Butch Vig is the mastermind producer who helped Nirvana find their groove on Nevermind and elevated the group from cult status to seminal. His role in the grunge movement can’t be understated, and speaking to Far Out, he named the one album he’s most proud of producing. Spoiler alert, it’s not the one you’d expect.
Nevermind came around before Butch Vig had formed Garbage, and after his band, Spooner, had lost momentum. Instead of being downcast about ‘making it’ in the music business, he pivoted into a full-time role as a producer. He worked with an array of garage rock records but never tasted superstardom until he worked with Nirvana. It wasn’t just the band that garnered seismic attention after the zeitgeist album, but their producer too.
The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect, and MTV’s support led to Nirvana finding success wildly beyond their dreams. The network played ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on a constant loop; it was everywhere, and suddenly Kurt Cobain was one of the most recognisable men in America.
“Nevermind was a special record,” Vig fondly recollected to Far Out last year. “I mean, the band had been playing really well, and they were really tight and focused when they came into the studio. Kurt had written a bunch of amazing songs that were super hooky, but I had no idea it was going to be a zeitgeist moment. It just completely exploded; it really was like a revolution. It completely changed my life for the better, everybody I know closely associated with the band will say the same thing. No one saw it coming, but we’re all really thankful that we were along for the ride.
“The funny thing is, I started getting a lot of calls from publishers, from managers, major labels, and they thought that I had tapped onto some sort of formula,” Vig continued. “They thought I could take any type of artist, it could be a blues singer, it could be a folk artist, a country singer, and I knew how to make them sound like Nevermind. Some of the things I was pitched were absolutely ludicrous. I mean, it didn’t make any sense at all.”
Remarkably, Nevermind isn’t the album that Vig holds in the most sacred regard., however. While it’s undoubtedly the most important record he’s ever produced and one that transcended music into popular culture but it doesn’t take the winner’s medal on this occasion.
“Every record I’ve done is like a bastard child. They’re all beautiful in their own way,” Vig explains before revealing the identity of his proudest moment before the mixing desk.
“I have to say Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. I’m very proud of because that was a really difficult record,” he added. “It was before Pro Tools, Billy and I set the bar really high in terms of how sonically we wanted it to sound. I had to deal with all of the dysfunctionality of them as four people together, but I think the record still sounds really good. It has a sound to it that we kind of came up within the studio, and to me, it still sounds as powerful now as it did when I recorded it.”
Most notably in his decision process is the difference in roles that Vig played on Nevermind and Siamese Dream respectively. With Nirvana, it was about capturing the vigorous spirit and chemistry that the band had already created and was being cultivated in the underground rock scene. However, working with Smashing Pumpkins was a completely different task.
It was one that not only required working with notoriously difficult characters but using more advanced technology to create a groundbreaking sound. Pioneering is always far more difficult than polishing and Vig recognises the levels of work he put into each LP.
Most producers wouldn’t have been able to guide Smashing Pumpkins to this boundary-smashing location, and quite a few would have just quit. Vig persevered, and the final result speaks for itself.