Shirley Manson

Shirley Manson

I interviewed Shirley twice in 2012. There’s no single human being in modern rock who is more aware, outspoken, and fearless than this lady. She’s also hilarious. I first got the assignment from SPIN, but the mag ran a print piece that kicked my Q&A to the curb. So a friend hosted the interview on her site. Unfortunately, that site is no longer up and running. After the jump, there’s the transcription. No frills, just like Ms. Manson — who liked the interview, by the way.

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Seven years is a long time to keep quiet, especially if you’re Garbage’s firebrand Shirley Manson. The band is finally back, with the explosively awesome Not Your Kind of People, which means Manson is once again on the prowl. From horrid record label executives to Patti Smith’s wisdom to the subversiveness of Madonna’s tits, she has a lot of pent-up steam ready to blow. If there’s anyone in music today who can match wits with this Scot, we have yet to meet them. (And chances are, Manson would eat their asses for lunch.)

By Jeanne Fury

How come Garbage went on hiatus after Bleed Like Me?

We were very disillusioned with the infrastructure we found ourselves in. We’d gotten sold from label to label and ended up on a label that didn’t give a shit about us, really. It just got to the point where I was like, “What the fuck? Why are we trying to live out our record company’s expectations when we’re going waaay beyond our own?” We’re constantly feeling [frustrated] not because we’re not realizing our own dreams and expectations, but because we’re failing some fuck in an office who thinks we should be selling more and doing more business. It’s disgusting. We would come in at number four in the charts—our highest position ever!—and we were thrilled, and they were just like, “Yeah, well, the record’s over.” And we were like, “But it’s week one! How can it be over?” And they’d be like, “Yeah, well, it’s over.” It just strips us of all our joy, and as a result, we turned on each other a bit. We got frustrated with one another. It got to the point where we were in Australia, and I was like, “Fuck this. This isn’t fun. Why am I gonna put myself through this? Let’s take a break.” And everybody was like, “Yeah.” We took a break. My mother was dying, so as it turns out, I think it was fortuitous that I was not on the road. Time ticked by really fast. All of a sudden it was like, “Wow, six years has passed already. I think it might be time for us to think about doing something.” We were all in the mood. We looked back at what was going on in the music scene, and nobody had really taken our seat, much to our surprise! What the fuck? How come?

What did you find yourself writing songs about?

Losing my Mum, it changes everything, how you look at everything, your relationship to the world, your mortality….And there’s a lot of that feeling of being an outsider. [Garbage] was always seen as outsiders; people treated us with a lot of suspicion. We were a band, but people accused us of not being a band. You name it. I was amazed when I came back to write on this record, I still had those feelings of not belonging and feeling left out. Those crazy feelings you have when you’re a teenager are still there when you’re 45. It’s nuts. I find that interesting.

I think a lot of adults are [in similar positions], but you don’t get to exorcise it when you get older. Somehow, when you get older, you’re expected to be mature and know exactly what you want in your life and know where you’re going. I don’t know; it’s bizarre. The youth-crazed culture, which is fantastic on one hand, we need that, I find that it’s almost like anyone over the age of 30 has been thrown aside completely, and we’re not hearing any of that voice. I think you need to have some kind of balance. I want to hear what somebody like Patti Smith has to say; I want to hear what her experience of life is now that she’s 64 or whatever. I want to hear it, but it’s hard to find voices like that in our culture. They’re not given the same space as a teenage girl who pretty much has nothing to say. She’ll be all over the TV and magazines, but it’s hard for someone like Patti Smith to be heard. We hear her because she’s a force; she makes us hear her. But anyone else, it’s hard to hear those voices and opinions and that wisdom.

One thing that you’ve been known for is your strength in your sexuality. How does sexuality play into the new album?

In terms of the themes of the record, sexuality is always there in everything you do as a human being—I think—but to me what is being presented to us as sexy now is very cartoony. It’s nothing subversive or dangerous or challenging in any way. I’m just so bored with seeing girl after girl after girl with her tits and her ass… to me they look like high-class 42nd Street hookers. And it’s not hot, and it’s not mysterious. It’s meat and potatoes to me. I yearn for those days where Madonna was using her sexuality. At the time, I thought, “Oh Madonna’s just kinda flashing her tits, how dull.” But now, I’m yearning for those days, and you realize how clever Madonna was and how subversive she was with her sexuality. I’m being very sentimental about the intelligence with which she used her sex, and there’s not really much of that out there [in today’s music] at all. There’s other things out there than sex; I would rather women be associated with their intellect. I just think there are so many more things that are interesting about being a woman than just being a sex object. It’s really beginning to weigh on me how few women are out there, even using their brains. They’re all scared to say anything! Oh, I’m dragging on. I just want to hear more women speak and not just be bamboozled with their boobs. Haha!

Can’t argue with you there.

You know, I thought when [Garbage] went away, there would be a ton of young women to come up in place of my generation who were very verbal—Courtney Love, PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette—there was a lot of us talking, being, you know, provocative. And there’s been none of that, really. I’m shocked that my seat was still empty when I looked back. I was like, “Wow, I thought it would’ve been filled by now by a young red-headed big-mouthed bitch.” But there’s not really been much at all.

Why do you suppose that is?

I think September 11, you know, pulled the world into a much more conservative way of thinking and feeling. I think everybody felt insecure, and of course, whenever our culture feels insecure, who do they shut down first? The girls. I think there’s tons of girls out there with something to say in an interesting way, but they’re not necessarily being given the chance. The lights and cameras are not shining on them.

They’re shining on their tits.

Yeah, haha! Or their twats.

What do you want to say to your fans who have been waiting all this time for Garbage to return?

Um, I don’t know, because I think our fans have really changed over the years. I’m surprised by some of the letters we get. A lot of them have grown up, and we have a lot of new young fans who were like 5 when our last record came out, shit like that. It’s really astounding to me. I guess the feeling I have toward our following, somehow or another… We’re small in number; it’s not like we have 7 million followers like most bands seem to have, but the connection for our following is definitely real. Whatever we’re feeling, they’re feeling too. What we’re putting out there is reflecting what they’re experiencing in their life, I guess, so I have a certain feeling of protection for our following. Because I think they’re not your sort of jocks or cheerleaders. They’re kind of the forgotten, in a way. I really believe that. I feel like our fans are the forgotten. Beyond that, I can’t really afford to think about that side of things because we don’t know what lies out there for us; we have no idea. We’ve made a record that means something to us, and we assume will mean something to somebody else along the way. Beyond that, we just want to have fun. Haha! I’m so deep, right?