The New Album

By Craig McLean

Sex-bomb. Loose-cannon. Rock chic... From goth obscurity to planey - rattling success. Shirley Manson has become the ultimate pop queen. But what do you do when the stalkers are closing in and America thinks you're a goddess from outer space? Come and worship at the temple of GINGER SPICE Shirley Manon is on her knees ripping open a parcel that has arrived from the UK. In among the crumpled pages of the TIMES are a couple of tapes, a pair of tartan boots, and no note.

"Ohmigod," she exhales, "I think these are Vivienne Westwood. Look, that lining is calfskin."

Butch Vig stands above her. "Huh," he grunts," all I got was a live Chemical Brothers' bootleg and some trancey compilation cassesttes." Duke Erikson hovers nearby. He keeps quiet. He has already had a couple of anonymous letters, posted locally. He will get another tomorrow, a poem that has some icky stuff about how "your flood gushed into my void". Steve Marker bustles about in the studio next door, tinkering with the cutting-edge recording tricknology. He keeps quiet. Because he always does. "Look!" Shirley holds up a boot and whipers loudly: "They're my size!" No one says anything. More than the boy-fan from Leeds who sends them Garbage comic-strips(Shirley Manson is Tanked-Up Girl), more than the devotional unoffical websites, more than the long-distance stalker from New Zealand, this latest unsolicited advance is proper scary. "God!" shouts Shirley Manson, mock-diva, as she tosses the boota aside, "everybody's our friend and we don't know any of them!"

Shirley Manson is Alan Partridge living in a hotel for six months, divorced from friends and family. Or is she Norma Desmond, living out a seclusionist, delusionary glamour on Sunset Boulevard? Or is she Jack Nicholson in The Shining, going bonkers in a snowbound Overlook? Heeeeere's Shirley: she is all three, and not all there. "Funnily enough, my little sister has taped every episode of Alan Partridge for me," she laughs. "I live in the hotel for various reasons. Firstly, if I'm not surronded by my life I don't want to pretend I have a life-I don't want to just make do. Secondly I've had some crazy mail from crazy people and I don't want to be in an apartment by myself because I'd be frightened. I'm frightened and paranoid and neurotic as it is - I don't need any more of that in my life! And thirdly, the hotel's convenient and the people are really nice. I'm a lazy bastard! I'm not putting my hands down a toilet when I'm making a record. I've been doing that for years. I want a break!" She later clarifies this in more poetic terms: "My father's given me one of the greatest gifts ever: an ability to think beyound my immediate material situation." This is Wisconsin: Midwestern home to four million humans and four million cows. "Dairyland".

On the fringes of the Scandinavian-American setting of Fargo(that's Duke Erikson and Butch Viger(erson), and yes, the people do say "oh yah"). A state that's in a state, with the highest proportion of overweight people in America. This is Madison: state-capital home to the fourth-largest university campus in the country(44,000 students). America's only "isthmus" city, its silver of a downtown pinched between lakes Mendota and Monona. On the lip of one of these lakes sits Shirley's hotel - a quietly grand place that was sufficiently discreet to attract Elvis a few months before his last trip to the john. "This stimulating, youthful metropolis is one of the most beautifully set cites in the US, with a handful of diverting museums," says the guide book.

"The dismal winterish overcast is expected to persist through the evening," says the local weather channel,"along with snow flurries. Tonight: freezing drizzle." "There's nothing to do here," adds Shirley Manson. "It's either winter and freezing cold or it's summer and boiling hot and I can't go out because I'm very white." "I love Madison," says Clyde Stubblefield - James Brown's original Funky Drummer, guest on two tracks of 1995's four million selling "Garbage" album, and 27-year-gone local resident - in the latest issue of Grand Royal. "The people here are some of the finest in the world. They're honest.

It's like the European feel of London...We got so many great entertainers around this place." And this is Shirley Manson. A 30-year-old Scot with a tortuous history in often tortuous bands. The fizzing, buzzing focus of a group comprising three American producers-turned-musicians with an average age of 40.666 and a predilection for questionable old Yank punk bands(and a past producing epoch- making records like "Nevermind" and Siamese Dream"). The brains and voice of "Queer"(You're nothing special here...") and "Only Happy When it Rains"("My only comfort is the night gone black") "Vow" ("I Came around to tear your little world apart") and "supervixen" ("Bow down to me..."). The axis around which Garbage's pristine crush of loopz and beatz revovles.

To the faithless, she is Ginger Spice backed by the Stock, Aitken & Waterman of grunge(even her name is too cute - part mass-murderer, part cute- kitsch.) To the faithful, a sassy mix of UK club-cool and US rock-heat. To American MTV, a spacegoth icon beamed down from Planet Bizzarre. To surburban US teenagers, the first singer - post-Courtney Love and pre-Fiona Apple - to make the Dark Side attractive. To American rock orthodoxy, a paradox who deigns to wear designer fashion and yet be "alternative". To gender-blender pop-psychologists, the anti-Alanis.

To her puppet-maker husband of just over a year back in Edinburgh, the wife who has never spent a night int he house they bought last February. To Duke Erikson, the girl whose nose he has to check for bogies every night before Garbage go on stage. Since Nirvana, no American band have so successfully straddled the commercialcredible divide, loved by wee lassies and hipster dudes and smug critics and fashion plates alike. Since Blondie, no woman fronting a band has so artfully combined chilled glamour and pop suss. Shirley preceded the girls-on-top explosion that has hoisted and foisted Alanis and Meredith and Fiona ahd Sharleen by a goodly distance(and with less angst and more tongue- in-cheek fun). "Garbage" - on the way to selling four million copies, being nominated for three Grammies, winning one MTV Award(Best Breakthrough Artist), and producing five worldwide hit singles - made Shirley Manson a massive, iconic, dro p-dead famous pop star. No other poster-girl and video-star looks so haughty yet so mad-for-it. She is SexShirley and IndieQueen, one of the boys and one of they girls. Which is all a bit much to take in, really. But only if you don't konw Shirley Manson.

Shirley Manson is on the phone talking to a man about a dog. "I looked at those videos you sent but they made the people look bad. And we don't need that - not at our age! But I'm not interested in me looking beautiful, because everyone's looking beautiful in America these days. I don't need to look beautiful in the first video because if this record's got the length we hope it will, I can look beautiful in the third one. The first one's all about a vibe." There is silence as the record company man in Los Angeles or New York or wherever he is digests this light-hearted but darkly-serious spiel from a women with self-confessed "ugly syndrome" (who nonetheless is sufficiently entrenched in the American music and media establishment to call famous people by their first name and not sound like a wanker). "I want to see Stephane(Sednauoi)'s video for Fiona," Shirley is saying now. "The Aphex Twin video is amazing - and it's not pretty. Same with the Andrea Giacobbe video. They're not about how beautiful Courtney was on Grammy night - I mean, Lisa Loeb looked fucking beautiful, so what? "Oh!" she adds, "you know the one we want to see? The Prodigy one that got banned. No, you didn't. You sent 'Breathe' and 'Firestarter'. 'Smack My Bitch Up'. We haven't seen that. Put that on the list!"

Silence again. Down the long-distance line, the sound of one man flapping. Perhaps pointing out "Push It", the first single from Garbage's second album, is due out in little over a month, and they're still arguing over who's gonna direct the video. "Och, don't nerouse," baits Shirley. "I'm just sparring with you. I love getting you all riled up, hee hee..." We are in Smart Studios in downtown Wisconsin. This is Garbage's refuge within cocoon. A self-sufficient business and creative set-up far from the wiles and pressures of the music industry. It doesn't stop the production offers to Butch("for two or three years that's all I got from the labels: 'We've got the next Nirvana.' Ironically, since Garbage has come out, all the labels are sending me female singers with eletronica/trip hoppy stuff..."), the singing offers (Echo & The Bunnymen wanted Shirley on their comeback album last year), or the acting offers("they want me to play The Fucked-UP Rock Star! The Insane Girlfriend," snorts Shirley. "its just insane"), but Smart is a bunker of sorts.

Garbag have been squirelled away here for most of '97; recording, mixing, recording, remixing. A whiteboard shows the state of play. "Wicked Wayz - make chorus rock, dudez. "Sleep Together - remix drums, sort thru pouts + focus better chorus." "King Of Crime - need a 'pop' title." "Keep Breathing - spare oddity." "Roxy Music-ish B-side." "Medication", "Dumb", "Push It-Mixed! Only 15 MORE TO GO BOYS! Hee haw...Plus B-sides."

Butch puts on "Push It". Butch(38, urbane, dashing, likes beer), Duke(46, witty, charming, stricter with 19-year-old daughter than ex-wife, who is a judge), and Steve (38, adolescently shy, has Corgis called Simon and Gromit, goes home early) shuffle round the room. "Push It" is vintage Garbage: sultry, unharried vocals from Shirley, a galloping mix of buzzsawing guitars, a mash of samples, rumbling rhythms, an elegant discordancy, and a lyric that starts: "I was angry when I met you..." It is the album-closing songs the Prodigy's cover of L7's "Fuel my Fire" should ahve been: barely-controlled pop-mayhem. Indeed, in 1998, if any band is to capitalise on the more adrenalised, wayward sensiblities of Britain's best "electronica" exports and their 1997 ramraid on America's rock heartland, it is Garbage.

Butch flips on raw version of "Dumb" (industrial electro), "Temptation"(guitar mangled by rhodes keyboard) and "Keep Breating" (title from Janice Galloway's book The Trick is To Keep Breathing, vibes from "Queer", chills from Shirley's supine vocal, gold discs from whichever territory gets its as a single). Thus far, this early, it's Portishead Syndrome: they cut a whole new sound with their first album, then refine it on their second. There isn't a shock of the new, but there is the glow of the familiar.

"This[record' is a wee bit more schizophrenic so far, " Shirley writes in issue three of Garbage Zone("The Official Garbage Fanzine"). "In some ways it is darker, bleaker than its predecessor, yet in another sense it is struggling to find a more optimistic vein to tap. Does that make any sense? Probably not! Ah well...Let's just say beats and guitars and tunes you can whistle are our main concern."

The band remain unsure. By day's end, they will decide on just one more mix of "Push It". The LP- "Sad Alcoholic Clowns", a working title for the first one, too, is the closest they have to a name - will slip back to an April release. Garbage aren't fussed. Smart was founded by film students Butch Vig("drums, loops, noise, and efx") and Steve Marker (guitars, bass, samples and loops") in 1984. The name came from Madison vernacular; the ethos came from the American proto-grunge underground and bands like Killdozer and Tad. Duke Erikson("guitars, keyboards, six-string and fuzz bass") would hang out, too, helping behind the controls and partnering Vig in punk-ish outfits Firetown and Spooner. "We never had mohawks. But there was a definite notion of fighting...When we first started recording bands everything was real expensive. The music Dire Straits and Sting, it was all about who could get the most expensive snare drum sound. We, on purpose, went against that. There was defintely an us-against-them mentality. We've tried to hold on to that a little bit."

In 1991, "them" came to "us". It was in this room that the demos for the second album by Nirvana was recorded - indeed, the version of "Polly" that appears on "Nevermind"is the Smart version. Then on the day news came of Kurt Cobain's suicide, on April 8, 1994, Garbage was born. That was the day Shirley Manson met "the boys" in London for the first time. Shirley Manson is on the dole and so am I. One of the last times I saw Shirley before we both left Edinburgh was signing on one Tuesday morning. We had known each other for a couple of years. I had seen her band, Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie, a few times. Well, no her band. Originally, around the time of their one hit, "The Rattler" (Number 37, March 1989), Shirley was one of the two female keyboard players in the band. Over the course of their five albums for five different record labels, Shirley would step tentatively to the fore, playing guitar, singing more backing vocals. But forever just to the right of the spotlight.

Paddling round the small puddle that was the Scottish music scene. I saw the MacKenzies play a Saturday morning radio show in a shit disco in Edinburgh, doing a careering version of "Mystery Train", Shirley a mass of ginger curls and black eyeliner. I watched them perform in a room the size of a toliet cubicle at the launch of their "Hammer And Tongs" album - their best - in another shit disco one snowy February night. I saw them play in a nomark town near Glasgow, their line-up now thickened by this time with the addition of "Big John" Duncan, a tattooed behemoth who was a sometime Nirvana guitar roadie. I liked their non-more-black pop tunes, their melodramatic gothery, their near-legendary enthusiasm for drink and drugs, their seething cover of Jacques Brel's "Amsterdam", the fact that the London music press didn't so much ignore them as actively, bafflingly despise them. In a small puddle, you are defined by your borders. We became friends. I was there when...Shirley Manson was in her bedroom prattling on about how much she loved Ian Brown(his sex) and Nick Cave(his words) and Frank Sinatra(his voice). Five years on, million miles from Edinburgh, Frank is on the stereo in Madison photographic studio, singing "The World We Knew(Over And Over)" and Shirley is mooning around, going "Frank's gonna die and I"m gonna cry!" and gushing "I'm gonaa die from sadness. There is no one like him! He recorded this in one take, when Ava Gardner was destroying his life. He'll put flowers on her grave forever...When I hear this it makes me feel sherbet-y in my heart."

Shirley was every this way. Enthusiastic, melodramatic, fragile. Intimidating. Inspiring. Flirtatious. Brutally frank. Crudely honest. Wild teenager. Wild-card twentysomething. Very well-read, very close to her family(she always lived at home). Loud and quick to laugh. Creative and destructive. Ginger and black. romantic and hard-nosed. Fiercely loyal to girlfriends and fiercely fierce to boyfriends. Occasionally you might glimpse that even as she was the centre of attetion, or was making people feel good about themselves, she was hiding her own confusion, her lack of self-worth; her feeling indefinably, amorphously bad about herself. She'd give to deceive. She'd been in the MacKenzies from school. Had joined them for love. Had stayed with them past love. Had stayed with them past love and through painful slog. Been ripped off by management. Had tasted success, but it was only a taste. And never on her own terms, tapping her own talents. Back in our collective past, I heard how Shirley Manson was in AngelFish now, which was Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie reconfigured for the American market, with Shirley as singer and frontwoman. It was MTV, in the video for Angelfish's "Suffocate Me" that Madison Men, searching for a singer, first clocked Shirley. They contacted her label, Radioactive, in New York. Shirley got the call while touring America in a Radioactive package with post-grunge dullards Live and crippled folkie Vic Chessnutt. Unhappy, unfulfilled and unswayed by Butch Vig's apparent legend("I never read the back of LP's looking for producer's names, so I had this cliched image of an American rock producer called Butch in leather trousers!"), she agreed to meet them back in Britain. One round of tea and cakes in London and two "audition" try-outs in Madison later, Garbage was born. Shirley Manson is on her laptop answering e-mail and taking care of band business("I'm good at being a neurotic, tenacious maniac about our business!") so The Boys get a word in edgeways.

What's your non-musical role in Garbage? Steve: "I'm the annoying one that hopefully shakes things up now and then. Tends to get pretty upset. Behaves irrationally at times. If I do help things, it's to keep the waters stirred up." Duke: "I guess I like to lighten things up as often as possible. We all look after one another. You have to be aware of how everyone's feeling at each different hour." Butch: "I'm very conscious about how people are feeling. What the dynamic is like. If there's tension, if someone's pissed, I'm keenly aware, and have been on other records I've produced. I guess I try to do damage control. What's your take on Shirley's new lyrics? Duke: "Less ambiguous and more personal, about people she knows. Some on a personal level, some on voyeuristic level. More about things she knows about or understands or feels." What would be the small ad that would attract someone like Shirley? Duke: "Wanted: loose cannon." Must have outsider status? Duke: "Yeah! We didn't think we needed 'wild this' or 'cute that'. We were considering having a man sing. But we certainly weren't looking for the personality type. We just fell in love with the voice. And the rest was just...Shirley." Shirley Manson is on the couch. Why you, now, here? "Half of the success of America taking to their hearts was my place in time. It was how people were feeling; I caught people's imagination because I was fresh. In alternative rock, for a woman to come out and be seen interested in fashion was pratically unheard of in America. This was seen as sophiscated way of looking at how alternative pop could move forward and not stay entrenched in this idea of 'let's wear tartan shirts and baby-doll dresses and backcomb our hair and look fucked-up'. I was just lucky. I just go there."

Each night, the boys go back to homes and family, you go back to a hotel. Is that a daily reminder of the other gulfs - background, age, business(Shirley remains signed to Radioactive while Garbage are signed to Mushroom) - between singer and band? "That's a good thing. It keeps my perspective very different from theirs. But I do get cabin fever - more on the last record, though. I was completely alone then, didn't know the boys that well, I felt like an alien, I would go back to my room and literally scream and punch walls and throw furniture and feel hatred towards them! But on this record I knew what was ahead of me. I have my computer this time round, a guitar in my hotel room, CDs, my excercise equipment. More things to occupy me." And you have a husband and a house back in Edinburgh now. Is that not more of a weight pulling you home? 'I've always had an anchor. I come from a really strong family. But I've become very self-sufficeint, which is a good thing because I used to be very dependent and needy. I couldn't go into a shop! I swear to God, hee hee! People laugh at me, but I couldn't shop properly, I was so fucked up. I couldn't go into a care and sit alone! I was so self-conscious. I"m not like that anymore. My mum said to me recently: 'Your dad and I noticed that the last time we went out you went into a shop by yourself', hah hah! That's so sad, at the age of 30..." But you're up there, on stage, on TV, a Supervixen, someone who openly talks about her new guitar "that's all sparkly and orange and just happends to be the colour of my fanny". You're quite vivacious. "In public I am, but internally I I have to struggle to contain that." Are you saying that to make yourself seem more interesting? "Oh yeah, people think that. But none of these people have been there, picking me up off of the floor, when I can't get it together. I'm not sitting here saying I'm a fucked-up person. This is how I look at it: I love hanging out with people. If they are depressive and fucked-up, I don't want to hang around with them. So(nervous laugh) I want people to want to hang out with me. I'm really into people, they fascinate me." You're good at making people feel good. "Because I think I understand what they need to hear, what they want to hear, and what they should her." That's flirting.

"This is a conversation I had with my wee sister very recently. I said: 'I'm not a flirt.' She said: 'OK, you're not, but you are good with people, and that's a form of flirting itself.' But I'm not a sexual flirt. And that's how people think of flirting. "I think I have an empathy for people. I think I understand the hole that people have inside them. I think everybody feels like me. I'm not saying that I'm different or special or more black or fucked-up and pessimistic than anybody else. That hole exists in everybody. I want people to feel good, I don't want people to feel bad and that life is shit and not worth living." Is that your way of not dealing with your own hoe? "Of course it is. As you say, there's probably people who don't think I have the hole. And just because I don't choose to throw my hole open- if you'll excuse the metaphor! - to anybody and everybody, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. "Because I'm up and energised people think: 'Urgh, she doesn't feel depressed, she loves herself.' They can't square two feelings. Look at someone like Courtney Love: they say 'she's sold out, she's wearing Versace.' What do they think, she's waved a magic wand and healed her scars? Of course not! She's still as smart, still as erudite, still as articulate, still a mess." She's still as opportunistic. "So fucking what? Do we want her to stay a smack addict until she ends up in the gutter? I want to see her rise and show everybody that there's salvation and redemption and brillance in life and it's not just about middle- class intelluctual journalists who want to live their suppressed, oppressed lives through her. Even if that means rebuilding her face? "Well, I feel sad that she's done that, but at the same time, what did we expect from someone who's been a smack addict and comes from this dreadful past? She isn't perfect, she isn't an angel. Of course she does stupid things like anybody. But she has pulled herself from the brink of the abyss, and we should celebrate that 'cause God knows it's easy to sink into depression and squander your life and be a loser. I've spent my life around people like that. I don't see anything cool or fucking great about it. I've seen great talent and great brillance pissed down the river, and it makes me sick. And it makes me sad."

The lyric on "Medication" goes "I hold a force I can't contain, somebody get me out of here..." Is that the album in a nutshell? "Probably, yeah. Lyrically anyway. I always submit to weakness. You can only be truly strong if you know what your weaknesses are...Everything on the new record is about me, or my life, except the line "She's not the kind of girl who likes to tell the world the way she feels about herself', from 'Keep Breathing'. That's about a friend of mine from home. The record is more direct and more personal than the first. I was able to verbalise things a little clearer this time - I mean, I'm no Nick Cave, I'm never gonna be Bob Dylan. I do what I can to express myself." Describe the archetypal Garbage fan. "No such thing. There's girls like me down the front and geeky guys like the boys. Because we're older, we're not frightened of doing thihngs that are supposedly 'uncool'. We'll do what we think is right. What we want to do. When people are so self-conscious about being cool, that's not cool. When people dress exactly the way THE FACE magazine tell them to, that is not cool. That person has been led. Everybody wants a leader to look up to, a cartoon to live through, a fantasy figure to travel with. Nobody wants reality in their face. They want something that's bigger than they are. That's why people get into music or religion or whatever. They're all looking for an escape. Something bigger to make sense of things for them."

So what does Shirley Manson want, now that she is bigger thing? "Well, I become a born-again Christian!" Shirley Manson is revealing secrets. At her gran's funeral last week, she learned that the auntie whose name and birthday she shares got her name because gran was reading Charlotte Bronte's Shirley when she was pregnant. *She's meant to be talking with "Michael" this week. That's Stipe. "His people got in touch with my people," she eye-rolls. "He tried to get in touch back in March." She wonders what it's about. She's nervous. *The last Garbage Gang outing was to see Radiohead in Chicago in October. "I felt like I was 14 again!" *Throughout Garbage's world tour, she kept a picture of Brian Laudrup, Rangers' Danish striker, on her amp. "because he's got the best thighs" *She won't get an ulcer because "I get it all out and give everyone else an ulcer" * She's closer to her younger sister, who works for Mo's Wax in London, than she is to her older sister, who's a nurse in Edinburgh. * She agreed to meet The Men From Madison in London on the day Kurt died so she could go and see a friend's new baby and get her flight from Edinburgh paid for.

Shirley Manson is on her third or fourth wine. We are in a cafe bar in Madison. It is late and icy and snowy and dark. Butch is telling us that the paintings on the walls are by his brother, who is called Stick Vega. Duke is chatting to girls by the bar who, in Garbage parlance, are "shveetniks" - attractive young ladies. Me and Billy, Smart's engineer and Courtney Love's former guitar tech, are smoking cigars. Shirley is talking to a girl who is locally famous for jumping onstage with Hole a couple of years back. Steve has gone home. Garbage must finish the mix of "Push It" in two days' time, and record as many of the final vocals before Shirley goes home to Scotland for the Christmas holidays in ten days. It is the longest Shirley will be home for two years. No one stresses. Everyone is easy and woozy, cozy and comfy.

Everything will be fine. The Gang's all here. "I worked out recently why I love the boys so much, " Shirley Manson had said earlier that day. "We used to go on summer holidays with the family and my dad would pull off the road and fall asleep with my mum. So us kids would be left in the back going crazy, excited about going to our destination. But we'd have to wait till dad started the car up again. And what I love particularly about Butch is that he never falls asleep. He makes me feel really secure and that I'm zooming forward all the time, hee hee hee!"

Shirley Manson has her arms pointing straight up in the air. Like Superwoman. "Push It" is released in March.