Garbage: Version 2.0

by Henrike Tuxen

After half a dozen postponements, garbage have released their seconds album, Version 2.0. Melancholic pop meets dragged out guitars by way of tracks of weird loops and samples. Henrike Tuxen talks to the master of post-modern pop.

It's starts like a bad joke. What do you get if you take a respected producer, an ex-guitarist from little-known band Spooner and the co-founder of Wisconsin's Smart Studios and mix them with the former backing vocalist for Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie? The punchline? Garbage. Not the stuff our transatlantic cousins throw in their trash cans, but a band. And a very good one at that. You may well have heard of them, they scored big in 1996 with the singles Only Happy When It Rains, Stupid Girl and Milk, all culled from their debut, self-titled album. Which has now sold more than 4 million copies.

As Seattle's finest were bowing out of the limelight, Garbage moved in. They were the ultimate hybrid, fusing pop, guitar rock, techno and hip-hop. According to some, it was the rebirth of rock'n'roll, to others it was an assassination. Who else could better analyse the situation than one Butch Vig, the man at the production helm of Nirvana's Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkin's Gish, Lull and Siamese Dream. Oh, and did we mention he's in Garbage too?

"People say rock is dead, but that's only because once there's a successful band, thousands copy them and it gets stale. After Nirvana and the Pumpkins there were loads of Grunge bands and most of the sucked," Butch points out. "Today there are a lot of artists that are trying to use beats and samples. When we started doing it, it was because it made sense as a band. We wanted to incorporate techno and hip-hop, punk rock and pop, and just try to write good pop songs. Now you see bands like Bush doing remix albums."


Butch clearly resents the band-wagon hopping legion of bands that capitalises on a successful formula. He thrives on music that it real.

So these days, what bands are pushing boundaries for him?

"Look at a new artist like Beck - he is totally different to hard rock, but I consider him a rock artist because his music moves me, just like anyone that can get you going. I mean, the next superstar can be a folk singer, a techno artist or whatever. Anyone that has spirit, charisma or chemistry, can make it. That's the real deal."

Although to the outsider, Garbage appears to be host to a trio of producers extra-ordinaries, Duke, the man who according to Butch "has the ability to make very orchestral guitar sounds," is keen to stress that, "we really don't consider ourselves producers. We're musicians who turned producers at various points. But the line between musician, writer and producer is pretty blurred as far as we're concerned." He adds, "Shirley's a musician as well, so there's really not much difference between us. We just twiddle more knobs than she does."

The charismatic Scottish singer immediately responds, "Yes, you do (in a singsong voice), but I've twiddled a few knobs in my time!" Butch agrees with a chuckle, "I was always a writer and a musician before I started engineering and producers. Steve Duke and I spent years making music together prior to Garbage. We all play everything and we don't have very defined roles. Everybody thinks I just do the drums. But I program stuff, play and process guitars and fuck with the arrangements. It's the same with Duke and Steve, they program beats and do guitars and keyboards. Shirley doesn't know as much technically, but she has just as many ideas."


Steve and Duke do seem to be the main men behind the majority of the guitar work on the album.

"We used to work really hard to get the perfect guitar sounds," says Steve, "but now we're more likely to throw mics around somewhere near the amp. Not very traditional, and pretty coincidental really. I use a lot of Fender Strats and some Guild guitars. Duke's got a lot of old Gibson's which are great and we use a lot of old pedals."

It comes as a bit of a surprise that when the self-confessed hi-tech band are on the road, they traipse around town in search of old gear. Butch: "We spend a lot of our time off going to pawn shops, looking for used guitars, weird little amps, used guitar pedals and stuff. Lately we got a Microsynth Harmonix which has been working really well. It's probably from the sixties and the outside's all broken up but the sound is incredible."

So you're mixing the old technology with the new?

"Yeah, that's the idea," Steve replies. "Some of the old things sound so weird. You can buy all these really expensive effects today which do all these wild things but they sound really perfect. It's more fun when you have things that you can't predict: you don't know what they're are going to do." Butch enthusiastically nods his head.

Culling influences from all and sundry, you even find a homage to the Beach Boys hidden within the depths of Version 2.0. The single, Push It, features the classic Beach Boys' phrase, "Don't worry baby". Shirley takes it upon herself to explain.

"The line juts popped up while we wee jamming. It knew it was from the Beach Boys. Not that they have a patent of those three words alone, nevertheless, in pop history, it's their line. We thought it would be really cool to have the Beach Boys backing vocals, so we sampled some, but it wasn't gonna work. So I redid the vocal and asked for Brian Wilson's permission to use it. He gave us his blessing, which is amazing."


With the complexity of their music, it's hardly surprising that the band make use of today's cutting edge technology. Butch agrees, but there's a proviso: "In order to utilise technology, you still need to have good performances. We've used Pro Tools and a 48-track digital system. You can sample and move everything around, chop it up and process it; it's unbelievable what you can do. Bu on this record we went for tracks which were looser. Instead of just doing single parts at a time, we'd do live performance and then edit afterwards. "Shirley's vocals are also live takes. We'd then go through them afterwards, keep the best bits and put the whole thing together. One some songs, like Push It, we've used more than 120 tracks, which is crazy. It doesn't need 120 tracks, but we did it because we could, you know?"

In Garbage there's only one member who can articulate the word, "Stop", in a way that makes the others obey. Butch explains, "Usually it's Shirley. Duke, Steve and I want to keep trying things and she goes, 'No - that's enough, you're gonna fuck the song up if you keep on recording.'"

No one ever objects to this statement, as Shirley explains, "Well, someone has to or we'd never get anything done." Somehow you can't help but believe her.