When the band Garbage got together to play music in early 2010, it was not with any intention of making an album. “We just sort of hung out for a couple weeks, drank some wine and played a bunch of music,” says engineer Billy Bush. “They just decided to get together and have fun being in a band again. With no label deadlines, it was really stress-free and creative. We recorded a bunch of stuff and they enjoyed the process, so it just evolved from there.”
That evolution resulted in Not Your Kind of People, the first Garbage studio album since 2005. As the band’s go-to engineer and tech wizard, Billy Bush documented the writing process, recording the sessions and doing the rough mixes. The initial sessions took place at The Pass, a studio the band set up in North Hollywood, while most of the later recordings were done at Bush’s Atwater Village studio, Red Razor Sound. Among the key tools used were two Shure ribbon microphones, the KSM313 and KSM353.
“I really like the [KSM]313 on guitar cabinets,” says Bush. “Unlike a lot of ribbons, which seem to make things sound kind of dark, the [KSM]313 is full-range, but smooths out the high end in a way that’s really pleasant and natural. I also love the fact that the two sides have distinctly different tone. You put it in front of something and if it’s a little too bright, you spin it around. Or vice versa. It’s kind of like two mics in one.”
Bush’s miking technique for the sessions was less formal than usual. “The whole point was to keep things really loose,” he reports, “so we were looking for a mic that would sound good on a wide range of amps, everything from an 8-watt Fender Champ to an old Silvertone that sounded great in the room, but not if you miked it up close. I probably tried 10 mics on it before the [KSM]313. It was exactly what I wanted – all the transients, no muddiness, and a nice, pleasant high end that doesn’t sound like it’s been shelved.”
Bush also found some creative uses for the bidirectional pickup pattern of the Shure ribbon mics, notably on the drum kit. “One thing I really like about the [KSM]313 is that you can use the polar pattern in a way that makes miking a snare drum really fun,” he shares. “It’s small enough that you can position it with the hi-hat in the null and still get a ton of snare on the bright side. You can also position it between the kick and snare, with the low side picking up the kick and the high side picking up snare, which sounds fantastic.”
Bush goes on to explain, “The bi-directional pattern of a ribbon can allow you to get a snare drum sound like you’ve never gotten before. You can position it to where it cuts out almost all the cymbal bleed, and yet still picks up the essential character of the snare, the way it should sound.”
Another unexpected application was the use of a KSM353 ribbon inside Butch Vig’s kick drum. “I put the mic in the middle and tilt it a little off-axis so the top is pointing toward the snare and cymbal,” he relates. “Being a figure-8 pattern, you get the sound of both the beater head and the outside head. Tilting it keeps the sound pressure from hitting the ribbon straight on, and sort of rejects the cymbals and snare. It’s really pretty cool.”
Interestingly, one Shure vocal mic also made its way into the final mix. “There’s one track called ‘Control’ where Shirley Manson’s scratch vocal, which was sung on a handheld Beta 58, actually ended up on the record,” Bush recalls. “She was just sitting on the couch and said, ‘I’ve got an idea here, let me put this down real quick.’ And when we were mixing the record, which was like a year later, we realized we had never recut the verses. Butch and I soloed it up and listened to it, and the Beta 58 just sounded cool, so it was like – done, awesome!”
It was exactly this sort of low-key, creative approach that made the new Garbage record possible. “The band was just having fun making music together,” says Billy Bush. “You can hear the sort of freedom and energy from the first album, just sort of embedded in the tracks.”
Not Your Kind of People is set for a May 14 release on the band’s own Stunvolume Records. Garbage is also planning to tour extensively in 2012, with spring dates in the U.S. and much of June and July in Europe.