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Butch Vig on Garbage, 20 Years Later: 'We Had No Intention of Making Garbage a Full-Time Band'

Butch Vig of Garbage
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Butch Vig of Garbage

Now they're releasing a 20th-anniversary edition of their self-titled debut.

Back when Butch Vig and his compatriots were making Garbage's self-titled debut album 20 years ago, the quartet had no idea what it was getting into. And it certainly didn't expect to have a double-platinum success with three top 20 singles that would merit this week's release of an expanded 20th-anniversary edition and a tour to celebrate the mark.

"It was a grand experiment, and we had no intention of really making Garbage a full-time band," Vig tells Billboard. He formed the group with Wisconsin buddies Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, recruiting Scottish singer Shirley Manson from the band Angelfish. "I certainly had no intention of going on tour, because I wanted to maintain produce," adds the man who was behind Nirvana's Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins' Gish and Siamese Dream prior to Garbage. "I'm a studio rat, and I just assumed that we'd put the Garbage album out and then I'd go back to producing other bands full-time."

Instead, the group's success swept Vig and company into extensive touring, promotion and career planning that's yielded another four -- with a sixth on the way for 2016. Going back for the Garbage 20th Anniversary Edition, with its nine unreleased "G-sides" and bonus demos and mixes on the Super Deluxe Edition, was akin to looking at aural baby pictures from the then-fledgling band. 

"I felt that if the record failed it was gonna be my ass on the line because of my success with Nirvana and the Pumpkins," Vig recalls. "No one really knew Shirley, and Duke and Steve had only had success in the Madison scene, so I just figured if it flopped, I was gonna get hung out to dry. And I kind of wanted to focus the attention away from me onto Shirley, 'cause in a lot of interviews people would say, 'Oh, you made a Garbage record. What was it like working with Kurt Cobain?' -- and this would be with the four of us sitting in a room together! Luckily as soon as we started getting radio play, the focus quickly turned to Shirley, as it has been and as it should be. She's the MVP of the band, as far as I'm concerned."

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Garbage played all the songs from the first album live at varying points of its cycle, but playing it in its entirety this fall allows the group to revisit tracks that fell by the wayside, including "Dog New Tricks" and "A Stroke of Luck." Additionally, the group plans to play the G-sides as well -- including covers of the Jam's "Butterfly Collector" and Vic Chesnutt's "Kick My Ass" -- which are taking up the bulk of the rehearsal time. "Some of them we've never played," Vig acknowledges. "So we'll put the headphones on and just lay along with them so we can remember what the chords are and Shirley can remember the lyrics. After three or four times, we'll mute the track and actually attempt to play them on our own -- and see what a trainwreck it will be."

The tour starts Oct. 6 in San Diego, with 16 North American shows followed by a 10-date swing through Europe. Garbage nostalgia will continue with a coffee table book/oral history with previously unpublished photos and memories that occasionally conflict. "Shirley will say, 'Oh yeah, when we played this we did X,' and I'll say, 'No, we played Y,' and everyone's memory is somewhat selective and it's really funny to read the juxtaposition of those polar opposites," Vig notes. "I mean, we've never had the nasty heroin addictions or anything like that. We've had some ups and downs and all had to deal with some personal adversities, and there's a lot of funny weird stuff that happened to us too. That's all in the book, so it's fun."

The new year, meanwhile, will bring Garbage's next studio album, a follow-up to 2012's Not Your Kind of People. "We're 90 percent done with a new album," Vig reveals, with mixing slated for December and January and a hoped-for spring release, followed by summer touring. "We've sort of narrowed it down to about 12 songs from maybe 20-plus jams we came up with. About half of them sound like classic Garbage and half sound quite different -- not really experimental, but arrangement-wise we're just trying different things. The one thing that holds the songs together is Shirley's vocals, and her singing sounds amazing on all the tracks."

Vig, meanwhile, is also staying tuned for good buddy Dave Grohl's plans for a second season of the Emmy Award-winning Sonic Highway, which Vig co-produced. He doesn't have many details yet but says, "Dave's told me different ideas, and I think HBO's got some different ideas. I think the Foos will definitely be involved in some level but it won't be the exact same format of the last series. As far as I know they haven't figured out exactly how they're gonna do it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. When it was done last time we were really bummed; we were like, 'This has been one of the most interesting and unique projects I've ever worked on, and probably we'll never do something like this again.' We were completely spoiled 'cause it was such a gas so, yeah, I sure hope we do it again."


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