Amid the guitar-driven, nihilistic and male-driven landscape that was the alt-rock dominated music scene of the 1990s, Garbage proved to be a distinctive and contrary sound in this wilderness. Rather than primarily rely on riffing and volume, the quartet instead went down a soundscape-soaked path not unlike shoegazing outfits like My Bloody Valentine and Lush with more distinctive pop nuances. And while this kind of studio sleight-of-hand can be credited with the fact that three-fourths of the band consists of music producers/engineers (Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker), Scottish vocalist Shirley Manson was and continues to be the distinctive focal point that’s helped make Garbage such a singular musical presence.
And while there was a seven-year hiatus for the group from 2005 to 2012, the foursome are celebrating 24 years together. A 20th anniversary tour commemorating the band’s self-titled 1995 tour was followed up by the release of last year’s Strange Little Birds, Garbage’s sixth studio album. It’s a collection of songs that Manson feels was an unfortunate harbinger of the right-leaning turn of events that the world was about to take in the wake of the SLB’s June 2016 release.
“We released it last year in June and it’s quite a different record in the way that it was quite a somber record and I think that’s primarily because we felt these were somber times,” she explained. “As it turns out, I think we were able to predict what was happening in the world—this massive wave of populism and a real turn towards conservatism. I think we were concerned by that turn because I think we believe in preserving the environment and we believe in equal rights for all. We felt that those beliefs were under threat and you can hear that on the record. And of course, as the year progressed, we started to see with great dismay that we were in fact correct with our assessment with [the direction] the world was going in and not just with where America or the United Kingdom was headed. There was a whole wave of this kind of populism and it scared us a little. So you can definitely hear that on the record.”
It’s easy to hear what Manson is talking about when you ease into the swirling morass of synthesizer swooshes and the plodding beat of “Even Though Our Love is Doomed” as she sings “And even though our love is cruel/And even though our stars are crossed/You’re the only thing worth fighting for/You’re the only thing worth dying for.” Or the stark, Portishead-ish opening track “Sometimes” in which Manson solemnly states, “Sometimes I’d rather take a beating/Sometimes I’d rather take a punch/I learn more about bleeding/You knock me down, then I get up.” This kind of railing against the current status quo manifests itself beautifully on “So We Can Stay Alive,” where the trip-hoppy cadences share space with dive-bombing guitar chords and space-age sound effects as Manson sings, “You’re the one who should be on trial/For all your hate and your denial/Be careful what it is you break/Every broken thing can’t be fixed.” And while the current inhabitant of the White House wasn’t occupying the Oval Office when this song was written, there’s a definite prescient thread running through it. But rather than rant about the current political landscape, Manson is far more interested in unashamedly gushing about being on the road with Debbie Harry, a friend and idol who the Scottish lass first met back in the 1980s during her time with MacKenzie. Despite the decades of friendship, Harry is someone the Garbage vocalist still finds herself in awe of.
“My first band in Scotland, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie, opened for Debbie on her solo tour of the United Kingdom and that was when I had the great privilege of meeting her. It was Debbie’s manager [Gary Kurfirst] who signed us and brought me over to the U.S. to make a record with Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth,” she recalled “It was through this relationship, I had the pleasure of meeting Debbie again. She came and saw me play supporting the Ramones at The Academy in New York during the New Music Seminar. We hung out and I fell in love with her. The relationship goes on and on up to me inducting Blondie into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We have a lot of history together. She really mentored me and whenever I got despondent and felt down, I’d always think that Debbie Harry always thought I was good enough. And that really helped propel me through some sticky times in my career. I love her like a sister. But she’s also this incredible archetype of the female pop star. She’s going down in history. There are not many performers who have not name-dropped Debbie. She did everything before any of us. To be around her is an extraordinary experience. I’ve been around her a lot at this point, but you never quite get used to it. It’s always a bit like you’re sitting in the presence of a true goddess.”
As for what fans can expect on this current tour with Blondie as well as future headlining dates in the fall, Manson laughs as she jokingly admonishes anyone coming to her band’s show with any kind of expectations aside from the fact that Garbage will, “…do our utmost to put on a good show.” That said, attendees will be pleased by the set list.
“A lot of times, all [fans] want to hear are the hits that they learned to love on the radio. But we feel that we want to do a broad spectrum of our catalog at this point and we will be playing songs from all six of our records that span from 1995 to 2017,” she said. “We have a brand-new song that we just wrote that we are performing. And despite the fact that nobody has ever heard the song, we are determined to put that into the set. We just try to tell a story of where we are at any given time and that changes through the years and even through a tour.”
As for the future, 2018 promises more brand-new Garbage material and a 20th-anniversary tour commemorating the band’s 1998 sophomore bow, Version 2.0. But beyond looking forward to connecting with that record and who the band was back when they first recorded it, Manson is quite happy to take life as it comes.
“We’ve got a few plans to do a few shows to celebrate [Version 2.0] but knows what the future will bring? I might get run over by a bus tomorrow, but we’ve got plans,” she explained. “We always try to continue on being creative artists. That’s sort of the main thing for us at this point. We just want to have fun and play.”
Garbage will be appearing with Blondie on Aug. 1 at the Beacon Theatre, 74th Street & Broadway. NYC. For more information, visit www.beacontheatre.com or call 866-858-0008.