Interview: Shirley Manson Talks ‘Vulnerable’ New Garbage Album & Social Media Fakeness

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“It’s a privilege to have another record come out and I’m really proud of it.”

Shirley Manson is excited. Garbage’s new record, Strange Little Birds, will be released on June 10th via the bands Stunvolume Records. As the follow-up to 2012’s, Not Your Kind of People, the new music serves as a unique artistic form of expression. The recipe was to have no recipe at all, which resulted in dipping into some influence from their 1995 self-titled debut, combined with brand new flavors. For Manson, it’s some of the most personal material she’s ever written.

As a whole, it’s an honest and courageous record, that leaves no stone unturned in examining all the in-and-outs of everyday relationships. As you visit Garbage.com, the first thing you will notice is what appears to be an industrial looking rooftop covered in beautiful garden-like imagery. The words – Explore the Garden immediately greet you in the middle of the page.

Coincidentally, my conversation with Manson began by her describing the view she had of her garden from her home in Los Angeles. It’s with this view painted in the background and in our minds, that we discussed Garbage’s new record, their upcoming tours and the liberating effects of writing vulnerable songs.

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What was the writing process like for this record? Were the songs written gradually over the past four years?

We have no set way of working in Garbage. Certainly the gents in the band brought in a ton of ideas. When they actually wrote them, I don’t know. In this case, we started in Butch’s basement at his house in the beginning of the recording sessions, and we just jammed for the most part. Every song comes together differently for us.

Basement jams always tend to breed great things. And they’re the most fun.

They are the most fun. Not necessarily the best way to write, but definitely the most fun. Often somebody will bring in some instrumental that they’ve worked on and initially everyone in the room is a little timid to just jump in and work on it because it doesn’t feel like we have anything invested in it yet. It feels like a stranger. Over the course of time in Garbage, we all come in and we all mess things up. We’ll take ideas and we’ll toss them around. Sooner or later we get to the point where we are all happy and we feel equally invested in the idea and we move forward.

I noticed there’s a lot of programming and loops in the new music.

We all wanted to really concentrate on atmospheres this time. We’ve been guilty in the past of only focusing on songwriting. On this record the focus was on atmosphere and the feeling of something. The first track that you hear is an example of that. It’s not really a song. It’s more of a feeling. I think we definitely were going for more of a cinematic approach on this record.

I’ve heard you describe the record as a romance story. There’s certainly a lot of relationship aimed lyrics. After listening to “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed” and how the record closes with “Amends,” I understood the romance story description.

Yeah, it’s not the most obvious, right? I’ve had a few people tell me they don’t know what I mean by this, it’s not romantic at all. (Laughs) But to me, it is about relationships. People. I felt, when going in to making this record, I have a personal intention of exploring some of the ideas I have deliberately avoided throughout my 21 year career. There are things in my life that I’ve always wanted to talk about and I’ve been too scared or didn’t have the skill to articulate because it’s too important to me. So going into this record, I wanted to be vulnerable. That’s partly what I mean by romantic. I’m at my most vulnerable state when I’m with people I love. That’s when you’re most naked and trusting.

I took away a theme of – this is how I am. I’m not perfect, but this is me, love me for who I am. Is that on track?

Yeah, the whole record is basically about how we as human beings, we all want the same thing, but we’re all managing it differently based on conflicts that are unsolvable. Yet, our solutions to our problems seem so far from being solved because our egos get in the way. Our prejudgments, our ignorance and our innocence. It is universal in a sense, in the way that it hurts.

There’s a unique juxtaposition in your new material where there’s an insecurity and vulnerability to the lyrics, but by the end of certain songs and for sure the record as whole, you get this sense of – everything’s OK, it will all work out.

Yeah, isn’t that human nature? We are all these things. We’re not just flat families. We’ve all got contradictory elements in our personalities. There are all these multi-dimensions that make human beings interesting, we’re not these flat ridiculous cartoon versions of ourselves that get posted on social media. We’re all so complex and difficult to understand.

I completely subscribe to that. We’re not always these smiling beach pictures on Instagram. Nor should you be.

Nor should you be, and that doesn’t mean when you portray some of your fears or your flaws or your weaknesses, that’s everything you are. I think people are so afraid now to admit to weakness and to admit to fear. People on social media are always posturing that they’ve got everything figured out, they’re really happy and successful and everything’s beautiful. I just don’t believe that’s who we all are. I don’t believe that’s what it means to be a human being struggling through life.

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Was the album sequenced in a specific way for you to tell a story from front to back?

Yes, it was in a way. We didn’t realize it until we sequenced it, that it did tell a story. When we agreed on a the sequence, I think we were all a bit shocked that we have a very old-school record from start to finish that takes a listener on a journey. A lot of really great records have a link between each song that moves the listener through it. It was almost accidental for us. It was all about what felt right. It is not a concept record though.

There’s been a certain light on Madison, WI lately, where you guys are from lately, with the Smart Studios documentary. I know you are primarily Los Angeles based now, but do you find those deep-rooted Madison influences in your work still?

I know for a fact the Madisonian roots are deep with particularly Steve, Butch and Duke. For me, I will always carry that with me, but I know it’s very difficult for the band to separate themselves from those roots which really run deep, for sure. Absolutely. It was such a large part of our musical education.

What else does Garbage have on tap this year? I know you have an extensive European tour to coincide with the release of Strange Little Birds, will you have any US tour dates in the future as well?

We do. The first single is “Empty” which is just premiering, so that’s exciting for us. We’ll probably be touring all year, God willing. You never know what’s going to happen. So many things have occurred to us over the course of our career, you can never really depend on anything. Our intentions are to tour the summer festivals in Europe and then come here to the US. We plan on announcing the tour dates pretty soon. The dates are already in place and we haven’t even gotten to the fall plans yet. There is talk of doing some headline shows in Europe and the US in the fall as well. It all depends if the forces are with us or against us, but we’d love to still be touring in the fall.

For tour dates and to pre-order Strange Little Birds, visit www.Garbage.com

Listen to Garbage’s new single, “Empty”

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