Garbage out, Garbage in
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Steve Marker is pleased at the welcome-back greeting being given to Garbage, the band in which he plays guitar and keyboards. The four-piece group is on its first tour since 2005, and next month it will release “Not Your Kind of People,” its first album of new music since 2005.
The band, with the same lineup that first got together in Madison, Wis., in the mid-’90s – drummer Butch Vig, bassist Duke Erikson, singer Shirley Manson and Marker, who has lived in Carbondale since 2006 – is selling out shows in venues such as the Olympia in Paris and Webster Hall in New York City. Critics have been treating the return with kindness, which wasn’t necessarily true during the band’s first run, when its albums were selling millions of copies and earning a nice stack of Grammy nominations.
“It’s unbelievable,” the 53-year-old Marker said from a tour stop in Houston. “It feels like people are more excited than they were the first time. The U.K. press – we’ve had our ups and downs with them, but they really seem to be happy to have us back.”
Marker suspects that what’s behind the rolling-out of the welcome mat is that Garbage’s sound, a smart mix of grunge and pop, hadn’t been replaced since the band disappeared. (Marker has been quoted as saying Garbage’s goal was to “take pop music and make it as horrible-sounding as we can.”) “I guess we had a certain function in the early days, and no one’s arrived to take our place since then. There’s a void.”
Perhaps it makes the response extra sweet that Marker never expected praise, from anyone, in the first place. When Marker and Vig, who had been friends and musical partners for years, first began to put the project together, they hit an impenetrable stumbling block.
“We realized none of us could sing,” Marker said.
Along with that jolt of reality, Marker, Vig and Erikson were struck by the thought that they didn’t need just a singer; they needed a woman singer. And late one night, watching MTV, Marker saw the woman he wanted: Shirley Manson, who happened to be a Scot and a member of an obscure Scottish band called Angelfish. And Marker happened to be watching MTV for what he believes was the only time Angelfish ever appeared on the channel.
“Right away I said I’d like to see about working with her,” Marker said. “She reminded me of Chrissie Hynde.”
Seeing the singer he wanted on her only MTV appearance was a fortunate coincidence, but the really improbable thing would be getting Manson to come to the States. Vig and Marker reached out across the Atlantic, and Manson, who had heard of Vig due to his work as producer for Nirvana’s groundbreaking album “Nevermind,” agreed to give it a go.
“She was pretty skeptical at first – just some weird guys from Wisconsin calling her in Scotland, asking if she wanted to sing these songs. Not even songs, just vague ideas of what we wanted to do,” Marker said. “That’s pretty dubious, I think.”
Garbage was a hit out of the gates. Its self-titled 1995 debut, an inventive mix of pop, alternative rock, electronica and sampled sounds, sold more than 4 million copies on the strength of the hit songs “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When It Rains.” The band’s next album, “Version 2.0,” topped the U.K. charts and was nominated for Grammys for album of the year and best rock album. “Beautiful Garbage,” the third album, was named to Rolling Stone’s Top 10 for the year. “Bleed Like Me,” from 2005, was another big seller internationally.
The unbroken string of success did what it usually does to rock bands.
“We had kind of burned out, touring for about 10 years straight. Too much time away from home,” Marker said of the band’s hiatus. “We didn’t decide to break up; we just needed time off.”
Manson, a theater kid during her high school years, landed a role on the TV show “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” Vig worked on albums by Foo Fighters and Green Day. Marker settled in in Carbondale with his wife and 12-year-old child, and also worked on a sonic sculpture, a 16-channel, constantly evolving surround-sound creation for a plaza in downtown Washington, D.C.
During their respite, Marker and his mates came to two conclusions: They missed playing live, and nothing was as special as what they did in Garbage.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to do even a few shows? And how about getting back in the studio, see if the magic’s still there?” went Marker’s thinking. “Within the first half hour, we saw we had that same spark from the early years. All of a sudden it was exciting again.”
The wild card in recording “Not Your Kind of People” was whether the band members could make a good album without being in the studio together for long stretches, as they did in the old days. Marker found that doing a lot of the work from home, and paring down the studio time, worked to their advantage.
“In the past we’d all be in the same studio, same room for two years. That wears you down; it dulls the senses,” he said. But the studio worked its wonders in the same familiar way. “That sort of weird thing that happens to the four of us – it’s like a fifth member shows up who wants to take us in a certain direction.”
After spending six weeks in Los Angeles rehearsing, Garbage is two weeks into a tour that lasts into mid-August and takes the band to Japan, Montreal and across Europe. Marker is starting to feel the road wearing him down. Fortunately, the music is doing what it’s supposed to do.
“It’s never the music. The music is never a problem,” he said. “But travel – you spend 10 weeks touring around Europe in a bus, playing all these festivals. I put it like that, and I wonder why I signed up to do it again.”
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