The Weekly interview: Shirley Manson of Garbage

Shirley Manson brings Garbage to the Pearl on Friday, April 12.
Photo: Autumn De Wilde
Chris Bitonti

I talked to Butch [Vig] last time you guys were coming to Vegas, and we focused a lot on how the band was getting back into the swing of things performance-wise after seven years off. It’s been almost exactly a year now—how has it been? F*cking awesome! (laughs) We’ve had an amazing year, I have to say. It’s been spectacular fun and a great surprise and incredibly gratifying.

Have you had a break from touring at all in the past year? Yeah, we’ve had a few breaks here and there. We’re just off a break, actually. We broke at Christmas, and we played Australia for three weeks, then we had another break. Now, we’re gonna do the last official leg of the tour, and then we should be done. But never say never.

I noticed you’ve added some shows. Every now and then dates get added, because we are a bit crazy in that if somebody says, “Do you want to go and play China for the first time?” We’re like, “(Gasp) We have to go to China!” And then it’s like, “Do you want to go to South America for the first time?” It’s like a kid in a candy store. But our plans are that we finish in mid-April and then maybe start up in late June or July to make a new record. Whether that will happen, who knows.

The Details

With Kitten. April 12, 8 p.m., $39-$49.
The Pearl, 942-7777.

I saw the show here last year, and was struck by your minimal stage setup. You didn’t even have amps onstage … Well, the technical question about the amps, etcetera, is to improve the sonics onstage. Or improve the sound that’s coming off the stage. Otherwise you get a lot of bleed through my mic. You know if you’ve got noise coming out of the speakers through my microphone it just creates hell for us in our ears. And we tend to like to keep all the channels pure so it can get mixed beautifully out front. Butch has Plexiglass surrounding his kit to stop bleed into the mics.

Even beyond that though, you guys have really minimal production in general. I guess some of it is to do with we didn’t know how much touring we’d do. We didn’t know whether anybody would give a sh*t or remember us. So we started out really modestly, with nothing—we had nothing and we hadn’t really planned on any backdrop. We didn’t know who our LD [lighting designer] would be. I mean, we just weren’t that well-organized, and we had just changed management, so there were a lot of reasons why. And then the LD that we were working with suggested that we bring in the drapes, and then we just got touring, touring, touring, and we like the simplicity of it in a way. I think there’s a certain honesty about it. We were coming from a place of, like, This is who we are, whether you like it or hate us, this is who we are for better or for worse.

Something else that stands out for me about Garbage is the way the themes in your songs really challenge mainstream notions of beauty and normality. I don’t know if it’s necessarily “challenging” those ideas. I think these are just things that we find interesting or beautiful or we are fascinated by, and we know that other people are, too. So I guess we create our own world, into which people are welcome to come in and snoop around and see if they connect to that or not. I don’t think that we’re trying to deliberately sort of cast ourselves outside of anything in particular or be flag-beaters of anything specific. But over the course of our career, if you look back and listen to the body of work, we have created this world of freaks and geeks for people who don’t feel like they quite fit into mainstream culture, for lack of a better term.

It feels like that concept is less present in popular music. I do feel that things have definitely gotten conservative over the last decade and that anything that seems to deviate from a specific template definitely seems to get rejected. And that is sort of disappointing.

Here’s a better way of putting it: Of late, I started to really pine for characters, like, Where is the Courtney Love? Where is the Marilyn Manson? You know, all these amazing figures and provocateurs and agitators, there’s none of that really anymore. Everyone’s like, “Yeah, we’re making fun music to make you feel good! And, no we don’t want any negativity, and we’re not talking about anything naughty or bad.”

It does make me wonder, Where are all the people who are talking about all the seedy, sh*tty stuff that goes on in our culture that everyone has stopped talking about for whatever reasons? You love or hate Marilyn Manson, but he was always challenging you to think about the church, to think about sexuality and to think about society in different ways. Same with somebody like Courtney. But we just don’t have singers like that anymore. And I think that makes everything seem very one-note, which I find a little uninteresting.

We just recently came back from Australia, and we’d been playing this festival with Metallica and Linkin Park and Slayer. Slayer came on, and every time they took the stage the hairs stood up on my arms, and I thought, Woah! This sounds so hardcore. I remember listening to Slayer 20 years ago, and it didn’t have quite the same effect on me because of where music was at then. But now it just seems so dangerous—this is music that your parents wouldn’t listen to, in a funny way. It felt very anti-establishment.

And I was thinking there’s none of that right now. There’s a generation of parents that are very hip, and they listen to all the same bands that their kids listen to. And I was thinking, Where’s the sort of music that kids can identify their independence from? What can they listen to? I think it might be heavy metal, heavy metal might come back. It’s time! (laughs)

Unrelated to metal, I read that you just finished a compilation track with Screaming Females for Record Store Day. We had been on tour with the Screaming Females, and we fell madly in love with them. Marissa [Paternoster] used to be a hard-core Garbage fan when she was a little girl, so she feels a little like my little sister or maybe even my baby spawn (laughs). So I feel proud of her, I feel protective of her, and I feel that she is a really incredible talent. I kept saying to the band, “If this was the ’90s, she would be huge!” But she’s finding it hard to get even arrested, and she is this phenomenal little guitar player; she’s a phenomenal singer. She really is an incredible, fascinating, little freaky frontperson.

So we fell in love with her, and we were like, “We have to do a song together. What song are we going to do?” And we eventually decided on “Because the Night,” because we’re both big Patti Smith fans, and because she’s from New Jersey, and there’s obviously the Bruce Springsteen connection. So that’s what we recorded, and it’s fantastic. It turned out great, and you can hear her playing guitar. That girl can shred.


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