Garbage - Shirley Manson on the 20th Anniversary of Their Debut Album
Old Album, New Tricks
Oct 08, 2015
Issue #54 - August/September 2015 - CHVRCHES
When Shirley Manson auditioned for Garbage in 1994, it was a famously ill-fated first tryout with fellow Garbage band members Butch Vig, Steve Marker, and Duke Erikson that almost left the partnership aborted before it began. She had already completed stints in two bands, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie and Angelfish. Each band saw a modicum of success in the U.K. and beyond, yet Manson was hardly an experienced pro. First, though her career in music had already spanned 10 years, Manson had never written a song of her own, a fact that would quickly change with her new band. And second, she was plagued by insecurities that did not completely abate with her new partnership.
"Back then, I had a lot of self-doubt," says the Edinburgh native, from her home in Los Angeles, where she has lived since 2006. "I was incredibly aggressive. I'm quite shocked now, looking back. I see it purely as my own fear, but when people are fearful, they are aggressive, and I was definitely that way inclined."
Garbage has recently convened to revisit its self-titled debut, as 2015 marks the album's 20th anniversary. The band has reissued Garbage with remixes and unreleased versions, and has just embarked on a tour that will see the album played in its entirety, with all relevant B-sides. Speaking with Manson today, she is every bit as vibrant and outspoken as she was in interviews from the 1990s. Her answers are thoughtful and candid, peppered with bits of bold, unrestrained laughter. Looking back, she is proud of what she, Vig, Marker, and Erikson created in 1994 and 1995, yet she's a bit surprised by what the process of revisiting has revealed to her.
"During the course of our first record, I felt very combative with the world," says Manson. "I felt like people were really suspicious of us and attacked us a lot and criticized us a lot, and now looking back I'm shocked at how well-received we were. I had no idea at all. My perspective was that we were just being dismissed, and in retrospect that was not the case. And that has been incredibly strange for me. We got maybe a handful of negative reviews and the rest were glowing. Somehow I just gleaned the negative. I sort of invested my reality into the handful of negative reviews that we got, and now that I look back, it's just reams and reams and reams of positive affirmation that we got at the time. But I did not absorb any of that."
It was something that inevitably informed the band's entire career, as Manson says: perception informing reality.
"In some ways, though, I'm grateful that I didn't allow any of the positive stuff really to infiltrate our consciousness too much," she says. "I feel like as an artist, it's good to be combative and good to be questioning all the time. I think it was a great motivator and a driver for us. It's a little taxing on you as a person, but in terms of a band it really imbued in us an incredible work ethic. We toured like beasts. We played all over the world, and as a result of that we galvanized a really loyal fan base internationally, and that's difficult to do."
When Manson initially joined the band, her ambitions were modest: "My hope was that it would last more than three weeks, and that we wouldn't get publicly ridiculed," Manson says with a laugh.
But when Garbage started taking off, spurred by the response to the album's first single, "Vow," initially released on a Volume magazine compilation before the album was even completed, things went from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye.
"It was like being stuck on the back of a Learjet," says Manson. "It was absolutely mental. All of us were convinced that we had just a small window of opportunity, so we just threw ourselves into it like maniacs. We played constantly and we traveled constantly and we got lucky enough that the singles that we released got played on mainstream radio all over the world. The demands on us were intense and we were determined to meet those expectations."
"To be perfectly frank," she says later, "I feel amazed by how we kept our shit together. We had our fair share of drama, but nobody went to the hospital, nobody OD'd, nobody became a victim of our success. I think everybody managed to stay on top of it without falling over, which is testament to what tenacious beasts we are."
Listening to Garbage today, Manson says that she is proud but amused. She can hear her insecurities in the record, insecurities with which she still struggles today, albeit less so. To her, the album "sounds fragile, and I like that." Looking toward the tour, which was upcoming at the time of the interview, Manson says that there are both B-sides and album tracks, like "A Stroke of Luck" and "Dog New Tricks," that have never (or rarely) been played live.
"It's going to be interesting," says Manson. "But unlike when we first approached the record 20 years ago, when we were unsure of how we could take a multi-layered record and perform it live, over the years we have figured out how to do that. Technology has changed, and therefore made it a lot easier for us to realize these songs in the live format. So it's not a thing I think any of us are worried about...famous last words."
In addition to the reissue and tour, Garbage is also nearly ready to release a new record, which Manson says just needs mixing and mastering. The band plans to release the as-yet-untitled album early next year.
"That process got sort of stymied by our having to get all the 20th anniversary stuff together," says Manson. "It's been an absolute fucking nightmare trying to get this shit together. It's analog and we were on an indie record label and nobody has any records and nobody fucking gave a shit," she laughs. "It's been an archival process, which has really taken our time away from our new record, which has been frustrating, but it's all worth it in the end."
[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's August/September 2015 Issue, which is on newsstands now. This is its debut online.]
Garbage "20 Years of Queer Tour" U.S. Dates:
October 8, 2015 - Los Angeles, CA - Greek Theatre
October 10, 2015 - Las Vegas, NV - Blvd Pool @ Cosmopolitan Hotel
October 13, 2015 - Houston, TX - Bayou Music Center
October 14, 2015 - Austin, TX - Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater
October 15, 2015 - Dallas, TX - South Side Ballroom
October 17, 2015 - Chicago, IL - The Riviera Theatre
October 18, 2015 - Madison, WI - Orpheum
October 19, 2015 - Royal Oak, MI - Royal Oak Theater
October 21, 2015 - Boston, MA - Orpheum
October 23, 2015 - Westbury, NY - The Space @ Westbury
October 24, 2015 - Brooklyn, NY - Kings Theater
October 26, 2015 - Toronto, ON - Phoenix Concert Theatre
October 28, 2015 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
October 29, 2015 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
(With support from TORRES.)
Garbage "20 Years of Queer Tour" European Dates:
October 31, 2015 - Cologne, Germany - Palladium
November 2, 2015 - Copenhagen, Denmark - Store Vega
November 4, 2015 - Tillburg, Holland - 013
November 5, 2015 - Brussels, Belgium - Forest National
November 7, 2015 - Paris, France - Zenith
November 8, 2015 - London, UK - Brixton Academy
November 9, 2015 - London, UK - Brixton Academy
November 11, 2015 - Moscow, Russia - Crocus City Hall*
November 13, 2015 - Manchester, UK - Academy
November 14, 2015 - Edinburgh, UK - Usher Hall
(With support from Dutch Uncles. *Support TBC.)
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