Mark It Up

By Christopher Tennant

Garbage guitarist/producer Steve Marker talks trash about Shirley Manson, rock stars and the ephemeral nature of pop.

Sitting on the threshold of worldwide fame and fortune, Steve Marker is at ease. Set to embark on a two-year world tour in support of Garbage's sophomore effort "Version 2.0," a soft-spoken Marker — the band's guitarist and producer — stroked his cat as he spoke from his home in Madison, Wis., where he and the other three members of Garbage live minutes away from their famed Smart Sound Studio.

Do you embrace or shun the moniker of pop musician or pop group?

I think we actually like it when people call us that. I guess people have different ideas about what the word "pop" means. Sometimes when we've been over in Europe and said "Oh yeah, we're a pop band," people freak out because that's, like, the worst thing you can call yourself. They equate that with the worst sort of [bands], you know, like Aqua or even the Spice Girls I suppose. To us, pop is the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra and all those people who created these great little three-minute worlds for people to visit and made incredible records that still hold up after, in some cases, 40 years or whatever. Pop to us is more like the absence of long guitar solos and macho posturing and a lot of the kind of rock cliches that we're all really sick of. We just want to make three- to four-minute songs that you hear on the radio and make you forget what you're doing.

You mentioned Frank Sinatra and the Beatles. How, if ever, do you think Garbage will achieve their kind of staying power?

We probably won't. I mean, we would never be so presumptuous as to say we're gonna be around like them. Don't get me wrong, I think that we think that we make good records, generally, and we try really hard and hopefully people appreciate some of the stuff that we do, but there's just no way you can come along and completely change the world like the Beatles did, now. I mean it's a different world. Media and technology are completely different, and it's not as na?ve a place as it was when they came out, and hardly ever can people write songs as good as they did. We don't put ourselves in that league at all.

How dependent are you on technology? Is there an optimal balance between playing live instruments and using more synthesized sounds?

We're completely dependent on technology and don't really care at all. There's a certain sort of Steve Albini school of thought where [a record] has to be this pure document of a band's performance in the studio with very little manipulation. Of course he used to say that and now he's making Robert Plant records. I think that just by the fact that you're in a studio, even if it's just a straightforward rock band, it's an artificial construction anyway just by the fact that you're not playing in front of an audience. You're playing in front of an engineer in this really weird environment. We just want to take that weird environment as far as possible. There isn't anything on our record that's just like one person playing it straight through and getting the perfect take. We freely acknowledge that we manipulate things as much as we can in the studio. We want to keep ourselves interested and not get bored, and if we're lucky, maybe come up with something that sounds a little bit different than somebody else would.

The band — Butch Vig in particular — has been described as perfectionist when it comes to producing. How did you approach this album?

We've never really had that much of a plan with anything that we've done because you can never predict what's going to happen. We never thought the first album would do like it did. You know, we were lucky enough to be able to make this second record. We didn't know what we were gonna do other than just sort of try to make another one. If you left Butch in there just by himself he'd probably still be there working on drum tracks a year-and-a-half later. We're all at different points on the spectrum. Shirley's very immediate and wants to do things right away and not waste so much time on it, so it sort of balances each end out. Shirley was the one, probably last Christmas time, who sat us all down and gave us a talking to about how we were wasting so much time and taking so long and that we really needed to start finishing things up. If she hadn't, we'd still be tinkering around in there.

What's it like playing in a band with such a high-profile lead singer? Do you ever feel left out of the limelight?

We get asked that a lot, but none of us guys are really Mick Jagger-types that, like, crave attention that you might get as being a front-person in a band. It would be ridiculous for me to even try to do that. I mean it's awesome, we love Shirley, and she's a really good friend, and we know that she isn't taking herself half as seriously as a lot of people seem to think. She's gotten this chance to live out this sort of fantasy of getting all this attention, and being in the media a lot, and she's playing with it and having fun. It's not like she thinks that she's this goddess or something, like she's sometimes called. It's been really interesting from a media standpoint to see how it all works, and see how wrong things can go with people's misconceptions — especially with her. I think she probably likes some of that but some of it's just ridiculous. People have this image of her as this sex crazed nut who's this total deviant Goth witch or something. She's actually just a very nice, pretty normal person.

Do you feel like you're missing out on the "rock star" scene living here? Why isn't Smart Sound studio in Chicago or Los Angeles?

Probably because there isn't the rock star thing here. We've gotten to see parts of that with some of the things we've been through and we've traveled an awful lot. Sometimes you get caught up in some of the glamorous junk, but it's mainly just junk, and it's sort of nice to get away from it. I think we all feel really relieved when we get on the plane back after being in New York or Europe or something. It's just not reality; this is more of a real place, and it's home. People don't think you're some sort of weird alien, they just treat you like a normal person. If you're in Hollywood or New York, everyone is so incredibly conscious of the latest trend and the latest band — who's the new hot band that they all gotta sign — it's just weird. Being here we get to ignore some of that. It takes a little longer for things to filter down here, maybe, so then you don't get caught up trying to be so trendy. There's a lot of good work in all sorts of things like writing, music, and film that comes out of here because people are able to concentrate on what they're doing as opposed to what other people are doing.

How many dates are planned for your upcoming tour?

It's kind of up in the air still. We're doing just a handful here in the states — the big cities like L.A., San Francisco, New York, Boston. After that it will mostly be really big festivals over in Europe which is going to be cool 'cause there'll be a lot of bands we've never seen before like Bjork and Beastie Boys.

Favorite song on the album?

Probably right now it'd be "Hammering in My Head." I like ["Medication"] too, though it seems like a real traditional song for us. It's a pretty song. That was something that Shirley just sort of had in her head and she was kind of walking around the studio humming it, and we figured out the chords to what she was singing, and we did it pretty quickly. Maybe that's why it's simple. Kind of the other opposite end of the spectrum is "Hammering in My Head" which has like 5,000,000 tracks of all these chattery keyboards and more techno-like stuff that was this huge immense mess. For some reason, when we mixed it, it turned into some sort of weird kind of song that sounds different from anything else on the record that we've done.

Any new videos in the works?

The first one's out for "Push It" and we gotta make another. Probably the next single's gonna be on "Paranoid" and we gotta make a video for that soon too.

Do you like appearing in videos?

We're in every one of them, but it's mainly Shirley. I hate it though. It makes you sick, you're spending all this money and then there's somebody taking your picture. Shirley's much better looking than us, too, so we just let her do it. Before their conversation was over, Chris Tennant wanted to pet Steve Marker's cat, too.