Shirley Manson Talks 20 Years of Garbage and the Advice She’d Give Her Younger Self

The iconic ’90s band plays the Greek Theatre on October 8

It’s hard to believe, but some of the most beloved records from the ’90s are all grown up and turning 20. For Garbage, the Midwest group fronted by the iconic Shirley Manson and helmed by legendary producer Butch Vig (Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana), the sentiment is not lost on them. Last week, the group released a 20th anniversary reissue of their groundbreaking eponymous debut, and they’re supporting it with a tour titled “20 Years Queer,” in which they’ll play the record in its entirety.

Ubiquitous singles like “Only Happy When it Rains,” “Vow,” “Queer,” and “Stupid Girl” catapulted the alternative rockers to the top of the charts and made them darlings of the MTV generation while simultaneously garnering critical acclaim worldwide. Garbage pushed the envelope of what it meant to be a rock act in an era dominated by angst-ridden grunge. Their sound was often difficult to categorize: buzzsaw guitars drone under irresistible pop hooks, while electronic sampling and controversial lyrics created a rich sonic tapestry from which people from every walk of life could find a thread. Twenty years later, the multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated album is just as prescient, vital, and refreshingly original as it ever was. We spoke with Manson as she reflects on two decades of Garbage.

You have been at the forefront of controversial issues, with this record especially. Twenty years later it seems we’re moving toward more acceptance and equality. In some ways, it seems you were ahead of your time.
I think you’re probably right. With “Queer,” it wasn’t fashionable back then as it seems to be right now, which is wonderful. But back in 1995 when we brought “Queer” out—which is kind of an anthem, if you’d like, to the whole LGBT community—it was considered quite bold. I feel a real affinity, still, towards that song, and I’m happy that it’s in our arsenal. It’s so wonderful to see how much change has occurred since then. With “As Heaven is Wide,” we took the Catholic church to task over what was going on amongst a select group of pedophile priests. We spoke out about that. Having come out of the Midwest, a lot of that abuse was pretty prevalent. I think we’re all still outraged by what occurs and has occurred. I feel as a band we spoke out about issues that, especially back then, were incredibly taboo.

That considered, it seems very appropriate to be touring and reissuing this record now.
Thank you, I feel the same way. For the last decade or so I really have despaired about how our culture has allegedly evolved (laughs). A lot of the time it has felt like there has been a lot of “devolution” as opposed to “evolution.” I feel a change in the air right now, and it does feel like a wonderful time for us to be celebrating our 20th anniversary.

In preparing for this tour, have a lot of memories been coming back to you?
Oh my God, it’s been a crazy experience of remembering, and there’s been a lot of hilarious moments as we’ve had to revisit old photographs, old movies, and movie clips. So we’ve really had a great laugh at our own expense.

What are some things you’ve rediscovered—or even discovered for the first time—about this record?
For the first time ever I’ve been able to look at something I have been involved in and really experience a feeling of pride and pleasure in the work. I tend to downplay everything or feel negative toward anything I’ve ever been involved in, and so now there’s something incredibly pleasurable about being able to be completely objective about the record and realize what a good job we did with it (laughs).

As a female performer in a musical realm largely dominated by men, what challenges did you face?
I’ve had challenges for sure, but I’ve always felt like if you want to play with the boys, you’re going to have to up your game in order to be in the game without getting your feelings hurt. I believe women are able to do that. I’ve always felt—and it was the way I was raised—that I’m as good as the next man, literally. So I try not to think of challenges I encounter from a gender standpoint. I tend to think of it as, “Oh, here I am, I’m up against an asshole.” And that asshole could be female or male. I’ve had so many men support me in my career. There’s been as many men as women.

What horizons do you still want to reach, personally and artistically?
As I’ve gotten older I have to confess that I’m becoming, I’m convinced, quite militant in my desire to become involved in some kind of environmental cause. I want to put my energies into the World Wildlife Federation or something like that. That’s my dream, actually. Artistically, I feel like I’ve still got so much to learn. I want to try to age with an open mind. I don’t want my brain to shrink. I want it to open up and expand so that I can continue to learn and get better and better at what I do. That’s what I’d like for myself.

If you could give advice to a younger Shirley Manson, what would that be?
I would have said to my young self, “Listen, you have everything you need, and you are enough to go forward into life to get what’s yours.”

Garbage will play their first album in full at the Greek Theatre on Thursday, October 8th.