By Simon Williams

"They're going to call you at 5.30 today. Pick up the phone straight away - don't let the answer machine kick in because they're in the studio and they're really stressed, so they might just hang up..."

Such are the final clandestine preparations for a transatlantic interview with Garbage, and they seem to be entirely justified. Imagine four people - three of whom are better known for their production work - locked away in a Midwest studio. They are striving to complete their first album, some of which is "really noisy", some of which is "kinda poppy", and huge chunks of which are "weird sonic things with guitars and loops". Oh, and a few mental experimental tricks, too.

They've been stuck in there for a good few months now and are responsible for potentially the most thrilling debut release of 1995. They must indeed be homicidally intense, right?

So why the hell is the splendidly-named Shirley Manson giggling as she grapples with the concept of landing the plum role of singer in Garbage?

I don't know why I did it!" she beams. "I think it's because I'm not qualified for anything else - I'm not very good at anything in particular, hahaha! Things have just dropped in my lap, which sometimes I feel quite guilty about because I know a lot of my friends are better singers than me. So I look at myself and think 'You lucky bastard!'"

Giggling fits aside, Shirley isn't joking. The Garbage story starts way back when in Wisconsin, USA. Three multi-musicians - namely Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig - had drifted into production jobs to pay the rent. A few 'low key' knob-twiddling and raucous remixing sessions with the likes of Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, U2 and Nine Inch Nails later, the trio decided it was high time they put the boot firmly back on the other foot. So they started writing "dark pop songs", messing with loops and scrapey guitars and even sampling themselves when required.

After a long search for an empathetic voice, they stumbled across Shirley singing in a band called Angel Fish on MTV. Digging her "Patti Smith vibes", they invited her to the studio. She was crap. Luckily, explains Butch, she "had the balls" to call them back and say she'd f---ed up. So she went back for another stab, and figured what the whole nebulous Garbage thing was all about. "In fact, in some ways she figured out what Garbage was way before we did!"

Bingo! Cue a sly contribution of "Vow" to a "Volume" CD late last year. Cue impressed pre-Christmas mutterings from the likes of Peel and Lamacq. And cue a breathlessly-received "proper" release of "Vow" on Discordant just a few weeks back.

Expect not to find the single filling the nation's bargain bins. Limited to 1,000 copies, the concept may have initially appeared to be dodgy heavy rock arse (a record by a band called Garbage?? In a metal sleeve??!! Gad, and indeed Sinal Tap-esque, zooks!!), but much melodic joy lurked within the form of dynamically chruning riffs, spectacularly serrated guitars and - in Shirley's suitably gutteral brogue - "vengeful lyrics". As a one-time member of Goodbye Mr MacKenzie, bizarre Scots cynic-posters with a penchant for penning anti-rape ditties like "Face to Face", she should know what she's talking about.

And right now, she's talking about the strange lengths that Garbage will go to in their quest for creative salvation. "We did something by accident yesterday, when Butch was phoning up from the local restaurant to see what we wanted for tea. I was in the vocal booth and I heard him through the phone and it sounded really, really good, so we recorded a vocal through the telephone system!"

And what did you order?

"Hahaha! Fishboil! With carrots and potatoes! It was delicious!"

Lovely! What about "The Lads"? As studious studio sorts, are the other three members of Garbage of the inclination to poke and prod at each and every song until their brains explode?

"Well, I wish that were the case, but it's quite the opposite! They just sit around drinking beers all the time and going 'Oh God, I feel reeeaally bad'. So I have to crack the whip and force them into that studio! I'm serious! They're bad boys!"

But not that bad, natch. Butch heartily admits to being stunned by "Vow"'s sucess over here - uniquely in these Offspring-tastic times of ready-made powerpunk imports from the States, Garbage are barely heard of back home. And there's a rather neat "making-it-up-as-we-go-along" vibe about them that almost belies the current fervent buzz about the band. Certainly, the fact that Shirley still commutes to the studio from her Edinburgh home clashes brilliantly with Garbage's American deal with Geffen subsidiary Almo Records.

And so Butch drawls cheerily about influential words such as "frustration" and "freedom", about "looking for the perfect noise" by tweaking with pop's parameters and most importantly about having FUN.

"It's been great for me to take a back seat and not have to make all the decisions and be responsible for everthing - you can just worry about the music again. Steve, Duke and Shirley worry about all the other stuff as much as I do, like, 'Is this the right approach?', 'Is this cool?', 'Have we got enough beers?'

"I'm just the f---ing drummer, man, I drum! I just wanna sit back and drink some beers and rock out!"