The Staying Power of Garbage Puts Them On Top of the Alt-Rock Pile

The Staying Power of Garbage Puts Them On Top of the Alt-Rock Pile
Courtesy of the band

Despite their mega success in the '90s, Garbage have always been the most down-to-earth and humble people you will ever meet, most likely it’s a Midwest thing. Truthfully, sometimes, when you meet bands that are at the level of success that Garbage is, they can get caught up in their own celebrity. Luckily, these cats don’t suffer from that affliction; again, a Midwest and a Scottish thing.

The incredible thing about this band is the members are collectively accomplished songwriters, engineers, producers, film makers and an actress. It’s said that the difference between being good at something and being great at it is the effort you put into it. That saying has not fallen short on this band. Fronted by dynamic Scottish lead singer Shirley Manson along with her band Butch Vig (drums), Steve Marker (lead guitar) and Duke Erikson (bass, rhythm guitar, keys), their band is electric brand of alt rock formed in 1993 still stands the test of time. ,

One could easily argue that the work ethic this band has displayed started as teens. Amazingly, Vig and Marker formed their own recording studio and called it Smart Studio. From back in the day of reel-to-reel and razor blades, to hi-fidelty electronic recordings, the guys have distinguished themselves as very successful engineers / producers. So much so, the list of bands that have used their talents and studio is nothing less than unreal. Vig and Marker have made it a point to put the best effort they can each time they work on a project. That is to insure each song is special and can always be that memory for their fans. There effort, no matter where it is aimed, is Midwestern in nature, and that’s as good as it gets. Garbage is living proof that success and opportunity look a lot like hard work.

That all being said, their music just draws you in and doesn’t let go. I know, it sounds very Godfather-like, but when you listen to their music, Shirley’s vocals are volcanic and haunting at the same time. To understand their signature sound, you have to go back to Day One of the band. Vig said that when they were first putting Garbage together “they wanted someone who could sing in an understated way, at the moment.” He also went on to say that “a lot of alt-rock singers have a tendency to scream. Shirley is just the opposite. By using understatement, she can sound even more subversive."

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As a result, their Grammy nominated sound is simply heart stopping, eclectic, melodic and whatever other words there are to describe great music. Simply put, when you listen to Garbage, you can pick up on Vig’s touch, and the echoes of his contribution to ground breaking albums. When you hear Garbage, you can commune with the likes of Kurt Cobaine & Dave Grohl (Nirvana / Foo’s), Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day), and some Sonic Youth. Maybe for these artists, it’s the other way around… by producing their landmark albums, he gave them a fire inside that keeps burning. Nevertheless, the collective sound is a signature piece of mastery that is Garbage. Sonically speaking, Garbage has alt-rock roots that stem from trip-hop, grunge, techno, industrial, punk, power pop and shoegazing. This band is hard to describe, but you could honestly say they aren’t the strangest of the strange, but they are definitely the coolest of the cool.

The question most people have is how did this band get such an eclectic background? That’s easy, Vig is probably the best example. For Butch, it was his parents that were his muse in life, and music. His mother (Betty) was a music teacher, and he grew up surrounded by music of all types. He grew up listening to everything from pop radio, to opera, to country music and add some polka in that mix. It turns out, polka is a cornerstone of Western civilization as we know it—who knew?! There are other artists and bands that have inspired the band. There’s Bowie, The Pretenders, Roxy Music, Blondie, Cocteau Twins and Siouxsie and the Banshees. There’s others of course, but this sample gives you a good idea of their alt-rock roots.

As for Manson, she is very inspiring… she’s vocal and speaks her mind. As an actress, she has a strong presence, and that voice of hers is a force of nature. Her range is part of the band’s legacy. Manson has often said that she’s not a role model…. but, she is. Her music, acting, solo projects and the manner she carries herself has inspired young women worldwide. Manson and Garbage have been credited with inspiring female artists such as alt-rock Goddess, Ritzy Bryan [“The Joy Formidable”], Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Florence Welch [“Florence + the Machine”], Gwen Stefani [“No Doubt”] and Courtney Love [“Hole”] among countless others.
Things you should know about Garbage! Well, their self-entitled debut album was released in 1995 to critical acclaim. Other albums include Version 2.0, Beautiful Garbage, Bleed Like Me and Not Your Kind of People. Their last release was in 2016; the album’s called Strange Little Birds. Over the years, they’ve had Grammy nods, their music has been featured in movies and several commercial projects. Oh, and they’ve sold millions of records too!

The best way to describe their music is to ask you to try to feel music. As odd as that may sound, # 1 Crush is a song that can do that. This song was featured in Baz Luhrman’s 1996 feature Film adaption of Romeo + Juliet . The music is absolutely haunting, and the lyrics capture the raw emotion of the human experience. Manson’s voice is angelic in nature, but in this performance, it has a very diabolic and subhuman overtone. It’s a song about a person who’s just not right in the head, but then again… we all have passion about some things, or someone in life. Garbage captured that for us in the most human way of all, through words and song that blur the lines between passion and obsession.

There are some footnotes you should also know about the band. During their tenure, the band has taken siestas and a hiatus, but returned to the fray in 2007. They are currently on their own label, Stunvolume. It should also be noted that any time you see this band, it’s definitely a time machine trip, but you are electrified in the here and now. Their fans line up in devotion to hear songs like "Stupid Girl", "Queer", "Special", "Only Happy When It Rains", "I Think I’m Paranoid", "Blood for Poppies" and "Empty", among many others.
On an even cooler side-note, while the band is on tour, they are also doing a book signing. Their coffee book is entitled This is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake. Locally, they’ll be doing a signing on July 10th at Amoeba Music in L.A. I recommend you get in line early, because you can meet the entire band.

As for their current tour, it doesn’t get any cooler than this. It’s called The Rage and Rapture Tour. Garbage is touring with long-time friend Debbie Harry and Blondie. The Blondie catalogue is amazing. You’ll be treated to songs like "Sunday Girl", "Dreaming", "Call Me", "One Way or Another", "Rapture", "Heart of Glass"… the list goes on. Blondie is part of music history, and Debbie is one of the most iconic figures in music. After all, Blondie is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 for a reason. Blondie currently has a new album out called Pollinator (on BMG).

Locally, you can catch the tour July 9th at the iconic Hollywood Bowl. Garbage will be circling back in September to play the Kaaboo festival in Del Mar. Truthfully, this tour is a must-see. It features two of the most influential bands of the 70’s through today. Bottom line, bend them, break them, any way you need them…Garbage remains one of the quintessential bands to see. Their music will move you and make you smile. Be warned, their music is not harmless; it will inspire, it’s happy, haunting and true. And you’ll see… they’re singing to you.


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