Garbage: Steve Marker, Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson, and Butch Vig
Photo by Joseph Cultice
The mid-’90s was a period of transition for rock music. The grunge subgenre that exploded at the beginning of the decade was in decline after its reluctant leader, Kurt Cobain, died.
Left in its wake was the post-grunge and alternative movements that seemed to lump in any acts that weren’t classic rock. Bands like Bush and Candlebox came to dominate the charts, but they never quite captured the raw energy of the original grunge movement.
Garbage (which plays the Hard Rock August 8) was different, though. Helmed by three studio wizards — Steve Marker, Duke Erikson, and Butch Vig (the latter being responsible for producing landmark albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dreams) — and led by the charismatic Scottish frontwoman Shirley Manson, the band seemed to pick and choose all the best parts of the alternative genre. It created a polished, hook-laden sound.
“I think we’re really lucky that we are still here and we’re still friends,” Marker says.
If you think Garbage’s musical output died after the turn of the century, you couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, its 1995 self-titled debut and follow-up, Version 2.0, represent the band’s peak of popularity. However, since then, the quartet has released four albums, from the misunderstood BeautifulGarbage to its latest release, 2016’s Strange Little Birds, which is being heralded as a return to form for the band.
Perhaps the reason why Strange Little Birds reminds many of the “old” Garbage is because in 2015 the band celebrated the 20th anniversary of its debut in a big way. There was a reissue of the album that saw the original analog tapes remastered along with every b-side and remix released during the album’s cycle. If that wasn’t enough, Garbage decided to take thank its fans in the best possible way, with its 20 Years Queer tour, which saw the album being performed in its entirety.
“We were recording and finishing up [Strange Little Birds] at the same time we were doing the 20th anniversary tour for the first album,” Marker says. “We had to go back and relearn every song on that album and all the b-sides. So I guess that’s the kind of mindset we were in when we made Strange Little Birds.”
From bombastic guitar riffs to carefully constructed electronic beats and Manson’s signature vocals, the sixth studio album is classic Garbage yet somehow manages to feel contemporary without falling for Tumblr-ready trends. Both critics and fans have responded to it warmly, but with two decades of experience the band is no longer measuring its success through album sales and radio play.
“Success used to be clearly quantifiable,” Marker says of how the music industry has change since the ’90s. “You got to this point on the charts and you sold X amounts of CDs and so that’s how successful you were. Now, the measure of success are so wildly varied.”
Marker says the band’s current measure of success is that they can decide to go on tour whenever they feel like it and know fans will show up, because a devoted following isn’t always guaranteed no matter how long you’ve been a musician.
Another band that knows about having a loyal fanbase is New York punk/new wave pioneers Blondie, who will be joining Garbage on the road as co-headliners for the Rage & Rapture tour. Manson and Debbie Harry have known each other for several years, even sharing the stage on rare occasion. However, according to Marker, it will be the first time the rest of the band gets cozy with the legends.
“I was a fan of them from, really, their second record [Plastic Letters], and that’s a blessing,” Marker says. “If you can keep doing it that long and stay healthy and manage to get out on the road, it’s incredible. I think it’s a real achievement. Those guys are icons to me.”
But looking back at Garbage’s exhaustive catalog, it’s clear that the band is owed a place along other ’90s icons. Save for bands like Nine Inch Nails, there were few who combined electronic beats, sampling, and fuzzy guitar work so adeptly like Garbage. Even rarer was a rock band who knew to hire underground house and techno producers like Todd Terry, Danny Tenaglia, Rabbit in the Moon, and Felix Da Housecat to give tracks a club-ready reworking.
Today that all seems commonplace, and according to Marker, he’s not at all surprised.
“That’s how music works these days and if you buy a Mac computer and you get GarageBand… it’s really easy to put some beats together. I think it’s cool that a kid can do that without having to buy a lot of gear.”
With that band’s sophomore album, Version 2.0, turning 20 next year, one has to wonder if the Grammy-nominated and critically acclaimed effort will get a similar reissuing. According to Marker, the band has been discussing it and it’s certainly possible.
“Maybe we will be out next year doing some dates playing just that album and all the b-sides that we did at that time.”
Blondie & Garbage: The Rage & Rapture Tour. 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 8, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood; 800-937-0010; seminolehardrockhollywood.com. Tickets cost $50 to $90 via ticketmaster.com.