A band of "three American record producers fronted by a Scots supervixen" sound rubbish... but they are in fact Garbage, purveyors of seductively weird guitar textures and one of 96's top tips...

Garbage are slap bang in the middle of their first big, big US tour, and despite the culture shock that's rife amongst the group's male contingent - who've spent much of the last decade tweaking knobs on other people's records and acquiring the definitive studio tan - they're going down rather well.

"Touring's pretty addictive... once you've figured out where to keep your toothbrush so you can get at it at all times," whispers Steve Marker. "We're now in St. Petersburg, Florida, and it's raining. What's the point of being in Florida if it's raining?"

Marker, plus fellow guitarist Duke Erikson, drummer Butch Vig and Scottish singer Shirley Manson, are taking this international pop fame stuff well in their stride. No running around acquiring debilitating drug habits or similar kid's habits for them. "To me that's like old news," sighs Erikson. "I've seen it happen again and again and again."

Manson aside - famously recruited to the band after Marker caught the only MTV showing of her then band Angelfish - Garbage are older ("Maybe 'wiser' is a better word," smirks the cardlike Erikson) than your average first-flush-of-success-type band. '95's eponymous debut, the product of two years work by the Madison, Wisconsin-based blokes, lacquered rich, dark guitars with a technological pop sheen to produce the irresistible stop-start riff explosion of Supervixen, the seductive menace of Queer, the catchsome tune juggernaut of Only Happy When It Rains. And that was only the first three tracks. With third single, Stupid Girl, having recently confirmed their promise, people have suddenly stopped calling them "that gothic woman and the three faceless svengalis" - something Steve Marker for one is quite glad about.

"I realised that people were gonna look at it sceptically at first, but the guys in the band are not the cliché idea of what a record producer is. We don't have Ferraris or blow-dried hair or gold medallions around our necks. We're basically rock band guys that learned how to work in the studio, just as a way to live...."

Vig, Marker and Erikson are old friends, having long shared an outré obsession with Roxy Music ("It nearly got me beaten up on several occasions," rues Steve). Marker's mixed tracks for House Of Pain, Killdozer, Pop Will Eat Itself, Robert Plant and Gary Glitter while Erikson - inspired by Lennon and Lou Reed ("I guess I like rhythm guitar"), Tom Verlaine and Jeff Beck - enjoyed stints in heartland rockers Firetown and experimental popsters Spooner. Vig produced some slightly successful guitar rock albums: not least Nirvana's Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkin's Siamese Dream. Marker reckons he and Duke play guitar fairly similarly, but Duke swiftly puts his finger on the difference: "Steve can play the lead line from Siberian Khatru by Yes and I can't."

Vig is the most famous of the four, but the painstaking, tag-team recording style Garbage have perfected means the results sounds nothing like "a Butch Vig record is supposed to sound."

"It is really funny to us that people look at him as if he's this guru of guitar sound," smiles Marker, "whereas to us he's just the drummer. He's got the most patience of us all, though. He'll be in the control room obsessing over the feel of a hi-hat track for ten hours and we'll be going, that's it, he's totally lost his mind. We're gonna have to call the police and get him outta there."

In 1996 no guitar band sounds the slightest bit like Garbage., and since few bands have racked up anything like as many studio hours, perhaps that's not surprising. They've been perfectly place to exploit the technological revolution without going at it like three bulls and a cow in Rod Argent's Keyboard Village...

"We like a challenge," explains Marker, "and we like new sounds, and it seems to me that since the mid-'80s maybe no-one's really exploited what's out there. Rock music, guitar music hasn't taken up the challenge of rap bands like Public Enemy and still retained its character, and yet there's such a lot you can do with samples without going out and buying a pristine sample library. Sample your mistakes and make a song out of it - we've certainly done that."

"We didn't want to be afraid of using technology, but we didn't want to lose the human feel to it, either, and we insisted on incorporating classic raw guitar sounds," adds Erikson. "There are some guitars here and there that don't sound like guitars at all, that sound more like keyboards, so we pushed the envelope a bit there, but we're huge guitar fans. Like, I remember when I was recording the basic guitar track for Vow, and I could not tell you what was plugged into what, but the feedback was amazing. It almost sounded like voices."

Trudging through the endless round of local radio interviews - still the only way to promote yourself and your music in the States (ask Oasis) - have they never been asked to perform acoustic versions of their songs? The very idea seems to go against their none-more-lush sonic credo...

"We have actually gotten as far as obtaining a coupla cheap acoustic guitars," Steve replies. "It'll be different that's for sure, doing it without the gizmos and the wild sounds, but I would hope the songs would stand up. After all Garbage isn't meant to be some studio demonstration record."

Gigging commitments have made '96 so far a recording-free zone, barring B-sides for Stupid Girl that include the wryly gothic Alien Sex Fiend, though later in the year it's eyes down and reacquaintance with the studio sunbed for all. "Maybe we'll move to an igloo somewhere in the middle of Alaska or something," suggests Marker, who admits he has no idea what the next Garbage LP might sound like...

"It's more interesting to let it incubate in the back of our heads right now, and it's kinda exciting not knowing. We don't really do demos, so what gets on the record is basically the demo. That process of a song coalescing out of nothing is the most interesting thing. The last record just grew out of us messing around with stuff and it'll be the same for the next record I guess. So I'm not sure how different it will be. Hopefully it will be less mature. Move backwards at all times, that's our motto."

With a place for everything and everything in its place, the super-precise Garbage sound is a labour intensive commodity. Though they're already fielding those irritating "so, are you rich yet?" queries, the years of loan gathering and the suspension of their former, fairly lucrative careers means there's still some catching up to be done.

"Minus expenses, I've made exactly two dollars and 80 cents out of my first royalty cheque," deadpans Marker. "People resume that because people are buying your record you must be doing great, but that takes a long time. Every expense - whether that's making videos or whatever - that's gonna have to go back to the record company. So we're some ways off from getting that Lear Jet!"

Besides, the "mutant fifth member" of Garbage - the incarnation, according to Marker, of the band's wilder sonic impulses - has been slow to dig deep and help out with the milk money. Dash it, is the mutant pulling it's weight?

"Oh I don't know... It's still one of the things we have going for us," smiles Steve. "I guess it's called chemistry."

By Danny Eccleston