The Manson Family

By Paul Rees

The four members of Garbage spent a full year making their second album, 'Version 2.0'. Together, they've lived through freak-outs, frustrations, mood-swings, near-death experiences, and journeys all the way up each other's rectal cavities...

The last time Shirley Manson got roaring drunk was in March in Madison, Wisconsin. She was out with Butch Vig and his girlfriend Beth, Steve Marker and his wife Cindy, and Duke Erikson.

"It was a full moon and it was Friday the 13th and there was tequila involved," she explains. "Literally, I went absolutely mad. To the point where we nearly got thrown out of the bar we were in. People were looking at us because I kept breaking glasses. I was shouting 'STOP RUBBERNECKING ME!' at the whole bar and just standing there swaying.

"I also had an argument with the boys about circumcision. I got so insane about it I was saying, 'You f**king Americans, you're so arrogant - you take your knives to your baby boys and you slice them up and the whole world looks at you with total disdain'.

"I ended up eating a burger in a George Webb diner at seven o'clock in the morning, still steaming drunk, having not eaten meat in eight years."

It is a month since Shirley Manson's tequila bender. Today, she and "the boys" - as Vig, Marker and Erikson are known in Manson-speak - are sitting in a photo studio in Kilburn, North London. This afternoon, it is the male contingent of Garbage who are nursing king-size hangovers, having taken full advantage of the free bar at a record company bash the previous evening.

In simple terms, of the three men Vig is the urbane one, Erikson is the witty one and Marker is the quiet one. Manson is the fascinating one. She can seem frosty with 'outsiders' at first, but once warmed up she's terrific company - funny, fiercely intelligent and owner of a fabulously filthy laugh which is heard often and at deafening volume.

"We're a weird band," says Butch Vig. "We have this real isolated little rat-pack. I get a sense sometimes from outsiders - even from family - that they're jealous of it. Because we're so close to each other, we finish one another's sentences. There's a lot of inside jokes."

"I don't know if it's jealousy," notes Erikson, "or disgust."

The Garbage rat-pack are here to talk about their second album, 'Version 2.0'. They do so in pairs, Manson and Marker go first. Vig and Erikson relieve them an hour or so later.

'Version 2.0' is a great record. More cohesive than the four million-selling 'Garbage', it is also bigger and bolder and much, much better. Garbage spent a year of their lives making it.

"Right, that's why we feel shitty," Erikson says with a mock surprise. "It's all coming back to us now - we've had no life for the last year. It's a very strange existence."

"I don't know if we can keep this cycle up," says Vig. "It's not very healthy. It was a really long year with long hours. But in some ways it wasn't as stressful as the first record.

"With 'Garbage', we were struggling to find an identity and to get comfortable with Shirley - and vice versa. After touring so much, there's a better camaraderie and sense of communication. The tension this time came from trying to write songs. At the start, it was very uneasy. We didn't want to go off at a tangent - we wanted to take the elements of the first record and push them further. Have the guitars noisier and write poppier melodies. Utilise the technology to bring in electronica and hip-hop and punk. The first record sounds a bit pieced together. This one is definitely looser and tougher."

"We became," says Erikson in an appalling English accent, "a finely tuned rock machine."

Garbage spent 18 months on the road touring their first album. The six weeks they took off before starting work on 'Version 2.0' was their first break in four years.

The band first moved into a house on the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle to begin writing the album. The bulk of the recording was done at Vig, Erikson and Marker's Smart Studios back in Madison. Erikson has said that the band spent their time on the San Juan Islands "jamming".

"We hate that word," snorts Manson.

"We've dedicated to call it improvising," drawls Marker. "We took our stage-set out there and put it in the cabin..."

"No, it wasn't a cabin," interrupts Manson. "Why do you keep saying that? It was not a cabin - it was a lodge."

Steve: "The house was nice..."

Shirley: "It was a beautiful house - a practical palace. It was very kindly lent to us by a friend of ours. There was a big lodge next to the house that housed a games room. We set up a studio in there."

In the cabin?

Steve: "In the cabin."

Shirley: "Ha-ha-ha!"

Steve: "And we just made noise for a month."

Describe working in a confined space with three other people for 12 months?

Shirley: "It depends what mood everbody's in. I don't think any of us have laughed as much as we have in the course of this band. We literally laugh all the time. To the point where we whip ourselves up into a frenzy and it's actually disturbing passersby. But if somebody's in a shitty mood, then it's desperately uncomfortable. It affects everybody else."

Butch: "You're acutely aware of everybody's mood swings. We know each other's personal lives - what little bit there is - way too well. Somebody would come in and you'd instantly know what sort of night they'd had."

Duke: "Compared to living on a bus for 18 months, it was quite spacious. We were surrounded by friends and family, and that made it bearable. We spend most of our time at home in the studio anyway. It's a nice place to work: small, but very comfortable.:

One large poster hangs on the wall of Smart Studios - of the soon-to-be-ex-Glasgow Rangers footballer Brian Laudrup.

"I'll be sad to see him go - he's a fine footballer," reflects Shirley Manson, Glasgow Rangers fan. "Good temperament, great team player and he scores goals. What more can you ask for?... Ooh, and those beautiful, taut, muscular thighs." "This giant poster is actually of his thighs," says Marker. "It's a central location, so we have to look at it too."

There have been two big events in Shirley Manson's life during the last couple of years. In 1996, she married her long-time boyfriend Eddie in Edinburgh. Vig, Erikson and Marker were the only guests there wearing sunglasses. "It was bizarre," Shirley says.

"That day was probably weird enough for you anyway," Marker says to her, "and then you've got your friends from 20 years ago, all your family..." Shirley: "...And my daft band. In sunglasses and kilts and with healthy tans. Everyone else was blue-white."

Steve: "It was a great party, though. I recommend a Scottish wedding for a good time."

Last year, Shirley turned 30.

"The day itself was tortuous," she groans. "I wept. I threw a tantrum. I was totally freaked out. Ageing isn't something that frightens me. Because I've become happier as I've got older, so I associate it with positive things.

"It's difficult as a woman to grow older - I'd be lying if I said otherwise. But for the most part, I feel good about growing up and just having a better perspective of things."

One of the main characteristics of 'Version 2.0' is its frequent use of thumping techno beats. Unlike its predecessor, you could - if so inclined - dance to it.

Butch: "I think that's a correct assumption. It's weird to listen to the first record now. After the tour, it sounds slow and stiff. Part of it's hearing The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers and all these records that we liked. Also, by the time we'd finished touring, we'd speeded things up and toughened up a lot of the grooves. We wanted that to be apparent from the get-go."

Steve: "It comes from touring the world for a year and a half. If you go out, it's usually to a club. So you end up being exposed to all sorts of stuff."

Shirley: "Over the course of the last three years, the men have been exposed much more to electronic music - drum 'n' bass and techno. But similarly, we were also listening to Sleater-Kinney and lots of American indie rock."

'Version 2.0' is also filled with jagged guitars and strident strings, samples and loops and bursts of discordant electro-noise. But for all its vast array of sounds, it is at heart a record of great songs.

How far up your own arses do you go to get to that point?

Shirley: "All the way up each other's rectal cavities. There are excruciatingly embarrassing moments. But that's the good thing about developing a closeness as a band - you are willing to take things further than you would under normal circumstances. Out of that, there are moments that are great and there are 'Spinal Tap' moments. I'm worried that our engineer, Billy Bush, has reels and reels of out-takes that he's going to humiliate us with one day."

What was the best 'Spinal Tap' moment?

Shirley: "It's difficult to say. I think we erase the memories."

Butch: "I know what it was. It was on 'Special'. There was a little break after the first chorus and we didn't want to put another guitar in there. Shirley suggested doing some vocal harmonies and having Duke sing with her. Duke said 'No way', Steve and I didn't think it was a good idea, but she was insistent. So we set up the mike and they went in the studio... and it was quite shocking to hear."

Shirley Manson spent close to a year living on her own in a hotel room in Madison during the making of 'Version 2.0'.

"I wanted to laugh my head off, because another magazine referred to the place as being 'quietly grand'," she says. "Duke's little adage was 'quietly grand for the 1930s'. It hasn't been refurbished since then."

Steve: "No, the sad thing is that it has been refurbished - and it's even worse."

Shirley: "It's a very modest hotel. It seems flash because it's got this sort of art deco front. I only have two or three channels on the TV, each of which flicker all the time. The remote control never works because they never change the batteries. The fire alarm isn't rigged up."

Steve: "It's f**king awful for Shirley to have to live in this terrible hotel for a year at a time. I guess we can't figure out any other way to do it. We take pity on her. She pops round to my house for tea and to use the laundry." Shirley: "Cindy, Steve's wife, is one of my best friends - she looks after me. They don't, but she does."

Garbage finished recording 'Version 2.0' in December. Butch Vig claims that at present he's only fully happy with the way four of the 12 finished songs have turned out.

"Right before Christmas, Shirley put her foot down and told us we had to start mixing it," he says. Otherwise we'd have still been there now recording. It was kind of scary - because we had to commit to what these songs were going to become. I can't listen to the album right now. I'm still in shock."

What are you most likely to argue about in the studio?

Shirley: "We're actually most likely to argue about our finances - how we deal with all the icky, grown-up stuff. We have a lot of heated debates. I'm the first to fly off the handle, always."

Duke: "Every now and then there'd be a disagreement about how a song should progress. It can be about the emotion it's trying to portray, or something as minuscule as a rhythmic part that lasts two seconds. We get to the point of ridiculousness. But it never ends in fisticuffs. We always reach a point of agreement."

By their own admission, the band wrote all the lyrics on the first Garbage album by committee. 'Version 2.0', says Vig, "is totally Shirley's album lyrically".

Shirley: "I'm a bit more confident and I also wanted the lyrics to be more human. The first record - and I'm sure some people like this - is a bit cold. On this, because the music is so complex, I thought it would work really well to have something that was simple and introspective - a juxtaposition with the very interwoven musical textures..."

Would you care to explain that?

Shirley: "Ha-ha! No."

She refers to 'golden showers' in 'When I Grow Up' and 'coming together' in 'Sleep Together'. But, she says, the songs are "way more to do with personal politics than shagging".

"I loathe the word 'sexy' in a way," she continues. "I think people misunderstand a lot of the references and they take it as being about sex, or being sexy. The most simple example of that would be 'Sleep Together'. That has very little to do with sleeping with somebody sexually. It's to do with how you relate to yourself and how people reflect themselves on others because they have no sense of who they are."

How much of the album is autobiographical?

"Almost all of it."

'Medication' implies that you took Prozac or some other drug because your 'point of balance was askew'?

"That's why I like that song, because it really works on that level and on a completely different one also. That's what music should be all about, I think. It shouldn't just be one thing. I hate it when people say of a song, 'It's about this' and all along I'd thought it was about something else. I'm loathe to talk about specifics, but yeah, it's not simply about taking pills to make yourself feel better. A lot of the lyrics work on a number of levels."

Most of them also deal with disintegrating relationships. It's very hard to find a happily married woman anywhere on the album?

"Well, this record isn't necessarily about my present place in time. I never started writing lyrics until I was quite old - when I first met the other Garbage members. I found a catharsis in a way. A lot of the record is dealing with past humiliations and/or tribulations. I think you can only really discard something when you've finally processed it. When you start to talk about something, it becomes waste. You never talk about things that are still being worked out internally.

"It's like when people say to me, 'Oh God, don't you think you're too open with the press?'. No, anything I talk about in the press has very little to do with my reality, it's something that I've chosen to discard.

"That said, I think it's a really outdated concept that people think that marriage is like, you join hands and all of a sudden you walk into the sunset and everything's la-di-da. It's a ludicrous misbelief that everything's going to be easy. I think you can have a personal unhappiness and still have a successful marriage."

The most extraordinary song on 'Version 2.0' is 'Hammering In My Head'. It sounds like a nervous breakdown set to a barrage of jarring techno beats. 'I'm overworked and undersexed', Manson rails at one point.

"That line came from a conversation we had in Tokyo. I was so beat, I didn't have a sexual inkling left in my body. We were dead on our feet. You tour for so long, you literally have nothing left."

"That whole lyric came out in one take - it was stream of consciousness," says Vig. "And it f**king scared the shit out of us."

The first thing that Shirley Manson does when she gets home to Edinburgh is eat an egg roll. "With mayonnaise, tomato ketchup and loads of pepper and salt," she explains. "And the yolk has to be fried and solid; I hate runny yolks. When you're constantly buying or being served food, you get this dreadful longing for your own flavours. You desperately want to have pasta the way you cook it. Or a cake the way you would bake it."

Do you do your own hoovering at home?

Shirley: "I rarely hoover the house! Funnily enough, when I was at home at Christmas, if either my friends or my family caught me doing any kind of housework there was great hilarity. There was a lot of 'Come and see this', and people running through to watch me do it.

"They find it really funny that wear rubber gloves to do the washing up. But I hate having dehydrated hands..."

One of the things Shirley Manson most wants to do is learn to drive. "I did try," she says, "at Friday Harbour on the San Juan Islands. The boys were in the back seat."

"Her first drive," grimaces Marker," and on one side of the road is a cliff, which if she'd gone over it would've meant death."

Shirley: "They were all being really chirpy and noisy in the back of the car. Then Billy, our engineer, said, 'Come on, Shirl, you take a shot at the wheel', and the vehicle went deathly quiet. When I'm nervous and enjoying myself, I laugh really hard and of course I get distracted. So I was driving really fast and having a really good time. Unfortunately, I was the only one having a really good time. They were green. Finally, Billy grabbed the wheel and I was never allowed behind it again."

What ambitions do you have as a band?

Butch: "Years ago, we had an indie label called Bolt Records that we ran out of our studio - just pressing up a 1,000 copies of a single, super-underground. We want to start up our own label again and find some bands who're interested in working with us."

Steve: "We desperately want to score a film."

Butch: "We met David Lynch during the making of the album. He's a fan of the band and he has a summer house in Madison. He came by the studio one day and just hung out. Really interesting person. We talked very loosely about doing something with him."

Shirley: "For me, acting is a possibility too. It's a terrible clichй for musicians to want to act, I know, but life's too short to be bothered about that. If the right thing comes along, damn straight I'm going to do it. So far, nothing has grabbed me. I just get offered the 'rebellious girlfriend', or the 'drug-addled lesbian'..."

If the members of Garbage had to interview each other, Vig would ask Erikson if he wanted another beer. And vice versa. Marker doesn't get off so lightly. "Steven," Shirley Manson tells him, "you may ask me a question now... Do it." There is a long silence. Marker sits staring intently into space. "Okay," he finally announces. "Why do you put up with us?"

"Oh," Shirley Manson groans, "Steven has flunked his exam. My turn. Steven... Do you have a big dick?"

Garbage will release their 'Push It' single on April 27. 'Version 2.0' will follow on May 11. Next week: "I am the Trooper Queen!"

In a quarter-page box:

Girl on Film
Those Garbage promo videos: the men have bit parts...
The band's first promo is essentially a performance piece, but one done on a set littered with odd-shaped TV screens and while a slap-headed bloke writhes around on the floor. Shirley Manson wears a red feather coat and struts about in a fashion which - disturbingly - recalls Axl Rose's crab-like moves.

La Manson indulges in some prime vamping in what appears to be a gutted factory. Oddly, she also joins a group of children dressed in spooky animal costumes on a windswept hillside and larks around a squalid gents' toilet in a pink dress. Vig, Erikson and Marker toddle around in suits and make-up. Ho-hum.

Manson's most knee-trembling small screen appearance. An amiable-looking young bloke is window-shopping on an LA street when he bumps into a flame-haired temptress/dominatrix. She lures him home, and, er, drags him across a polished floor. He is so shocked he becomes a Hare Krishna. As you do.

In which Manson looks like Jane Fonda in '60s sex kitten guise wandering into the opening credits of 'Seven' by mistake. Filmed through what appears to be canal water and full of migraine-inducing jump cuts. Her dress is cute. The Garbage men do not have pivotal roles.

As disconnected and eerie a promo as the song itself. Male band members float across the screen as blurred, half-formed figures. Blinding white and red lights batter the camera. Shirley Manson seems to be singing in a wind tunnel.