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The audition was not going well. Shirley Manson, straight off a plane from Edinburgh, Scotland, stood on one floor, staring at a mike. Meanwhile, huddled at the soundboard downstairs was a trio of shy Midwesterners: Butch Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson, producers all. They were horribly uncomfortable despite being in the soothing confines of Marker's house in Madison, Wis.

"I was in way over my head," Manson recalls of her initial meeting with her future band mates in Garbage. "I came from a band where I'd never been encouraged to do anything, and the Boys"- as Manson fondly refers to Vig and Co.-"had never auditioned anybody ever." To up the cringe factor, there were no formulated songs. In effect, the Boys would tell Manson to sing, then flee to the safety of the basement. "There were just little blasts of music, or one of them humming a tune," Manson says incredulously, "And they were like, "Make up some words.' I'd never officially written anything with people, so to ask me to ad-lib was a living nightmare."

"We were horrified," says Marker, shaking his head. "We didn't know what to do. I think she was pretty disgusted by that."

"We were downstairs, drinking beer," adds Vig, "She's up in the living room. Steve's cat is staring at her, and she's trying to sing into the mike."

"It was just as well that I was upstairs," says Manson, "Because I literally would have fainted with fear had they been in the same room."

"I just remember constantly going upstairs to check on her," says Erikson. "At one point we were working in the studio and had just forgotten what we were doing. All of a sudden I go, "Where's Shirley?" I went upstairs, and she's sitting on the floor, looking out the window, petting the cat."

Manson winces, there was another reason for the awkwardness, she says. Namely, the way the whole thing came about: The produers saw Manson in her former band, Angelfish, on 120 Minutes; they made a phone call and ordered her up as if MTV was the Home Shopping Network. "We were well aware of how people would perceive a band that came out the way we did," says Manson. "They find a singer on MTV! That's like a joke, a Spinal Tap moment." Having Uberproducer Vig (Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth) in the band also posed problems. "We knew people would see us as this egotistical project of Butch's." says Manson, whose lilting Scottish burr makes Butch come out as Booch.

So the group that would become known as Garbage braced itself for a shit storm that never came. Instead, the band's debut album of catchy, layered pop with a dark underbelly has yielded five hit singles. The group's sound is akin to the movements of a slithery black mechanical snake-the music winds and slides through sampled noise, strange harmonic progressions and futuristic soundscapes as Manson's hushed, throaty vocals burn through all of the moody mud. It's dance pop without the sugar rush, and it has sold 1 million copies of the band's album, titled simply Garbage.

Along the way, two things happened. One was a tentative friendship. "You're lucky enough in a lifetime to meet one friend," says Manson, "But when you are actually lucky to meet three people that are really fucking up your street, it's brilliant. Everyone says to me, "You're the luckiest bitch in the world."

The other thing that happened was that the outspoken, redheaded Manson emerged as a star. Back in the band's early days, Garbage's publicists were instructed, "Try and get her some press. Y'know, do what you can." Ha! "Shirley really runs the show onstage," says Vig, "She loves it. And that's totally cool." And to be frank, when you're in your late 30's like Vig is, you don't necessarily want to be the Lizard King, " We played at the Brixton Academy, in London-6,000 people, and not one person is watching me or Duke or Steve, " Vig says, "They are all fucking watching Shirley."

"This is where I first kissed a boy, inside one of these houses," says Manson breezily. She is walking through her hometown of Edinburgh. She is happy. She has missed it. She has missed her mum and her friends and her granny. "Ninety-five years old, and she ripped me fucking blind at Scrabble yesterday," Manson says proudly.

Edinburgh: cobblestone streets, pastry shops, pubs, flower boxes, the smell of potatoes frying, a cat lazing on seemingly every doorstep. It is chilly and overcast, as it should be. Manson points to a pub. "This is where I had my first drink," she says, "I was 14. I had a Martini, then I slow-danced to that Abba song, 'The Winner Takes It All' I still get the shivers thinking about it." (Later that evening, in true first-drink tradition, the martini made its way back up the hatch.)

Manson is striking: tall, dressed all in black, huge blue eyes, flaming red hair. "People tortured me at school, asking me if I was a natural redhead," she says. "Now I like being asked, because I can say, 'Yes, I am! All the way down, buddy! Do you want to see?" Manson is made is more attractive by the confident way she walks, head up, her big black boots slapping the cobblestones. This is a person who is easy within herself and who is universally beautiful.

A curious thing happes en route to another favorite pub: People surreptitiously glance at Manson and then hastily look away. They don't want the local girl to get a big head, you know. "I get a genuine sense that in America, people like to see people do well," says Manson. "Where I come from, it's quite the opposite. People think success is vulgar." Some people stop her and snidely say, "Oh, hi, pop star."

"Oh, that really bugs me," Manson says.

Here we are. "I've been coming here for the last six years," Manson says, stepping through the door of the pub. It is virtually empty. "You know you're getting older when you want a seat," she says. "So you can sit there and be all interested and...fuckin' moody."

The pub, a symphony in brown, has a nice, drowsy feel to it. It's only inhabitants are two old guys wearing cardigans at the bar. One of them is arguing with the bartender over whether there are any ham-and-cheese sandwiches left. (No, Jim! I tell ya, I haven't got any!" "You must!") The barkeeper stalks off, returns a moment later and slaps a ham-and-cheese sandwich on the bar.

Manson settles in and starts to talk. For those of you who read aloud, here is what she sounds like: "What we're[roll those r's] doing is enterTAINment," she says, describing her vocation. "When you go ouut ond gig, it's not some fookin' catharrtic intellectual Exercise, it's base enterTAINment."

Yes, Manson is a no-nonsense Scot, and Edinburgh will be her home base for a while. "I think, as long as my parents are alive, I wouldn't leave," she says. She did spend a lot of time in Madison (the Boys' hometown, you'll remember), which she considers a nice place to visit. "It's a nice town," she says, "really middle class and easy and liberal, and everyone's really friendly and wholesome, and"-she shrugs-"I just find it boring! There's nothing to do or see. They've got like one art gallery, and there's not a lot to do.. But it was voted Nicest Place to Live by USA Today, or something."

Steve Marker points to a building perched on a small hill in the center of Madison. "This is our state Capitol," he says. "Very exciting," We are on a brief driving tour. "On the other side is University of Wisconsin, where Butch and I went to school," he continues in his dry way. "Madison's between two lakes -it's an isthmus." He sounds a little like an alternative Bob Newhart. "I think it's the only isthmus city," he adds. Oh? "Can you think of any other isthmus cities?" he asks. "Well, there you go."

He pulls up next to a low brick building, Smart Studios, home of Nevermind's demos, site of countless recordings and remixes (U2, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode) all of which have made Butch Vig one of the most in-demand studio alchemists of the 90's. A phalanx of Smart Studio's CD's (Urge Overkill, Gumball, Butthole Surfers, the Cult) decorates a wall at the top of the stairs. In the living room, a TV is going (MTV-surprise!). Everything is neat and clean, including the kitchen, which offers a fruit bowl, and cheese and crackers, all tidily displayed.

Manson's voice floats in from the other room, where Vig is at the soundboard. He is remixing the next single, a plush, mood ballad called "Milk." Trip-hopper Tricky dropped by a while back to add vocals. "I am milk." Tricky rasps in low, insinuating tones. His voice calls to mind hot, dry sand and contrasts nicely with Manson's lush, humid tones. Throughout, flamenco guitars chase the words. My, it is sexy.

We thought Tricky would be really introverted and intense," says Vig, keeping one eye on the monitors. "He was the opposite-really wild and funny. He visited us backstage in New York, and Shirley was out hitting the clubs with him until, like, 6 in the morning."

Easygoing and gracious, Vig is also an admitted perfectionist and workaholic who projects capability. Marker is much quieter. As he puts it, "Shirley described me as the scary, psychotic one, which is a compliment." Erikson, who has just arrived from getting a haircut, is funny, sharp and low-key. When Erikson and Marker are pressed to talk about themselves, they run like skittish gazelles. One must coax.

Erikson: I was raised in a farming community in Nebraska, in a town full of strange characters. [He pauses and coughs] When I was young I made a drum kit out of hatboxes. My first band, when I was 16, was called the British. Our poster said, THE BRITISH ARE COMING. I studied art at a tiny college in Nebraska, and I taught drawing there a couple of semesters. [He pauses again] Is this really interesting to anybody?

Marker: I was a communication-arts major at the University of Wisconsin. Film. Total avant-garde bull shit-the less sense you made, the better grade you got. I came to Madison and ended up staying. All of us are pretty unschooled. Now and then a guitar magazine calls you up and asks you what kind of strings you use and that kind of stuff. It's pretty weird. I don't...I don't think talking about ourselves comes naturally.

Vig is more forthcoming. The Nebraska native is the son of a small-town doctor- the house calls, the doctor bag , the whole nine yards. Dr. Vig had a fear of motorcycles and took his son to the hospital to scare him. "We'd see some kid with his leg ripped off," Butch says, "and my dad would be yelling at me, 'Don't ride a motorcycle!'" Naturally, Butch rode an old Cushman in high school. It was a brief phase, however.

In seventh grade, young Vig saw the Who on the Smothers Brothers Show and was entranced. "They totally smashed their gear up, and I thought, "I've gotta do that, too," he says. A Sears drum kit later, Vig joined a band, the Schlicts(Kevin Schlicht was the singer). They played a total of one show. Then, Vig joined Eclipse, whose singer was called Worm Man because he was the guy who would eat anything for a buck. "Worms, light bulbs, whatever," says Vig. Eclipse had one original song. When pressed, Vig will sing it. "She turns me on in the morning/Turns me on in the evening," he croons, his face crunched in high school rock-out concentration. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, you got it bad!"

Vig headed for the University of Wisconsin; he got a degree in film. "I spent most of my time doing electronic soundtracks," he says, before dropping a bomb. "I pretty much lived in the studio."

Stop the presses!

In 1983 the boys were huge celebrities, in Madison, that is. They formed the pop band Spooner, with Vig on drums, Erikson singing and playing guitar and Marker as the soundman. "We recorded an EP, and as soon as we released it, we were like superstars in Madison," says Vig, "I'm not kidding. Nobody was really making records on your own back then-it was still kind of a mystery."

In 1987, after three albums, Spooner broke up, and Vig and Erikson started the jangly outfit Firetown, which enjoyed modest success. In 1984, Vig and Marker founded smart Studios. "It was basically an empty room with egg cartons on the wall and really horrible equipment," says Marker.

The two began producing local surf punk bands and futzing around on their own. "We had a band called Rectal Drip," Vig remembers. "When a band would cancel, we'd say, 'Fuck it, let's record another Drip song,' " The criteria for a song were simple: It had to be under a minute long, it had to be written and recorded in less than an hour, and it had to contain at least one extreme tempo change. Rectal Drip had a minor local hit when they covered the unintentionally chilling kiddies song "John Jacob Jinglheimer Schmidt."

As the '90s dawned, several high-profile artists began calling on Vig to lend his talents to their music. But after so many projects by so many stars, Vig and Co. needed a new outlet for their own after-hours tinkering. Thus began Garbage in 1993, right after Vig finished producing the Pumpkins' Siamese Dream. The Boys knew what they loved, "I'm a total pop geek," says Vig unabashedly. (The three were weary of testosterone-driven grunge howl.

Manson's approach to singing, it turned out was subtle, "So many singers scream to convey intensity, and she does the opposite," says Vig, "It just blew us away."

"I thought Shirley was really nice," says Marker. He grins "But I was very scared of her."

Shirley Manson is studying an encyclopedic wine list. "This is the sort of thing that literally drives me off my fuckin' trolley," she barks. Manson is sitting at the Witchery restaurant, near Edinburgh Castle, on a site where witches were actually burned back in the day. Manson reveals that she actually played the Wicked Witch of the West in a high-school production. "I can't believe I'm tellin' you about it," she moans as she settles on a vintage South American with oak elements.

While Manson always thrived in the role of showman, she was considerably less successful in her portrayal of a student. "I lost interest in school because I discovered rock & roll, smoking and drinking," she says. Manson was bright but tended to fail her exams. "I remember you had to sit there for half an hour," she says. "You couldn't leave after five minutes. I'd sit there, and all the teachers would shake their heads like, "You're an arse.' Because they knew I was able to do it. But I was so stubborn and proud that I wouldn't let them see that inside I was just fuckin' shittin' myself, and really. I was so upset." When the half-hour was up, Manson says she "left to go get drunk with [her] pals."

"Shirley always had a confident personality," says one such pal, Morag, who says asks that her last name not be used in this article. "And she's striking looking, so I think people were a bit in awe of her. But inside, she wasn't that confident at all. She couldn't be bothered at school, but she's obviously smart-and in good ways. She can put her finger on whether a person is good or not very quickly."

The two ran around town together, says Morag, "I had a predilection for Victorian underwear, and Shirley wore very short skirts and fishnet tights, and she always crimped her hair. Shirley started a few wee fashion trends herself." They would go to pubs, but they had an agreement. "We never went off with men if we were out together," Says Morag. "We had a wee pact that we always left together. So we had a laugh sometimes at men's expenses."

Yes, though Manson may flirt with the fellas, she's a woman's woman. "I have a lot of girlfriends," says Manson. "I need them."

All of Manson's high jinks, however, carried a price tag. Despite her solid background-loving parents, two supportive sisters, lots of friends, deep ties to the community-she rebelled against school, and, she says, "I more or less had to leave." Manson had an anger that she still can't explain. "I played the 45 of Siouxsie and the Banshees' Drop Dead Celebration' constantly," she says of the B side of "Happy House. "That song was so contemptuous and horrible, and that was absolutely how I felt about everybody and everything."

Manson got a job as a sales assistant at Miss Selfridge, a women's clothing store that she just passed on her way to Edinburgh Castle. (All of her history, it seems, is on a few streets that she walks by as gives her tour of the town.) "At the time, I thought it was glamorous because it had all the cool clothes," Manson says. "As I got older I realized there was nothing cool about it. All my friends, meanwhile, went to university." She samples the wine and discerns that, indeed, there are oak elements present in it.

When Manson was 16, she drifted into a band called Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie because she was in love with the lead singer. She stayed 10 years, playing keyboards and singing backup. "A long-ass time," she says."It gave me no satisfaction. Zero." Part of the reason was because she says she never felt "integral to the band"; another was that her involvement with the lead singer soon fizzled. "Watching the man you're in love with fuck other girls was not a particularly nice thing to live through," it literally broke me."

Manson remembers that during one Mackenzie gig, she visited the john before hand and, five songs into the set, realized she had mistakenly tucked her skirt into her tights. "You could see my arse," She says. "and if that wasn't humiliation enough, this boy in the audience who had a personal grudge against me told the whole world that I had a huge, big pair of granny's pants on." (Pants are undies on this side of the pond.) Manson is indignant: "I have never worn granny's pants! I, in fact, didn't have any pants on!"

Finally, Manson said goodbye to Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie and formed Angelfish, in 1994. Soon thereafter, she was spotted by the Boys when "Suffocate Me" was played on 120 Minutes.

"All of a sudden," Morag says, "Shirley tells me, 'I'm going to America.' I said, 'For how long?' And she said, 'Unfortunately. I don't know.' "

There are many advantages to having band mates who aren't right out of college. For one thing, says Manson, they keep the tour-bus bathroom neat. "When you're older, the relationship is slower to build," she says. "It's built on respect rather than trying to be best friends immediately." Thus, despite differences in sex, age, experience and geography, the group is working things out as it goes along.

For instance, the Boys have definitely heightened their awareness of female stuff. "In one way, it's great, and in another, it's annoying, because now they have their own mind about things," Manson rails. "Like nail polish. They tell me they don't want this color, they'll only wear that color. Very finicky."

All of the members of Garbage will admit, however, that they didn't really become a band until the album was done. They hadn't planned to tour, in fact, until the video for"Vow" was made. "We played live, and after the first take, the crew was clapping." Says Vig.

"I don't know that the applause was really ecstatic or anything, but we felt really good about it," says Erikson.

"We were all like, 'Whoa!" Vig says. "And I realized we were nanve to think we'd be able to connect with an audience without going out and playing." The coordination of onstage sampling took some fine-tuning, but a summer of opening for the Smashing Pumpkins has provided ample opportunity for tinkering and resulted in a tight, galvanizing show.

Along the way, Garbage have picked up quite a few well-known fans. Gene Simmons, for one, waggled his tongue at Manson during a Michigan tour stop, and Chrissie Hynde phoned up Manson at the studio one day. "She said she wanted to join my fan club," says Manson rapturously. "And she sent me this care package because I said I missed home."

Garbage's European tour has gone smoothly, save for the German press. "In Europe , the kids want to know about Garbage," says Vig, "But the press, particularly in Germany, will not leave the Nirvana questions alone:'What was inside the mind of Kurt Cobain?' I don't want to talk about it. I really have a certain doctor-patient confidentiality with artists I've worked with." Vig says it's hard for him to hear songs from Nevermind on the radio. "Sometimes I can remove myself from it, " he says. "Other times it makes your brain trigger emotional responses about how it was like to work with Kurt."

Vig still hears from the Nirvana camp. "I may record a track or two with Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters," He says, "and early in the year, I talked to Courtney [Love] about working on the Hole record, but I can't commit to doing the full album, because I just can't take away from Garbage right now."

After the tour ends, in December, Garbage will take a holiday break and then hotfoot it right back to the studio. "We want to make a way-cooler record than the last one," says Vig. The band members are already trying out new material in concert and are busily writing during spare moments. Garbage are riding the momentum. No time for breaks.

Shirley Manson's Edinburg cottage is the kind of place where you expect to see seven or so dwarfs strolling the grounds. Sweet peas grow in front of its stone entrance. Within the cozy interior, there are phones everywhere, a big old kitchen and a living room festooned with tchotchkes. Not that the house is cloying-on the living-room wall, porcelain hearts hang placidly next to a giant spider mounted and encased in plastic. "I just like the way it looks," Manson says mildly.

Manson shares this nest with Eddie, an artist, groundskeeper and her boyfriend of five years. "He's my partner," she says. "Somebody who makes you feel totally comfortable and isn't threatened by anything you do or feel. He's absolutely my best friend. My mum talks in almost biblical terms about him because he came at a point in my life and turned my head 180 degrees-totally changed my life."

Talk to people close to Manson, and they damn near get teary when Eddie is mentioned. "He's really rooted in himself," says Morag. "A happy , contented person. He's just there for her and is so normal and fantastic." Indeed, he is immediately likable when he approaches-trend-free, good handshake, reddish hair, sly sense of humor. He makes Manson laugh frequently. "Eddie's good-natured, but he's also naughty," she notes. One need only check out the disturbing carnival figurines that decorate the house to sense this naughtiness-Eddie collects them, and they have creepy eyes.

Manson is reticent when talking about her boyfriend, only because, as she says, "there's not a fucking man behind me, there's a man beside me." She cooks with Eddie, they go to movies, they play music. Domestic stuff. "I'm on a quest for the perfect fruitcake recipe." She says improbably. This stone cottage keeps her sane as the fan letters increase, the tour stretches on and the videos are played endlessly on MTV. "I want a place where you can feel safe, that you can go home to," she continues, curling up with some tea. "I've never had a stable income; I've never had a bank account with any money in it. So when my punishment comes, I'll be somewhere safe."

Her dread of good fortune is a tradition that goes back for many generations. "Isn't that terrible?" Manson asks, laughing. "Isn't that white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Calvinist of me? Everyone keeps saying I have to enjoy it." She sighs, then smiles carefully. "I'm trying. I'm trying."

cover: Mark Seliger, article: Jancee Dunn, photos: Matthew Rolston