Over the past two decades, Butch Vig has produced albums like Nevermind, Siamese Dream and 21st Century Breakdown (to name just a few), and yet he’s never helmed a project quite like the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light. Recorded — and mastered — entirely on tape, in Dave Grohl’s garage, it was a deliberately anachronistic disc that not only helped rejuvenate the Foos themselves, but was the kind of Herculean undertaking Vig won’t forget anytime soon.
And, in recognition of that undertaking — and the rave reviews Wasting Light has earned since being released last year — the Foos head into Sunday’s 54th Grammy Awards with six nominations, including a nod for the night’s biggest prize: Album of the Year. And in the lead-up to the show, Vig (whose work on the disc earned him a Producer of the Year nom) took time to look back on the making of Light, both the good — and the bad.
“I’m really proud of it. Even though it was in the garage and it was a lot of hard work doing it to tape, we had so much fun recording with Dave and the Foos. It’s one of the most fun albums I’ve worked on in my whole career,” he told MTV News. “There was something about making it, where every day was by the seat of your pants, but between the vibe of the band and the songs, God, we laughed a lot. Dave is one of the hardest-working men I know, but he loves to f— around. He’d be playing some guitar part and his daughter would walk in and he’d start making goofy faces, and we’re all on the floor. And he’s still playing the part f—ing perfect. He definitely embraced it. To be honest, I didn’t want it to end.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few setbacks along the way. Basically everything about Wasting Light created challenges at one point or another — including Grohl’s “no computers or else” edict.
“I’ve recorded hundreds of records on tape, but I haven’t for over 10 years, so when Dave told me he wanted to do it that way, I looked him in the eye and said, ‘OK, we can do this,’ but I thinking, ‘Oh sh–, oh sh–‘ the whole time,” Vig laughed. “And I started talking to our engineer, and he was like, ‘OK, we’ll record on tape, and then we’ll finish everything in ProTools.’ And then Dave said, ‘There are no computers in the studio. If I see a computer, I’m going to firebomb it and throw it out the window.’
“So, we knew it was going to be tape the entire process, and it was kind of crazy. Just the nature of that process forces you to completely rethink how you’re going to do everything,” he continued. “And the band has to be great, because you can’t fix anything. I’ve had a couple of younger bands come up to me and say, ‘Hey, Butch, do you think you want to do [another album on] tape?’ And my answer is always the same: ‘Only if you can play as good as the Foo Fighters.’ ”
And though he finished work on the disc more than a year ago, Vig said he still can’t help listening to Light (“My daughter is always playing it around the house, and my wife has it in her car constantly, so I’m still being inundated by it,” he laughed), which is rare for him. Then again, there are few albums he’s as proud of as this one, and not just because it scored a boatload of Grammy noms. It’s the memories he has from making the record that will stay with him forever — most notably, the making of standout track “I Should Have Known,” which brought him, Grohl and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic back together for the first time in nearly 20 years.
“To me, that song is definitely the darkest moment on the album, but I kind of find it exhilarating when I listen to it. I remember Dave was sitting a foot away from me when he sang it, and the whole vocal take [on the album] is the first performance he did,” Vig said. “And I just remember the hair on the back of my neck going up, going, ‘This is happening right now, he means all these words, they’re about people he’s known that he’s lost.’ … And I still feel that way when I hear it now.
“And, of course, after Krist finished his bass overdub, we sat and talked for about three or four hours. Dave and I split a bottle of wine; I think Krist drank about a half a bottle of whiskey. And it was great, because we were talking about when we were recording Nevermind,” he continued. “Not so much the actual song recording, but, like, driving over the hill to go see the Butthole Surfers, and Krist was driving after he’d had about a half a bottle of whiskey, and I’m going, ‘Dude, pull over, I gotta drive!’ and then Kurt seeing Rick Rubin at the Buttholes show and running up to him and pretending to shag his leg. It was a great experience having them both in the room, one I’ll never forget.”
Chaos! Profanity! Wardrobe malfunctions! Don’t miss Sway and James Montgomery live from the Grammys red carpet this Sunday, February 12, for a full three hours of mayhem, starting at 5 p.m. ET on MTV.com. And the fun doesn’t end Sunday: MTV News has you covered until the Grammy hangover wears off!