Shirley Manson, Garbage Frontwoman, Reflects On Band's Midwest Roots, Pop Music Today

Shirley Manson On Garbage's Midwest Roots, Pop Music Today
Shirley Manson, of Garbage, performs at KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Katy Winn/Invision/AP)
Shirley Manson, of Garbage, performs at KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Katy Winn/Invision/AP)

In the seven years since Garbage last played Chicago, so much in the world has changed -- particularly within the music industry.

But judging by the sound of the Shirley Manson-fronted band's latest album -- "Not Your Kind of People," released in May -- the excitement of it all is business as usual for the recently-reunited veteran alt-rockers, which is not to say that the record is any less fiery than the self-titled debut they released seventeen years ago.

The band has maintained their signature dark, driving, trip-hoppy sound and news of their new world tour was met with pandemonium. In Chicago, their Aug. 7 concert at The Metro -- part of the venue's 30th anniversary series -- sold out in less than three minutes as a sleeper cell of fans jumped at the opportunity to see Manson and "her boys," as she calls them," play an intimate venue that played in an important role in their development over the years.

Ahead of their appearance in Chicago, HuffPost spoke with Manson, the band's Scotland-born, Los Angeles-based vocalist, from her hotel in Portugal.

The Huffington Post: Your band was on hiatus for some time prior to this tour and album. What was the impetus to make all this happen again?

Shirley Manson: I think the impetus was just that we were ready to make music together again, having had enough time off to sort of reconnect with our curiosity and our sort of playful collective spirit in a way. At the risk of sounding somewhat simplistic, we had been going too long and too hard over the course of a decade, recording and touring, and I just think everybody sort of lost their compass in a way. We needed to get home to regenerate as musicians and writers and develop perspective again.

HP: How has the experience been touring on the new songs off "Not Your Kind of People"? How has the response been?

SM: It's been a magical tour for us. These past eight weeks we've spent all over Europe playing a lot of the summer festivals and we've seen some extraordinary things and enjoyed outrageous receptions. We've just had a really incredible time. We've been as far afield as Samara in Russia and we just played our first-ever show in Rome. We also played in the magical town of Arles, France, where we played inside a coliseum built during the reign of Julius Caesar.

The other thing that's caught us off guard is that the new material we've been playing has enjoyed as enthusiastic of a reception as some of the old songs. It's a joyous position to be in and we've tried to really savor it this time around. I think we've really been managing to have a lot of fun together and that was missing on the last tour.

HP: I was reading an article from 1998 where you described feeling like you stuck out like a sore thumb during your time spent living in Madison, Wisc. But in the same article, you say that Garbage "couldn't have formed in any other city." What are some of your fondest memories of those Madison days?

SM: It was the beginning of everything for me, the beginning of the rest of my life, I suppose, when I arrived in Madison. I associate the arrival in madison with the start of the greatest adventure of my life. That is my fond memory of Madison.

The extremities of the weather is another thing that I sort of pine for in a funny way now that I live in Los Angeles. I really miss the seasons that Madison offers up. I miss lying in bed at night and listening to the groan and cracking of the ice as spring rears its head and the lake warms up. Those big crusts of ice that were formed for months start to break open. I miss the drama of that and the autumnal colors. Life is good in Madison. It's a very easy place, I think, for people to live and it's a progressive city. I really realized the more I traveled in America how precious that is for a girl from Europe.

HP: Smart Studios closed in 2010. What impact did that have on you? Was it strange not to record the new album there?

SM: I feel like Smart had a very rich history and I was thrilled to walk through its door. I can still remember it as clear as day. But I always very much associate Smart with the boys in my band. I felt like that was their sort of playground and their boys' club in a sort of way. I never felt like it was part of my history. I recorded all my early albums in places in Scotland that nobody has ever heard of and nobody ever will.

To be brutally frank, I was actually really excited to record outside of Madison this time. I feel like the world is big and just to stay in one spot isn't always the best option to take. I think it's great to be curious about the rest of the world and to be adventurous, take risks and to not get into a habit.

HP: You were listed in a fake lineup for Lollapalooza earlier this year. Was Lollapalooza ever in the equation for you this year? Would you say you prefer playing a show in a more intimate room like The Metro in Chicago -- a show which sold out in less than five minutes?

SM: I think I speak for the whole band when I say that we always prefer to headline a show of our own than to being on a festival lineup. Sometimes your only option is to come with the traveling circus of a festival and in this case I don't think we were ever formally invited to Lollapalooza. I think that was wishful thinking on the part of fans. But The Metro is an amazing venue and one that is very dear to our hearts. We love the people that run that venue and always have had good shows there, so we're very excited to come back for their anniversary year. I think it'll be a special show.

HP: Tell me more about the significance The Metro holds to the story of Garbage.

SM: It was one of the first shows we played in Chicago and the history goes back to before Garbage, back to when I came on tour with my second band, Angelfish, and came in support of Live and Vic Chesnutt. This was before I was formally invited to join Garbage and so the three men in the band came to check me out so to speak. I have memories of just being sick with nerves and it not being a particularly good show. Afterward, I was thinking, 'That's it, I'm screwed. I'll never get to be in the band.'

Vic and I got wasted on tequila at the bar and, to my horror, I realized that the guys were hanging out at a bar further down the street. So, we trotted over to meet them down the street and I accidentally spilled Vic out of his wheelchair and had to struggle to get him back in it. I have colorful memories of that venue and the role its played in my own band's history. And my memories of Vic are really precious, of course. As a musician, I feel really lucky to have known him and enjoyed his company.

HP: How do you feel about the term "nostalgia act"? There's a glut of music analysis right now talking about how '90s nostalgia or '90s influencers are impacting any number of newer acts. Do you hear it?

SM: I feel like a lot of that that kind of terminology comes from the press and from blogs. To call the '90s a specific sound I feel is incredibly misinformed. There were so many eclectic sounds in the 90s -- from Missy Elliott to TLC to Alanis Morissette to Hole to Nirvana to Garbage to Fiona Apple, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Smashing Pumpkins to Sheryl Crow to fucking Jewel -- tons and tons of different music. And it was all getting played on the radio. In the '90s, the radio was still alive with all different kinds of points of view and I think that's why people are longing for that time. It was the first time that alternative music broke through to the mainstream.

Since September 11, I feel like radio has gotten more and more conservative until all we get nowadays is pop music that does have a generally specific sound. There are no eclectic sounds coming through modern radio at all -- so if there ever was a period of music where everything sounded the same to me, with no room for any individuality or sound that steps outside the formulaic pop, it would be today. In conservative times, people want to return to conservative sounds, I get that. But when people are talking about nostalgia for the '90s, they are just aching for variety.

HP: When Garbage was first getting started, "success" as a band might have meant something entirely different than what it does today. Given all the changes in the music industry over the last six years, how do you define success today?

SM: It has changed enormously, you're right. For us what it means to be a successful musician nowadays is to be able to make music on our own terms and to enjoy the privilege of being able to play all over the world, which we are at this point. That to us, at its most basic level, is what we really believe is the life of a successful musician. I think we realize how lucky we are and that so few musicians nowadays can make a living through music. It's really a hard time for musicians today.

HP: This tour goes through November. What do you see Garbage doing after that?

SM: We're in talks about that right now. There's talk of us continuing on next year and possibly up until the summer, but it's really a matter of how everybody can sort of juggle their home lives and schedules to insure that we can continue to tour but do it comfortably so that nobody is too stressed out or unhappy about being away from home for too long. I hope we can continue on through the summer. We worked so hard on the new record and I feel like we've only just started. It only came out a couple of months ago.

We shall see what we can see. I'm going to bet on my boys, though, and say we'll continue on through next year, then who knows. We're not taking anything for granted this time and we're just seeing what everyone has the stomach for. I know everyone has the intention of another record, but you never know what will happen in life. You could be hit by a flying piece of debris or some maniac could gun you down while you're watching a movie. You just never know how crazy life can be, you just hope.

HP: Finally, The Huffington Post has opened a number of new sections in recent months. HuffPost Good News, HuffPost GPS For The Soul. If you were at the helm of your own HuffPost, what would you call it?

SM: (Laughs). I don't know! I guess it'd have to be something along the lines of Dark Tales For Darklings. At the top, I'd print a little skull that sits above the page with little wings above that. And there'd be some roses to make it look like an old crypt from Roman times.

HP: Sounds like a phenomenal counterpart to our Good News section.

SM: Yes, you need a little bit of both.

Garbage plays The Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., on Aug. 7. Local favorites White Mystery open. The show is sold out.

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