Garbage clean up their act for comeback (+video)

By Scott Kara

After an acrimonious split seven years ago, Garbage are back with a new album and tour. Founder Butch Vig tells Scott Kara how they patched things up.

Garbage are back. Photo / Supplied
Garbage are back. Photo / Supplied

Producer to the stars Butch Vig learned a few things from old mate Dave Grohl when they recorded the last Foo Fighters' album together.

Things which he applied to the new Garbage album, the producer-drummer's own band's first in seven years following a tense and tumultuous time which left the quartet on permanent pause.

"We approached it by trying not to get too meticulous about things and for me that was inspired by working with the Foo Fighters.

"It's probably one of the funnest albums I've ever done because every day was an adventure, it was by the seat of our pants, and it was fun," says Vig on the phone from Los Angeles.

He professes to being a "bit beaten-up" after an eight-hour band practice as Garbage get ready to go out on tour in support of fifth album Not Your Kind of People, which is out tomorrow.

"I've got blisters on my hands," he blubs with a laugh.

On the new album he and his bandmates - forthright feisty Scottish singer Shirley Manson and Vig's long-time friends and collaborators Steve Marker (guitar/keys) and Duke Erikson (bass/keys) - made a decision to leave behind much of the studio trickery of the past and just play.

It was a radical move considering the traditionally pristine Garbage albums such as 1998's Version 2.0 and 2001's Beautiful Garbage, where he admits they let "technology run amok a little bit".

"Vibe-wise, the new one sounds like our first album," he says of the band's slightly rougher and rawer self-titled debut from 1995 that featured breakthrough singles Only Happy When It Rains, Queer and Stupid Girl which set them on course to becoming one of the biggest bands of the 90s.

While there is nothing quite as catchy and twisted as Queer on Not Your Kind of People, there is the stomping, Led Zeppelin-inspired Control ("It's like a Hitchcock film where you can't tell which side of the coin you're going to fall on this time"), and the swagger and wail of Battle In Me, which started out as a 12-minute jam and became a trademark writhing and noisy Garbage anthem.

"We really tried to capture a performance on this record and not use the computers to make everything exactly shiny and perfect. I wanted it to sound kind of trashy and for the songs to blow out a little bit."

You have to forgive Vig enthusing about the finer points of recording an album - after all, he is first and foremost best known as the bloke behind Nirvana's Nevermind rather than the drummer in Garbage.

But his devotion to the band he formed with Marker and Erikson in the mid-90s, who a little later recruited Manson (after some disdain and doubt from both parties), is resolute.

"When I produce someone like the Foo Fighters or Green Day, or whoever, ultimately it's their music I'm working on. But when I work with Garbage I feel vested in it, I have an ownership in it, and I'm a musician and a songwriter, so it has a lot more weight.

"There is this bond there. We're pretty close as a band. It's a powerful thing being in a band, and it's like your own little clubhouse."

Seven or so years ago though Garbage had hit rock bottom - and, as Manson told The Observer recently, it was all because their record company saw Garbage as a cash cow.

"They had all these corporate expectations about us. We didn't care if we weren't the biggest band in the world. But to this record label, if you're not the biggest band in the world, then you're worthless. I just do not adhere to that principle," she said.

"But we got caught up in that corporate expectation, and it was sickening. It robbed us all of joy, and as a result we all turned in on each other. And our disappointments and our frustrations we foisted upon ourselves."

Vig remembers vividly when they called it quits following a show in Perth in October 2005. "When we finished the tour for [fourth album] Bleed Like Me, we were pretty fried out. There was a lot of tension, and stuff like, 'Man, I don't know if I can see you do that thing again or hear you say that thing again'," he says with a lighthearted chuckle. "We burned out on each other."

There were a number of reasons Garbage got back together. The death of her mother in 2008, and the following year a friend of Manson and Vig's lost a child, both put the problems surrounding the band into perspective.

"It was unbelievably searingly painful. It was like somebody had hit me. 'What are you waiting for? What are you wasting your energy on just trying to destroy yourself?"' said Manson who spent some of the break acting in the Terminator television offshoot, The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

According to Vig it was Manson who rallied them together last year and got them back playing. She had recorded a dark, what she called "quiet" solo album of songs, but it had been rejected by her record label.

They wanted the singer to do a pop album with writers who had worked with the likes Katy Perry, which is not really Manson's style. She resolved the only people she wanted to work with were her old bandmates.

Vig says they got together and after a day of drinking red wine and reminiscing they started playing and songs came immediately.

"We sort of forgot why we were pissed off with each other seven years ago."

Who: Butch Vig, star producer and Garbage drummer.
What: New Garbage album, Not Your Kind Of People, out May 11.
Also listen to: Garbage (1995), Version 2.0 (1998), Beautiful Garbage (2001), Bleed Like Me (2005).

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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