Garbage: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

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Twenty three years into their career, Garbage show no signs of slowing down, writes Rod Yates.

What to give the man who has everything? Such was the dilemma facing Butch Vig’s band mates in Garbage last August when searching for a present for the drummer/producer’s 60th birthday. In the and they decided on the deluxe Roxy Music box set, an object of some value for Vig given that he was president of the Roxy Music fan club in his college days.

That Vig received his gift smack bang in the middle of writing and recording Garbage’s sixth album, Strange Little Birds (out June 10), may have something to do with the fact the album bears some classic Roxy Music trademarks. “I hear a little bit of that bittersweet romanticism [in the record],” he offers from his home studio in Los Angeles. “There are also some songs where we have these crazy; free form, wild synth parts, and that’s a little bit of a nod towards Brian Eno’s keyboard playing on the first two Roxy Music albums. I hear those Roxy influences on the record, and that’s okay with me”.

Clearly Strange Little Birds is seeking to do more than just recapture the glory days of the band’s acclaimed 1995 debut self-titled album and its perky hit singles “Queer” and “Only Happy When It Rains”, unleashed at a time when the only thing anyone knew about the Scottish-American quartet was that their drummer had produced seminal grunge albums such as Nevermind by Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Vig does, however, see some resemblances to that debut in the new record.

“Shirley [Manson, vocals] has drawn an analogy between Strange Little Birds and our debut album because of this sort of playfulness in experimenting,” says Vig. “When we made the first record them was no pressure on us, we didn’t know what we were doing and we made, at the time, an album that was quite left field. It didn’t really sound like anything else on alternative rock radio at the time, and this record, we sort of took an approach that we wanted to capture some of that free experimenting, bringing in a bit of our lab-rat tendencies and just trying crazy things.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, towards the end of 2015 the quartet took a break from recording to hit the road for a nine-week tour in support of the 20th anniversary of their debut. On the upside, playing that album and its B-sides night after night served as a reminder of what made that record an special; conversely, it also highlighted the passing of time, something Vig has had to deal with a lot of late in the wake of landmark anniversaries for some of the albums he’s produced. Not that it seems to bother him.

“When Nevermind had its 20th anniversary, [Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and [bassist] Krist Novoselic and me got together and we did a bunch of press for it, and it was really the first time I got to spend a lot of time with those guys, talking about the experience of making that record and it was great. Nevermind changed my life, it changed their life, and we were really lucky to be part of it.”

Vig may have turned 60 last year, but he’s not slowing down, He’s about to embark on a promotional tour for the documentary The Smart Studios Story, which focuses on the studio Vig owned and operated in Wisconsin between 1983 and 2010, and in which bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins and L7 recorded, and then he’ll he hitting the road with Garbage. How does he handle the rigours of the road when others his age are getting their pensioner card.

“I love playing shows, but the travelling sucks,” he offers. “Planes, trains and automobiles, they wear you down. But its a great privilege to be in a band. To walk onstage in front of people and play your music, we don’t take that for granted.”

As seen in the Winter 2016 issue of Men’s Style Australia.