If you’ve pumped your fist to a rock song in the past 25 years or so, you probably know the work of Butch Vig. The veteran producer and musician has been responsible for some of the most dynamic, memorable and important rock music of the past few generations, having sat behind the boards on at least three stone cold classics and getting his hands dirty for many more. Vig turns 55 years old today, which means he gets to have any flavor of ice cream he wants.
Vig (real name Bryan) got his start in Madison, Wisconsin where he attended college. His first brush with professional musicianship came when he began contributing soundtrack pieces to low-budget films. He was also a member of a number of bands, including combos with future Garbage bandmates Duke Erikson and Steve Marker. Two of those bands — Spooner and Fire Town — released albums and scored minor success in the indie world, but Vig found that he was more suited for production work.
His big break came in 1991, when he produced Smashing Pumpkins’ debut album Gish and also took the controls for Nirvana’s legendary Nevermind. Vig became a go-to guy for alt-rockers looking for a big, complicated sound. The hits kept coming with Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream (perhaps the purest example of Vig’s aesthetic), Soul Asylum’s Let Your Dim Light Shine, L7’s Bricks Are Heavy and two albums for Sonic Youth (Dirty and Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star).
Vig went back to playing music full time in 1995, when he released the first album by his new band Garbage, which featured Erikson, Marker and former Angelfish singer Shirley Manson. The group helped blend together ’90s alt-rock sensibilities with futuristic production tricks, dance music, New Wave and whatever else made for great arena-sized beat science. Though the band hasn’t released new music since 2005, anticipation for new music remains high.
In recent years, Vig has continued to produce high-profile material by Green Day (he won a Grammy for his work on 21st Century Breakdown), Foo Fighters, Muse (their song on the soundtrack to “Eclipse” is a Vig production) and AFI. He is also responsible for Against Me!’s White Crosses, one of the best album of 2010.