By Tina Benitez
Nearly 20 years since their self-titled debut, Garbage are aware that nothing will ever be like their first—and why should it? “We’ll never sound like the first record again,” says singer Shirley Manson. The Scottish-bred “Supervixen” admits that she felt like a complete innocent when she first joined Garbage, but that was a long time ago. If Manson felt naïve back then, it didn’t show as the raccoon-eyed, sex kitten crooned out dark, pop echoes of “Only Happy When it Rains,” reaffirmed the need for more female prowess in “Stupid Girl” or revealed a blatant girl-boy seduction in “Queer.” Manson, now 45, still oozes that sexy that some female front women work to attain. She’s even retained her potty mouth, randomly blurting out “fuck” in most sentences. Perhaps some things do remain the same, but almost two decades since their inception, there’s an older, wiser Garbage working on their fifth studio album, due out spring 2012.
“What I feel people are responding to this time is that there’s a lot of energy, and I feel like that is totally reminiscent of our first record,” says Manson. “It’s hard to do when you’re on your fifth record and you’re much older and you’ve seen a lot more. It’s hard to capture that sort of naïveté, and I feel like we have. It may not be the first album, and it doesn’t have to be.”
Maybe a glimmer of early Garbage is present, according to Manson, since she and the band are “mildly abnormal,” so it’s easy for them to tap into their childish notions with a lack of sophistication. Or perhaps Garbage has simply grown up, and the six-year hiatus since their last studio album, Bleed Like Me, has done them some good. During the band’s break, Manson wrote and recorded several songs for a yet-to-be-released solo album and was a regular, liquid metal terminator Catherine Weaver in the 2009 series “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” Manson recently starred in the upcoming “Knife Fight” with “Modern Family” mom Julie Bowen and brat packer Rob Lowe but admits that even if acting is something she’d like to continue to pursue, she still has a lot to learn, and Garbage is her focus. Drummer and founding member Butch Vig continued doing what he’s always done: producing. Keeping himself busy with Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown (2009), Muse’s Neutron Star Collision and the Foo Fighters’ latest Wasting Light, Vig is once again at the helm of the band he helped form in 1994.
Garbage is now clear of all the refuse of past corporate obligations and refuse to respond to any premature business decisions until the new record is complete. Past business commitments were something Manson says contributed to sucking the life of out of her by the end of the Bleed tour and part of the reason why the band eventually needed a long break in the end. After hitting their highest charts with Bleed Like Me at No. 4 (Garbage’s first-ever top ten album in the US), the band were called into a meeting and told “You’re kind of fucked,” says Manson. More than 17 million records worldwide throughout their first decade together and their recent tour already sold out still wasn’t enough. “They sort of pissed on our parade, and we just thought this is insanity,” says Manson. “We were running trying to live out someone else’s dream. Now, we’ll tease any tracks we feel we should and reintroduce ourselves and … fuck that as they say in Scotland.”
Far from their former, Madison, Wisc. haven Smart Studios, founded by Vig and guitarist Steve Marker and where the band recorded all four of their previous albums, Garbage moved their recording post to Los Angeles where Manson and Vig now live. “There’s no deeper reason [for the move] than practicality,” says Manson. “I wish I had more fantastic explanation like we got hijacked and taken to this hideout with these rebels. I would love if it was something that mental, but seriously, I don’t want to ever get kidnapped.”
Collaborating proves more chaotic than recording locale. Ideas mentioned over the telephone. Scraps of paper or a riff that didn’t quite fit on one song a few years ago and was never used—or other lyrics shoved away in someone’s computer. It’s rare for one band member to come in with a finished idea, according to Manson. This is how Garbage operates. “Over the course of working on the song, we disassemble it,” says Manson. “To be perfectly honest, we’re not particularly good musicians, so that has defined our style. We’re not virtuosos by any stretch of the imagination, and as a result that defines how we approach our music for better and for worse.”
Manson knows it’s a new era for Garbage. She gets that magic of discovering a new band and how fans will always love the Garbage of the 1990s but trusts that get this new age. “I don’t want to make a record that I made in my ’20s,” she says. “I want to make a record now, of who I am now in my ’40s. I want to be an adult. I’ve been there. I’ve done that, and I’m totally different now. So, there you have it.”
Read more of Tina’s work at http://tinabenitez.wordpress.com/