By MITCHELL SIGMAN
Vig and Erikson on Synths,
Sounds, and Songwriting
GARBAGE MADE A GIANT SPLASH IN 1995 WITH THEIR
cleverly combining grunge guitars with ’80s-influenced synths,
noises, and Shirley Manson’s powerful, brooding alto. The band put
out three more
studio records before going on hiatus following 2005’s
Bleed Like Me. Now, Garbage’s
new album, Not Your Kind of People, is packing in the fans
on the supporting
tour. At a recent show in Las Vegas, drummer and producer Butch Vig (whose
production credits include Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Green Day) and
guitarist Duke Erikson talked to us about the signature sounds on the new
record. Between their gear geekery and penchant for sonic experiments,
sure about the album title—they’re certainly our
kind of people . . .
How pre-planned was the sound you were
going for on the new album?
Butch Vig: We didn’t want to
we just wanted to embrace things that
we like, including fuzzy guitars and beats, trashy
drums, pop melodies, electronica, and atmospheric
stuff , but I think just having time—almost
seven years since Bleed Like Me—gave us a
pretty good spark. The songs came really quick
over the course of two or three months—around
25 songs. It was the first record we haven’t done
in Madison [Wisconsin] as well; we did it guerillastyle
in Los Angeles. Our engineer has a small
studio and did some. Steve and Duke did some.
I have a little bedroom studio. It has a different
sound, but still sounds like us.
Do you develop songs from loops, or do you
start with chords on acoustic instruments?
Duke Erikson: It’s different
every time. It’ll be
a melody or a line, or someone will work at home
and come up with an almost fully-formed song, at
least idea-wise. By the time it’s done and everyone’s
had their way with it, it doesn’t sound anything like
it did ar first. Other times, we’ll have an approach
like, “Let’s do something that’s all synths and
guitars.” We’ll make temporary rules that usually
get broken, but that can sometimes guide you along
the way and lend a certain character.
Do you find yourself using more hardware
instruments and effects or are you leaning
DE: All of the above. We used a lot of
I hadn’t even heard of until I got in the studio.
Billy Bush, our engineer, has every plug-in you
can imagine, 20 guitars, 14 amplifiers—it’s like a
candy store. We had many plug-ins and a variety
of keyboards ready to go. And we used the Glamour
Box, this really f***ed up analog synth and
BV: It’s so ironically named.
The sounds that
come out of it are so ugly. We use a lot of Death
By Audio pedals too: the Fuzz War and Fuzz Gun.
What’s creating the vocoder sounds in the
breakdown of “Automatic System
DE: That was pretty fun. We had an idea
in that break for Shirley to repeat the phrase
“automatic systematic habit” over and over, so
she did and I played her voice using a soft-synth
The dense harmonica sounds in
real harmonica or synth?
BV: Real. Since I can’t really
it’s a dead simple part. Someone told me you
should always get a harmonica that’s down a
fourth. Turns out it wasn’t in the right key. If I
did it backwards [inhales], I could bend it down.
I ran it through Serato Pitch ’n Time and transposed
it to the key that the harmonica was in,
then played along with the intro.
There’s a distant resonant pad in the intro
and verses of “I Hate Love” . . .
BV: Th at was probably a Virus. I was
to get some stuff where you could hold the chord
and it would morph. When Shirley sang that, the
initial jam was about 30bpm slower—around 95
or 100bpm. It was heavier sounding. We sort of
lost interest in it, then one day we thought we
should speed it up and make it sound more “club”.
Once we did, I added some more synth stuff at
home and sped up the original vocal 30 or 40bpm
in Pitch ’n Time. Th e vocal sounded almost behind
the beat because it was initially so slow. Shirley
re-recorded the vocal at the faster tempo, it was
more on the beat but actually not as interesting,
so we used the time-compressed vocal.
How did you get the spacey piano sound in
DE: That’s a software
with Pro Tools, called MiniGrand. We EQed and
compressed it and added more reverb; it’s got a
nice 3D quality to it.
How about the distorted synth loop in the
intro to “Battle In Me”?
BV: Glamour Box! The Glamour Box is all
over that song.
DE: We even gated the Glamour Box on the
chorus, to get a rhythmic effect and to add some
white noise to the guitars.
It’s always seemed like sound design and
songwriting are tightly intertwined in
Garbage. . . .
DE: Sometimes when trying to find a sound
on a keyboard, you start scrolling through presets
going “no . . . no,” but as soon as you put a
pedal inline, you go, “Wow, cool!” It’s rare that
we’ll just play a preset. It’s not so much tweaking
within a synth, you have to do something to
f*** it up, make a keyboard sound like a guitar,
or some such thing. We used SoundToys Decapitator
on a lot of stuff also. Some of the drums on
“Blood for Poppies” are just hammered through
that. A lot times on keys or Shirley’s vocal,
we’ll start adding that in because you can really
manipulate the top and bottom end with the
lowpass and highpass controls—you can totally
change the harmonic content. We like to do that