Rock and Roll Book Club: Garbage talk about 'This Is the Noise That Keeps Me Awake'

Garbage, 'This is the Noise that Keeps Me Awake'
Garbage, 'This is the Noise that Keeps Me Awake' (Akashic Books)
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Interview with Garbage's Shirley Manson, Butch Vig and Steve Marker
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Garbage have a hot new book out — hot, as in hot pink. This Is the Noise That Keeps Me Awake chronicles the band's two-decade-plus career in photographs and stories. Before they played Mystic Lake Casino with Blondie, all four members of Garbage sat down with Brian Oake and Jill Riley to talk about the book and their music.


Brian Oake: I would like to go back a ways, because the book that you've put out is filled with so many amazing pictures and anecdotes that chronicle your entire career. At the time you decided to start your own band, you were an exceptionally successful producer, and you mentioned yourself that people were like, "What are you doing? You've got this perfect thing, why would you start a band?" So I'm going to ask the same question: why would you start a band?

Butch Vig: A lot of people said, "You're making a suicide career move there, sir." I was in bands for many years before I had success as a producer. It's kind of in my blood — and plus Duke, Steven, and I have been working on various projects or bands way before Garbage, so it just kind of made sense for us to start writing music together. We had no plans on making it a long-term project or going on tour or any of that. It wasn't until Shirley joined us and we really started to feel, by the time we finished the album, that there was really solid chemistry. Now its 20-plus years later and we're actually working out a seventh album right now. I guess even though everyone said I was crazy, I think we proved 'em wrong.

Jill Riley: Who actually discovered Shirley? When did Shirley come in?

Shirley Manson: Steve!

Steve Marker: I didn't discover you, really, but I did see you. They showed a video of another band she was in. Once on MTV, 120 Minutes,nreally late at night and I happened to be up watching TV. Loved her voice and somehow we tracked her down at her house in Scotland shortly thereafter, and the rest is history.

Jill Riley: So, Shirley, what was that first meeting like?

Shirley Manson: Well, the first meeting was really quite sweet because we met in London. I mean, I was nervous, but so too were they, unbeknownst to me. We met in a hotel on the Edgware Road in London called the Landmark Hotel. I remember wearing a big, fake, fur coat because it was winter — and I was overly hot, I was just desperate to get my coat off. As I walked in this atrium I saw the three of them stand up, and I was looking at my future but I didn't know it, you know? We just got along really well as people. We liked all the same bands and we loved the same kind of art. We just really hit it off and we spent afternoons sort of laughing. Then I said goodbye to them, and I wished them well in their project. I didn't think for a minute they'd actually end up choosing me, but they did. I went back to my friend's house, and there was the death of Kurt Cobain. It was a very strange start to our career together.

Butch Vig: As strange as that seems, it is a true story. We had a lovely lunch with Shirl and then I went out to dinner with some other producers. They all were staring at me when I got in. They said, "Do you know the news? Kurt is dead." I just kind of freaked out. I remember I went back to the hotel and I flew back that night. For me it was the passing of the guard. One chapter of my life just moved into another chapter. Now, looking back, it seems obvious that that happened, but at the time you're just sort of blown away. You have no idea what the future holds for you, but luckily Garbage rolled out of that. We're really lucky about that.

Brian Oake: For the handful of people who may not know, you did produce Nirvana's Nevermind. Obviously growing up here in Minneapolis in the '80s, we had Hüsker Dü, we had the Replacements, we had Soul Asylum. This thing was happening. We were Seattle slightly before Seattle was Seattle, but it was happening everywhere. In the '80s you had to listen to college radio, but suddenly Nirvana really changed the landscape of not only American music but American radio, the way people were listening to music, and the sound of American music. You had a front-row seat for that, so I can only imagine what the impact was. So Kurt passes, but now it's time to move on. There are a handful of bands that continue to be very successful from Seattle — but really, from all over the world. The nature of American popular music had changed radically, and you guys injected yourselves into the mix. When you start making records as Garbage, is there a mission or do you just go in and jam, tweak things, and figure out what it is you want to do?

Butch Vig: You know, the first record we made was a bit of a...I don't even know how to describe it. We didn't necessarily want to make a record that sounded like the current alternative radio. I think everyone thought because the of the records I've done, we're going to make a grunge record. We had become enamored with bands like Public Enemy because of the way they used samplers. Duke, Steven, and I started to do remixes. The first Garbage record sounds weird to to all of us, but it has a unique thing to it because it was all manipulated through samplers and stuff. I think it caught people by surprise, and looking back, even by the time our first record came out, tastes were already starting to change. Music constantly evolves: it's popular, it usually has a window, and then people move on or new things spring up. We were lucky that we caught a wave, though, coming out of this sort of alternative movement. We got accepted even though we didn't fit in that well.

Jill Riley: As being really studio rats, I kind of understand from the book —
This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake, by the way, such great stories in that book. Trying to think about being in the studio and having these layers and layers of sound. Not really thinking about touring: that was kind of the thing in the beginning, you guys didn't think about touring.

Garbage: No, we had no plans whatsoever to tour. I don't think Shirl wanted to tour with us at all! We were still kind of getting to know each other and we just couldn't imagine actually taking this to the stage. Like you said, it was very layered music, very textured, a lot going on and even that seemed rather daunting to have to...

Jill Riley: Like, how do we recreate this on the road.

Garbage: Yeah, to take that to the stage — but the more we got used to each other, we started feeling better and better about it. I think the first time we actually thought we could play live was when we shot the video for "Vow." Even though we were just lip-syncing, pretending to play, it felt good to us to have Shirl up front and us backing her. It just seemed to fire our imaginations a little bit more and made it seem more of a possibility.

Brian Oake: One of the things we say on our show is, "always learning." We like to find out about histories, about past, about crossroads, about that connective tissue between bands and music. I had no idea — I've worked in alternative radio in the Twin Cities for 20-plus years, and I had no idea your very first show was in the 7th Street Entry. It's your first night, in the Entry...do you have any actual recollections or has it kind of bled into the past?

Garbage: The biggest memory is us pulling up to the 7th Street Entry and seeing this line down the street. Lots of people in this line, and we got really excited.

Jill Riley: The buzz is out!

Garbage: It's the first show, and people are around the block. Then we get into the club, really excited. Then we were informed that the line was for Gwar, who were playing upstairs.

Butch Vig: True! Our first show, though — I think there were only 100 people there, maybe. The 7th Street Entry is so small, but I think I had 500 people tell me, "Yeah, we were at your first show."

Brian Oake: Have any of you ever gone, with no other work obligations, to a Gwar show, and been anywhere near a stage while it happened? Its like going to a heavy metal, alien, blood fest, hellraiser, Gallagher show, because you will not come out clean. There are things that come off the stage...

Butch Vig: You're right. It's kind of a badge of honor, as a Gwar fan, to get the most fake blood splattered on you during a show.

Garbage: After we played, I made my way upstairs to check out what all the fuss was about. They were in the middle of performing. There was blood everywhere.

Jill Riley: Shirley, you've been with us a couple of times, and I think it was the 20th anniversary where I met you the first time. You came by Minnesota Public Radio, and we talked about being in a band for 20 years. That's a pretty great run, and probably pretty rare. Was there ever a time where you guys sat down and just talked to each other like, I'm tired, I don't know if I can do this anymore?

Shirley Manson: When we took our hiatus at the end of 2005, we had that kind of conversation. We were on tour and were due to go to the U.K. I had been given the heads-up from our management that ticket sales were low, and I was tired and I just said to the band, "I don't know if I can face going to do this." Because we weren't getting along very well, our record company...it was just a lot of problems going on internally, and we sort of said, okay, well, let's take a break, everyone clearly needs a break. That break was much longer that what we expected it to be, and it ended up being five years before we got back into studio again. But ever since then, it's been, for the most part, harmonious. I think we all realized what it was like to live without the band in our lives. It's funny you should ask this question, because just last night I had this sudden memory of seeing one of my girlfriends at the time — this is when we were on hiatus — I was just like, I'm not enjoying my life. I remember her saying, "Well, you enjoy your food!" And I said, "Yes, that's true, I still enjoy my food!" But I just remember being struck by what a vacuous, sad statement that was, and I realized it was because I wasn't doing what I loved to do. I'm with the people that I was meant to be doing it with. Ever since we got back together again and made a record in...well we started in 2010, it was released in 2012. We've pretty much gotten along great. We're very sympatico. Our talents, our personalities, all play off [each other] really well.

Garbage: There's the occasional time when we'll each think, you know, after three shows in a row, I'm not sure if I can do this anymore, but we know we'll keep doing it for a while.

Brian Oake: As you get older, I think we all learn more about ourselves, about the people that we come to rely on, what we want out of life. You start to understand that maybe my needs have changed, but there are certain intrinsic things that have not changed. So, you talk about the new record coming out or that first record after a long hiatus coming out in 2012. In addition, at the time one of those things you probably learn is that we have reached a point where we have enough fans, where we have enough independence to do our own label. You decided to make Stun Volume. You're going to do your own records, and that's not a new thing. There were a lot of people who got major label deals and who had all of it, and then realized that this is not what I want as an artist. When you reach a certain level of success or a certain age where you're like, I want to be the one whose making these decisions, that also means that you have to be the one that sort of administers the show. What's that like? What's that balance like between I want to be an artist, but then I also have to be on the phone and send faxes, and probably fill out a T.P.S. report?

Butch Vig: It's liberating. With that liberation, it does come with extra work, and I know initially we were kind of freaked out about exactly how we would be able to deal with that, but we've always been involved in the day-to-day decision-making process within the band. Luckily our manager we've worked with in the past, Paul, he said, you guys can do this. There's the infrastructure out there, how to deal with marketing and distribution and all of this. We just released a new single last week, "No Horses," and we recorded really fast. That would not have happened if we were on a major label. [They'd] say, "Oh, we need at least four months leeway time, and we need to get the marketing campaign right." We're just like screw it, we're just going to put it out.

Garbage: A major label would've never put that song out.

Butch Vig: Yeah, they probably would say, "You know we need something a little more poppy for the radio ."

Brian Oake: "This isn't really a single so much — I mean it's a great song, don't get me wrong, Butch, it sounds fantastic — this is not something we're going to release."

Butch Vig: We have the freedom to do that now, just to put out what we want. Shirley wrote these lyrics over a jam that we had a couple years ago. We just thought it was very topical to what's going on in the world right now and just wanted to put something out this summer along with our book. We're playing it tonight. It's fun and it speaks to me, speaks to all of us when we play the song.

Jill Riley: Here in the Twin Cities we've been thinking a lot about Prince, and after Prince passed away, I remember hearing about this Prince tour where you could like visit all these landmarks around the Twin Cities: Paisley Park, the house Prince grew up in, and so on. So if there was a similar Garbage tour in Madison, what would be some of the stops that people would need to make?

Shirley Manson: That's a great question!

Butch Vig: They would have to go by the former Smart Studios, 1254 East Washington, because it was our clubhouse for many, many years. They probably have to go by the Cafe Montmartre...

Shirley Manson: But that's burned down.

Garbage: There's a restaurant there now. It's not what it used to be.

Jill Riley: What's significant about that?

Garbage: We don't remember!

Shirley Manson: We spent more time in that then we did...

Garbage: We conspired there every night, made a lot of plans, set a lot of goals, and drank a lot of cocktails, especially on the first record. That was kind of a bonding thing, I think, for the four of us, with Shirley kind of being the newcomer. We got to know each other that way.

Brian Oake: Obviously no one knows what the future, holds so you just do what you think is the right thing to do...and Garbage experienced some incredible success early on. What I find is, being of a certain age, I'll go back and look at a time in my life where I'm like, my God, at this time in my life I thought this one thing and now I feel like someone is showing naked baby pictures to my girlfriend. Were there things you looked back at where you're like, oh my god, there we are!

Shirley Manson: Oh, god, yeah! Not just how we looked and decisions we made or anything like that, but also just some of the stuff I personally said in the press just makes my toes curl. But, no regrets really.

Garbage: There's some pretty embarrassing pictures in the book.

Brian Oake: Fantastic news!

Jill Riley: I remember seeing a picture of a very shiny shirts.

Brian Oake: It was the '90s.

Jill Riley: Well, the book is called, This Is the Noise That Keeps Me Awake. Strange Little Birds would be the most recent album — we featured that as our album of the week on The Current when it came out, and we're looking forward to a new one.

Butch Vig: Yeah. We hope to get it out next summer. We're still early on in the record, but we've got some sparks for some songs and we were just talking the other day: we're going to do a tour for the 20th anniversary for Version 2.0, hopefully this summer through the fall. That will be fun because we'll play the record front to back plus the b-sides. We've got a busy year next year, should be cool.

Interview transcribed by Erianna Jiles

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  • Theft of the Dial: Shirley Manson Garbage are currently on tour in support of their new album, Strange Little Birds. Ahead of their show at the Skyway Theatre, lead singer Shirley Manson stopped by The Current to chat with Brian Oake and Jill Riley, and also to take over our airwaves with a Theft of the Dial.

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