What do you think of it so far?

By David Quantick

Garbage! They've sold millions of albums, but they wonder if that's a good thing when Steve Marker's gone stir crazy, Shirley Manson is shackled and spouse-deprived in brass-monkeys Wisconsin, and the world expects everlasting success. "We have a sense of dread," they tell David Quantick.

If Garbage were a film about the lives of three chums, the main set would be a recording studio. In 1983, Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig left film school in Madison, Wisconsin, and opened a recording studio - Smart Studios - so they could record their rock Group, Spooner.

Soon the studio’s popularity outgrew that of Spooner, the band split up and the trio formed a new group, Firetown, who sounded like Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, and were less popular than the recording studio. By now, bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins were recording at Smart Studios, so Firetown split up, the studio went from recording grunge bands to remixing everyone from Nine Inch Nails to House Of Pain, and the three college chums found the music they now wanted to make was closer to dance and industrial rock than traditional guitar pop. With the addition of singer Shirley Manson - ex-Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Angelfish - the trio formed Garbage, who recorded one of the most successful debut albums of the 1990s and went on to grind the willing world under their post-industrial pop rock heel.

They've still got the studio, mind...

In fact, they can't get out of the bloody studio. Here we are on a snow-laden day in Madison, state capital of Jack Frost-astic Wisconsin, just off a main road full of pick-up trucks and American students with chins like surgical boots, sitting in the spartan but comfy Smart Studios. Gold and platinum and whatever records line the walls, there is a huge display of CDs that the studios have been involved with (including The Beatles In Hamburg, oddly enough) and there is enough futuristic technical equipment to kill Blake’s 7 stone-dead twice.

Manson, looking cleaner than anyone else in America is complaining to someone about a third party. "It’s out of order," she says Scottishly, "I mean, we’re not U2, you know."

The rest of Garbage are wearing ladies’ wigs. The wigs are here not because the Garbage men are baldies, but so Shirley can try new hairstyles, which is just as well as they make Vig – 41, dapper and tall – look like Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap. Erikson – dry, saturnine, related to psychedelic legend Roky Erikson – looks like, well Roky Erikson. And Marker – square-headed, modest, dusting of blond hair – looks completely barking-faced potty.

Garbage have been in this studio – in these small rooms – for just over a year, which is how long it took to record their second album, computeresquely called Version 2.0. Shinier, less dense ("Really?" says Vig when this is suggested to him, "Dammit!") and a little more pop than its predecessor, Versions 2.0 contrariwise features more personal and less oblique lyrics, some of which are stolen (with full faxed permission) from the likes of Chrissie Hynde and Brian Wilson. It is an intense, raging, full-on, multi-layered audio beast. Garbage, after all do not do things by halves.

Except, that is, interviews. To avoid Manson overwhelming the world’s press with words and opinions. and to ensure that the aged, droll men in the band get a word in, the band do all their press in clumps and braces. Vig and Marker remove their wigs, drink coffee and take Q into the bowels of - where else? - the studio.

"Exactly a year in the studio. It's really sick," Vig says in his low drawl. "We had to cut it off two days before it became officially a year, so it wouldn’t go into Pink Floyd territory... Shirley really had to crack the whip and throw a dart at the calendar. She was really pushing to get this done, and there was a little friction there. We were more like, Well, there's a couple more ideas we gotta try."

Sane adults want to know - why does it take year to do something it took four weeks to write?

"Good question," says Marker in a drawlier drawl. "We're just really slow and tend to sit around obsessing and trying out dumb, stupid ideas."

Maybe it's because 75 per cent of the band are producers. Vig reveals that one song, I Think I'm Paranoid, has 120 tracks, which may explain Manson's cabin fever. Is he sure this is a proper band?

"Absolutely," Vig says. "The first record we made we never played live, we just made it up in the studio. Then we ended up playing 14 months on the road. Somewhere in there we turned into this actual real pop band that lives on a bus, kinda like The Partridge Family, drives around, gets out and plays, and has fights and has meals together, and bad things happen and good things happen, and you become friends. So, yeah, right now we feel like an actual functioning rock band sort of thing. We're more comfortable around each other."

The journey from the first album to the second was a strange one, not anticipated by three thirty(and then some)thing producers.

"Yeah! There's no way you can anticipate it," says Vig. "You can make the most brilliant album and it sells 2,000 copies. It completely took us unawares. We didn't think we were gonna tour, we didn't even know we were gonna make the second record."

"If they'd approached me and said this is what we're gonna do for the next two years," maintains Marker, "I'd have gone. Fuck that, I don't wanna do that. But now we have a certain rat-pack mentality. We enjoy each other's company. We do function as a band, we have an us-and-them mentality. I dunno. Maybe after this tour we'll hate each other's fuckin' guts!"

Vig and Marker chat happily about life in the studio and recording. They are settled men onto their third band and they have worked in the same building since l983. Finally Q asks what gets their goat. What makes Garbage the angry voice of young alternative America?

Marker growls. "Just about everything," Vig expands. "Steve and I are probably more quietly obsessive about stuff. I remember when we were working on I Think I'm Paranoid. After the second chorus, Duke put on these guitar riffs and Steve was like, I fucking hate these guitar solos..."

Vig stops. His angsty rage is unapparent. "I don't know," he says "You'd better ask Shirley."

Indeed we will. Sitting in the studio with Erikson and a bowl of toffee, Manson instantly recalls an occasion where her goat was got. Perhaps unsurprisingly. It involves recording the album.

"Because its very comfortable and safe for the others here, whereas I'm living in a hotel away from everything, I was getting pissed off," Manson says cheerfully. "Steve would be in one room, Duke would be in another and they'd work on the same song for a day. At the end of the day they'd come out and I'd say, How did it go and they'd go, Uh, nothing much. And I just got pissed off. I said, I'm fucked if I'm staying in Madison for another year!"

Manson's input is bigger in other ways, too. Songs like I Think I'm Paranoid and Push It use the "I" word more than ever before.

"When I first joined the band I had never written before, I was very frightened and unsure of myself. The writing, although I was the sieve, was communal," says Manson. "I wanted this record to be more touching, more direct and emotional, because on the first record we were frightened of revealing anything. And there was a lot of things I wanted to get rid of in my own life, so I was shedding skin."

Given that Manson is married and her husband lived many miles away while she stayed in a hotel, are these lyrics the product of deep unhappiness?

"No," she says happily. "The words are not literal, they're trying to create a mood. Music is cathartic and I can deal with things musically that I can't deal with in real life. Because I don't want to sit here with people and bum them out! I don't want to go out and meet someone and be a downbeat bore. Who wants that? Nobody I think."

But men in bands who write miserable lyrics love to go out and meet people and be a downbeat bore.

"That's the nature of women," says Erikson.

"It's not the nature of women," Manson interrupts. "It's the way society is, that women can’t get anything or get anywhere unless people really really like them. Men have been able to rely on their talent a lot more than women have. There’s not as much opportunities for women in the world and they have to work hard and they have to make connections 'cos if they don't, they're finished. Whereas men can cruise along and be miserable bastards who rise and rise and rise. For the most part, women have learned to suppress the less appealing parts of themselves."

Manson stops. We are silent. Then she giggles, possibly to suppress a less appealing part of herself.

"I’m sorry," she says, "I didn't mean to sound hysterical, but I believe it."

There must be few women in rock in Manson’s situation, however, hotels and men and all.

"She gets her med bade every morning," Erikson says. He stops. "'Med bade'? Bed made."

"That's true," Manson says. "But I don't think it's very difficult 'cos I have found three exceptional people in my life and they happen to be male and we have found… what’s the word for a chemical thing when things bond together by chance?"

"Bond?" suggests Erikson supportively.

"A bond," nods Manson. "That's very rare in life and we have found it."

The person who has had the most influence on Manson in pop is Chrissie Hynde. Manson's Hynde obsession is well-known, to the extent that on this record she didn't so much sample as quote verbatim from one of the Pretenders' songs, Talk Of The Town. Lawyers were not involved.

"She is absolutely one of my, all-time heroines," Manson roars, "And I knew if she heard it she'd get it so I called her up and explained it. She said, I'm cool with it, don't worry. And then half an hour later a fax came through. It said, 'I, Chrissie Hynde, hereby do solemnly swear that Garbage, the rock band, can sample any of my vocals, my sounds, or, indeed, my very arse.' And it was so brilliant of her... it was fantastic."

Manson beams. "Fantastic-al!" she says, correcting herself. "It was the same with Ian McCulloch when we met him on the road. This was someone I lusted after as a teenager and I met him, and I just reverted back to a teenager and said, I can barely speak to you. I just wanted to say, and I've waited all my life to tell you this, you're beautiful, and then I walked away. It was like a dream sequence that I fantasised about when I was a teenager, and I got to live it out."

"I told him the same thing that night," Erikson deadpans. "It didn't quite work out."

This is what happens to some people's dreams. Garbage in 1998 are no longer a tentative project, but a big grown-up famous band who have earned a few bob and a place in the hearts of this generation's blank generation. They have, possibly, achieved the post-modern American dream.

"The weird thing is, I think we're all adult enough to know that our success is very transient," Manson says. "We've had a successful record but that doesn't mean squat these days. Tomorrow I could be working in the pie shop in Edinburgh. So in that respect we haven't achieved the American dream. We're in nowhereland, really."

"I think we’ve carved out a niche for ourselves. I don't even know what it is," Vig offers cautiously. "We're totally paranoid this record's gonna fail. People have such a short attention span now, we’re not taking this for granted."

"Right now we re in a transitional state," adds Erikson. "We're more reads' than last time but we don't feel secure..."

Manson says, "I feel depressed. I feel this weird depression and anticlimax. We've made this record and I worry that I'm never going to make a record again. I have this funny feeling of loss. I know that sounds really melodramatic..."

She sighs deeply. "We've been in bands for so long now, I don’t think I could go through another decline. If we think this isn't going we'll pull the plug (snaps fingers) like that. I don't think I could watch another ship go down. It's unbearably painful, and the break-up of a band is like the break-up of marriage. And that frightens me."

"I meant to say," Erikson says drily, "what we have is a sense of dread."

Time to go. This is a busy band. They turned down a Batman record and a Bond record because they were making this album. They have a tour and a lot of rehearsals. Garbage will spend the rest of this century being very busy indeed.

Manson, however has more pressing business.

"I wonder if you could do me a favour?" she says in polite conclusion. "Would you please remove all swear words unless imperative to the text? Thank you."