Shirley Manson of Garbage on Brexit, Taylor Swift, and How the Scots Have Disowned Trump

The vocalist/ songwriter opens up about her band’s impressive sixth studio album, Strange Little Birds, and much more over brews with senior amusement editor Marlow Stern.


Im kind of a ogre, in a manner that is, offers Shirley Manson, cradling a pint of lager. I enjoy the grind. I suppose Ive missed one show in my entire career. Im just a maniac. I dont know if thats a good thing or a bad thing

Manson has been the lead singer of the alt-rock group Garbage since 1993, snarling, kicking, and whimpering her way to 17 million records sold and even a Bond theme. Now, the band she formed with legendary Nirvana producer Butch Vig and Co. is back with their sixth studio album, Strange Little Birdsa melancholic and cinematic sonic journey thats garnering some of the best reviews of the Madison, Wisconsin, groups career.

The outspoken and affable Scot, whose striking red hair is now pink, sat down with me at a hotel bar in downtown Manhattan to discuss her thorny path from the bullied daughter of a Sunday school teacher in her native country to one of stone n rolls most badass resulting ladies.

Well, this is exciting. Your groups sixth album is receiving some of the best reviews of the bands career.

Its really exciting. I have to say, its sort of nuts. I never expected it, you know? Im a Scottish fatalist, so I always expect were going to meet a cruel, hard, icy, cold wall. So it was spectacularly shocking. In the 90 s, it felt like it was easier to release a record and get some attention, and now it seems very difficult. Theres so much noise.

There is so much noise. It seems like the music industry has become a lot less democraticthat a handful of acts seem to control so much of the conversation. Its the 99 percent versus the 1 percent.

Thats exactly what it feels like to me. And they get bigger and bigger and bigger. Its like a hot air balloon where they just get pumped up ever more in our face, and its getting harder and harder for subcultures to have a voice. Thats not how I grew up. I grew up in the 70 s, essentially, and there were so many subcultures that had powerful voices, and now I feel thats impossible. Its all becoming very Orwellian and homogenized. Were all listening to the same records, garmenting the same. Its troubling. At the same period, I think were getting more and more divisive as a society, whereas in music, funnily enough, everythings getting more centralized. I guess its about trying to survive, so media outlets only want to cover the big acts to get the clicks. They also have to answer to corporate interests. Its all about money. People are soes obsessed with labeling things as successful and unsuccessful, and thats only not how I look at the world. There are so many records Im obsessed by that influenced me and changed my life that nobodys ever heard of. To me, they are heroes.

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What are some of those bands, or records?

Im thinking of the Scottish bands I grew up with, like The Shop Assistants, The Fire Engines, Hey! Elasticaall these underground bands that nobodys ever heard of but they made records that changed my life. So are they successful or unsuccessful? To me, theyre successful because they made records that touched people lives. Now, it seems things are being put up against a ridiculous measuring stick.

On Strange Little Birds, the title comes up on one of the albums best tracks, Even Though Our Love Is Doomed. To me, the titular strange little birds seemed like that scene you paint on the ballad Empty where youre straying down streets and watch a sea of smiling, vacant faces.

Well, youre bang-on. I think its pretty much humanity, reallyhow we all look at one another, are always judging one another, and are always thinking, Oh, that persons a freak because they dont do things the way I do. Our impressions towards one another in the world are becoming more and more further exacerbate that sense. I felt it was a general headline for our record. I think everybodys weird other than myself, and I dont suppose Im alone in be thought that way.

As far as weirdness runs, there was a lot of tension in the band after Bleed Like Me and a fairly lengthy hiatus before your 2012 album Not Your Kind of People. How did the group overcome that?

Fuck knows! Just put one foot in front of the other and hope for the best. I think there are a lot of reasons for it, though. We have discovered, as people, that we do not do well under a major label because were not willing to construct the compromises that major labels involve. I get itthey have corporate interests and are trying to make moneybut we have realized that were not their Huckleberrys. Were polite, but defiant, and we did not want to be told what to do or construct the compromises they wanted us to make.

What sort of suggestions was your label stimulate?

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