Alternative pop band
When a group of three full-time producers and part-time musicians decided to find a singer and make a record, the name “Garbage” had, unbelievably, not yet been used by any other band with a wry sense of humor. The singer they found was a Scottish woman with the equally unlikely name of Shirley, and their 1995 debut sold a million copies in its first year and earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Jason Cohen, writing in Rolling Stone, called Garbage’s genesis “a tale of friendship, experimentation, and a fateful symbiosis of music and personalities,” and Shirley Manson concurred. “If I wasn’t in this band, I would go, Yeah, right, three producers and a girl,’” Manson told Cohen. “But we found a chemistry that I don’t think you can predetermine. It was just absolute luck.”
“Manson’s stardusted glamour seemed out of place when Garbage arrived in 1995, but then everything about them did,” wrote another Rolling Stone scribe, Rob Sheffield. NewsweeK’s David Gates would liken them to “a self-consciously corrupted ‘90s version of Fleetwood Mac.” The band’s origins lie in the Madison,
Members include Duke Erikson (born Douglas Erikson, 1950), guitars, keyboards; Shirley Manson (born August 26, 1966, in Edinburgh, Scotland; married), vocals, guitar; Steve Marker (born 1960, in Nebraska; Education: attended University of Wisconsin at Madison), guitars, bass; Butch Vig (born Bryan Vig, 1957 in Viroqua, Wisconsin; Education: attended University of Wisconsin at Madison), drums.
Manson played keyboards in a band called Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie and later sang in Scottish act called Angelfish; Vig and Erikson were members of Spooner and Firetown in the 1980s; Marker was a sound technician for Spooner and later founded Smart Studios with Vig in Madison, Wisconsin; Vig would produce several outstanding LPs of the 1990s there, including Nirvana’s Nevermind. Band formed in 1994, in Madison, Wisconsin; released debut album, Garbage, Almo Sounds, 1995; released Version 2.0, Almo Sounds, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Almo Sounds, 360 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angles, CA 90048-1928.
Wisconsin warehouse that is home to Smart Studios, a successful enterprise founded in 1984 by Butch Vig and Steve Marker. Vig and Marker had met at Madison’s University of Wisconsin, where Vig majored in film but spent a great deal of time composing soundtracks. With another friend, Duke Erikson, Vig had enjoyed minor local success with a band called Spooner. When they disbanded in 1987 after three records, they occasionally played in another group called Firetown, but devoted their time to producing records for other bands.
Vig’s star would rise as a producer, especially when a number of bands from America’s West Coast like Kill-dozer and Tad began trekking to Wisconsin to work with him; his resume would eventually include several stellar, platinum-selling alternative records, including Nirvana’s Nevermind, and Siamese Dream from the Smashing Pumpkins. The Vig-Erikson-Markertrio also loved to work on creating barrages of samples and found noise, which they worked into, remixes for the likes of U2 and Nine Inch Nails. Eventually they had so much leftover material that they finally decided to merge it with their occasional one-night live projects and force a real live pop band into existence. Yet since they all were less than enthusiastic about fronting a band after spending so many years behind the scenes, they knew they would have to find a singer.
One Sunday night in Madison, they saw a video for an obscure Scottish band called Angelfish on MTV’s Sunday night alternative video showcase 120 Minutes, and decided to contact its redheaded singer. They found Shirley Manson, then under contract to Radioactive Records with her band, living in Edinburgh and extended an invitation to audition for them in Madison. “I was in way over my head,” Manson recalled to Jancee Dunn in Rolling Stone of the first takes she did in their studio. She was nervous and felt inept as a singer, and they were shy. They would leave her in a sound room and go to the mixing consoles on another floor. “And they were like, ‘Make up some words,’” Manson said. “I’d never officially written anything with people, so to ask me to ad-lib was a living nightmare.”
A native of Edinburgh, Manson had dropped out of school at the age of 15 to work in a clothing store. She was a self-described rebel who came of age in the early 1980s and was, as a teen, a huge Siouxsie and the Banshees fan. “At the time, I felt totally inadequate, totally inarticulate,” Manson said in another chat with-Dunn. “I felt things but couldn’t put them into words. Then I heard one of her records, and she was saying it for me.” She got involved in music herself when she joined a band simply because she had a crush on its lead singer. She wound up dating him and staying ten years in Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie, a decade that “gave me no satisfaction. Zero,” Manson told Dunn. She had little creative input, and relationship with the lead singer soon became a trauma because of his constant infidelity. “It literally broke me,” she recalled in Rolling Stone.
Manson formed her own band, Angelfish, around 1994, and it was their video for the song “Suffocate Me” and its sole spin on MTV, that put her in touch with the three guys in Madison. Despite the rough beginning, the quartet clicked and Manson began a long and involved process of writing lyrics and recording with her new best friends. Though they often kept the first takes, there were many willful clashes. “That creative tension is ultimately what winds up on the track,” Vig told Cohen in Rolling Stone. The result was an eponymous pinkcovered CD from a group of unknowns with an almost corny name. But Garbage contained a passel of songs that became alternative-radio staples throughout 1995 and 1996, including “Stupid Girl,” “I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” and “Vow.” Not surprisingly, the first track was titled “Supervixen,” and the redheaded Manson became an object of mass adoration almost overnight.
Garbage’s music also earned accolades, despite their lack of pop pretensions. Rolling Stone’s Sheffield declared that the band transforms “subcultural energy into pop flash with a fabulously twitchy singer.” Cohen declared that Garbage’s team of four “have masterminded a confident collection of emotionally sharp-shooting songs, a daring record that scrambles post-industrial crunch with New Wave gloss and grand pop payoffs with techno wizardry.” Originally, the Scot and the three producers had no plans to take their project live, but found themselves surprised by the album’s overwhelming critical and commercial success. When they made the video for “Vow,” “we played live, and after the first take, the crew was clapping,” Vig told Dunn. Erikson also remembered that day as a turning point: “I don’t know that the applause was really ecstatic or anything, but we felt really good about it,” he told Dunn.
Garbage embarked on a heavy tour schedule in support of their debut over the next two years, and wrote new material in their spare time. Manson also returned to Edinburgh and married her longtime boyfriend. In Scotland, as elsewhere, she had become an instantly recognizable semi-celebrity, but in her hometown, as Dunn noted, people leave her alone. “I get a genuine sense that in America, people like to see people do well,” Manson told Dunn in Rolling Stone. “Where I come from, it’s quite the opposite. People think success is vulgar.”
After a three-year hiatus, Garbage’s much-anticipated follow-up was released, which they impertinently titled Version 2.0. It was met with somewhat mixed reviews, but found assured commercial success with alternativeradio-friendly singles like “Push It” and “I Think I’m Paranoid.” Again, the producer-majority talents who wrote much of Version 2.0’s music infused it with samples borrowed from the Beach Boys to the Beatles to the Pretenders. “They root through goth, techno and hip-hop, swipe whatever they can use and leave the rest on the floor,” declared Sheffield.
Though Time’s Christopher John Farley found a few tunes structurally “weak,” and a reliance on studio wizardry he deemed “at times, overbearing,” he concede sound that “Version 2.0 boasts a unique, expansive sound that fills the speakers and the ears. The songs are hormonal yet thoughtful, mostly morose but always energetically so.” Though Sheffield also faulted the electronic artistry that made Version 2.0pulse, “it’s rare to hear a rock record so carefully puttogether that still sounds so fresh and playful.” Manson was again the focus of much of the critical attention. Writing for Stereo Review, Brett Milanofaulted the singer for her emotional range, which he declared could be characterized by two attitudes: “sexy and sexier.” Milano also remarked that “it would be tempting to dismiss Garbage for making pure ear candy, if only the band weren’t so good at it.”
Village Voice writer Rob Tannenbaum found praise for the singer and her varying persona: “In her cool chrome voice, Manson declares herself to be: a bonfire, a vampire, a demon, an addict, a lunatic, pregnant, angry, not like the other girl, complicated, and ‘mental.’ She nearly distills songwriting to its exhibitionist essence.” In the end, Tannenbaum declared that the second record treaded the same ground as the first. “If Garbage were honest, they’ call this Version 1.1 instead of Version 2.0, because it’s a better rendition of the first record, a classic upgrade rather than a dramatic reinvention.”
The band toured for Version 2.0 throughout 1998, and some wondered how the heavily produced songs on the record would work into live translation. Judy Coleman reviewed a Los Angeles performance for Spin, and found it worked well. “Despite the complex beauty of Garbage’s textured sounds, this concert made it difficult to deny that rock is the heart and soul of both albums,” Coleman declared. “Even the poor sound quality at the Palladium … could not muddle the undeniably searing riffs of Tush It’ and ’Stupid Girl.’”
In 1999 the band opened for Alanis Morissette across North America after picking up two Grammy nominations, for best rock album and album of the year. Manson spoke of the new level of celebrity she and her bandmates seemed to have achieved in an interview with New Musical Express’s Victoria Segal. Madonna was in the audience at a recent show in New York, for instance, and Siouxsie Sioux sent them note before a London concert that summer. “It was unbelievably, mind-bogglingly thrilling!” Manson told Segal. “I tried to remember what it was like being 14 years old and watching Siouxsie Sioux at Edinburgh Odeon and imagining if someone had come up to me and whispered in my ear,’When you’re 30 years old and in a rock ‘n’ roll band, she’s gonna come and see you play.”
Garbage, Almo Sounds, 1995.
Version 2.0, Almo Sounds, 1998.
New Musical Express, July 11, 1998.
Newsweek, June 1, 1998.
Rolling Stone, October 5, 1995; October 17, 1996; November 13, 1997; May 28, 1998.
Spin, September 1998.
Stereo Review, August 1998.
Time, May 25, 1998.
Village Voice, May 19, 1998.
Formed: 1993, Madison, Wisconsin
Members: Douglas "Duke" Erikson, guitar, keyboards (born 1950); Shirley Manson, vocals (born Edinburgh, Scotland, 26 August 1966); Steve Marker, guitar, keyboards (born Nebraska, 1960); Bryan "Butch" Vig (born Viroqua, Wisconsin, 1957).
Genre: Rock, Pop
Best-selling album since 1990: Garbage (1995)
Hit songs since 1990: "Only Happy When It Rains," "Stupid Girl"
When three anonymous Midwestern studio musicians found a flame-haired Irish singer with personality to spare, the result was one of the most inventive pop groups of the 1990s. Garbage, fronted by Shirley Manson, produced a string of meticulously arranged hits such as "Stupid Girl" and "I Think I'm Paranoid," melding Manson's tough-as-nails vocals with electronic-rock soundscapes created by the group's trio of producers, Butch Vig, Steve Marker, and Duke Erikson.
Garbage began as a part-time hobby for three old friends from Wisconsin. Producer/drummer Butch Vig opened the recording studio Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1984 with his friend and future Garbage guitarist/keyboardist Steve Marker. Vig had majored in film at the University of Wisconsin-Madison but spent much of his time composing music, later joining the local rock band Spooner with future Garbage guitarist/keyboardist Duke Erikson. The pair also played together in Firetown, a group formed after Spooner's demise.
During this time Vig and Erikson began producing singles for local punk bands for a hundred dollars apiece, and over the next few years their additional production work for national bands soon changed the rock landscape of the 1990s. Vig, in particular, rose to fame as a much sought-after producer. He helped to form the template for grunge rock with his work on albums by bands such as Tad, Kill-dozer, Nirvana's Nevermind, and the Smashing Pumpkins's Siamese Dream.
A native of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the daughter of a jazz singer, Shirley Manson had dropped out of school at age fifteen and spent a frustrating decade in the Irish rock group Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie. By 1993 Manson was fronting an Irish rock band called Angelfish, whose 1994 video for the song "Suffocate Me" made an impression the one time it aired on MTV, a coincidence Garbage chalked up to fate.
Intrigued by Manson's elfin beauty, the trio tracked her down and invited her to Madison to audition. The band's repertoire at this point consisted of leftover samples and tracks the trio had compiled while working on remixes for groups such as U2 and Nine Inch Nails, and none of the men were interested in singing or fronting such an act. Though Manson was nervous about her abilities and had trouble adjusting to the Midwestern sensibilities of her new band mates, the four spent several months at Smart Studios recording and perfecting their self-titled debut (1995).
Not So Trashy
Filled with odd "mistakes" that became the basis of a string of radio hits, Garbage is a painstakingly produced symphony of pop. In Manson the group found a poised singer who could swing from seductive to icy within one song. Such darkly alluring songs as "I'm Only Happy When It Rains" and "Queer" are tightly scripted mash-ups of fuzzy rock guitars and bass mixed with cascading keyboards, electronic drums, and futuristic washes of noise. The trio of producers corral it all into perfect three- and four-minute electronic pop nuggets that owe as much to bouncy New Wave as they do to the rhythms of techno dance music.
The album sold more than 1 million copies, earned the group a Best New Artist Grammy nomination, and turned Manson into a bona fide superstar—landing her on the cover of rock and fashion magazines around the globe. Though not intending to tour at first, the group embarked on a grueling two-year road trip to promote the album, working on new material as they traveled.
Despite the amount of exposure the band was getting on the airwaves, Marker, Vig, and Erikson remained relatively anonymous, while Manson quickly developed a public reputation as a strong-willed woman who was not to be taken lightly. Her distinctive singing style became more pronounced on the group's second album, Version 2.0 (1997). A refinement of the technopop sound of their debut, Version 2.0 launched yet another string of instantly hummable radio hits, including "Special," "Push It," and "I Think I'm Paranoid." Manson again plays with sexuality and gender roles on the album, taking full control on the raunchy "Sleep Together" and throwing caution to the wind on the driving dance pop track "When I Grow Up": "When I grow up, I'll be stable / When I grow up I'll turn the tables."
The group spent nearly a year, on-and-off, working on their third album. They invited touring bassist Daniel Shulman to contribute to a recording. On Beautifulgarbage (2001), the highly polished pop sheen is augmented by techno/new wave, bubblegum funk ("Shut Your Mouth," "Cherry Lips," "Go Baby Go!"), robotic R&B ("Androgyny"), sweeping, Supremes-style symphonic ballads ("Can't Cry These Tears"), and a bit of dance floor blues ("'Til the Day I Die"). Critics hailed the album as the band's most consistent to date.
With a fierce lead singer, three studio magicians, and a sound that perfectly captured the intensity of 1990s dance music, the crunch of rock, and a timeless pop sensibility, Garbage came blazing out of the Midwest in the mid-1990s. Shirley Manson became an icon to fans around the world, adored by men and women alike for her powerful sense of self and undeniable sensuality.
Garbage (Almo Sounds, 1995); Version 2.0 (Almo Sounds, 1997); Beautiful-garbage (Almo Sounds/Interscope, 2001).