Exclusive: Shirley Manson Offers Insight Into New Garbage Album

Exclusive: Shirley Manson Offers Insight Into New Garbage Album

Fear. Love. Doom. Welcome back to the world of garbage. Catch up with warrior front woman Shirley Manson as she prepares to shut down pop's never ending party with a long-awaited new album

Fear. Love. Doom. Welcome back to the world of garbage. Catch up with warrior front woman Shirley Manson as she prepares to shut down pop's never ending party with a long-awaited new album

Text: Alex Kazemi

I listened to Strange Little Birds and it felt like this is you running into a building that is the pop world, which has been the world's longest nonstop party, and just going to the basement and shutting the electricity off. A total blackout.

SHIRLEY MANSON I think I just fell in love with you right this second. I love that. That beautiful analogy is exactly what this album is.

Making this album, was one of the goals to counterattack the ultra-positive state the pop world has been in?

SM I wouldn’t say I wanted to piss on people’s joy, because I don’t. I absolutely don’t. I do want to storm in and say, “What’s up, everybody? I know you all are having a great party right now, but there are a bunch of masked men downstairs with guns and I want you all to be alert, be smart, look in the shadows, and just…wake up.”

One of the darkest parts of our culture today, especially in the arts, is that there is nothing adult about it. It makes youth seem like all of life—as if anything after that is not worth talking about. Did you, as a band, feel a responsibility to make an album from an adult perspective?

SM That is how I feel about culture now, too, absolutely. I just wanted to be the change in the world that I wanted to see. Of course, I know I will be completely dismissed because I’m going to turn 50 this year and people are going to believe anything I say is the ranting of an aging women. I understand that, and I am prepared. Aging hits us all. It is out of our control.

Mortality is a reoccurring theme on both Not Your Kind Of People and Strange Little Birds.

SM Without a doubt. I meet so many young women every day through my job. I’m talking really, really young women. They all say the same thing to me: “I’m so scared. I’m so scared. I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want to

grow old.” I just want to shake all of them: “Do you not understand that this is the greatest privilege? It’s like a fucking relief. You learn. You feel better…”

You calm down?

SM [Laughs] I’m not sure you calm down. If anything, I feel as full of passion and rage as I did when I was younger. I just want young people to understand that there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s quite the opposite. Do you know what I feel like? I feel like the system is in place to make us feel scared of aging—why? People who are older are not pushed around as much. They are not manipulated. There is a system in place to try to disempower.

Young people today (like me) have a hard time navigating this new hyper world of hyper-representation of the self, of instant gratification—this ammo shot of narcissistic euphoria and emotional exhibitionism that social media promotes. You know, the obsession with being "liked” and agreeing on everything. I’d like to believe that the spirit of Garbage has always been the opposite of that. How do you think Garbage's music exists in this world?

SM [Strange Little Birds] is an album that is completely authentic to its time. It’s a very serious and dark record. If anyone is coming to our door looking to feel good and have a banging time in the clubs, don’t even bother stopping by. But for us, we love to lurk in the shadows. The shadows are where we find solace. Darkness is information. It’s information that teaches you about your reality. It’s not something to be repulsed by but something we should be drawn into.

If we go back to 2005 and point out a Garbage fan, we would see this person punctuating on their gothic energy. What does that statement mean today, when BDSM is almost of the mainstream? What do you think happens when the alienated are revealed in daylight—normalized?

SM It’s interesting you say that, because I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When alternative culture is appropriated by the mainstream, it’s like, “How do I identify myself in this world as someone who has always been dissonant towards the mainstream?” I’ve realized that the only way to do this is with your intellect. It’s not about expressing it through fashion anymore—that has been taken away. Intellect is the only way you can differentiate yourself. I know some people sneer at intellectualism and think it’s hideous or something to be laughed at, but to me, intellect is freedom. Look: anyone can dress in what they think is subversive. When [Garbage] emerged in the early ’90s, we didn’t have professional stylists dress us. Now, you look at someone out of a Disney stage school and she’s got the coolest choker on, and the coolest attitude…

You can put on a provocative look and not do anything punk.

SM People today don’t even understand what punk is. Is it even in our culture’s vocabulary?

I was talking to Azealia Banks about that. I said to her, “I think it’d be cool if big voices like yours rebelled against the mainstream and left social media,” and she said something that really stuck with me: “Our generation has no grasp on what punk or rebellion is. Nobody would even care or notice.”

SM I totally agree with her. Rebellion is just a fashion statement now.

When young people in 1998 were relating to the lyrics on an album like Version 2.0, it was usually reduced to teen angst. Today's youth are angry and loud—visibly, with social media activism. Do you have any opinions on trigger warnings, political correctness in overdrive, and safe space culture?

SM I, historically, throughout my whole career, have displayed my empathy for people on the outskirts. On both ends of the spectrum—politically correct or politically incorrect—there seems to be a lack of kindness. At the same time, you can step out on the street any day of the week and you should know that there is someone out there who is willing to be incredibly empathetic towards you. People just need to go out in the world and seek out those you have a common language with. People need to remember that not everything exists in the arena of the internet.

Is one kind of connection—face-to-face or online—more valuable than the other?

SM I will say that one of the great things about social media is that it has allowed people a forum to express these unspoken things that are crucial to the evolution of our culture. In the ’90s, people thought I was so shocking because I would talk about mental health, gender, and sexual issues. There was no outlet then—no megaphone for people to express these horrific things they have experienced. On one end, that is something that is valuable about the internet. But nothing can ever beat face-to-face empathy.

Do you ever worry for the young artists of this generation channeling too much of their creative energy into social media?

SM Culturally, people have evolved in a way that is way smarter, way more talented and way more creative and accomplished than Gen X ever was. The problem is that everything seems generic. This is because of the homogeneity. It’s important for this generation to find the one thing they are good at, their true will in some regards, and to focus all of their emotional energy into that, rather than a cartoon version of their selves on social media. Young artists of this generation see attention as the hottest commodity. It’s a currency for them. Celebrities are addicted to power and attention and they’re addicted to celebrity. That’s always been the case. There are always going to be people in our culture who crave power and who crave that level of attention. I can really only relate this to my own experience, but I mean, when I got the most attention in my career, at the height of things, I was the most unhappy. I do not buy into these people who embody excess. I’m not into excess. It’s gross.

Like when Kylie Jenner Snapchats the paparazzi taking pictures of her, does the value of it on social media still matter to her?

SM It is super weird but she’s only 18. Look at her role models.

Billy Corgan calls members of my generation overly emotional. But the Smashing Pumpkins made some of the most fragile wallflower music of the ’90s. Do you think that if your generation had access to social media in their adolescence, they would be abusing it like us?

SM For centuries, older people have always perceived younger people to be weaker than they are, which is just nonsense. It’s a joke. Billy Corgan was accused of being oversensitive in his time. It’s the kettle calling the pot black. It’s so hard to define an entire generation based on what you’ve encountered. Honestly, fuck all these boxes. I resist every label, every term, every generalization. So should you. So should everyone else. Fuck the cages. It’s ludicrous.

Did you ever feel that Garbage's music could be glamorizing the idea of depression?

SM I’m sure millions of people believe that to be the case about our music to this day, but I can think of worse things to glamorize. Right now, I think our culture glamorizes much more destructive things than a romantic black-and-white Instagram picture of me with a self-hating lyric in italics slapped on it. There is so much of this positive attitude stuff. Positive thinking has to exist in some part of your day-to-day life or you will be absolutely miserable, but you need to be a conscious being. You cannot bypass other emotions. A healthy individual encompasses and uses all senses and instincts. You have to be aware of what makes you feel bad, or you will never get that happy existence you are aching for. All human beings want the same thing: we want to feel good.

Who do you think is in the continuum of Garbage’s party-ending ethos: Lana Del Rey? Alice Glass? Banks? Do you see them holding your torch?

SM Absolutely. When I see Alice Glass, Lana Del Rey, and Banks, I do see them holding a torch. I’m so grateful for them. I find it relieving. The new Beyoncé record is a perfect example of that kind of perspective. She is being honest about incredible darkness. It excites me. She is a powerful force educating an entire generation. And she has a lot of influence. To see someone in the pop world stand up and say, “You see me this way, but this is also what’s going on at the same time…” Do you know how much of a powerful statement that is right now?

Do you think that we should have less control over our entertainment, like in the early days of MTV?

SM We all need to be challenged, myself included. You included. We all need to be forced to look at different perspectives and have empathy for other people’s perceptions on things. Now, people can curate their own reality, and yes, there is something gorgeous about that, but we cannot ignore the massive downside. Once again, you are not getting the full story. I would caution getting too entrenched in your own view of the world. You must seek out challenges and be prepared to debate with people politely, with respect. But you have to engage with the parts of the world that make you feel uncomfortable.

How do you feel about the cynicism online overexposure causes?

SM Human beings have always been obscene and they have always been fascinated. That’s human nature: we are curious about what we are not supposed to look at. It’s the same for every generation in the history of mankind. You have to use your own common sense and your own tentacles to navigate this world. You have to decide what you think is true and hope for the best. You have no control. We are powerless. I mean, do whatever gets you through the night, right?

Is anything sacred, Shirley?

SM I’ve created my own values to subscribe to what is sacred to me. Only I know what I believe and know to be sacred and I will fight to protect those values. Never expect people to understand what is sacred to you; they will try to take that from you. Only you know.

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