By James Patrick Herman

Drummers are the most widely ignored band members. But in the case of pop visionaries Garbage, people aren't likely to focus on anything but the drummer. That's because he's Butch Vig.

The other members of Garbage aren't short on talent, but it must be difficult competing for attention with a producer credited with changing the face of the American music industry. Then again, Garbage is a friendly mutual admiration society. Vig's been pals with Duke Erikson (guitar/bass/keyboards) and Steve Marker (guitar) since his film-student days the University of wisconsin. When the three chose to parlay their cumulative studio savvy into their own band, they needed an exuberant frontperson. Enter Scottish singer Shirley Manson, whom Vig spotted warbling away on "120 Minutes" (she formerly fronted Angelfish).

"Butch's management tracked me down in Edinburgh," Manson recalls. "I didn't have any idea who he was, so I phoned up my record company and said, 'There's this guy who's interested in meeting me, do you know who he is? His name is Butch Vig.' And they were like, 'Whaaaat?' I had this image in my head of some goofy guy from the Midwest!"

Midwesterner though he may be. Vig comes off as anything but goofy as he speaks of his shift from rock-star producer to, well, rock star.

RG: What was it about Shirley that made you think she'd be perfect for Garbage?

Vig: Two things: Duke and Steve and I liked that she could sing in a low, intense voice. We iked the song, the kind of persona we got from it and the way she was understated. Instead of being over-the-top and in-your-face, she was more reserved; that made it more intense. A lot of the tracks on our record are that way. Instead of screaming and hollering and trying to be provocative that way, she alost does the opposite. She pulls it back to the point where it's almost like ready to snap. She stretches words out, hangs on them, she has great phrasing.

RG: As a producer, you've worked with many more men than women. Did you specifically want a female singer for Garbage?

Vig: Yeah, we wanted to work with a woman. For me, it's a different perspective and in a way it's more challenging. Shirley's extremely emotional; she kind of wears her heart on her sleeve. She'll be really reactionary, which is good because Duke and Steve and I are way more pragmatic -- we have a tendency to put things in a cerebral perspective. I've been in bands since high school, and I've never really worked with a woman this way. I just thought it would be really intersting, and it has been.

RG: Cynics might argue that Shirley's being used as puppet the way Phil Spector used his female singers.

Vig: Nothing could be further from the truth. We're definitely a band and these songs were all written together. We sweated tears and yelled at each other and went through all that bullshit that a band goes through. Personally, after working as a producer nonstop for the last five years, I kind of like it. It feels good to be in a band environment again -- writing and fighting and agonizing and also, at times, not making decisions. I'll stay in the back room drinking a beer while the rest of them argue about something.

RG: You must be so over the "godfather of grunge" repuatation. Is it one big shackle of a label now?

Vig: From a production standpoint. I had been doing all sorts of records before Nevermind took off. A lot of people think I'm from Seattle and that I recorded every band from Seattle -- people's perceptions are whatever they want them to be, I guess. I've been trying to do stuff that interests me. I'm just a huge sucker for pop music. I'm a pop geek. I did a record with Freedy Johnston because I absolutely adore his songs -- and he's like a folk singer-songwriter.

RG: Why did you finally decide to start a band?

Vig: I wanted to do things that were atypical -- not the kind of bands that people perceived I'd be associated with. We -- I started working with Duke and Steve -- started doing remixes for U2 and nine ich nails and House of Pain and Depeche Mode. Typically, we would erase and rearrange the song, and then we would record new noise loops, put new drum loops down, add new guitars. drums, keyboards and bass -- make it into a totally different thing. Basically, we got the idea to start a band because we had so much fun doing those remixes, which have a similar aesthetic to Garbage in that they're melodic and they're kind of noisy. I still love guitars, there are a lot of guitars at work, but also a lot of percussion grooves and syncopated rhythms. The cool thing about being a producer is that you're in the shadows, you're relatively unobtrusive. I have mixed emotions but I'm not anxious about it. We made a record and we want to do whatever we can to see that it's successful. I didn't want to make a cult record that disappears. I'm hoping people will buy it and take it home and fuck to it.