Shirley Manson is the flame-haired lead singer of Garbage, the alternative, electronica rock band who brought us “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When It Rains” in the 90s. Still going strong, they have sold over 12 million records in their ten years together. Born in Edinburgh, Manson now lives in LA with her record producer husband Billy Bush and their rescue terrier.
WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, BOYS FANCIED YOU AND THE GIRLS LOVED YOU TOO. HOW DID YOU REACT TO THE POSITIVE ATTENTION?
I was completely clueless. The more attention I attracted, the more uncomfortable I became. I focused on what I considered to be my “flaws” and used them as a weapon against myself. In retrospect, I think it was a really twisted form of an apology for being successful, but at the time it caused me a lot of pain. Yup, I was gloriously fucked up.
SHIRLEY MANSON IS A PROPERLY COOL NAME. IF YOU’D HAVE BEEN GIVEN A MOUSY ONE, WOULD YOU STILL HAVE GONE WITH IT?
I’ve never understood why people think my name is cool. It has forever been a source of great personal puzzlement. I always longed to be called Indra or better yet, Giles.
I HAVE A LOT OF SCOTTISH FRIENDS. ONE THING THAT INTRIGUES ME IS THE EXTRA VOCABULARY YOU USE, IT’S VERY DESCRIPTIVE. PRESUMING YOU HAVE ONE, WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SCOTTISH WORD?
Gowk. Pronounced like gout except with a “k”, meaning idiot.
MUSICIANS NOWADAYS HAVE SOCIAL MEDIA AS A PLATFORM. YOU HAD MTV. DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
I think social media has its uses, and I enjoy the portal it provides for my anthropological curiosities, but quite honestly I’m so relieved it wasn’t around when our career began to blow up. It feeds on self-delusion, narcissism, fear and cruelty. I also believe it encourages conservative, homogenised and inhibited behaviour.
WAS THERE ANY RESENTMENT THAT YOU WENT ON TO BE THE STAR AND MAIN SONGWRITER FOR GARBAGE?
We all contribute equally to the songwriting in Garbage. There is no “main” anything in our band. But we do have a lead singer, I will grant you that.
OUR LAST ISSUE FEATURED STRONG, INDEPENDENT WOMEN IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. TO ME YOU’VE ALWAYS SEEMED TO BE ONE OF THOSE. ARE YOU?
I think I have been guilty in the past of thinking I was weaker than I am. I realise now that I’m pretty tough. I have to confess, however, that I lose the plot around animals. Not tough. Not even remotely.
YOU’RE NOTED FOR YOUR STAGE PRESENCE. IS ANYTHING YOU DO UP THERE EVER REHEARSED? OR IS IT ALWAYS SPUR OF THE MOMENT?
I never plan anything. I try to stay in the moment and just be as truthful and as courageous as I can. I believe that’s my job as an artist. There are enough people up there faking it for one more show. I don’t want to be another one.
DO YOU SEE OTHER BANDS AS COMPETITION?
I don’t think we ever see another band as competition. I think we’re pretty aware that we don’t sound like anyone else. We have never been part of a particular scene or a movement. We’re just ourselves, for better or for worse.
PROFESSIONALLY HAVE YOU EVER DONE ANYTHING YOU’VE LATER REGRETTED?
We were quite literally blackmailed by our record company into making a video for “Cherry Lips” that we knew from the storyboard was a shockingly bad idea. We fought so hard not to do it, but we didn’t hold enough cards, and so were forced to capitulate. Every time I see the video, even now, I feel a deep sense of shame and a hard throat ball of fury over what turned out to be the only real professional regret I have ever had. However, regrets are such a waste of time, so I try to block out that memory.
YOU THREW YOURSELF INTO MUSIC DURING YOUR SCHOOL YEARS DIDN’T YOU?
I was picked to play music at school. I had no idea I was musical. It was just something I did because people kept telling me I was good at it.
HOW DID YOU DEVELOP INTO PERFORMING PROFESSIONALLY?
I was a member of Edinburgh Youth Theatre where I met a boy who needed a keyboard player to augment his band. Being that I played piano, sang quite sweetly, and he wanted to fuck my brains out, I got the gig.
YOU MODELLED FOR JACKIE, A GREAT ARCHIVAL MAGAZINE FOR THE FASHION INDUSTRY. DO YOU STILL HAVE THE CUTS?
I modelled for Jackie magazine after being spotted modelling in a runway show for fashion students at Edinburgh Art School. And yes, somewhere in a box I have the cuts! They’re really funny!
Read more of our exclusive interview with Shirley Manson in issue five of Hunger, out now.