Shirley Manson: ‘We took a lot of chances on that record – for which we were gloriously punished’

In Shirley Manson’s mind, the history of Garbage’s third album, Beautiful Garbage, will forever be tied up with the September 11 terror attacks.

Shirley Manson of Garbage on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival 2005. Picture: Yui Mok/PA
Shirley Manson of Garbage on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival 2005. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

“It was an international trauma,” the riotous, quick-witted Scottish singer explains.

“We were really excited about releasing this record. But two weeks before it got its debut the world changed.”

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The band was grounded at their studio in Madison, Wisconsin, just as they were meant to fly to London to begin promoting the record.

Garbage at the Kerrang! Awards in 2002. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

“We were trapped, of course, like everybody else – all Americans. We couldn’t fly.”

Manson recalls “the toll it took on the world and also on us, and also on our record”.

Beautiful Garbage suffered from a lack of promotion and its lead single, Androgyny, faltered in the charts.

But Edinburgh-born Manson, 55, and her American bandmates – Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig – have revisited the record on the 20th anniversary of its release.

Beautiful Garbage

And there’s much to love: electronica and hip hop collide with the band’s alternative rock sound, and 1960s girl group and 1980s new wave acts inform its melodies.

This anniversary, of course, comes shortly after that of September 11.

“We had enjoyed such a fantastic trajectory as a band,” she says, simultaneously indignant and self-deprecating.

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“We had 16 playlisted singles on Radio 1 in the United Kingdom, which of course is my country so it means so much to me.

Shirley Manson arriving for the NME Awards 2018.Picture: Ian West/PA

“That all came to a stunning end with the release of the first single of Beautiful Garbage, which was Androgyny.”

The band remember holding a crisis meeting with their label boss just before going on stage at Top Of The Pops, in which they were told Androgyny had not been playlisted for Radio 1.

“It was the end of that record already,” she sighs.

“Before we even got off the ground.

“It was the end of a certain period in our career, which had been so joyful and so easy.

“And then all of a sudden, it felt like this bizarre smackdown.”

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Written and recorded over the course of a year, the sessions for Beautiful Garbage offered Manson an escape from her failing marriage of four years to Scottish artist Eddie Farrell.

Living in a decrepit hotel on a lake she describes as being like something out of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it was only a short walk to the band’s studio.

“It was it was a funny place to spend your darkest hours,” she quips, darkly.

During this time Manson became pen pals with JT LeRoy – the literary persona created by then anonymous American writer Laura Albert in the 1990s.

“Her writing is so rich and and her understanding of the human psyche is very deep.

“And so this connection really saved my life, to be honest, at a time when I was so isolated.”

Manson did not at that time know LeRoy’s true identity, adding another level of precariousness to her situation.

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“It is, of all our albums, the one that triggers a lot of bad memories, truth be told,” she recalls.

“It was a very, very difficult time in my life. My first marriage was breaking up while I was making this record.

“Anyone who’s been through the shame and the pain of a divorce would understand just what that means.

“So I have funny feelings associated with this record.

“Because when you are going through pain and you’re writing music it’s so cathartic and it’s such an escape and it’s such a joy.

“It’s the only moment really in your day when you feel good.”

Beautiful Garbage was not a failure commercially or critically but it did not make the impact the band had hoped.

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In the intervening two decades, there has been something of a reappraisal, especially of lead single Androgyny.

“Being a woman who has got a lot of male traits, I’ve always really identified with this idea of non-binary,” she offers.

“Because, as I’ve often quipped over the years, I’ve definitely got bigger balls than my band.

“So the idea of identifying within the spectrum of gender has always made sense to me.”

As a female singer in the male-dominated rock industry, Manson faced scrutiny from the public and press contemporaries such as Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan did not.

Manson thinks things have improved somewhat and that young women in music are more switched on.

“When I came out in the 90s I was one of a few women in music that was very outspoken.

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“Now it seems to me, which I very welcome, that almost every single pop star and rock star is awake.

“They are speaking out and they are unafraid to use their voice and their platform, so I think that in itself is a change.

“It’s exciting and it can only continue.”

“I don’t think young generations of musicians will put up the same kind of s*** that we all did,” she adds.

“The way I was spoken about it in the press was astounding.

“When I look back on it now, I’m like: ‘Oh wow, no wonder I had problems’.

“I managed to weather it all. But at the time it was really unpleasant.”

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I ask whether the music industry is still waiting for its own Me Too moment.

“The music industry is just a microcosm of our society – and in our society men have to really start giving a f***.

“This is not a female problem. This is a male problem.

“As I keep saying, a Me Too movement is not a female movement. It’s a male movement, in many ways, in that women have said their piece.

“We’re looking at the lack of support that we enjoy from our husbands, from our boyfriends, from our sons, from our fathers.

“Nobody seems to really give a s*** and therefore women look at each other across the room with the knowing look and an understanding that we’re on our own here.

“Until we galvanise support from all genders, but specifically men, because it seems to be men who are wreaking the violence upon other human beings for the most part…

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“Only then will we facilitate change.”

Manson has always been deliciously unfiltered, both with fans and the press – and she remains as honest as ever.

“We took a lot of chances on that record – for which we were gloriously punished,” she says with a cackle.

“Now that we’re 20 years down the road, we’re still playing a lot of these songs in our live sets, and some of the songs on that record are our most beloved.

“It feels like a triumph.”



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