Last week, Garbage returned from an extended sabbatical with the release of the highly anticipated Not Your Kind of People, their first studio album since 2005. The band kicked off an international tour (their first in almost a decade) with a sold-out performance at Webster Hall last night in New York. Genre-bending, experimental, and supported by a diehard following, the cult of Garbage would not be complete without the siren vocals of frontwoman Shirley Manson, who is herself a veritable ’90s icon.
The first time Interview spoke with Manson was for the February 1997 issue, a year and a half after the release of Garbage’s first, self-titled album, which catapulted such tracks as “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When It Rains” into heavy MTV video rotation. In the interview with Alison Powell (reprinted below), the Edinburgh-born Manson talks rebellion, Mozart, sex appeal, and the unique Garbage group dynamic.
Garbage GoddessBy Alison Powell
Charles Manson, nut job, wanted a cult following. Shirley Manson (no relation) leader of the rocketing rock group Garbage, got one.
When Shirley Manson takes the stage, she doesn’t just occupy it, she owns it. As the lead singer of the group Garbage, Manson could easily have played damsel in distress to the rock ‘n’ roll royalty knights—producers Steve Marker, Duke Erikson, and grunge’s own Phil Spector, Butch Vig—who also make up the band. Instead, the Edinburgh, Scotland, native has been laying siege to the contemporary scene with her canny, sexually astute strut and unquavering, giggle-free vocal style. Brash, biting, and gloriously unabashed, this pop thistle has the texture and tartness we need the most now.
ALISON POWELL: Do you consider yourself a rebel?
SHIRLEY MANSON: That’s a difficult question, because to consider yourself a rebel is sort of ridiculous. But at the same time, I am well aware that I’ve always sort of woven my own weave. I mean, I tend to do my own thing, and that usually crosses purposes with everyone around me. It’s definitely an intrinsic part of my makeup that makes me want to see black when everyone else is seeing white.
POWELL: Rock music has always stood as a tangible sign of rebellion. Is rock still capable of being that agent?
MANSON: Absolutely. I think music in general, and all types of art, really, have always been about escapism—escaping the norm and asserting your own reality. I’m not just talking about rock ‘n’ roll. I mean classical music, too—anything that is free-form and has no governing body, and gives a looser framework for people to work in, draws people to it like a magnet.
POWELL: Classical music was the—
MANSON: —Punk rock of its time. Mozart was a punk, which people seem to forget. He was a naughty, naughty boy.
POWELL: And naughtiness seems to be part of what people really like about you. You’ve got a sexually confident stance. And you also have a fantastic walk onstage—a powerful strut. Is that intentional?
MANSON: No, I don’t think it’s intentional. I would say I’m pretty well at ease with my sexuality, but I’m an individual before I am female. I was lucky when I was young to have a very mixed peer group. I hung with the girls and the boys, and that’s continued all through my life. Possibly because I grew up not feeling very confident about my own physical appearance, I developed internal devices so that I could integrate into society. I’m fairly in control and I don’t like to flirt particularly. I mean, obviously if I meet someone who I think is hot, of course I’ll want to flirt with them, but in general I don’t use it in day-to-day life. I think flirtation and sexuality are [often] used in foolish ways.
POWELL: It must be difficult for you now that you are something of an icon—you know, you’re not Shirley the girl anymore.
MANSON: No, I’m not Shirley the girl, I’m the woman on MTV with the big boots. I love my boots, but you know, the boots are wearing me, baby, and that’s gotta stop! It’s a bit like the sorcerer’s apprentice—the brooms started to do stuff on their own.
POWELL: The other members of the band are these kind of rock heavyweights as far as their songwriting and playing abilities, and yet there seems to be no competition between you all.
MANSON: The band turned into a real body. They give me things that I don’t have, and I give them things that they don’t have. As I put it to one of my friends the other day, “I bought them the ticket, but they gave me the class.”
POWELL: Your first record [Garbage] has been consistently strong for a whole year. Are you surprised?
MANSON: Yeah. We just wanted to make a record that sounded cool. So we stole from hip-hop, we stole from techno and blues and mashed them all up. They biggest compliment we’ve had recently was that we heard a lot of rappers and hip-hoppers are using the Garbage record as reference point. At the end of the day though, the band members have to be strong. It’s down to the individuals in the unit. Listen to me, I’m talking like I’m in the army and this is my squadron.
POWELL: Has this year felt like an assault on Normandy?
MANSON: Totally. You have to watch all sides of your advancement, you have to make sure people’s bodies and minds are healthy and their morale is cool before you can really go out and play great music. And then there’s all these other creeps that surround your band and suck off you like leeches and try to manipulate you and your business. You have to watch like a hawk. I’m always ready to fight. I see it very much as a battle.
POWELL: So, are you the pit bull of the band?
MANSON: Oh yeah, I’m the ridiculous pit bull. They have to chain me to the stairs and say, “Behave yourself!” I am laughably aggressive, and the rest of the band is very laid back, so we mix well. I stick the rockets up their assholes sometimes, and they shove the leather glove in my mouth every now and again to keep me quiet. [laughing hysterically] I can’t believe I just said that!
POWELL: One last question: Did your shirt really fly open at the VH1 Fashion Awards?
POWELL: And how was that for you?
MANSON: I laughed my head off. But my breasts didn’t fall out—I think that’s people’s wishful thinking. I think people may have very, very briefly seen a nipple. But you know, when did a nipple do anybody any harm?
POWELL: Exactly. It’s not like it’s a secret that you have them.
MANSON: I do have nipples. There, you can tell the world.
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE FEBRUARY 1997 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
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