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GREEN DAY

4/22/2011

The following interview with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and producer Butch Vig is excerpted from “A Simple Plan” (July 2009 EQ), a look at the studio sessions for 21st Century Breakdown.

Billie Joe Armstrong, on finding melody in the moment…

On our previous records, we were gathering experiences and allowing ourselves to write songs from exactly where we were at that moment. With this one, I really wanted to go deeper than I’ve ever gone before. This is the first time I’ve written songs at the piano, which allowed me a lot more freedom to use falsetto, and experiment with chord progressions I’ve never used before. I also wanted to hear melody—a line could be inspired by a musical or something Randy Newman would write. I love songs that are based in some tradition, from The Ramones to Simon & Garfunkel to the Beatles. My DNA is finding melody.

Butch Vig, on pushing the band’s creativity…

After mega success, a band will often return to their roots to make a stripped-down record. I was not into making that kind of record with Green Day. What I loved about American Idiot was that they were shooting for the stars. I was trying to push them to go into areas that were almost uncomfortable for them, but still make it sound like Green Day. How wide of a palette can they paint on? Where can they go in terms of style and execution, but still make sure it felt like them as a band? They would record, I’d make suggestions, then they’d go and rehearse for hours, and then they’d record some more. This went on for weeks. By early summer, we had a good rapport.

Vig, on his streamlined signal chain…

As high-tech as we are with current recording technology, we did 21st Century Breakdown as old-school as possible. We used signal paths with the least amount of EQ and processing involved so what was playing back sounded amazing. That is always a good step when you are starting to record an album—making sure everything sounds good dry with nothing done to it. As soon as you start over-processing, you will hit more problems down the line.

Armstrong, on his vocal method:

I’ve always been quick at recording vocals. It’s about warming up, getting my throat and chest in the right position, and then emotionally preparing to go for it. When you go through the demo process, you know what kind of emotion the song will need, and when to scream and when to whisper. This is why I like to take time and really get all the arrangements done and know what kind of vocal take I am going to end up doing before I start recording the album tracks. I sing about eight inches from the mic, and throw down around three takes. We’ll comp performances if necessary, but, most of the time, it’s all pretty much live takes.

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