Taking Out The Trash

7 May 2012 | 8:34 pm | Matt O'Neill

More Garbage More Garbage

Few bands exemplify pop music's inherent irony than Garbage. It's long been established that pop is an intrinsically contradictory phenomenon – a genre sold on celebrity and personality, where its greatest artisans must nevertheless remain invisible to the public. If a listener notices novelty or craftsmanship in a pop song, its architects haven't really done their job. Such is Garbage's idiosyncratic, unenviable lot.

Arguably one of the most innovative and experimental acts to have emerged from the '90s, Garbage's flair for old-school songcraft and irresistible pop hooks – combined with the natural charisma of iconic frontwoman Shirley Manson – has nevertheless ensured audiences have rarely comprehended their ingenuity as musicians and producers.

“We've always loved doing that,” drummer Butch Vig says of the band's experimentalism. “Steve [Marker, multi-instrumentalist], Duke [Erikson – multi-instrumentalist] and myself are all lab rats. We're mad scientists in a laboratory. We love experimenting. We play a lot of keyboards, guitars and drums and we do a lot of programming – but then we process things. We chop things up, layer, remix and just re-process everything.”

The band's instrumental lineup consists of three production professionals. Vig is perhaps best known for having produced Nirvana's Nevermind but also handled The Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, Sonic Youth's Dirty and, more recently, Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown (among a slew of other albums). Steve Marker and Duke Erikson helped build and run Vig's Wisconsin-based Smart Studios – employed by Death Cab For Cutie, Tegan & Sara and countless other respected artists.

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“Initially, when Shirley joined us, we had no plans of touring,” Vig recalls the band's 1994 formation. “We were going to do one album, put it out and then I was going to go back to producing full-time. When we started making those songs, the chemistry grew. I mean, Shirley didn't know any of us. She probably felt like a fish out of water. By the time we were finished recording, though, we were very tight and close-knit. It kind of started out as a project, yeah, but it did rapidly become a band.”

Not Your Kind Of People finds Garbage returning to that restless approach. The band's fifth album arrives after a hiatus spanning nearly seven years, broken only by the release of their greatest hits compilation Absolute Garbage in 2007, and follows two albums that, however exceptional, had taken the band away from their experimental roots. Beautiful Garbage, released in 2001, was a detour into full-fledged pop while 2005's Bleed Like Me was stripped-back rock'n'roll.

“I knew when we took the break that we weren't breaking up. I knew it was going to be a long break. I thought it would be maybe two years – but then it stretched into five years. I think in the back of my head I always knew that we would make another record, though – and we may make a bunch more. There's a creative spark between the four of us that still exists. That was evident from day one in the studio. Ideas just started flying out of us.”

Released on their own StunVolume label, Not Your Kind Of People harks back to the glorious mess of pop, noise and electronics that was the band's eponymous 1996 debut album. If anything, it's their rawest and harshest recording to date. The band stepped outside of Smart Studios for the first time in their career and recorded everywhere, from professional studios to bedrooms and lounge rooms. The result is a record that sounds vibrantly, almost offensively, alive.

“On our first album, we didn't have Pro Tools. We used tape and we used samplers. The first album was done in almost a guerrilla fashion – almost by the seat of our pants – but this album was actually done in a similar way. We did some of it in a really tiny studio in East LA, we did some of it in my home studio, we did some in Steve's bedroom, in Duke's bedroom. I recorded drums in my pyjamas with four mics in a bedroom. No soundproofing or anything. It sounded kind of trashy but I dug that,” he laughs. “You know, I don't think anyone will ever understand our process. The only way anyone could understand it would be to be there from day to day – because each day is completely different. Sometimes Steve will play a melody, Duke will handle noise and I'll do the drums – but then we'll all swap. Steve plays some drums on the record. And, with all the processing we do, there're about six or seven different versions of each song.

“If Shirley wasn't there to force us to finish, we'd probably never release anything at all!”