Turning Points: Shirley Manson
Shirley Manson has been setting new standards for frontpeople since 1995 as the flame-haired singer of Garbage.
After being recruited to join the band by Nevermind, Dirty and Siamese Dream producer Butch Vig, Manson would go on to become an alternative icon, combining her stone-cold coolness with a rebellious attitude and feminist principles. Having endured intense touring, in-band fighting, hiatuses and Manson’s vocal surgery, Garbage are now preparing to release their sixth studio album, Strange Little Birds. Looking back on an inspirational career, Manson pinpoints the focal points of her journey so far, explaining why success still comes as a surprise after 21 years.
Early years: Starting out in Edinburgh
I was fascinated with theatre. I had no aspirations to be in a band. I didn’t believe I was a good enough musician. But, my theatre group needed some help with musical production, so one of the members of the group brought in the front singer from a rock band to help and he was looking for a keyboard player. For want of anything better to do, I went along to rehearsal, and thus started my career with Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie, the first band I ever played in.
I was young, I was bratty, and I was loud. I just wanted to be heard, in any way.
1994: Being recruited for Garbage
There was a terrible snobbery back then about producers – at least from my scene. We thought they were dictators to be fought on every level. So to be honest, when I first got the call about Butch, I was only interested because once again, I really needed something to do. Of course, after checking out the records he was involved in, I realised this man was involved with a lot of music that I loved. Then I got really excited. I was like, “holy fuck, how can it be possible that someone this cool would want to call me?” It was incredible. A real Cinderella moment. We stuck like glue. And now they can’t get rid of me!
1997: Approaching Version 2.0 after the debut LP’s unprecedented success
When we approached the second record, we were brimming with confidence. We’d had our arse licked for two years, so we were full of it. But the promotion of that record was so intense. It went to number one in an insane amount of countries and toured for another two years. At the end I was beginning to lose my peace of mind. I was having a lot of trouble with my self-image, and looking back, I was a monster to myself. I want to say to young women now that it’s who you are that counts, not how you look. Our culture doesn’t encourage women to believe that, because that makes us a hell of a lot more dangerous.
2003: Vocal surgery and recording Bleed Like Me
My vocal surgery couldn’t have come at a worse time. I was unable to contribute in the way that I wanted to, and things had got really bad between us. I didn’t go into the studio for a while because it was making me literally sick and I couldn’t stomach it any more. We were pulling in all sorts of different directions, and we thought that if we brought in an outside producer, he or she would know how to fix the problem. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. We’re like wild pigs – you can’t herd Garbage, because we’re used to herding ourselves. We sort of miraculously stumbled through. We really wouldn’t have made it without our record company.
"I want to say to young women now that it’s who you are that counts, not how you look"
2008: Getting back together after a long hiatus
It’s a pretty sad story how we all ended up back together again. Friends of mine and Butch’s lost their six-year-old boy, and I had been asked to sing Life on Mars at the funeral because it was his favourite song. It was a terribly sad day. After I sang the song, I walked outside and bumped into Butch. Everyone was very emotional. As we were hugging each other, we decided to fix it. We all got back together again in Los Angeles about a month later, and that was us back on track. We laughed ourselves sick back in the studio, and wrote a new song that would appear on [2013 album] Not Our Kind of People. It all fell back into place.
2016: Strange Little Birds
I don’t know if it speaks of a low IQ, but I never get tired of talking about our albums. It’s such an incredible thing to do in your life. Strange Little Birds is a different record for us as a band. This is probably the heaviest record we’ve ever made, sonically and lyrically. One of the reasons we’ve endured such a long career is that we excite each other with ideas and we share a very similar view of the world. We work well together. They still bring in ideas that thrill me, and you can’t ask for much more after 21 years of a musical marriage. If someone’s still bringing you something new after 21 years, you hold onto that.