Alternative rock band Garbage have been making records and touring since their inception in 1993. The band consists of members Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig. Their critically acclaimed debut album, Garbage, went certified double platinum in the US, UK and Australia and was followed by five more successful records. Despite various intermittent hiatuses throughout the years, the band reunited in 2011 to release their fifth album, Not Your Kind of People. Their sixth studio album, Strange Little Birds, was released last June on Stunvolume, the band’s own label. The record earned positive feedback from critics and showed a darker side of the band.
In addition to the new album, Garbage are gearing up for a co-headlining tour this summer with Blondie, which starts July 5th at The Mountain Winery is Saratoga, CA. They will also be releasing their autobiographical coffee table book, titled This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake, on July 4th. The book contains material from all band members and was written by Jason Cohen. It also contains rare and never-before-seen photos from the band. Lead vocalist Shirley Manson took the time to discuss Garbage’s current projects, her admiration of Debbie Harry and why she doesn’t believe in playing special shows for the big cities.
mxdwn: How did the idea for the coffee table book come about?
Shirley Manson: We just got to the point where, I think shortly after David Bowie died, we were like, “You know what? We’re old and we’re going to be dying soon.” We wanted to leave behind a little sort of testimony for the kids in our lives, who are still quite young. We just wanted them to have something for when they get to a certain age and can appreciate, maybe, what we did. We may well have passed on by the time they’re that age [laughs] so we decided that’s what we’re going to do. It was a very selfish pursuit that we just decided to do for ourselves. It took a lot of work, but we’re really happy with the results.
mxdwn: Why choose the lyric, “This is the noise that keeps me awake,” as the title?
SM: Well, whenever you choose a title you want it to be as broad as possible, generally speaking. We needed a title that spoke, essentially, to our whole career. The phrase, “This is the noise that keeps me awake,” is obviously about the music and music has been our primary obsession and how we’ve lived our life for the last 20 years in Garbage; and, before that, I was in another band for ten years. My bandmates were in bands for 20 years previous to Garbage so it just seemed like a great title to talk about our life’s obsession. And it was pulled from our song “Push It;” it’s part of the chorus in one of our most well known songs.
mxdwn: How does it feel to have fans of all different ages?
SM: [Laughs] We’ll take anybody, we’re not fussy. We don’t discriminate between any age. I think it’s always flattering when you can speak to a new generation. That is always a thrill and it’s not something we take for granted. But at the same time, there’s something really beautiful to age yourself and age with an audience — there’s something extraordinary about that because you’ve all lived literally through the same lifetime. You’ve seen the same things and been affected by the same news stories, so on and so forth. There’s something communal about that and it has some magic to it. I guess to be able to speak to anyone with our music is a privilege to be honest. To just connect with somebody on some level that elevates your song above millions of others, that’s a real compliment.
mxdwn: You’ve said your archives are immense and overwhelming. Is there an album from your career that you hold dearer than others?
SM: Not really. I mean each band member would probably give you a different answer. There’s a connection that’s forged when you’re making records and connections forged when you’re promoting records, so on and so forth. It would be easy to say the first two records are our favorites because that was a time when we were incredibly mainstream and topping the charts all over the world. It would be easy to say those two records are my favorite, but in actual fact I have soft spots for all our records and, generally speaking, the record I always feel the most connected to is the most recent. So I would probably choose Strange Little Birds; but ask me in a year’s time and you’d probably get a completely different answer. We’ve tried very hard to make each record as strong as possible. We’ve never taken it casually. We’ve always tried to make great records from start to finish. We’re not a singles band in any way, shape or form. Each record is dear to us for one reason or another.
mxdwn: Strange Little Birds seems to be darker and more intimate than your previous material, how did you approach this one versus the others? Did you notice any differences in the writing/recording processes compared to your previous 20 years as a band?
SM: Well, there are always differences, yeah, because technology changes, studios change and we change. Every record is different in the way you approach making it and how you write and what you want to write about. A lot of the time you’re affected by what’s going on in your life and, in this case when we made Strange Little Birds, I think we were very conscious — actually I know we were very conscious of what was happening in the world. We sort of forewarned this turn toward populism in terms of politics. We were very aware that this was happening in the world. I think that’s one of the results. The record is quite dark in a way. It’s a melancholy record for sure. It’s our most political record with a small “p.”
mxdwn: The album seems to be nostalgic while also being new. How did you strike this balance between returning to the ’90s sound but also giving the fans something fresh?
SM: When you put the four of us in a studio together we make a certain sound and it’s highly identified. We certainly could go out of our way to really make a very stylized record that perhaps could sound like another band or another style of music, but we realized that would come across as sounding inauthentic. There’s an authentic sound that comes together when we make records and I think that speaks to why we will always be categorized as a ’90s-sounding band. In some ways our generation defined the ’90s. Along with a handful of other bands, we defined the ’90s sound, so to speak. So we will never escape that, not really. I think the band is quite forward-thinking in regards to technology and we all have a grasp of popular culture to a certain degree. We try not to get too lazy and caught up in old habits. I think there is a vitality in Strange Little Birds that caught people by surprise. I don’t think they expected it to have the same kind of thrust that it does. But we’re done trying to sound like the most current band. There are certain ideas we believe that can be inhabited, for the most part, by us and that’s our territory and we’ll take that territory. We’re happy to take it. We just try and do what we do and do it to the best of our abilities. We’re open to whether people connect with it or not.
mxdwn: What does it mean to you to be playing with Blondie? Especially at the Hollywood Bowl?
SM: Well, Debbie Harry has been one of my musical influences since when I was very very young. I’ve had the honor of hanging with her and getting to know her a little. I’ve performed with her and inducted her into the hall of fame. I have a history with Debbie that goes back as far as the ’80s when my very first band opened for her on her tour of the UK. I have a long history with her so to step onto the stage at the Hollywood Bowl is a real honor and very exciting. As a band we’ve played all over Los Angeles, but we’ve never stepped foot on the Bowl. That in itself is exciting, but above all things I am so amazed by Blondie and Debbie in particular. She’s 71 years old and she’s still making records and she’s still performing the world. That to me is an extraordinary statement to make, not just to my generation and the generations before me, but to those following us. Women can still operate in an industry at 71 years old and still be viable creatures. That, for me, is a very precious statement for women, not just in music but all over the world. To see a 71 year old woman step on stage in the genre of pop music, it has never been seen before. We’ve never seen this, not really. So it’s a privilege for me to be in that theater with an icon, a true icon, not just…they throw that term around these days and it’s not appropriate. But in this case, Debbie is a true icon and a feminist icon at that. I’m honored to be invited to co-headline this tour with Blondie.
mxdwn: What can fans expect at the Hollywood Bowl show? How will Garbage approach this one differently than the rest of the dates on the tour?
SM: Not really. Unfortunately for us it’s a big date that comes at the beginning of the tour. We haven’t been playing for six months so that’s a lot to ask of ourselves. So I think we’ll be playing it the same way that we play for the rest of the tour. To be honest, I never want to play a special show for Los Angeles or New York that we don’t play for Iowa or Kansas or anywhere else. I don’t believe in playing big shows for the big cities. I don’t think that’s cool. We’ll be playing the same set essentially for the whole tour. There may be a few surprises for everyone, but there may not be [laughs]. It just really depends what your expectations are. I don’t know what people’s expectations are so I don’t know if we’ll be meeting them or not. We’ve carefully selected material to put together for the set. I’m sure that our fans will be satisfied. [Laughs] That was a long fucking garb of nonsense and good luck trying to make any sense of that.
Garbage will be co-headlining alongside Blondie at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, July 9 with opener Sky Ferreira as part of their Rage and Rapture tour. The show is part of KCRW’s World Festival and will be hosted by KCRW’s Anne Litt. Tickets are on sale now.
All photos by Sharon Alagna