Music on Film is a new podcast that discusses as many aspects of audiovisual marriage as possible. Guests might include a film composer, a director with a propensity for visionary soundtracks, a musician who is featured in a film, or in the case of today’s premiere episode, the subject of a music documentary.
In this episode, I speak with Butch Vig, the co-founder of Madison, Wisconsin's Smart Studios and the executive producer and interview subject of the new documentary, The Smart Studios Story. He is also a founding member of the band, Garbage.
In the the early years of Smart, Vig, who had a lifelong penchant for the act of recording in the most DIY sense, opened the studio namely to record his own music and the bands of his social circle. During most of its formative years, the studio acted as a sort of social clubhouse, and even as a home for co-founder, Steve Marker, who lived there for months when he couldn't come up with rent.
Things changed dramatically for Smart Studios as Vig developed his producing relationship with a new band called Killdozer, who I imagine borrowed their name from the unlikely classic TV-Movie of the same name. Vig and Killdozer recorded something like three records together throughout the eighties, but it was 1989's Twelve Point Buck that would attract the fanfare of the college rock community and, most importantly, other new bands in search of the right recording studio. One such band was The Smashing Pumpkins who brought to Smart the material that would become Gish. Another band was Nirvana, who loved the nontraditional recording of Twelve Point Buck so much that they trusted Vig with their new Nevermind materials.
The rest, as they say, is history. With a roster like this, it's no wonder that bands like Fall Out Boy, Death Cab For Cutie and even Tegan and Sara came running. And of course, this roster also includes Vig's own band, Garbage, who's breakout self-titled record is among the studio's finest.
Smart Studios thrived for 27 years before its 2010 closure on account of financial issues. But when one door closes another opens. This occurred in the form of a Madison filmmaker, Wendy Schneider, who saw the tragic end of an era as opportunity to offer a sort of aural history. The result is the excellent rockumentary, The Smart Studios Story, which features testimonials from participants like The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin, Against Me's Laura Jane Grace, Sub Pop co-founder, Jonathan Poneman, Nirvana's Dave Grohl, Garbage's Shirley Manson, Larry Crane, Duke Erikson, and of course, Smart co-founders Steve Marker and Butch Vig.
I had the privilege of speaking with Butch Vig earlier this year in Austin, TX where The Smart Studios Story had just had its premiere. We spoke of everything from the studio's early years, the science of recording bands as varied as Killdozer to The Pumpkins, listening to Nevermind at a party of speechless musicians months before its release, and finally, The Replacements for no good reason.
The film's DVD is out today to coincide with Black Friday, but it won't be available digitally until 2017. There are also a few dates left on the film's screening tour, first in the studio's hometown of Madison, WA on November 27th, then in St Paul, MN on the 29th, and finally in Seattle on Dec 2nd and 3rd, where you can also meet Butch, Mark and Wendy at Easy Street Records. Whatever your viewing method, if you're a lover of DIY studios and the punk or grunge (or whatever you wish to call it) brand of rock and roll, this film is a must-see!