A Great Interview with Producer Butch Vig on Music and the Creation of Nevermind

This will be hard to believe for people of a certain age, but Nirvana’s Nevermind turns 25 this September. The Daily Beast caught up with Butch Vig, the man who produced the album, and persuaded him to tell a few stories and make a few comments about the “mediocre” state of today’s music. You need to read this.

He is the George Martin of grunge: a mild-mannered Midwesterner in glasses and a vest, surrounded by young fellas in tattered T-shirts and jeans. And over the years, in addition to serving as a founding member in the bands Garbage, Spooner, and Fire Town, Butch Vig has established himself as one of the preeminent producers in rock music, overseeing albums for the likes of Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Foo Fighters, and more.

Many of these albums were recorded at Vig’s recording studio, Smart Studios, in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. The history of the studio, one that played an integral role in the rise of grunge rock, is chronicled in Wendy Schneider’s new documentary The Smart Studios Story, which had its world premiere at SXSW.

“I think it turned out pretty good!” says Vig, seated across from me at a bar in Austin, Texas, the day after the film debuted.

Vig’s lorded over so many great albums, from The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream to the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light, but he’ll always be remembered for producing the Nirvana classic Nevermind, which turns 25 this year. Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl famously laid down the tracks at Smart Studios, with Vig ironing out the album’s crisp-yet-raw sound.

The Daily Beast sat down with Vig to discuss the 25th anniversary of Nevermind, the current state of music, and more.

There’s a scene in The Smart Studios Story where, after Nirvana lands a big magazine cover, you seem to be particularly proud of vanquishing hair metal. Was that a point of pride for you and everyone involved in the grunge scene? 

Before I did Twelve Point Buck [with Killdozer], I was in a band called Fire Town and we went to New York and spent about four months there making a pretty expensive record at the time for Atlantic. We were a sort of jangly Midwestern pop band, like Tom Petty or The Byrds, but Atlantic was having all its success with acts like Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, and Skid Row. They completely ignored us when the record came out. We went on tour and they pulled the plug on the record about six weeks later. I hated hair metal. So when Nirvana came in and drove the nail in the coffin of hair metal, there was a bit of satisfaction and payback there.

Keep going.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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