Butch Vig has gone back to his Americana roots with new band The Emperors of Wyoming. The Garbage drummer, and producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind, has reunited with musicians he jammed with in Wisconsin 30 years ago to create a folk album - and is planning a European tour.
The man credited with creating the 90s indie sound might appear an unlikely aficionado of American folk and bluegrass. But he’s keen to demonstrate his passion for other kinds of music and his enthusiasm has allowed him record an album with The Emperors while also recording new Garbage LP, Not Your Kind of People. How? By jamming with his new band digitally and recording via file sharing.
“Most of the Emperor’s album was recorded in a downstairs bedroom in my Los Angeles home which I converted into a studio,” he says. All four bandmembers, singer songwriter Phil Davis, multi-instrumentalist Frank Anderson and his brother Pete on bass, and Vig on “drums and stuff”, live in four different cities and two different states.
“We did most of it via email,” Vig reveals. “Most of the songs started with Phil doing a rough version and sending it to us. Sometimes I would just put his original performance through my sound recording system and play along with it. Then, if everybody liked it, I would put drums down on the track and then upload it to an FTP. The others would then put their parts down on it.”
This unorthodox recording method worked, Vig thinks, because the musicians are all such good friends and can anticipate where each other were going, creatively, on particular tracks. “I’ve known them all for 30 years. We all started out playing in bands in Wisconsin. I was in Fire Town with Phil [Davis] and Duke [Doug Erikson], with whom I founded Garbage. Then Garbage got signed to a record label which wasn’t very good for Fire Town.”
“I imagine that, because we’ve been friends for so long, we’ve got kind of a sixth sense that comes from knowing what the others like.” The band would give each song a set of references, say Johnny cash or The Rolling Stones, and those would influence where each musician took the piece.
This piece-meal approach allowed Vig to juggle his work between Garbage and Emperors: “I was also working on a new Garbage record so it was pretty full on. I would get my daughter dressed and to school then get home and get a drums track down in 20 minutes for Emperors and then go to work all day on Garbage.”
He admits to being nervous about getting back together with his Garbage bandmates, including Shirley Manson, after a seven-year hiatus. “The Garbage tour is going really well. We’ve done 60 shows and we’ll be out on the road for another two months. It’s been a very long stretch and the travelling has taken its toll but everyone’s getting on great.”
“We were a bit nervous because when we stopped seven years ago weren’t getting on all that well. But all that baggage has just melted away this time. And Shirley has just been singing so great every night, the response from fans has been incredible.”
Despite his hectic Garbage touring schedule Vig is keen to put Emperors on the map in Europe “if there’s a demand for it”, he adds modestly. “We would like to play some shows next year but we’re all so busy. Even if it’s just a small demand – we’d like to do some festivals and clubs in England.”