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Members include Duke Erikson (born Douglas Erikson, 1950), guitar, keyboards; Shirley Manson (born August 26, 1966, in Edinburgh, Scotland; married), vocals, guitar; Steve Marker (born 1960, in Nebraska; attended University of Wisconsin at Madison), guitar, bass; Butch Vig (born Bryan Vig in 1957, in Viroqua, WI; attended University of Wisconsin at Madison), drums. Addresses: Record company--Almo Sounds, 360 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048-1928. Website--Garbage Official Website: http://www.garbage.com.

When a group of three full-time producers and part-time musicians decided to find a singer and make a record, the name "Garbage" had, unbelievably, not yet been used by another band. The singer the trio hired was a Scottish woman with the equally unlikely name of Shirley, and their 1995 debut sold a million copies in its first year, earning the band a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Jason Cohen, writing in Rolling Stone, called Garbage's genesis "a tale of friendship, experimentation, and a fateful symbiosis of music and personalities." Shirley Manson concurred. "If I wasn't in this band, I would go, `Yeah, right, three producers and a girl,'" she told Cohen. "But we found a chemistry that I don't think you can predetermine. It was just absolute luck."

"Manson's stardusted glamour seemed out of place when Garbage arrived in 1995, but then everything about them did," wrote Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield. Newsweek's David Gates likened them to "a self-consciously corrupted `90s version of Fleetwood Mac." The band originated in the Madison, Wisconsin, warehouse that is home to Smart Studios, a successful enterprise founded in 1984 by Butch Vig and Steve Marker. Vig and Marker had met at Madison's University of Wisconsin, where Vig majored in film but spent a great deal of time composing soundtracks. With another friend, Duke Erikson, Vig had enjoyed minor local success with a band called Spooner. When they disbanded in 1987 after three records, they occasionally played in another group called Firetown, but devoted their time to producing records for other bands.

Discovered Singer on MTV

Vig's star rose as a producer, especially when a number of bands from America's West Coast like Killdozer and Tad began trekking to Wisconsin to work with him. His resume would eventually include several platinum-selling alternative records, including Nirvana's Nevermind and Siamese Dream from the Smashing Pumpkins. The Vig-Erikson-Marker trio also loved to work on creating barrages of samples and found noise, which they worked into remixes for the likes of U2 and Nine Inch Nails. Eventually they had so much leftover material that they finally decided to merge it with their occasional one-night live projects and force a real live pop band into existence. Yet since they all were less than enthusiastic about fronting a band after spending so many years behind the scenes, they knew they would have to find a singer.

One Sunday night in Madison, they saw a video for an obscure Scottish band called Angelfish on MTV's Sunday night alternative video showcase 120 Minutes, and decided to contact its redheaded singer. They found Shirley Manson, then under contract to Radioactive Records, living in Edinburgh, and extended an invitation for her to audition for them in Madison. "I was in way over my head," Manson recalled to Jancee Dunn in Rolling Stone, of the first takes she did in their studio. She was nervous and felt inept as a singer, and they were shy. They would leave her in a sound room and go to the mixing consoles on another floor. "And they were like, 'Make up some words,'" Manson said. "I'd never officially written anything with people, so to ask me to ad-lib was a living nightmare."

Unexpected Success

A native of Edinburgh, Manson had dropped out of school at the age of 15 to work in a clothing store. She was a self-described rebel who came of age in the early 1980s and was, as a teen, a huge Siouxsie and the Banshees fan. "At the time, I felt totally inadequate, totally inarticulate," Manson said in another chat with Dunn. "I felt things but couldn't put them into words. Then I heard one of her records, and she was saying it for me." She got involved in music herself when she joined a band simply because she had a crush on its lead singer. She wound up dating him and staying ten years with Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie, a decade that "gave me no satisfaction. Zero," Manson told Dunn. She explained that she had little creative input, and her relationship with the lead singer was traumatic for her because of his constant infidelity. "It literally broke me," she recalled in Rolling Stone.

Manson formed her own band, Angelfish, around 1994, and it was their video for the song "Suffocate Me" and its sole spin on MTV that put her in touch with the three producers in Madison. Despite a rough beginning, the quartet clicked and Manson began a long and involved process of writing lyrics and recording with her new best friends. Though they often kept the first takes, there were many willful clashes. "That creative tension is ultimately what winds up on the track," Vig told Cohen. The result was an eponymous pink-covered CD from a group of unknowns with an almost corny name. But Garbage contained a passel of songs that became alternative-radio staples throughout 1995 and 1996, including "Stupid Girl," "I'm Only Happy When It Rains," and "Vow." Not surprisingly, the first track was titled "Supervixen," and the redheaded Manson became an object of mass adoration almost overnight.

Garbage's music also earned accolades despite their lack of pop pretensions. Rolling Stone's Sheffield declared that the band transforms "subcultural energy into pop flash with a fabulously twitchy singer." Cohen declared that Garbage's team of four "have masterminded a confident collection of emotionally sharpshooting songs." Originally, the Scot and the three producers had no plans to take their project live, but found themselves surprised by the album's overwhelming critical and commercial success. When they made the video for "Vow," "we played live, and after the first take, the crew was clapping," Vig told Dunn.

Version 2.0

Garbage embarked on a heavy tour schedule in support of their debut over the next two years, and wrote new material in their spare time. Manson also returned to Edinburgh and married her longtime boyfriend. In Scotland, as elsewhere, she had become an instantly recognizable semi-celebrity, but in her hometown, as Dunn noted, people leave her alone. "I get a genuine sense that in America, people like to see people do well," Manson told Dunn. "Where I come from, it's quite the opposite. People think success is vulgar."

After a three-year hiatus, Garbage's much-anticipated follow-up was released, impertinently titled Version 2.0. It was met with somewhat mixed reviews, but found assured commercial success with alternative-radio-friendly singles like "Push It" and "I Think I'm Paranoid." Again, the producer-majority talents who wrote much of Version 2.0's music infused it with samples borrowed from the Beach Boys to the Beatles to the Pretenders. "They root through goth, techno and hip-hop, swipe whatever they can use and leave the rest on the floor," declared Sheffield.

Though Time's Christopher John Farley found some of the melodies "weak," as well as a reliance on studio wizardry that he deemed "at times, overbearing," he conceded that "Version 2.0 boasts "a unique, expansive sound that fills the speakers and the ears. The songs are hormonal yet thoughtful, mostly morose but always energetically so." Though Sheffield faulted the electronic effects on the album, he added, "It's rare to hear a rock record so carefully put together that still sounds so fresh and playful." Manson was again the focus of much of the critical attention. Writing for Stereo Review, Brett Milano faulted the singer for her emotional range, which he declared could be characterized by two attitudes: "sexy and sexier." Milano also remarked that "it would be tempting to dismiss Garbage for making pure ear candy, if only the band weren't so good at it."

Village Voice writer Rob Tannenbaum praised the singer and her varying persona: "In her cool chrome voice, Manson declares herself to be: a bonfire, a vampire, a demon, an addict, a lunatic, pregnant, angry, not like the other girl, complicated, and `mental.' She nearly distills songwriting to its exhibitionist essence." In the end, however, Tannenbaum declared that the second record covered the same ground as the first. "If Garbage were honest, they'd call this Version 1.1 instead of Version 2.0, because it's a better rendition of the first record, a classic upgrade rather than a dramatic reinvention."

The band toured for Version 2.0 throughout 1998, and some wondered how the heavily produced songs on the record would work into live translation. Judy Coleman reviewed a Los Angeles performance for Spin, and felt that it worked well. "Despite the complex beauty of Garbage's textured sounds, this concert made it difficult to deny that rock is the heart and soul of both albums," Coleman declared. "Even the poor sound quality at the Palladium ... could not muddle the undeniably searing riffs of `Push It' and `Stupid Girl.'"

In 1999 the band opened for Alanis Morissette across North America, after picking up two Grammy nominations, for Best Rock Album and Album of the Year. Manson described their new level of celebrity to New Musical Express's Victoria Segal as "unbelievably, mind-bogglingly thrilling!."

Beautiful Garbage

Garbage released its third album, Beautiful Garbage, on September 4, 2001, just a week before the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Due to the national tragedy, the band felt that promoting the new album in interviews and tours was inappropriate. When Garbage returned to the road with U2, the band experienced some bad luck when drummer Butch Vig contracted a case of Type A hepatitis and temporarily left the band. To complicate matters even more, Manson lost her voice and required surgery to remove a cyst. Even though a number of critics considered Beautiful Garbage to be the band's most accomplished effort, the succession of events halted much of the momentum the band had gathered since 1995.

In 2004, after many false starts, Garbage began recording its fourth album, Bleed Like Me. At first the band attempted to record with producer Brother John King, and while "Bad Boyfriend" would make the final album, the group was dissatisfied with its progress. Taking a hiatus from one another, Garbage returned to the studio, determined to produce the album themselves. "It's like we'd been married for ten years," Vig told Rolling Stone, "and it was worth it to try one more time." By the time the band released Bleed Like Me in 2005, the members had renewed their commitment to Garbage and planned to tour to support the album. "It's very gratifying after everything that we went through to know that we stuck together," Manson told Steve Baltin in the Los Angeles Times, "and now have been able to enjoy the fruits of that effort."

by Carol Brennan and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr

Garbage's Career

Group formed in Madison, WI, 1994; released debut album, Garbage, Almo Sounds, 1995; released Version 2.0, Almo Sounds, 1998; released Beautiful Garbage, 2001; toured with No Doubt, 2002; released Bleed Like Me, 2005.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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