Interview Icons Only: Garbage

Seven albums in, Garbage’s Shirley Manson is still slashing down tired old industry bullshit one righteous affirmation at a time.

Over the course of the creation of Garbage’s seventh album, Shirley Manson had told journalists that it was not a political record. This isn’t a view that seems to chime particularly well either with the reality of ‘No Gods No Masters’ - a furious deconstruction of societal inequality deeply inspired by the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements - or this conversation, which sees her take aim at the government’s abandonment of young artists during the pandemic (“It makes me fucking weep”), the political class in general (“They’ve abandoned the people and run out of ideas”) and structural misogyny within the music industry (“It drives me absolutely insane”). “It’s not even eight o’clock in the morning here,” she laughs from her home in Los Angeles, “but you’ve gotten me fired up.”

And yet still, she insists that ‘No Gods No Masters’ - finally out this month after lockdown put it on ice just days away from completion - was not born of topical engagement. “I don’t consider this a political record. I’m not a political person. I’m very suspicious of most politicians. They make me recoil. None of them seem to be able to match their rhetoric. I think what you can be is a person with a very strong opinion, and a person with a very solid idea of what’s right and wrong. I want to be able to hold a strong moral compass without being accused of being ‘political’. Everybody I speak to, whether they’re on the right or the left, seems frustrated at the fact that the world has changed dramatically, but politicians have yet to get smart to it, and what that’s created is terrible division.”

“I’m fed up of seeing this constant barrage of young [musicians] being exploited by a vile, capitalistic, terrifying, toxic industry.”

— Shirley Manson

‘Frustrated’ is the word that crops up most often. It’s obvious that what Shirley sees as the hypocrisy of the world around her is something that’s informed her life as a musician, and especially so on ‘No Gods No Masters’; this is something, she says, that goes back to her upbringing in the Scottish Presbyterian church, where she saw “people saying the right things, and then doing the complete opposite.” She’s drawn to the spiritual symbolism of the number seven, and its representation of rebirth; ‘No Gods No Masters’ is the seventh Garbage album. “It would have been very inauthentic of me not to talk about the things that I’m talking about with my friends and family on the album,” she says. “There’s so much insanity in the world; black, brown and indigenous people being mistreated for the colour of their skin, or this bizarre sickness of violence towards women that’s not being discussed. I couldn’t really live with myself if I didn’t put that into the work.”

Those ideas have found their way into her writing; lead single ‘The Men Who Rule the World’, for instance, is an excoriation of “the old, white men who still hold the balance of power.” What these themes have had her reflecting on, too, is the influence that she herself holds; in recent years, Garbage have instituted a policy of only taking female and non-binary artists on tour with them, something that’s provided a platform to the likes of Dream Wife, Du Blonde and The Pearl Hearts, and that has helped solidify Shirley’s status as a de facto godmother to up-and-coming musicians.

“I’m very suspicious of most politicians. They make me recoil.”

— Shirley Manson

The Next Generation

A couple of our (and Shirley’s) faves explain exactly why Garbage will never get in the bin.

Alice Go, Dream Wife
Why should readers who don’t know Shirley’s work go and seek her out?

Shirley isn’t afraid of difficult, important, emotionally-driven conversations and also seems very willing to learn and grow. She’s paved the way for us to be able to do what we do and is an inspiring role model with a killer set of pipes!

Izzy B. Phillips, Black Honey
Why do you think Shirley is still an important cultural force?

Everything she did gave marginalised outsiders a voice. It was permission to be different and it was okay to be angry. Shirley took up space against a backdrop of ‘90s toxic patriarchal standards. I can’t even imagine how much harder it was for her back then.

“I felt like an anomaly,” she explains. “Back in the nineties, there weren’t many of us. Me, Courtney Love, Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani, Lil’ Kim, Fiona Apple - I see, now, our attitude among almost all the young women I speak to. They’re mouthy, opinionated, not afraid to take up space, not frightened to talk about politics, and more in charge of their sexuality. I just want to give them an opportunity, and tell them they’re great. Who doesn’t want to hear that? Nobody ever said to me, ‘You fucking killed it on that song’. Instead, it was, ‘Oh, you’re such a sex kitten’. Which is fucking moronic.”

She rejects, though, the idea that she’s become a kind of mentor to these bands. “They don’t need my advice! All they need is a platform. They know exactly what they want to do and how they want to do it. I think, nowadays, it’s increasingly difficult for alternative women who are stepping out of a mainstream gaze, and doing things in a more unconventional way. I’m fed up of seeing this constant barrage of young - and I really underline that word - babies who are being exploited by a vile, capitalistic, terrifying, toxic industry, and then thrown into the dumpster. It sets me on fucking fire. I just want to promote these women who are speaking to me in the way they do things. They don’t need a whole slew of people over the age of 35; they just need an opportunity to be in front of an audience. I want to help them, and if I can, I will.”

‘No Gods No Masters’ is out now via Stunvolume.

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Icons Only: Garbage

Icons Only: Garbage

Seven albums in, Garbage’s Shirley Manson is still slashing down tired old industry bullshit one righteous affirmation at a time.