Shirley Manson & Butch Vig On Garbage’s Return To Rock – “We Just Assumed That Nobody Would Care”
Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig are Garbage. Beginning in 1994, the band with the Scottish female frontwoman took the alt-rock world by storm with a string of hits including “Stupid Girl,” Queer” and “Only Happy When It Rains.” Their self titled debut album was a surprise success, selling over 4 million copies. Their follow-up, titled 2.0, outsold their debut. During the tour for their third album, the group declared they were going on permanent hiatus and disbanded.
Seven years later, Garbage is back together and surprising themselves all over again.
In an interview with KROQ’s Kevin & Bean, Manson and Vig revealed their surprise over being instantly adored all over again.
Why such negative vibes about working with a big record company? What’s changed now?
Butch: It’s better doing it ourselves, basically. By the time Bleed Like Me came out, we hit a wall. Part of it was that our first records came out on indie labels, and they were bought out by bigger corporations. So, by the time it came out, there were people who didn’t even know us or care what kind of record we were making. So it just didn’t make sense for us to pursue that path any more
Shirley: Plus it’s sexy being a CEO.
Did non-musical people try to have too much musical influence over the band?
B: That’s one of the things that happened. You start getting all of these opinions. We were an asset to a corporation, that’s how they looked at us.
S: Obviously when a major label is behind you and you’re the hot ticket of the month, then there’s no better combination. But we just found that the relationship became obstructive in the end. We’re not stupid, we know they want to make money and they’re a business, and that’s fair enough but that doesn’t mean that we have to view ourselves like that.
You guys seem really smart about using social media.
B: We were surprised when we finally activated our Facebook account and suddenly there were 300,000 fans on there and they were all super psyched that we have a new album coming out. We were gone for seven years!
S: We just assumed that nobody would care, to be honest. Which I think is probably the best way to start. We understood that if we wanted to take our music to an audience we had to assume that we were starting from scratch.
Does it feel that way when you’re playing shows?
B: After being gone so long, it’s kind of like taking baby steps to get back up on stage. We decided we wanted to play really small clubs. We’re surprised. The response from fans has been insane. We played this rehearsal gig at The Bootleg, this tiny little club on Beverly. There were maybe 200 fans there and they sang every song louder than the PA. We were terrible! We were really sloppy!
After seven years apart, did you find that you had changed musically?
B: One of the things we talked about was not reinventing ourselves. We realized that we have a strong sonic identity and we embraced that. We weren’t signed to a label, we were in between management, so no one even knew we were in the studio. So it was like we could do whatever we wanted to do.
Did it ever occur to you to bring in a different producer?
B: No, it was basically just the four of us and our engineer Billy. We just locked ourselves in a studio. No one heard any music at all until we were pretty much done with most of the recording and we played some rough mixes.
What do you know about producing?
B: Well the cool thing in this band is that I sometimes wear two hats. I wear a musician and a songwriting hat, but all four of us make production decisions. The studio we recorded in was really tiny. The four of us were at this little table, and anytime there was a part, arrangement, or decision, we would just look at each other and talk it out to figure it out. It was cool because you couldn’t escape into a large room somewhere and not be involved in the process.
New music from you guys, this song is called “Control.” What do you guys want to tell us about this song?
B: Well, you’ve got the devil on one shoulder and an angel on another shoulder. So you’ve gotta flip a coin to see which way you’re gonna fall.
S: Are you gonna come my way or Butch’s way? (laughs)
What was that production you used to make it sound like she was singing through a fan?
B: Well we actually have some footage of Shirley doing that in the studio. We actually tried some pretty crazy things.
There’s something hilarious about when you’re in a studio with millions of dollars of equipment and you’re still banging on a coffee can.
B: Yep. Putting mics in buckets of sand and things like that. It’s not always about getting a pristine sound. A lot of times it’s about getting a vibe. Sometimes you have to screw with things to get it to sound interesting.
What expert did you bring in to play harmonica on the song?
B: My six-year-old daughter has a harmonica and she left it in my home studio. We were working on the song one morning and I picked it up and started blowing on it. I can’t really play harmonica, the part is dead simple, anyone could figure it out. I didn’t think we would actually use it and then we left it in the song, we mixed it. We made this record kind of guerrilla style. Our engineer, Billy, has this little studio in Atwater Village. It’s tiny. We did some at my home on my couch. I have a bedroom studio.
It really is like you’re starting over.
B: Kind of, yeah. A lot of the vocals are first takes on handheld mics. My daughter would go to school and I would come down and do drums in my pajamas in the morning. It was fun, there was no pressure, no time constraints. We kind of just approached it like “whatever.”
Now that this album is out, are you going to hibernate again for seven years? We heard you have 25 or 30 other songs.
B: Yeah. We probably wrote about 26 songs and we’re kind of in love with all of them. So at some point we want to get them out whether it’s bonus tracks or we give them out on our site. A lot of them have to be mixed still. I think now that we’re recording again and out playing shows, the chemistry is good between us, we’re all having a lot of fun. There’s not gonna be a break like there was before.
Interview Part 1:
Interview Part 2
–Jay Tilles, CBS Local / Robyn Luttrell, CBS Radio Los Angeles