Garbage’s Shirley Manson: “I don’t give a fuck about fame, I don’t give a fuck about legacy”

On the eve of Garbage returning to Europe for a packed summer of shows, frontwoman and winner of the last NME Icon Award Shirley Manson talks to us about mortality, the band's next album, how hope lies with the young, and the impending "demise of pathetic, white, patriarchal nonsense"

Hello Shirley Manson. How’s everything going with Garbage?

“The mood is good and buoyant. We’re in the middle of making a new record, and there are lots of good wee things happening around the band right now that take us down new avenues. It feels like fresh air in a funny way.”

What can you tell us about progress on your next album?

“My band are really slow, and that’s just something I’ve had to accept. I have a much happier life as a result of having come to that conclusion. Other people are organised, but we’re more of a hot mess.”

Are you heading down the industrial route of your last single ‘No Horses’ or are you still chasing the more Roxy Music kind of sound that you mentioned last time you spoke to us?

“It’s dark, of course! But I’m not sure I want it to be. I read recently that pop music has become really dark, sad and troubled, and my immediate desire was to do the complete opposite. Unfortunately, it’s just not my forte to write really upbeat and amazing pop music. I wish it was!”

“I read recently that pop music has become really dark, sad and troubled, and my immediate desire was to do the complete opposite.”

So it will still feel like Garbage?

“It’s sort of cinematic-sounding. It’s like ‘No Horses’ because it’s a little softer, and more expansive. There are Roxy influences in there. Butch Vig [drummer and producer] of course, was formerly the President of The Roxy Music Fan Club in Madison, Wisconsin.”

Garbage

Is there any kind of thread of a message running through your new lyrics?

“So far, it’s all pretty personal. People think I’m going to come out raging about politics, but it’s not political at all. I’ve always talked a lot about the themes that are being talked about now, and I feel like I’ve already fucking said my piece. I’m 52 now. I’m old and watching my friends die and that changes everything. Everything changes with every season and that’s as exciting as it is heartbreaking. It feels necessary. That lights a burning torch inside you.”

“I don’t give a fuck about fame, I don’t give a fuck about legacy, I don’t give a fuck about any of that bullshit.”

Has that driven you to try and achieve anything outside of Garbage?

“I haven’t achieved anything in my life, not of much importance. I don’t know if that will ever be my destiny and I don’t care. I’m happy to just be in my seat in my particular corner trying to do my best. I don’t give a fuck about fame, I don’t give a fuck about legacy, I don’t give a fuck about any of that bullshit. I think it’s ludicrous and laughable. I’m just not going to waste my time with it.”

You live in America and your work has always dealt in body politics. Do you feel inspired to write about the recent changes in abortion law?

“I talked about this when we made [2016 album] ‘Strange Little Birds’ and people looked at me like I was cuckoo. I’ve spent my whole life waging against that war. I was talking about a war on women and people just went, ‘Oh, there she goes again’, but I predicted this. It’s been coming for a long time. I’m not really sure what the next step is, but it will be taken. I don’t think the next few generations of women are fucking about. They’re much more switched on than my generation were. They’re not going to take this sitting down.”

“I believe wholeheartedly of the demise of the pathetic, white, patriarchal nonsense that’s currently trying to flex its muscles.”

What form do you think that change will take?

“The wonderful thing about social media is that it galvanises all marginalised voices. I believe wholeheartedly in evolution. I believe wholeheartedly of the demise of the pathetic, white, patriarchal nonsense that’s currently trying to flex its muscles in the US. I think it will eventually all be put to rights. Unfortunately, there will be people who are capable of birthing who will suffer. There will be people who die. That’s an outrage.”

Iconic: it’s Garbage’s Shirley Manson, who picked up the NME Icon award at the 2017 NME Awards.

But it’s everyone’s responsibility to fight for this…

“I appeal to any male who’s ever enjoyed an abortion or whoever has sex without a condom (and there are millions of us all), that you join in the fight with women – that you protect women and help us to take this monstrous ideology on. It’s wild that this is happening and that men aren’t speaking up en masse.”

“I appeal to any male who’s ever enjoyed an abortion or whoever has sex without a condom (and there’s millions of us all), that you join in the fight with women.”

What do you think that all of this says about society in the US in 2019?

“A week after all of this came out, I just sat on the brink of tears all the time. Not for myself, but all of these young women. The stories that you hear in the Deep South of women who are 12-years-old, raped and carrying their rapist’s child to full term. Then they have to give the baby up. Does anybody who’s so called ‘pro-life’ understand what it’s like to bring a baby to full term and hand a baby over? That will fucking disturb the rest of your time on Earth. Who has the right to inflict that on anybody? I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all. This has been going on since Time Immemorial. It’s a desire to control women. How do you control women? You control them through their abilities to breed.”

Are you concerned that real change might take too long?

“Of course it takes a long time to turn the boat around, unfortunately, but each generation rights the ship. Culture shifts so much quicker than it ever did in ways which I struggle to conceive, but I also think it’s really exciting. I feel more and more hopeful when I listen to younger generations.”

On politicians: “I don’t trust any of them. I can’t stand any of them. I’m not affiliated with any of them. It’s like, ‘Do your fucking job’.”

What is it do you think the younger generations are tooled with that older ones have been lacking in?

“Sure, the younger people don’t have a lot of experience or wisdom, but they have the determination to right the ship because they see the mistakes that we continue to make: climate change being the most important and pressing one of them all. Schoolchildren are taking it into their hands because our generation fucked up so badly and are loathed to make change. We’re so entrenched in corporate money and younger generations are like, ‘We’re coming in, whether you like it or not’. I’m deeply appreciative of that whole new way of looking at the world. Finally there’s some common sense at play. People are powerful, but they don’t realise it because they’ve been taught to believe that they’re powerless by the powers that be. It drives me insane.”

You don’t have much faith in politicians then?

“I don’t trust any of them. I can’t stand any of them. I’m not affiliated with any of them. It’s like, ‘Do your fucking job. Stop getting fat. Stop doing photo calls. Do your work’.”

Do you see much hope in new generations of rock artists? Is that what you look for when you invite a band on the road?

“At this point, it’s really important that we promote black artists and artists of colour in rock. It’s hard enough for anyone, but it’s insane how difficult it is for black artists and artists of colour – particularly when you want to break out of R&B and hip-hop. If you want to play punk music as a black person, then that’s the toughest road you can hoe. I respect it so much. That’s why it was so joyful to hear Pleasure Venom play every night on our recent US tour because they sound so fresh. It was wild, careering and chaotic and Audrey [Campbell, singer] is just amazing. She’s so unique. In this climate, everyone is so homogenised. Female artists particularly sound like one another, then you get this wild firebrand and that’s exciting.”

“We were also joined by the amazing Ionna Gika, who has made a very modern-sounding and unique record. It’s exciting to play shows with good women and give them some support.”

And you’re about to play with Du Blonde on your UK tour…

“We’ve been in touch with Du Blonde for a few years now. When she brought out [2015 album] ‘Welcome Back To Milk’, I thought it was an amazing record. Her creativity and artistry blow me away. She’s really good at everything. She’s had to get really tough, and it’s a tough industry that she’s in. I just jumped at the chance to invite her to play these shows with us. I really admire her and her tenacity.”

“To be able to carve out a career for ourselves in this climate is just extraordinary. I feel like crying every night.”

And how come you chose Britpoppers Sleeper to support you too at Kew The Music in London?

“Our agent said that we needed another band play with us at Kew, he sent us a list of artists and I just thought it would be a good mix. Generally, I try to avoid ‘90s-based bands because I don’t want to be stuck in the ghetto of the ‘90s. I’d rather play smaller shows on my terms than carefully-curated ‘90s packages. But I love Sleeper, and I love Louise [Wener, frontwoman]. I think she has a great mind and intellect. I’ve never seen them play.”

There’s a lot to be said for the fact that both you and Sleeper are still here to tell the tale.

“We stopped playing the game a long time ago, which we were punished for then rewarded for too. I’m really amazed that we’re still here in this musical landscape, where there are 100,00 new songs uploaded every week. That’s just mad. To be able to carve out a career for ourselves in this climate is just extraordinary. I feel like crying every night.”

Garbage’s upcoming 2019 UK and European tour dates are below.

June 14 – The Junction – Cambridge, UK 
June 15 – Isle Of Wight Festival, UK
June 17 – Ancienne Belgigue – Brussels, Belgium 
June 18 – Garage Saarbrücken – Saarbrücken, Germany 
June 20 – Paradiso – Amsterdam, Netherlands
June 21 – De Oosterpoort – Groningen, Netherlands
June 22 – Muffathalle – München, Germany 
June 24 – Krizikova Fontana – Prague, Czech Republic
June 25 – INmusic Festival – Zagreb, Croatia 
June 26 – Sered Amphitheater – Sered, Slovakia
June 28 – Plateua Bazeni 11. Aprilla – Belgrade, Serbia 
June 29 – Arenele Romane – Bucharest, Romania 
June 30 – Plovdiv Music Festival Hills of Rock – Plovdiv, Bulgaria
July 4 – Festival Pause Guitare – Albi, France 
July 5 – Cruilla Barcelona Festival – Barcelona, Spain
July 6 – Cognac Blues Passions – Cognac, France 
July 9 – Vittoriale degli Italiani – Gardone Riviera, Italy 
July 11 – Musilac Festival – Aix-les-Bains, France
July 13 – Kew The Music – London, UK
July 14 – Cardiff University, Great Hall – Cardiff, UK 
July 15 – O2 Academy Leeds – Leeds, UK
July 17 – Alhambra Theatre – Dunfermline, UK 
July 18 – Iveagh Gardens – Dublin, Ireland