By Randy Ballwahn

An interview with Garbage's Shirley Manson

The day Shirley Manson joined Garbage a year and a half ago is the day Garbage went from being an experimental side project to being a real band. Since then the group has released their critically-acclaimed and commercially successful debut album, appeared in countless magazine articles and on numerous radio shows both here and abroad, and are now preparing for their first live tour as a band. Madisonians Butch Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson originated the noise and pop meanderings that would eventually evolve into Garbage. The addition of Manson, from Edinburgh, Scotland (and late of the band Angelfish), helped the meanderings evolve to the sensation we have today. Manson recently talked with Night Sites about the ascent of the band, and all things Garbage. (Imagine Scottish accent while reading.)

How's rehearsal for the upcoming tour going?
We've still got an awful lot of work to do. I've just been writing a postcard home, actually, and I've been saying, 'My god, a week to go and we still haven't run through the set once.' I don't know, I think we'll be fine, but we're going to be tearing our hair out by the end of next week, I think.

Because of the complex nature of the music, are you finding it difficult to translate the album material to a live setting?
Actually I think we were awful surprised at our abilities to actually capture it live. Some songs, half the songs, are sounding really very, very like the album, and others we're going to have to do a little more work on. We'll get there. I think [the live sound] captures the essence of the album.

Will you be playing new songs live, songs that aren't on the album?
We have a lot of B-sides from our UK single releases that we may or may not play. It, I think, depends on the night. We'll probably swap during the tour, as the days go by and our boredom levels increase we'll start throwing in a few different songs.

Are you surprised by the response Garbage has received so far?
Absolutely. I mean, we were absolutely gobsmacked by both the attention and that people seemed to like the record. So we've been delighted, but totally overwhelmed. I mean, I don't quite know what we expected, but we certainly didn't expect for our single to go into to Top 20 in the UK, and we went Top 5 in Australia, and 'Queer' is getting played on MTV. I mean it's like a joke, it's like living on Mars. But it's wonderful, we're delighted.

The story of how you met Butch, Steve and Duke is pretty interesting. Do you mind telling it again?
[Laughing] I've told it a million times. Butch basically saw me on MTV on '120 Minutes' and he really like my voice, and I think he said to the others, you know, 'This is the voice that we've been looking for for so long,' and they all seemed to agree. So they tracked me down within 24 hours, which I think is absolutely terrifying, an indictment of today's society. But they found me in 24 hours and they asked if they could come and meet me, and we met in London, and we just got on as people and it sort of went on from there.

At some point before you joined the band you must have heard what they were working on. What was it about the music that attracted you to the band?
They played me some of what I would call musical sketches on the tape, but mostly we talked a lot, and they said what they wanted to do musically and they had similar ideas of where I wanted to go myself. I think mostly it's because they were wonderful people. I really love them dearly, they're wonderful. (Laughs) Those good Midwestern boys.

With you being from Scotland, and the rest of them from Madison, is there a culture clash?
At times when we do clash, it's actually very enjoyable. It's very funny, 'cause there's things that they will say to me and I literally don't understand, and vice versa. But as people I just think we're intrinsically the same, despite the fact that we come from different countries.

It's been written that you can be quite confrontational when it comes to implementing your ideas. How does this play with the rest of the band?
I think they were amused that I was willing to take them to task over certain issues, but they claimed they picked me from the very beginning because I was able to stand up to them and tell them they were wrong about something, and I would be willing to disagree with them. They knew what they were taking on board.

Compare and contrast your experience so far with Garbage and your experience with Angelfish and other bands. I think the main difference I find is that because the boys are, as people, I would say they are very mature. To work with men like that is quite liberating, because they don't feel threatened by any contribution that may come from outside themselves. They are so confident in their own abilities, that they are very open to outside influences, and I find that very refreshing.

Are there plans for a second album?
We've been talking about it. I think we're all really keen to do another record, 'cause we know each other so much better now. You know when we first started recording this album, the first month or so was just agony. We never got any work dones, 'cause it was just hanging out, getting to know each other. We have ideas and plans for the second album, but we have to get this tour under our belts first to see if we can live with each other. If we're talking to each other by the end of the tour, then definitely we'll be doing another album.

Because of commitments in Europe in late fall, Garbage's United States tour will be limited to a handful of major cities. The second night of the tour stops at Shank Hall, Milwaukee on Monday Nov. 6 with Acetone opening.