Garbage with Ted Kelly
Garbage with Ted Kelly: On Tour and On The Record
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You don't know whatcha got till it's gone...
On Tour and On The Record
I recently sat down with the band in Washington, DC at the 9:30 Club, consistently voted the best concert venue in America. If you haven't been to the venue check out the Garbage video "Sex is Not the Enemy". You will get a great feel for the 9:30 Club, the bathrooms, and how really pissed the fans get when Shirley Manson (lead singer/ occasional guitar) and the band get 'arrested' and hauled off stage. Butch Vig, legendary producer, co-founder and drummer/percussionist for the band, said "the director wanted the 'arrests' to seem real for the video, and the audience didn't know that the police storming the stage were actually actors." So how did that work out for ya? "The crowd was pissed man, they were like booing the cops who were just actors." It did make for a great video. "We're not gonna try that again," added Steve Marker (guitar/keyboards & and co-owner of StunVolume).
In a1999 interview with Charlie Rose, the band hinted at starting a label. They finally got around to it and, in the words of Duke Erikson (bass/guitar/keyboards/percussion & label co-owner), they are "delighted to having only ourselves to answer to, not having to answer to the corporate bullshit." Will other artists be signed to StunVolume? "It's possible", said Marker, "anything is possible'we'll see how it goes with us as the guinea pigs". One year into the new label they can count a string of top five hits worldwide from "Not Your kind of People." Not too shabby for the first release from a new label.
Since 1994, the band has been on the cutting edge sonically and marketing-wise. They made great use of social media as pre-promotion for the album and tour. They created short films on the making of each song on the album. These were shot by both the band members and director Julie Orser for use in a well-crafted EPK (Electronic Press Kit). Video clips can be viewed online and via the band's Facebook page and website.
In addition to the short films, Orser directed the stylish, surreal video for "Big Bright World". "Blood for Poppies", the first video release from the album, was shot by creative fashion photographer and videographer Matt Irwin. That song also features Steve Marker's daughter, Ruby, and Butch Vig's daughter, Bo, on backing vocals.
Rounding out the family theme, Duke Erikson's daughter, Roxy, an acclaimed photographer in the U.K., has joined the band on tour to shoot video and chronicle the tour in photos.
The band members are multi-talented and multi-faceted. I wanted to learn about the process for their lyrics. "Everybody writes the lyrics, everybody writes the music," said Erikson. "On certain albums Shirley has written the bulk of the lyrics. On "Not Your Kind of People" it was spread out but Shirley has probably written most of them."
The band, which has been together for 19 years, is a team of brilliant, creative collaborators when they come together for albums and tours. But when not in "Garbage mode" all have interesting personal projects. Shirley has television, film and solo music projects, while Steve, Butch and Duke ran Smart Studios, and I knew of Duke's association with the U.K. label LOMAX from the years that I produced the "@ Abbey Road Sessions" for WorldSpace and XM Satellite Radio with Billy Sabatini and Bill Rock. Lomax provided some brilliant talent for the global broadcasts during our five years of "Sessions" in the legendary Studio 2 at Abbey Road. So what's with this love affair with Britain, Duke? "My first love is British invasion music", said Erikson. His first band was called The British. What is Duke up to with Lomax today? He is "working on a pretty mammoth project that is eight years in the making. It's 'The History of American Music'' we're in some good company."
On the subject of documentaries, the much anticipated film about the legendary Sound City Studio was just released. Vig worked for quite a while with Dave Grohl on the soundtrack for the documentary, which is entitled "Real to Reel." The soundtrack will be available march 15th along with the DVD release of the documentary. The entire Sound City Project brought together stories, new performances and a resulting album from many of the artists who recorded at the Van Nuys studio that was housed in a rather shitty neighborhood. I gotta call it like it and was'picture brown shag carpeting on the walls and chipped, aging tile and sound baffling that, much like Abbey Road Studio 2, was never touched, moved or updated for fear of losing the exact acoustic ambiance.
Vig shared the origins of the documentary: "Dave purchased the console where we did Nevermind over 20 years ago'" That console is a Neve 8028, one of only four in the world, built by British electronics engineer Rupert Neve. The rarity, size, and history (over 100 certified gold and platinum records recorded on that particular console) could have placed the mixing board in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it found working retirement in Dave Grohl's home studio. Over the years that mixing board had some brilliant engineers and producers sitting behind it, from Butch Vig for Nirvana's "Nevermind" to Rick Ruben for Johnny Cash and Jimmy Iovine for Tom Petty's "Damn the Torpedoes".
The documentary chronicles the origins and evolution of the studio while sharing insider stories, such as how the studio and owners were the catalyst for bringing Mick Fleetwood together with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks for the recording of 1975's Fleetwood Mac album to the subsequent recording of the monumental Rumours album. The long list of artists recorded at Sound City includes Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Metallica, Weezer, Frank Black and the Catholics, Elton John, Fear, Rick Springfield, Grateful Dead, Nine Inch Nails, Foreigner, BTO, War, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Leon Russell, Barry Manilow, Pat Benatar, Bill Cosby, Rage Against The Machine, Foo Fighters, Kid Rock, Neil Young, Arctic Monkeys and'ready for this'even Charles Manson.
The resulting collaborations on the Reel to Real soundtrack album are seen in the documentary unfolding before our eyes. We get to witness some of the most current, creative, relevant and transformational performances by music stars the likes of Trent Reznor and Josh Hommes, to Stevie Nicks, Lee Ving, Rick Springfield and Paul McCartney, with support from members of Nirvana and Foo Fighters: Grohl, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear, and Taylor Hawkins .
The Walls couldn't talk, but the people who lived and breathed rock history did. Vig continued, "The studio has an amazing legacy and Dave got in his head that he should start interviewing people and their stories about the studio and everybody said yes. Probably 150+ artists have come in and do these amazing interviews. We have been getting different musicians who had worked there to come in and collaborate together and write music for the soundtrack."
Sound City was honored with special selection for Sundance 2013. The documentary, a directing debut for Grohl, has been met with critical acclaim by everyone, from Pete Travers of Rolling Stone to the often critical New York Times. The film footage and story edits cut to the music like a finally crafted hit song weaving through the ups, downs, successes and eventual obsolescence of a studio and time that cannot be forgotten. This brilliant documentary pays perfect homage to the legacy of studios like Sound City, Smart Studio and Abbey Road. It successfully portrays what the studio truly meant to those who were employed there in engineering, design, and management, or who recorded, produced and performed there.
"...you don't know whatcha got till it's gone'"
The closing of Sound City occurred around the same time that Vig, Marker and Erikson's own "Smart Studio" in Madison, Wisconsin shut its doors after 26 years in operation. When I asked Erikson, Vig and Marker about the Smart Studio design and the parts they played, Erikson shared that Smart Studios was designed by Russ Berger, an architect from Texas, but "we all nailed the boards together" said the trio in harmony. A myriad of local and national bands would travel to Madison just to record in the studio and work with one or more of the talented trio. Bands, including Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, found their voice and fame from the music made at Smart. Marker said, "a lot of really incredible music came out of that place." What was it like when the doors to Smart finally closed? "It was terrible'it was a big part of our lives'for all of us", said Marker, "it is really sad that it isn't a business that can work anymore." Vig added, "Unfortunately, the nature of the business with everyone having access to digital recording and computers, you can make great records in your basement now so bands don't want to spend even a couple of hundred dollars a day to go into a nice proper studio."
As technology continues to advance and change happens you can look at Smart Studio and Sound City as the perfect metaphor for any person's life or work: the ups, downs success, sadness and eventual passing. Combine it all and you arrive at the legacy and impact that one life, one business or one studio can make. Many times, the clarity of that legacy only becomes evident long after the doors have closed or a last breath has been taken. We realize the magnitude of what is now gone and the void it has left behind. In the documentary, Grohl described the journey he took creating "Sound City" as "becoming something much bigger" (than a documentary about the Neve control board/mixing console) and he posed the question, "in this age of technology, where you can simulate and emulate anything, how do we retain that human element'.?"
I wondered if the trend away from the traditional process for artist development helps or hinders the creative process. Vig feels it's "liberating, you don't have to find a manager and get signed to a label and go through this whole system the way it felt like it was when we started out." I asked whether fixing it in the digital edit causes a lack of creativity in real time? "The only thing I don't like about it, I sort of find a lot of recording by young bands are getting very generic sounding", answered Vig. "I think they use the same plug ins '.and use the same drum machines'things like that'but, ultimately, if you write a great song and make a great recording you can go viral from your bedroom studio to millions of fans on the internet in less than twenty four hours and that's pretty cool."
There is a consistent theme in the music of Garbage, and it is evident in the tracks from "Not Your Kind of People." The band heralds the unique individual, one who takes pride in being different. "That's kind of what we have always written about, really'being different, being on the outside." Maybe we're being a little more explicit about it on this record", said Erikson.
After having the opportunity to interview and spend time with the band members in London, Vegas and Washington, DC, I find them to be really normal people who are super fucking talented. When I shared that observation, their humble reply was, "we are really normal, somewhat talented people."
Butch Vig, Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Shirley Manson dominate and stalk a stage, befitting their sound and tens of millions of albums sold. But, in reality, these global rock stars are actually more your kind of people than not. Normal, but super fucking talented.
So, what's the take away: Don't miss Garbage on tour. Buy "Not Your Kind Of People" the band's latest album on their new StunVolume label. Download the Sound City documentary or buy it on DVD, and buy the Sound City soundtrack album "Real to Reel" on Dave Grohl's Roswell/ RCA label. Be on the lookout for Duke's upcoming documentary with Lomax on the history of American Music'and, if your kids perform on your album, get them to sign releases'just to be safe (watch my video interview to find out what I mean).
Ted Kelly, Senior Music Editor: Ted Kelly, an internationally recognized digital media pioneer, brings his unique interview style, commentary and proven ear for new talent to AND Magazine. Ted Kelly’s over two decades at the forefront of music and media ranges from major market, national and international morning radio personality to executive management for some of the world’s largest media companies in New York, Washington DC and globally. As Program Director of the world's first and only global pop music channel,... (more...)