Shirley Manson On Garbage’s Comeback, “Nobody’s Making Music Like Us”
[pullquote quote="I went to Coachella and I watched a lot of bands. There was a lot of amazing acts, but there was also a bunch I was just really underwhelmed by and uninspired by and that kind of made me feel like there's still a place for us. "]In the ’90s, Shirley Manson of Garbage was deemed by many to be the Goddess of Alternative Rock. Her milky complexion, carmine locks, and gracefully gutsy demeanor, both onstage and off, created an aura of retro sensuality mixed with the empowered androgyny so prevalent in music at that time.
The attractiveness of strong women was an inspiring trend and Manson was at the heart of it. Not only was she an icon of beauty, but a whip-smart hyper-talented woman not afraid to speak her mind.
The temporary loss of her talent was evident when Garbage decided to take an “indefinite hiatus” in 2005 to pursue solo interests. For Manson this included working on an unreleased solo album, a role on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and getting married to longtime Garbage sound engineer, Billy Bush.
Six years later, Garbage is back with the Bush mixed and engineered, Not Your Kind Of People. The album includes new single “Blood For Poppies,” a song which conjures up some of the shimmering distortion, guitar tremelo, and the sensual shoegaze of “Only Shallow” from My Bloody Valentine‘s Loveless album albeit with the funkier, harder edge and Manson’s sultry contralto vocals that make Garbage wholly unique.
“Nobody’s making music like us,” Manson said as we chatted one rainy afternoon. It’s the morning after her Chelsea Lately interview. In that interview, Manson mentioned how a trip to Coachella made her realize Garbage still has a place in modern rock although she admits to “loving dubstep” despite her lack of knowledge about the music.
“I…went to Coachella and I watched a lot of bands,” explained Manson. “There was a lot of amazing acts obviously, but there was also a bunch I was just really underwhelmed by and uninspired by and that kind of made me feel like there’s still a place for us [Garbage] to go out there and make music.”
[pullquote quote="It's just so great not to have this tired old business model hanging like a yoke around your neck. "]After I sarcastically quip about the gorgeous weather in Los Angeles, Scotland-born Manson stands up for her new residence.
“I’ve got to say that it took me a long time to warm up to Los Angeles,” Manson admitted. “I use to hate coming here and then when I moved here, I fell madly in love with the city. I love it. I love living here and I feel really, really privileged to live here, actually.”
Now Manson’s creative space as well as her home, Garbage spent the last eighteen months recording their new album in Hollywood, Silverlake, Glendale, and Atwater Village recording studios “planning, recording, and just getting everything together” to put out their new album on their “own terms” and on their own label called STUNVOLUME.
Manson said that starting an independent label was Garbage’s way of getting rid of the “tired old business model” that help Garbage back in the past.
“It’s a lot of work, obviously and we’re brand new at this, so we’re learning as we go along,” confessed Manson. “But it’s just so great not to have this tired old business model hanging like a yoke around your neck, you know? I mean, we really didn’t enjoy being on a major label at all and we got stuck on a major through no fault of our own. We had originally signed to indie and then it got sold to one label then that label sold us over to another label. I mean, it’s just a horrible way to exist.”
In a way, one might view Garbage’s hiatus right around the end of major label domination and the beginning of the more fluid, instant gratification access of the internet as ingeniously strategic. The band got the chance to unshackle themselves from an increasingly shaky business infrastructure and to put things out on their own terms.
When asked if she thought the internet and the ability for many up-and-coming bands to start their own labels has helped or hindered artistry, Manson said she could see both sides.
“I think it’s done a bit of both to be honest,” expounded Manson. “I think it has provided a way for a band to feel like they have an audience… I think that the internet gives a band a sense that somehow they are being heard but I think it’s getting increasingly noise-filled out there. To actually have your song or your music be heard by anyone is getting more and more difficult.”
So, what was it like for the band to get together–now with their own label and freedom to do whatever they want–after six years?
[pullquote quote="I think we went away for a long time to really rethink everything and think about why we wanted to make music, if we wanted to make music. "]“It was weird. It was very weird! But it was also really good fun,” confessed Manson. “I do miss my band when I don’t see them. They are my brothers, for better or for worse, so it was great to see them. We had a really good time making this record. There was no drama; there was no fighting. It was really an easy, great process to be honest.”
[pullquote quote="I feel like I'm proud of what we've done. I'm willing to put to risk everything by saying that I love it. And I want to treat it well."]When Manson mentions that they’ve “curated the record from top to bottom,” we discuss the distinctive accuracy of that word, “curate.”
“It’s true, right? You have to be like that,” agreed Manson. “I think it’s gotten awful sloppy and nobody attaches any meaning to anything anymore and it’s just all slopped out. I don’t know. I feel like I’m proud of what we’ve done. I’m willing to put to risk everything by saying that I love it. And I want to treat it well. And I think that’s OK.”
Going on to say that Garbage was “sort of determined to get back” to the “classic sound” of their band, it’s clear that this attention to detail, this distaste in just slopping things out, combined with the fusion of “elements of electronica and guitars” in a “big sort of melting pot” is what makes Garbage fans gravitate to the band.
Many are just happy their favorite band is back and know that, as usual, they are going to get “carefully curated” songs.
After a delighted “awww” when told some of the things Garbage fans said, Manson commented: “We’ve had an amazing reaction…We’ve been somewhat taken aback by it. We didn’t really expect it.”
“You know, when we came off the road, we were up against a lot of hostility because the whole music landscape had changed in a way from when we first came out,” Manson disclosed. “And we just didn’t fit in anywhere. I think we went away for a long time to really rethink everything and think about why we wanted to make music, if we wanted to make music, that kind of thing.”
“Everybody came back really committed and really wanting to make a great record for ourselves,” continued the Garbage singer. “We just decided ‘F**k everybody and who cares what anybody thinks. Let’s make this record. We’ve got nothing to lose. If people love it or hate it, it’s sort of a moot point, let’s just make the record.’ So that’s what we did and I think people have responded really well. They can feel the intent behind it is really pure, I think.”
Engaging in a little innocent girl talk, Manson disclosed that her gorgeous jumpsuit from Chelsea Lately was Marni and admitted with a laugh that Lady Danger lipstick from MAC is a “big love” although she’s “also partial to a little Tom Ford.”
[pullquote quote="I think because since September 11th we've been living in a real culture of fear and nobody wants their cage rattled--particularly not by a woman."]After a confession that an old NME article or two on Garbage turned my 13-year-old self onto bands like My Bloody Valentine and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Manson agreed saying that “as a band it’s really important not to sound like everybody else” and that “there’s nobody that sounds like My Bloody Valentine and there’s nobody that sounds like Siouxsie and the Banshees.”
Siousxie Sioux, an archetypal feminine force in alternative rock music, served as an inspiration for many women. Manson included. When posed with the ofttimes inscrutable question of where all the female rock singers went, at least in the mainstream spectrum, Manson named some of her underground favorites, but hypothesized on what happened to women in rock.
“In alternative music there’s very few,” elucidated Manson. “The one’s that are there are great. I mean, Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I’m a massive, obsessive fan of her. I love M.I.A., you know, there’s a bunch of girls out there being really inspiring but in alternative rock, we’re dwindling numbers for whatever reason.”
[pullquote quote="They want us to sit in the corner and 'Be pretty, honey! Just keep quiet. You just sing and dance and look pretty. Yeah. There you go, there you are. Good girl.' That's what I think."]“I guess it’s because we just don’t get played on radio,” the singer confessed. “You know, nobody wants to play us on radio. So if you’re not getting played on radio, you don’t hit the public consciousness.”
After a little prompting to go further with the question and if she had a theory, Manson sighed and said, “Of course I do. You’re a smart girl, you don’t even need to take a guess. I feel like there’s been a proliferation of pop music over the last decade or so.”
“I think because since September 11th we’ve been living in a real culture of fear and nobody wants their cage rattled–particularly not by a woman,” continued Manson. “They want us to sit in the corner and ‘Be pretty, honey! Just keep quiet. You just sing and dance and look pretty. Yeah. There you go, there you are. Good girl.’ That’s what I think.”
[pullquote quote="I think there's just this ridiculous sort of expectation for women to be seen as somehow perfect. Not just like physically but in their behavior"]Noting a few tweets from Manson on the Garbage twitter account about her disgust with the Daily Mail calling Gwen Stefani “chubby” in childhood pictures, Manson exclaimed,”I could not believe that! Yeah, the Daily Mail in Britain called Gwen Stefani fat.”
“I mean, that is about as laughable as you can possibly get,” Manson scoffed. “I think there’s just this ridiculous sort of expectation for women to be seen as somehow perfect. Not just like physically but in their behavior. They’re supposed to smile all the time and they’re not supposed to ever show their emotions and talk about how they’re feeling or anything! They want robotrons. It’s like Mad Men. Where they want everyone to be like Betty Draper.”
In the end, one of the reasons that Shirley Manson has held such a firm place in the hearts of music lovers, especially women, is that Manson is not defined by her physical beauty.
The singer is an aspirational synthesis of strength, sex appeal, sagacity, and sophistication. In this world full of labels, Manson has done her damnedest to create her own “value” rather than have it indiscriminately applied to her–as both a musician and a woman.
“As you get older, you do start to realize that nothing really matters, so you have to make them matter for yourself,” concluded Manson with a warm laugh. “Because in the grand scheme of things, it’s a hill of beans. We imbue things with value. That’s what you have to do as a musician. Imbue what you do with value and have fun with it.”