Just when you thought Butch Vig’s creativity and limits in producing and experimenting, something new began glowing intensely like cats’ eyes at night: an, as he calls it, “alt-country” band called Emperors of Wyoming with some of his friends from Madison.
“The band consists of Phil Davis (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Frank Anderson (lead guitar, pedal steel, banjo), Peter Anderson (bass, backing vocals) and me on drums, percussion and backing vocals,” he says. “When we formed The Emperors of Wyoming, we wanted to channel the sound of bands we adore—Credence, The Byrds, Johnny Cash, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young—into the modern world by using cutting-edge technology to record traditional country instruments.”
For that reason, among others, this new project will certainly be memorable, influential and just as avant-garde as the technique they utilized.
“It’s possible EOW are the first alt-country file sharing band, as each of us recorded our parts at our home studios and sent the files to an FTP site for our guitarist, Frank, to put together,” he explains.
The album was released last September on Proper Records in the UK and Hillbilly Digital in the US, though in order for it to reach its remarkable result, it had to go through many stages.
“A song would usually start with Phil emailing an acoustic demo,” says Vig. “He lives in Madison, WI, and has a small home studio in his basement. I would load his demo into my ProTools rig and record a drum track at my home studio, GrungeIsDead, in Silverlake, CA. For most of the songs I used my Drum Workshop acoustic kit, and I also did some programming on several tracks with BFD. Then, I would post the stereo drum mix to my iDisk and send a link to the boys. Phil would redo the acoustic guitar, record lead vocals and post. Frank would do a lot of overdubs at his home studio in Appleton, WI: guitar, pedal steel, lap steel, organ, piano, accordion and banjo and post them. Then, Peter would add his bass line and sometimes 12-string guitar at a studio near Sacramento and post. All four of us would occasionally add backing vocals. I also added percussion, a few guitar parts and keyboards for texture. This writing and recording process went on and off for about two years, until we felt like we had a batch of songs that would work well together as an album.”
There were still just a few more crinkles to smooth out in order to wrap up everything neatly, though.
“Frank is the ‘keeper’ of the files,” Vig adds. “He had the task of getting the final arrangements together. After Frank did rough mixes and we felt the album was finished, Frank took the session files to Alex Smolinski’s Wonder Wonder Sound in Milwaukee and Alex mixed it. Alex’s wife, Kim Henry, also added a few vocal harmonies at the 11th hour. Finally, we had Dan Hersch at D2 Mastering in Atwater Village master the album. Both Alex and Dan’s skills helped a lot in giving the album a very cohesive feel.”
Despite feeling confident about the album, there were still cliffhangers throughout the entire process.
“The interesting thing about recording the songs via file sharing is that I never know how the song will end up sounding,” Vig says. “Since everyone records their parts on their own with no direction from the peanut gallery, we each have to trust our instincts and sensibility as to what would sound good in the context of an Emperors song. I was constantly surprised by the path each song took. The end result would usually sound quite radically different from where I thought it would go when I heard the first demo!”
However, the endeavor was entirely worth the experimentation and effort.
“’I’m Your Man’ was one of the first songs we wrote,” he says. “We tried to channel Johnny Cash in the verses and The Rolling Stones in the chorus. The song came together very quickly and helped set the template for the album.”
During the makings of this album, Vig still fulfilled his fatherly responsibilities with enthusiasm and maintained that when he continued his days with band business.
“I would make breakfast for my daughter and see her off to school, then go down to my home studio, download a new demo from Phil, and proceed to record the drums in my pajamas,” Vig admits. “It’s funny; I really love electronic music, but I found the process quite liberating to record from an old school traditional point of view.”
You won’t be disappointed! To learn more about Emperors of Wyoming, buy their album and check out tour dates, visit their website here.