Shirley Manson is hard to miss. One of the most iconic women in music, she’s a red-hot kitchen that doesn’t let you out without feeling the heat. At a recent show in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Manson came out strong. Wearing a flowing leopard print dress over fishnets topped off with light pink bob. GARBAGE’s leading lady stalked the stage, like a wildcat ready to pounce. With the recent release of their 6th studio album Strange Little Birds, GARBAGE is back with a record that conjures up the raw sound of their 1995 self titled debut. Yet this time they’ve softened their edges, making it their most vulnerable record yet. For the hardcore fans, the latest GARBAGE is a wonderful tribute to their signature sound, one that they cultivated and perfected in their time. But I wonder, could there be a record like Strange Little Birds today if there hadn’t been GARBAGE 21 years ago?
Manson seems to agree. ‘We have made a record that probably only a band that has had a long career behind them would be willing to make.’ Acknowledging that Strange Little Birds isn’t going to appeal to mass teenage audiences around the world, or get blasted on mainstream radio, Manson explains that this is part of exactly why this latest release defines GARBAGE as a band. ‘This record is very obtuse, sprawling, dark, brooding, cinematic…all those things that nobody really wants to touch right now in music’ she explains, while perfectly describing all the elements that have defined GARBAGE from the very beginning. But for Manson, this latest record is not just about doing what they do best, but doing things on their own terms.
‘I think as a band, we have gotten really clear about who we are and what we want to do. We are at that point in our lives where we aren’t going to compromise.’
Manson’s words are refreshing and without skipping a beat, she suddenly interjects: ‘You know we want to be the change that we want to see, at that this point, I realize that if we don’t do it, who is going to fucking to do it!?’ Followed by a deep throaty laugh. After 21 years together, GARBAGE has had plenty of experience to help them get to where they are today. Reflecting back on their 20th anniversary tour in 2015, appropriately named 20 Years Queer, after the track Queer, an anthem for those who didn’t fit the straight and narrow, Manson remembers that moment as an ‘incredible triumph‘. ‘I realized that I am one of a handful of female musicians who have enjoyed a long career, and our 20th anniversary tour felt a lot like a lap of honor. It was nothing but celebratory and we all felt very connected to our fans.’
Shirley Manson: ‘I feel more content than I have ever felt’
Perhaps one of the most charming things about Manson is that she is unafraid to admit that things aren’t always going to be easy, especially those private moments in between, but that doesn’t change her appreciation for her career and dedicated fan-base. For Manson, her years of hiatus from GARBAGE were taxing. Between the death of her mother and feeling frustrated not making music, Manson entered a period where it became easier for her to accept vulnerability, which is one of the major themes on Strange Little Birds.
‘It was a difficult time in a lot of ways. I felt that I was too old, that I was no longer beautiful. I felt like I lost my powers. It was a challenging period of growth and also realizing that everything I thought knew was wrong. But, I was able to rebuild and there was no way I couldn’t have made this record had I not gone through this period.’
You can tell by the tone of her voice, Manson is happy to be back alongside Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig, and is quick to note that she is enjoying her career as a musician more than ever. ‘Strange Little Birds is completely of the moment‘, she explains. ‘Today, I feel completely empowered in my life, I feel more content than I have ever felt and that is why on this album I am unafraid to expose the whole gambit of emotions that a human being feels throughout a lifetime.’ Strange Little Birds isn’t just a comeback album, but a testament to the band’s incredible talent and strength. In the same way that GARBAGE’s self-titled debut and Version 2.0 made such a huge impression on their fans, their latest has the potential to do the same.
As we come towards the end of our conversation, I ask Manson for her opinion on what it’s like today for female musicians. Maybe an obvious one, but she always was, and still is, a voice of empowerment.
‘You know, a woman’s sexuality is incredibly potent and this power is arguably the most important power in the world, but we give it away so easily.’ She continues, ‘of course that’s because we are encouraged to! There is this strange correlation that if you expose yourself that you are powerful by receiving admiration for your physical being, but more often than not, you’re actually disempowering yourself. It’s a dishonest message unfortunately.’
Laughing, Manson admits that we would need a lot more time to have this conversation, and I agree, but of course, she’s a busy woman these days.
Before we go our separate ways, she sends me off with one final thought, one that relates not just to female musicians, but everybody. ‘Power comes with great responsibility and you have to be serious and careful about the messages you send out to the world. You have to hold on to your power.’