that she inevitably would sing. [Streisand] holds these notes and her voice is so pure and ethereal. I used to imagine this angel floating around in the sky.”

The first song I fell in love with


Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Mrs. Robinson’

“I didn’t see The Graduate until much later [the 1967 film ‘Mrs. Robinson’ was written for],  but my mum pointed out to me that the lyrics were very topical at the time, late ‘60s. My parents would have parties and they would put the song [on] and my brother and sister and I would get tennis rackets and lip sync guitar while singing along.”

The first album I bought

The Who – ‘Live At Leeds’

“I met Roger Daltrey when a band I was in, Fire Town, got signed to Atlantic Records. We went and did the new music seminar in New York in 1988 or ‘89. [Atlantic co-founder and president] Ahmet Ertegun called all of us up to his office to take a photo with all the [other] new artists and Roger Daltrey had a solo record coming out. I’m like: ‘Holy shit there’s Roger Daltrey!’ We lined up and he was right next to me, smiling and going ‘blood sucking leeches…’ Cut to a couple of years later, I was on tour with Garbage in New York. We’re staying in a hotel and I get in the elevator to go to soundcheck, the door opened and Pete Townshend was in the elevator. I should have said something, I just choked. I got so freaked out I just stood there and looked at my feet all the way down, thinking ‘I should just tell him I’m in a band and I’m a record producer and The Who is my favourite band’. I didn’t say a damn word, I kick myself for it. That being said, Pete sorta glanced at me like ‘I don’t want to be bothered’.”

The first gig I went to


Glen Campbell – Dane County Coliseum, 1960s

“My parents took me to see Glen Campbell at the Dane County Coliseum, which is about 90 miles from my hometown in rural Wisconsin. It was an amazing show, but about three or four months later, [a friend’s] dad offered to drive us to a rock show. We had two choices, Steppenwolf or Jimi Hendrix. And we chose Steppenwolf. I didn’t know who Jimi Hendrix was, he wasn’t really on Top 40 radio [at that point], and Steppenwolf had some big radio hits and they were awesome. It was the first time I saw people smoking pot. Years later I kicked myself knowing I could have seen Jimi Hendrix play.”


The song I wish I’d written

The Verve – ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’

“My wife and I got married in the woods up in Northern California, and we played this song when we walked down to the glen where [the ceremony was]. I love it for its majesty – and the the lyrics that Richard Ashcroft wrote. It sounds kind of timeless.”

The song I do at karaoke

1910 Fruitgum Company – ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’

“I’m pretty bad at karaoke, and the only way I can get up and do it is after two or three glasses of wine. This was a one hit wonder from the ‘60s – some karaoke places don’t have it. I actually also played it a couple times on guitar with a pickup band in pubs. It usually goes down pretty good because it’s really stupid and easy to figure out on the fly.”

The song I can’t get out of my head

Original Cast Of A Chorus Line – ‘Sing!’

“When I go to bed at night, whatever I’ve been working on in the studio sticks in my head, and it drives me crazy. My daughter Bo is putting on a review of theatre music and she wants me to sing [‘Sing!’] with my wife for this fundraiser she’s doing for a school. It’s quite complicated, there’s a lot of back and forth singing between the two and they have to finish each other’s lines. Can we actually pull this off? My daughter’s insisting that we do, so it’s going to take me a lot of rehearsing to get up to speed.”

The song I can no longer listen to

Steve Miller Band – ‘Abracadabra’

“I hate this. I think it’s one of the worst songs ever written. It’s just: ‘Abra-abracadabra, I’m gonna reach out and grab ya/I go up, I go down, we go round, round, round/Abra-abracadabra, I want to reach out and grab ya’. The lyrics are worse than a third-grade nursery rhyme. Whenever it comes on the radio I have to turn it off immediately. That’s not one of his better numbers.”

The song that makes me want to dance

Ramones – ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’

“Whenever I’m going to see a band, I still put on the Ramones because it just gets my adrenaline going. It’s the greatest punk rock record ever recorded – how can you not get your adrenaline pumped when you put on the Ramones first album?”

The song I want played at my funeral

Joseph Arthur – ‘In The Sun’

“I love bummer songs. A lot of people at funerals want to have something rousing so people don’t feel sad but I think it’s okay to remember life and to feel alive. Bummer music always makes me feel alive. Joseph Arthur taps into something in the lyrics about losing someone and recognising that you still want them but they’re never coming back. It tears me up every time I hear it. And then after that, hoist a beer in celebration.”

The song that reminds me of recording with Nirvana

Nirvana – ‘Something In The Way’

“That was the hardest song to do by far on ‘Nevermind’. The other songs we tracked pretty quick – once we were set up, had the sounds and everything, they nailed everything in one or two, three takes tops. Then we go back and I get Kurt [Cobain] to overdub some guitars or double guitars or double some vocals and things. We tried doing ‘Something In The Way’ out in the studio and it just didn’t work, the drums were too big and loud. Kurt tried an electric guitar, he couldn’t play it on acoustic [at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California] because the room was just too loud. So out of frustration he came into the control room and started playing it on the couch. And I said, ‘Hold on, let’s just record it right here’. So I kicked everybody out of the control room, brought a mic in, turned the fans off and unplugged the phone and we recorded him on acoustic guitar there and then, and built the song from it.

“We moved from the big studio into the small studio and I had to go back and overdub Krist [Novoselic] and Dave [Grohl], and that was hard because they were used to all play together and now they had to play to this real mellow acoustic [track]. We drove Dave real crazy because he’d start playing and immediately it would start getting louder, I’d go ‘You have to play it quiet!’ [but] Dave can’t help himself. He played it great every time but it was always getting louder and louder. After five or six takes he finally nailed one that had a really good dynamic to it. You can’t get starker than that [song]. Kurt’s very much writing about himself. He could be the guy under the bridge [in the lyrics]. The band was in great form [making ‘Nevermind’], they were excited to be down there and they practiced their asses off, they were ready for it. I didn’t know at the time that they practised every day for four or five months, six months. They’d just gotten a credit card, and were staying in a condo with a swimming pool, they could drive down to Malibu and walk on the beach all night long. It was a heady time for them and they were playing great, they were all upbeat and it was a great record. We did it in 16 days, really fast.”

Butch Vig’s new album, Divine Accidents’ by 5 Billion In Diamonds, is out now on Make Records