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Butch Vig recalls a wild night in Kansas City and producing two favorite albums

Garbage performs Tuesday night, July 18th at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Garbage performs Tuesday night, July 18th at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Garbage

On July 14, the Wisconsin rock band Garbage released “No Horses,” a stand-alone single, on its own label, Stunvolume. It was the band’s 32nd single and a sign that Garbage isn’t interested in becoming nothing but a greatest-hits/heritage group.

Garbage was formed in 1993, and in August 1995, it released its self-titled debut album, which would go double platinum, thanks to hits like “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When It Rains.” Three years later, its follow-up album, “Version 2.0,” went platinum, and Garbage was filling theaters and venues such as Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan.

After releasing “Bleed Like Me” in 2005, Garbage took a break from the studio that would last nearly seven years. With the release of “Not Your Kind of People” in 2012, it returned to the road regularly, including several stops in Kansas City, the most recent of which was at the Uptown Theater in on July 10, 2016.

Tuesday night, Garbage will take the stage at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on a bill with Blondie and two members of the Los Angeles punk band X, John Doe and Exene Cervenka.

Tuesday morning, Butch Vig, a veteran and highly decorated producer and the drummer for garbage, talked to The Star about the tour with Blondie, the need for more women to front rock bands and his wildest night in Kansas City.

Q: Garbage has performed in Kansas City several times. Do you have any specific memories of a trip to Kansas City?

A: One of my wildest nights out in Kansas City was pre-Garbage. I’d been doing a bunch of remixes and I got asked to do some work with U2. This was in the early ‘90s. They flew me down from Madison to Kansas City to see the Zoo TV stadium show, which was incredible. I’d never met them before so I was quite awestruck. I went to the amazing show and then they immediately took me backstage into the dressing room and William Burroughs was backstage with Bono. Then I went out with the Edge and we shot pool and drank beer until 2 in the morning. It was quite a night, friggin’ hanging with U2. Since then, Garbage has toured with U2. I still remember that night, though. I was a wide-eyed young producer from Wisconsin, hanging out with rock stars in Kansas City.

Q: I was looking at a list of the albums you have produced and either I forgot or never notices that you produced “This Perfect World” by Freedy Johnston, a favorite album of mine. How did that come about?

A: I love Freedy. I didn’t really know him that well. A friend of ours from Madison who had moved to the East Coast was working for Elektra Records. Freedy had been on a small label, Bar None, and he sent me “Can You Fly,” Freedy’s first record, and I fell in love with it. I think I told him that I’d love to work with Freedy, which struck Elektra as a bit odd because I was known for these big rock records — Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth and Nirvana. But I was getting bored with loud guitars, bass and drums, which was one reason I eventually got into Garbage — because I wanted a change of scenery.

I fell in love with Freedy’s songwriting. At the time he was living up near Woodstock, so I flew up and hung out with him and told him, “I have to do this record.” In some ways, it’s one of the best records I’ve made. I tried to stay really true to his songwriting and vision. There are some amazing songs on it. I just saw Freedy like a month or so ago and I told him, “You need to go on a ‘This Perfect World’ tour; I could come out and be the drummer. We could go out and do a handful of shows.” I love that album; it’s one of my favorites.

Q: How much experience had you had working with a singer-songwriter like him?

A: I grew up in a small town and was exposed to country music and polka music and Top 40 radio. I fell into punk rock because that was the scene in Madison at the time. As much as I love that, I never really felt elitist about the kind of music I listened to. So If you listen to Spooner or Fire Tower, the bands I was in with Duke (Erikson), we were sort of acoustic-pop driven and that in some ways wasn’t too far off from what Freedy sounded like. So it was easy for me to adapt to that.

Q: You also produced the “Sonic Highways” album. That seems like it must have been an interesting experience.

A: That was one of the most fun productions I’ve ever done. It was sort of like going on the road – we’d go to a city and set up and record for seven or eight days and then tear down and go to another city. It was traveling with the Foo Fighters, who were awesome, some of the coolest people in the world and an amazing band. We had a whole film crew, so we were like a small army. It was kind of by-the-seat-of-our-pants. We didn’t have a clear direction in each city we went into; we didn’t know exactly what would happen.

Dave Grohl had his hands full. He interviewed like 40 or 50 people in each city to get some context of the music scene. We’d practiced and rehearsed the music so we knew sonically what the songs would sound like. But Dave didn’t sing any lyrics until the last day in each city. He took lyrics from a lot of the interviews he’d done so the songs have a lot of references to the city that they were recorded in. That was a complete unique experience for me. The first thing I listen to are the lyrics when I hear a demo, trying to figure out sonically what’s going to work with it. This time we worked on the music for months and finish the lyrics the last day in each city. That’s what made it really exciting. Some cities had proper studios, others were real guerrilla-style where we running cables down alleys and setting up in people’s offices. The conditions weren’t always ideal, but it was about the vibe, and we had a gas.

Q: What are you working on these days?

A: Lately, I’ve been involved with Garbage; we just finished making the new single that came out last week, “No Horses,” and spent a lot of time working on that book, a coffee-table book called “This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake.”

I have sort of been gravitating towards film and TV. I started a project with two friends, two DJs in England, called 5 Billions in Diamonds. Our debut record comes out in August. It’s inspired by ‘60s and ‘70s soundtrack music. It has a large cast of characters special guests. It was really fun to make.

And I’m working on a film called “Puppy Love.” I wrote some songs for the film and I also helped the executive music supervisor bring in some of the other artists who will be involved with the film. That’s been really fun. It’s a great film, quite quirky and dark. The director, Michael Maxxis, and the producer, David Michaels, let me go free-range.

Q: Garbage has been a band for nearly 25 years. How have you survived all the seismic changes in the music industry?

A: After we took that long break — we were off between albums almost seven years before “Not Your Kind of People” came out — the landscape had changed dramatically in the music business. We were free agents, so we started our own label, which was very liberating. I think we don’t give a s---, and that has freed us up. We don’t feel like we have to prove anything. After our first couple records, we felt very competitive. Part of that comes from the label always telling you, “We need to have a bigger single,” “We need you to play here,” “We need some promotion on this.” Our first two records sold almost 5 million copies. And we traveled all over the world.

At this point we just want to make records for ourselves and make music that connects to us as individuals. I think we’re very lucky that we still have a fan base who relates to that. We find we have not only old-school Garbage fans but a whole new school of young fans who know all the lyrics to all our songs at our shows.

Q: What’s it like playing with Shirley Manson every night?

A: I can’t be objective about Shirley. I get to sit behind the drums every night and watch her. She’s an incredible singer but she can also be completely uninhibited on stage and let herself go. She’s unpredictable. It makes every night a unique performance.

There aren’t that many female rock singers fronting bands these days. There are a lot of female artists who want to be pop stars because, I guess, there’s probably more money and exposure in it.

There’s a whole generation of young women who pick up guitars and want to make a glorious noise but it’s so hard to break into the mainstream because it’s so inundated with pop music. In some ways, Shirley and Debbie Harry are kind of the last of a dying breed. So one of the things we’ve found at these shows is there’s a lot of women there, particularly young women, who are looking at Shirley and Debbie Harry, and I get a sense that maybe they feel somewhat empowered and inspired by seeing their icons play on stage. I hope that’s the case.

Q: Have you ever toured with Blondie before this tour?

A: No, this is our first time. We went out in Kansas City with them (Monday) night and had a great time. They’re awesome people. Shirley has known Debbie for a long time. Obviously, Shirley looked up to Debbie as one of her influences when she started up, and to be on stage together is kind of a dream come true. They couldn’t be cooler. Everyone in the band is lovely and funny and self-deprecating. It’s been a great tour; it’s going to kick ass tonight.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain


Garbage performs Tuesday in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. John Doe and Exene Cervenka open at 7 p.m.