We chat to Garbage's Shirley Manson about the new album, Beyoncé and the band's hiatus

2016-06-17 11:29

Cape Town - When I got the e-mail confirming I would be chatting to Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, memories of my rebellion days at school listening to alternative rock and playing the electric guitar started flooding my mind.

Garbage, synonymous with hits such as Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains, received critical acclaim for their self-titled debut album released in 1995 which sold more than 4 million copies.

And now the band is back with a brand new album, Strange Little Birds, the follow-up to their 2012 album Not Your Kind Of People.

This is what Shirley revealed during our chat:

On going back to their early Garbage sound:

We're just aching to hear live guitars again. We keep getting told, guitars are dead, no one wants to listen to guitars anymore, and we're in the corner going, "We do!" So making this record was us just reconnecting with a lot of the things that we love, and I guess it was almost an act of defiance, because we were told so much that guitars are dead and I think we felt we wanted to rebel against that sort of mindset. And so guitars reign supreme, they really reign supreme on our new record. And we are relieved to hear that, having never fallen out of love with guitars in our career.

I think people are beginning to want to hear guitars again. Because like us they feel that there’s always something interesting about a human being playing guitar in a really inventive cool way. Watching someone play guitar is far from boring, it’s exciting, and that will always be the case.

On what fans can expect from the new album:

I never know how to answer that question. Everyone’s personal expectations are so different, so I have no idea at all of all the collective expectations of my fans around the world. As a band we try and not focus on people’s expectations too much, because it’s just too complicated and too complex for us. I would just urge people to keep an open mind.

I think if you love our band, you will love this record. I really think the fans are really going to be excited by it. It is very much a back to basics kind of record and it’s similar in mood from the first record, it’s very dark, it’s very cinematic. Uhm, and there’s lots and lots of guitars! I think our fans are going to be happy.

On the overall theme of the album:

The overall theme has been about what it means to be a human being, right now, in the times we’re living in. We wanted to make a record that’s very authentic to the times we felt we’re living in. And certainly in my lifetime I haven’t known as much global flux as we’re experiencing right now. And I guess I’m sort of getting increasingly tired of the flat cartoon versions we’re experiencing of one another through social media, where everybody is filtering what they consider to be all their flaws, and all their weaknesses out of the picture, and instead they push forward all their successes and their bragging and their most attractive selves and their powerful selves, and I just find that a bit tedious.

What interests me about human nature, and what interests me about other people are all their flaws, and all their funny little quirks. The things that make them fragile are the things that make them interesting to me, you know? I feel like all these things in our personalities are equally as important as the so called positive sides to our personalities. And I wanted to bring that to the fore in the record. I don’t want to be a cartoon version of myself, I want to be a fully realised human being, who I really am, flaws and all.

On the current state of music and the way people are releasing music:

I personally was thrilled by Beyoncé’s record Lemonade, on a multitude of levels. Most importantly for me it felt like she was promoting the idea of a record as a whole and not just fragments of songs, of singles that will get played on radio, instead she was focusing on the art of making records and I’m very grateful to her for that. I also think she broke out of a lot of constraints that are being put around pop stars, and it ultimately suffocates them. These constraints that they’re expected to be friendly constantly, and they have to make popular sounding music constantly. We see Beyoncé, arguably the biggest most influential pop star in the world, has made a very artistic creative record and I think she’s elevated herself from an entertainer to a fully fledged fascinating artist, and I think that’s great for artists all over the world to see.

On being a pioneer for alternative female-led music:

I don’t ever really think about it in those terms, because I’m always still so inspired by the giants that have come before me, and I look to them as the pioneers. I don’t look at myself and go, "Wow you’re a pioneer!" I feel like I just listened and learned from the greats and I tried to do my best. And I tried to move through my career with some self-respect and defiance against what I refer to once again as societal expectations and conventions that are placed upon women. I feel like I may lose the fight, but I will fight for women to be taken seriously as artists and not have to always rely on their physical appearance, because I think when women seek out physical affirmation, they ultimately diminish themselves, they diminish all the power inside them, their creative abilities. And women really have to start to buck up and wake up and realise that there is more in life, to seek out a foundation on which they can stand that isn’t based on their physicality or sexuality.

On the band's hiatus:

We found ourselves musically out of time with the current sort of fashion of the day. And we were receiving increasing amount of pressure from our record label to change our music to appeal to the sort of more popular tastes of the day, of radio and the media. And we refused to do that. So we found ourselves in a very combated situation with our record label and it was making us miserable, and in my case it actually made me physically sick.

We felt that the industry, our record label would destroy our band and our reputation, and so we all went home. And the break ended up taking on a much longer life than initially expected, but mostly because we just begun to live our lives. It was great actually to have 5 years off where we basically just lived our lives as regular folks and relearned what it meant to be in the world and we understand again culture and the politics of the day. That feeds and you grow. It was painful though too, to not be making music, but a great period of growth in other directions. 

On the best advice she's ever received:

I always say the same thing, which is something my mum taught me. She said to me one day, you know Shirley, you have to engineer your happiness, you have to be the engineer of your life, and I realise every day how right she was. Because I think I was guilty of, when I was younger, being unhappy and thinking that someone else can fix it, that some magical force or some magical person would appear and fix it, and wave a magic wand and all of sudden I’d feel comfortable in my skin and happy in my life. And it took me a long time, arguably until I was about 40 years old to realise what my mum meant by that, which was you, only you can make yourself happy. No external circumstances, no other person, even though you may love them and they love you and you have an incredible relationship with them, nobody is capable of salving your pain, you have to learn how to self sooth, somehow or another.

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