Whenever documentaries are made about landmark moments/bands/albums in music history, the interviewees often talk about “sparks” or “magic.” Somehow, these people just knew that whatever they were working on was going to impact the history of recorded sound. So, it’s remarkably refreshing to hear that producer Butch Vig had no idea what he was helping create when he produced Nirvana’s Nevermind.
In a new documentary about Vig’s own Smart Studios, the producer reveals that when he went to make the album he “had no idea it was going to profoundly change my life. None of us had any idea. I think those sessions were fun because none of us had any expectations.”
In fact, Vig is so disconnected from the outsized nature of Smart Studios’ legacy that he wasn’t sure why anyone would want to do a movie about it.
“Hollywood likes to have a narrative arc, and we didn’t think that was there. Really, the story is more about a scene, a snapshot of time in the Midwest and how we started the studio and the bands that came in were very underground, very do it yourself. We were so far removed from the East Coast and West Coast we were left to our own devices, and slowly the bands that recorded there started to make some noise, which led to bands that exploded in the mainstream like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. The great thing [director Wendy Schneider] has down is put that all together into an interesting story.”
Though Vig didn’t think much of the Nirvana sessions that would put his study on the map, he does remember them as being particularly demanding. Vig says that Cobain’s mood swings made for an interesting dynamic in the studio.
“There were moments that were hard. Kurt would have intense mood swings and just shut down. He would just go sit in a corner and disappear into his own space. Krist (Novoselic) would say, ‘He just goes into these moods and he’ll come out in awhile.’ So we’d find something to do for a couple hours, tweak the drums or work on bass sounds, and all of a sudden Kurt would pick up his guitar, ‘Let’s go.’ He’d be back, fully engaged. I just had to gauge when the timing ws right to go for takes.”
The Smart Studios Story dives deep into the making of Nevermind and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and then follows the impact that came after. The film premieres tomorrow at the SXSW Film Festival.