In 1983, fed up with the lack of decent recording spaces around him, Butch Vig decided to do it himself and opened Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin.
It’s an ethos that has served him well throughout the years, recording the likes of Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, and Dave Grohl’s other band, Nirvana.
The studio is the subject of a soon-to-be-released documentary The Smart Studios Story, and while talking to Pitchfork about the documentary, Vig had some captivating things to say about the need for DIY spaces in the digital world.
The whole interview is well worth a read, but his comments about how “young artists need feedback and a local scene” resonated with us – especially in an age where digital connectivity can give the illusion of a scene and an active audience. Often, it ends up being a barrier.
He also touches on the tragic Oakland warehouse fire, in which 36 people were killed after a blaze broke out during a concert at DIY space Ghost Space, and how that venue rose out of necessity.
Check out the relevant quotes, below.
“There’s going to be less [available artist spaces] when Trump’s in office. Arts funding will be cut from government budgets. Everything will need to be even more DIY. Garbage have been all over the world for the last 20 years and we meet young, aspiring artists. Their stories are similar to how Steve and I felt when we started. They’re looking for creative outlets. Now technology’s made it easier for musicians to get music out via the internet. Communality, however, is still something artists search for. Collaborating, feeling a sense of community is nurturing. Young artists need feedback and a local scene.
“I’m sure you’re as saddened as I am by the Oakland fire. That was a counterculture that was necessary because those artists couldn’t find places to work. Scenes like that in funky warehouses exist all over the world. When you go into a club, it’s a thousand times more powerful than watching a band’s YouTube clip. You can send emails until you’re purple in the face, but you can’t replicate physically seeing art in a room. Humans need emotional attachment.”
This next section is heart-warming, and should serve an inspiration to anyone who feels the hurdles are too high.
“If you’re doing something DIY, you have to be madly in love and totally obsessed. Art isn’t defined by monetary success but by the amount of time you put into your craft. You have to be naïve, almost stupid, and not think rationally, otherwise you’ll be daunted and you’ll realise it’s too hard to make a living so you’ll become an accountant instead.
“If you want to create art today, you have to dive in and not think about what payout you’ll receive long haul. It has to be something that makes you feel alive while you’re working on it. If we had hired someone who had business acumen, maybe the studio would still exist. But I don’t think that would have allowed us to have the creative space we wanted.”